Ebb and Flow of Grammar in Literature

I take part in three separate writing critique groups. In such, it is pushed by all, myself included, that passive voice be avoided, used sparingly, and on purpose. It is also suggested by most in each group that the “to be” verb is static and also should *be* avoided or at the very least used sparingly as well.

Added to all this is the dreaded -ly adverb.

Unless a singular and solitary adverb exists in your text, at least one critic will contend that the English language comes with so many adjectives and descriptive verbs that adverbs are unnecessary and avoided like a beggar outside a Trader Joe’s.

Here’s my problem: All the books I read that are written by authors well-known for being amazing storytellers and phenomenal writers break these rules on such a consistent basis it boggles my mind!!!!


Murakami, author of The Wind-up Bird Chronicles and dozens of other world wide best sellers uses ‘to be’ verbs and what can be seen as passive voice in nearly every sentence.

Isaac Asimov, founder of contemporary science fiction, uses -ly adverbs as if they were periods or spacebars in his stories.

These are the two that stick out in my mind as I’m reading them currently.

So, what of it? Is this a case of “When you are Isaac Asimov or Murakami, you can do whatever the hell you want’??? Or is it a backlash against the onslaught of terrible e-books and popular novels of late???

Why is it acceptable for ‘great’ authors to do exactly what we are told not to do?

2 thoughts on “Ebb and Flow of Grammar in Literature

  1. I think, Rene, that for the dreaded first novel publication, that the careful use of the English language is desired. There is so much *C*R*A*P* out there that it takes mastery of the language to get noticed (or at the very least, not discarded by the first round of slush readers).

    Once you are recognized, then you have earned the luxury of more leeway. At least that's my story

  2. I've heard the "once you're Hemingway, you can do whatever you want" since my undergrad days.

    It feels like such a cop out. A good story is a good story. I get that I need to have the 'perfect' first novel in order to get taken seriously (oops, mind the adverb). However, when taken to extreme, you take possibly (again) great prose and turn them into prefab,

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