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Monday, June 22, 2015

Grammar/Punctuation/Spelling


I like this cat. Obviously, he knows he is right and the other individual is wrong, but he's calm and collected. Still going to point out how illogical and wrong the other person is being, but in a Spock sort of way, I think. Nice and calm with bullet points.

But yeah, I like to debate things, sometimes just for the fun of it, but I seek out debates less and less because they take time and energy and eat up a lot of both.
Still, even though I don't go looking for internet fights any more, sometimes they come to me.

Case and point, recently in a writers' Facebook group, I made an offhand remark that to me writing was more important than story. My point was that writing draws me in and keeps me interested and most stories have a chart-able, predictable story arc, and I often know how they will end when I start them. Someone in the group seemed to take offense to this and told me no, writing doesn't matter. Story is everything!
I waxed poetic for a few posts about how word choices and new ways to express ideas were what excited me about any given story . . .
And they shot back that "Rules don't matter to creativity. Grammar and punctuation aren't important."

I honestly hadn't realized she meant grammar and punctuation when she wanted to argue about writing. Grammar and punctuation aren't "writing" any more than typing is "writing" or being able to make comprehensible marks with a pencil is "writing." Grammar and punctuation are the building blocks to the English language. They're what makes your writing comprehensible, but they aren't "writing" in the sense that writing is an art, the way you express ideas.

A lot of writing is artistic choices where there is neither a right nor wrong. There are some cool guidelines you can use to polish it up, make it easier to read, make it work better for you, but none of them are what I consider to be hard and fast rules that apply in every situation (sentence) you might ever need to write.

Grammar, however, is all about hard and fast rules. Punctuation, too, to an extent. (though that has more wiggle room. There might be multiple ways to punctuate the same sentence which would change the flow of it--how long the reader pauses at a comma vs a semicolon or dash--but where both versions have essentially the same meaning . . . I actually find punctuation to be pretty artistic. I get all geeky trying to choose between a full stop and a semicolon or an m-dash vs. an ellipse.).

But to totally disregard both grammar and punctuation as "unimportant" and unnecessarily nitpicky . . . seriously, I about had a stroke.  Well, not literally. Obviously. It was a metaphorical/figurative stroke where my brain stopped working for a moment while I goggled at the screen and wondered, "Is this person for real? Does . . . not . . . compute . . ."

I got a little snarky at this point and told her, "Publishing a book with bad grammar is like publishing a book formatted in comic sans. Sure, you can still read the story, but it looks stupid."
(I since had someone jump to Comic Sans defense. I just used it as an example because it is the font you see listed as a "don't" when regarding resumes, professional writing, business letters, and I don't think it is a stretch to say it does not belong in manuscript formatting for the most part. I have since also found that Comic Sans is slightly easier to read if you are Dyslexic, so obviously, it does have a purpose and a place, but I still assert that this place is not in novels. An interesting comic sans infographic here.)

Lists are good, so here are some bullet points as to why grammar and punctuation matter when you are writing (and I'm not talking first drafts. First drafts are meant to be fixed later. I'm talking finished, published drafts you expect people to read and pay for.):


  • They make your writing COMPREHENSIBLE. I shouldn't have to read a sentence twice to piece together what you meant because you don't know how to conjugate verbs or the difference between "your" and "you're."
  • They make your writing flow. We're used to seeing words used a certain way (correctly), and if you use them incorrectly, even if your meaning is completely obvious, our brain pauses to stop and figure it out. 
  • They really aren't that hard. I remember being part of online discussion groups where certain members would join with awful grammar and spelling and after a few months, just by paying attention to how words were formed in the conversations they were taking part in, their grammar and spelling would get better quite quickly. English is a language. We learn language by exposure. If you surround yourself with sources of good English (like by reading books), you'll slowly begin to assimilate how it works. Unless there is a learning disability involved, which of course is different and not something I'm qualified to write about. 
  • If you are uncertain of grammar, there are professionals who can help you. I proof my own books. I don't think everyone can do this, and I get help from various unpaid sources (critique swaps), but when I first got started I couldn't afford a proofreader. I'm now at the point where I can afford one, but I'm uncertain who to hire or if I really need to since my books are overall pretty well proofed just as I have been doing it. That said, a professional proofreader is well worth the investment if you are aware you have difficulties in this particular area. 
  • Some rules are outdated. Some are up for debate. Ending sentences with prepositions is perfectly okay in my book. I think it reads naturally. Some professional proofreaders are trying to get away from "whom" altogether because it sounds awkward whether you are using it correctly or not, and dang, Oxford commas are a battleground. Sometimes you have to pick a side (towards or toward . . . dived or dove . . . eyeing or eying.) and just stay consistent. 
  • Occasionally there is a legitimate reason to take artistic license even with grammar. Most of the time people who misuse grammar aren't being artistic. They are being lazy or ignorant. Unless you can explain to me WHY a particular sentence needs to be written that way, write it right. Learn the rules then make a conscious decision to break them.
And because I've been a little ranty in this discussion, I'll leave you with this.






By the way, everybody makes grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. Even professionally proofread books are going to go to print with an error or two. I find them all the time in great books. I don't judge a writer or a book for having a few scattered errors. However, that isn't to say grammar doesn't matter. If your book/blog post/whatever is error ridden, consider FIXING it. Don't get huffy when you get reviews complaining that your book is hard to read because of basic mistakes. 

6 comments:

  1. Totally agree. If I see more than the occasional typo in a book I struggle to enjoy it. Just the way my mind works. I'm still learning on the grammar front as it turns out I wasn't really taught much at school - which makes me feel a bit let down by the system. Still there's no excuse for bad SPAG with all the resources available to help on the internet. Grammar Girl is often my first port of call.

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    1. Grammar Girl is fun. Her explanations usually make a lot of sense to me.

      My high school grammar was pretty good (homeschooled), but I think just how much I read was a big part of it too.

      That said, when you're going over over a 100k words and you've been typing forever the errors do creep in. Most people are just too busy reading to notice because if we're going at a clip our brain will often just ignore the of that is supposed to be off or then that should've been than because it gives us the meaning and we ignore the words.
      I think we'd be surprised how many errors get through that nobody ever notices (books with multiple reprintings have an advantage because errors often get worked out in later editions).

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  2. I'm with you on this one, Heidi. Grammar and punctuation are *not* writing, but they can be part of it. I am all about the writing-- the style and flow, the choice of words that convey multiple levels of meanings, and just the poetry of beautiful language. If I read a "story" in which the language is lacking, I have... er... problems. That said, story is mega-important, and in my opinion, a great book should have amazing writing as well as a captivating story. And you are right that so many stories are predictable. Canned. I'm often like... oh, this story again. Great writing can redeem the pitfalls of a rehashed story, but I have difficulties getting into any story that is written poorly. So it doesn't seem to work the other way around.

    I have always been in the "Learn the rules by heart, break them by choice" camp. Great writing needs the flexibility of throwing off restraints when they don't work. But it's really easy to tell the difference between a writer who knows what they're doing and one that just doesn't.

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    1. I think the main thing for me is within the first chapter I don't necessarily know if the story is going to be good . . . but I usually have a pretty good handle on the writing, so it is easier to make my judgments based on that.

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  3. I think for author, they are not so much worried about the grammar because a reader want to know the stories of novels instead of checking grammar from them.

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    1. For every good story with bad grammar, though, there is a good story with good grammar, so it's neglecting a major aspect that can make you competitive. Plus I get thrown out of a story if I have to stop and try and interpret a bunch of errors. If there are a couple of errors here and there, that's okay/unavoidable, but thinking that readers don't care is short sighted. A lot of readers I have spoken to DO care. In fact, I'd say the majority of them do.

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