There is nothing like working as copy editor in an area of writing with strict guidelines to make you appreciate creative writing. Because in the world of journalism and house rules, creativity is often put on a sacrificial altar — well, if you haven’t earned the right to use “I” — to meet strict viewpoints of proper grammar.
Often times, personal style choices just aren’t recognized; instead, they are viewed as mistakes in very black and white terms. Take for instance “however.” Technically, it can start a sentence, but in some offices, heaven forbid that be the case. After all, a semicolon should always come in front of it.
There are several instances where certain punctuation or omissions are a style choice in creative writing, but they are all removed in strict office environments, becoming uniformed. So that is why when I edit copy, I am constantly grateful for creative writing. In creative writing, you can break the rules and shine in your uniqueness — you can bend the rules to your will, and it’s fine! You can omit the “and” in a series. You can have incomplete sentences. You can experiment all you like as long as the end results make sense and fit your story.
Of course before you do any experimentation, you should know the rules inside and outside. If you don’t know them, how do you expect to break or bend them? I highly recommend “Spunk & Bite” by Arthur Plotnik, plus the book it is spoofing in a loving manner, “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. In fact, I recommend reading the latter prior to digging into Plotnik’s book — this goes inline with knowing the rules first. Afterwards, Plotnik will show you some fun ways to bend rules and just play with the art of creative writing.
Then once you know the rules, the next component of making the most out of creative writing’s freedom comes down to age. I’ve always viewed writing to be something like wine; as you mature, the better your writing gets. And the yeast of writing? Playing with different components and styles all the time in throwaway scenes, short stories, novellas, novels or whatever you choose, until you further nail down the right style and/or voice for you and your work. And some works might have a completely different flavor to them to match different genres and characters.
This is something that I love about creative writing. I can go from a close-third piece that is action-packed piece, maybe even a little dark and matches, somewhat, its aristocratic cast, to a first-person historical parody with an unreliable narrator from the Deep South as he goes on one hell of a trip and makes some ethically questionable decisions (some are obviously, to quote John Watson from the BBC Sherlock, “a bit not good.”)
In my own works, I have used contractions in my narrative, particularly with that above-mentioned parody. Heck! I’ve even used “ain’t” in a book. There have also been incomplete sentences, mostly in action sequences to heighten suspense. I’ve also drop that last “and” in a series or two. I’ve done a host of other things that by-the-book people would probably mark in red. Some of those flaunting of the rules I liked, others I just feel happy to have tried before putting them on a shelf never to be touched again.
I guess what I’m trying to say is embrace the leeway and freedom creative writing gives you. Explore the limits. Sometimes things will work; other times they won’t. But how are you going to know the ins and outs without traveling to that edge? Just don’t fall over it and pick up all kinds of bad habits or transmitted diseases as I’ve called them at work. And as a copy editor, I do feel the need to say — down on my knees here: If you plan to write for newspapers or magazines, like in the form of a press release, please know a little bit about AP and follow the rules! It keeps us happy and increases the odds of your press release being treated seriously.