Better Know What You're Not Doing

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"Good writers can break the rules to create wonderful effects, but you can be sure they know what rules they are breaking" (Clark and Scanlan 295).

            This piece of advice rings true in all kinds of writing.  We need to have our foundations intact before we can climb to the top of our tower of technique and make a fearless leap into the sea of reader expectations.  To borrow the example from the text, when Cynthia Gorney left out the name of Dr. Seuss's dog, we can bet it wasn't because she just didn't think to ask for it.  There was a certain effect she either wanted to create or thought would be ruined by mentioning the name.  In another area of writing, it is unlikely that someone whispered to e.e. cummings, "Hey, man, you forgot to capitalize, like, everything," and cummings whispered back, "Shoot, you're right.  Oh well, just leave it, maybe no one will notice."

            As writers, it is our job to master the basics of storytelling, especially in journalism when our words are sometimes the only source of information readers consult.  If the purpose for a convention is unknown, then when we go our own way, so to speak, we don't know what we're risking.  It's true that journalism is brimming with writers willing to push the envelope and delve into unmarked territory, but the people who come back successful and relatively unscathed are the ones who knew why they were braving the wilderness in the first place.

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4 Comments

I really like your metaphor about the wilderness! I agree that you should always learn the rules before you break them. That's true of any art form. Picasso painted much more realistically early in his career, then eventually developed the style we know today. I don't think he could've gotten to that style if he didn't know how to paint in a more straightforward manner first. I know I normally don't think of journalism as an art form, but I can see how it can be one. So often time constraints and a need to focus just on the facts take precedence over how to present these facts, but I think that the way a story is delivered is just as important as the content of the story. That's why we need people to experiment with the form, so that it can grow and improve, finding more aesthetically pleasing and more effective ways to keep people informed.

Angela Palumbo said:

Josie, this entry is truly fantastic. I wrote my reflection on this entry. If you want to take a look, here is the url http://blogs.setonhill.edu/AngelaPalumbo/2009/09/breakin_da_rulz.html

Josie Rush said:

You're definitely right, Matt. The more people who experiment with the form, the more it will develop as a form of artistic expression. I also have always found it difficult to look at journalism as an art form, but some of the articles from our text are really, really contradicting my previous thinking.

Jennifer Prex said:

It makes sense. If you haven't mastered the rules, you won't necessarily know you're breaking them. The only way breaking the rules could work is if you intentionally do so for a specific purpose. Breaking rules just for the sake of breaking them does nothing. There has to be a stylistic reason to do so.

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