Friday, 25 February 2011

Should You Ask Rhetorical Questions?

When I first started writing I was part of a critique group which featured a couple of super academic, professionally high achieving and all-round scary ladies who were writing Literature (the capital L was obvious). I have never forgotten one of them holding the corner of my offering and commenting that she automatically dismissed any work that featured rhetorical questions.

So that was me told.

Older, and wiser (and published) I now recognise that it's one of those areas of English, like split infinitives, that some people have a thing about. At the time I slunk off into a corner, never to ask a rhetorical question again. Or did I? Well, in truth, I have sinned, but never without that particular grande dame's voice reverberating around my skull.

Does it matter? Should one not be free to write as you wish? Shouldn't we liberate ourselves from out-moded rules about style? Or do we readers become fed up with one damn question after another? Who knows?

So much about writing is a question of taste. Personally, I quite like a rhetorical question every now and then but, like exclamation marks, usage should be limited or the writing appears cluttered. And it's well to be aware that for some people it leads to automatic dismissal. But then, I was never interested in writing Literature with a capital L. I have only ever wanted to write stuff people want to read.

NEW!!! I've finally got round to organising some course dates....
How to WRITE a Novel: London 3rd May/Birmingham 7th May/
Oxford 8th May/Exeter 21st May/Bath 12th June
How to SELL a Novel: London 24th May/Exeter 4th June/Bath 3rd July


Liz Fielding said...


Jim Murdoch said...

Most Literature-with-a-capital-L that I have read has made up its rules as it went along. Just look at some of Beckett's later prose works where he even chucks out the grammar book.

Sarah Duncan said...

Or Joyce. But I think they aligned themselves with the more conventional Dickens, Proust, Eliot, Austen et al.

(Some one told me recently that I must have a limited domestic horizon because I didn't think Joyce was the greatest writer ever. In my limited domestic way I wasn't amused.)

Kath McGurl said...

Ooh, courses look interesting. Off to check my diary!

Jen Black said...

Would be nice if your courses came further north, Sarah. How about Newcastle or Edinburgh?

Sarah Duncan said...

Nothing against the North, it's just a question of fitting everything in and these locations are all within a day's travel for me.

But I want to come to Newcastle to see 7 Stories and the Baltic Exchange so perhaps I can organise a course then.

Jen Black said...

I'll look forward to it!