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Learn the rules. And then bend them.Kate 11:42 am, Jun 15th 2011
There are some questions we Quietroomers get asked all the time. Where did the name Quietroom come from? Why is it never actually quiet? And haven’t we seen Vince on the telly? But right up there is the old chestnut: is it OK to start a sentence with the word ‘and’?
We came across it again this week, in a meeting with a prospective client. Here’s what she said: “I really have a problem starting a sentence with the word ‘and’. And ‘but’.”
The irony was not lost on any of us.
The whole ‘and’ thing is one of those writing rules that lots of people still stick to, even if they don’t quite know why. That’s because we like rules. They’re safe. They’re like big comfy jumpers that say, ‘don’t worry, we’ll make sure you don’t look like an idiot’. But, as with most creative things, communication isn’t about being prescriptive (as our client realised when she unwittingly broke her own rule). In fact, while knowing the rules is great, knowing when to bend them is what makes you special.
A good example of this is in one of my favourite ‘I-could-read-this-ten-times-and-not-get-bored’ books – Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, about a group of employees who are driven to distraction by their dreary office environment. For hundreds of pages there’s hardly any punctuation at all (which can be a bit disconcerting at first). But, because the prose isn’t ‘properly’ structured, it conveys perfectly the aimless and meandering corporate world the characters inhabit. And when the narrative changes, and the punctuation finally does appear, it creates a whole new world – sharp and crisply detailed, in stark contrast to everything that’s come before. I’m not telling you any more. But it’s a great effect.
That’s why, at Quietroom, we never say ‘don’t use really long sentences’. We never say, ‘don’t use the passive voice’. And we certainly don’t tell you not to start your sentences with certain words. We just tell you what it means for the reader when you do these things, so that you can create whatever effect you like. And that’s the only rule we’ve got.