Writers should feel free to write stories how the stories need to be told.
In 2014, I composed a 15-part series called ‘So-Called Screenwriting Rules’. Bottom line: There are no screenwriting rules. There are conventions… expectations… but seeing as there is no singularly accepted rule-book, there cannot be any universally accepted set of rules.
Rules are by their very nature restrictive. They can tend to inhibit creativity. This is not just semantics. It speaks to the freedom we, as screenwriters, have to tell a story any God damn way that story needs to be told.
For example, we are not required to write complete sentences in a screenplay. Sometimes a single word of scene description is the perfect choice.
Indeed, I argue that screenwriters should approach scene description more like poetry than prose.
Given my mindset on these matters, when I recently stumbled onto this article —’6 Old Grammar Rules That Are Finally Going Out of Style’ — I was all virtual ears. To wit:
When does a grammar rule pass into obsolescence? At what point is non-standard sentence construction widely accepted as standard? Can we as writers loosen up on certain rules when general usage renders an “incorrect” syntax perfectly understandable to the average reader?
Here are the 6 grammar ‘rules’ which the article’s author suggests are becoming passe:
- Never end a sentence with a preposition.
- Never start a sentence with a conjunction.
- Don’t use sentence fragments.
- Never split infinitives.
- Never use “who” when you should use “whom”.
- “They” is not a pronoun.
As far as screenwriting goes, 1 through 4 are spot-on. Whatever your 5th grade English teacher drilled into you about any of these supposed ‘rules’, as a screenwriter, you can drop-kick them out the window.
Again… The story rules.
As to why these grammatical ‘rules’ are losing their grip among writers and readers, I have a theory as to one contributing factor: BLOGGING!
That’s right, people such as myself, who host humble sites like this tend to writer more conversationally. And if I want to start a sentence with a compound conjunction like I just did, I can DO that. Why?
Because this is a blog! It’s not academic or legal or corporate writing, it’s a casual ongoing conversation between you and me.
If I want to intentionally split infinitives, like I just did, I can DO that. As a blogger, I have the freedom to write any way I want.
So, too, screenwriting. Want to write haiku-style like Andrew Stanton did so wonderfully in the script for Wall-e? You can DO that! Want to write a 293 word sentence to convey continuous action like William Goldman did in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? You can DO that!
As long as what you write is clear and readable, and embrace the spirit of the three E’s — Essential, Efficient, Entertaining — you have the freedom to go wherever your story takes you.
My advice: Read contemporary movie scripts. Pay particular attention to how professional writers approach their Narrative Voice. Then play around with your own writing style. Take the mindset of a blogger where you’re attempting through scene description and dialogue to establish a direct line of communication between the reader and the words you’re writing.
And don’t forget: Since there are no ‘rules’ to restrict your creativity, you can embrace the spirit of fun in your writing.
For the rest of the ’6 Old Grammar Rules That Are Finally Going Out of Style’, go here.