According to The Rules and common practice language has only one right way to be used. But is that true? Isn’t it proved by time and experience language is fluid, subject to change to suit the occasion it is used?
Listen to what Stephen Fry has to say on the subject. I think you might agree, even if you are an author and like me want to adhere to the rules and regulations of the current language formalities.
So,what do we do? How do we use this beautiful English Language properly? First of all we need to determinate which spelling we care to use. American or British? Both English but there’s not only a whole ocean dividing the two, there’s a kind of language barrier too.
Take for example the word ‘wilful’. According to my American friends this will be a wrong use of language and the word should be spelled as following, ‘willful’. There are many more of such examples, which I’m not going to give here.
What I will say on the matter is, be aware of the choice you make. Either use US spelling or UK, don’t mix the two. Of course there will be American readers who will trip over your British spelling and might even mention in a review you don’t know how to spell. But as authors we should know that can happen and move on. Maybe write your next novel according to US spelling rules to show you do know how to spell, or mention in the front matter of your book you write according to British spelling rules because you are a Brit. Problem solved. Of course, this works the other way around too.
The next thing you should take into consideration is what you write. The rules for fiction differ from those for poetry, as those for non-fiction differ from a dissertation, and a blog post differs from a letter to your mom. Unless of course you use your blog to keep your mom in the loop on your life. 🙂 But that is a whole different kind of blog than the common writers blog. What I mean is what Stephen Fry so eloquently put in the video, our language should reflect the occasion, like our behaviour and clothes do. That is the basic rule.
But … Yes, I have a but. Shouldn’t there be room for individuality? What about artistic freedom?
Ha! Yes, we are artists and have a certain idea on how our work should be put into words, but those words have to make sense to the reader. Throw away all the rules and do as you please and you will have no readers for the simple reason your readers will not know what you mean.
It is a fine line we must walk. Write in our own voice. Have the characters speak the way we think they should speak and yet keep it within ‘normal’ range. Keep it eligible to the general public.
If I were to write this:
“I crave to smoke my coffee and dance the words before slipping into that warm canal.”
Would you know I mean the character wants to roast his coffee while he is creating a choreography and thinks on making love to his girlfriend after he is done? Misunderstanding and confusion is what happens if we throw away all conventions and just do as we please.
It doesn’t only applies to the words themselves. Grammar, punctuation, plot, dialogue, it all is language and it all has to adhere to at least the basic rules, no matter which style guide you favour.
So how do we use language properly? By choosing a set of rules from a certain style guide and stick to them. Be consistent in your choice of spelling and take heed of your audience.
I know it’s not an answer to fit the box, but I guess there is no answer, because let’s face it. In a couple of hundred years our language will have evolved again and the rules as they are today will no longer apply. Like those from Shakespeare’s time no longer apply to the language of today. New words emerge and old ones are forgotten.
So write, write well and honour the language as best you can. When you’ve reached the limit of your ability to know the rules, use that editor to get the last wrongs ‘write’.