80. And Don’t Begin With And

yol 8This is the last of eight how-to posts on writing. I haven’t exhausted the subject, but I want to quit before I exhaust my readers.

Your Own Language:
And don’t begin with and

Here is a rule that was strictly enforced in the antediluvian days of my youth. I think today’s teachers have largely given up, and thank goodness. The rule is: Don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction.

This sentence is acceptable:     “Every morning he saddled his horse carefully, and every evening he wiped him down with equal care.”

According to the rule, this construction is not acceptable:     “Every morning he saddled his horse carefully. And every evening he wiped him down with equal care.”

And yet, this third version is “correct” again.     “Every morning he saddled his horse carefully. Every evening he wiped him down with equal care.”

What? This makes no sense – unless you first accept the fallacy that each sentence should be complete in itself. This is the same completeness fallacy that leads teachers to teach paragraphs in isolation (see yesterday’s post).

In any story, essay, letter, email, or post, the writing flows from the first word to the last. How we break up that writing – where we put periods, commas, paragraphs, dashes, colons, and semicolons – is entirely a matter of pacing.

Whether you prefer eighteenth century novels with sentences a hundred words long and a paragraph break every other page, or something modern with rapid fire, disjointed chattering, every story has to engage the reader at its beginning, then carry through to some reasonable level of closure.

It’s that simple.

Children have no problem with closure in their stories. At the end, the hero wakes up. Hemingway usually had no problem either; at the end of a typical Hemingway novel, the hero dies. But even that isn’t complete closure. When Robert Jordan is lying on the hillside at the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls, the enemy is closing in and there is no doubt he’s about to die. But what will happen to Maria? Will his coming sacrifice save his comrades? We don’t know.

As the holy men told the Prince of Exile, “Every true story ends in death, but no true story ever ends.” Closure is necessary, but never complete.

How much closure do you need? Thomas Anderson has said twice in reviews that the endings of my novels leave him feeling unsatisfied. Fair enough, yet they satisfy me. It is entirely a matter of taste.

Of course, there are limits. I once read a novel by an otherwise reputable author who ended it in mid-sentence because, just as his character has come to understand the meaning of life, he gets hit by a bus. That’s cheating.

There are more novels and blogs yet to write, and that’s closure enough for now.


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