More About Grammar

During last week’s blog post about grammar, I got some great feedback on Twitter from my friend, @flickguy. It was a quote (sent in a couple of tweets to me) from a NaNoWriMo experience he’d had in 2005:

If your spelling and grammar turns readers off right from the start, your thoughts and ideas are worthless because you’ve failed to communicate them to anyone.

The quote was attributed to Holly Jahangiri, a professional writer and author, and she’s absolutely right. Have you ever picked up a book (typically self-published) and, just a few pages in, got rid of it because the language in it wasn’t reaching you? Much of the time, it isn’t because the writer is using circumlocutory language, but because they never bothered to edit their prose and correct their spelling and grammar mistakes.

Now, there are some really great self-published works out there, actually. Well-written, with excellent spelling and grammar, free of egregious mistakes. I’m not knocking self-publishing. I’m knocking writers who don’t get their work copy edited before publishing because they don’t want to pay for it and couldn’t get their work published traditionally (likely because their query letter was so filled with said egregious errors, but that’s for another blog post).

Basically, what I’m saying is this:

GET YOUR WORK EDITED, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE NOT GREAT AT SPELLING AND GRAMMAR.

But you can save that for the editing process.

Now, last week, I also said that dialog is a different matter altogether. Because it is. Essentially, don’t forget to listen to how people say the things they say. Ever read V.C. Andrews? This sort of Gothic thriller fiction was great for me, especially when I was a teenager, but one of the things I couldn’t stand was her dialog. Of course, it was purposefully crafted that way, but it was so stiff…so punctilious, it would get on my nerves.

Unless you’re going for that kind of prose and dialog, I would suggest you listen to the way people speak to one another, and work from there. If you have to, read it out loud and hear how it sounds. If it comes across as too stiff, change it up a bit and relax. Unless your speaker is an erudite university professor, you probably want it to come off a tad more unrefined.

Don’t let your hard work get pushed to the side by bad spelling, grammar, or overconscientious dialog. Get it edited, check it yourself, and be proud of the manuscript you’ve built.

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Does Grammar Matter?

Okay, so you’re writing a novel, book, literary piece, short story, etc. Typically that means you have something to say. Maybe you’re not the best speller or grammarian in the world, but you have the right to tell your stories, just like anyone else.

So is the story more important than the spelling and grammar?

Yes, and no.

When you’re writing your story, you’re weaving a tale that, most likely, you will want read by more than just one or two people. Yes, yes, of course you’re writing your story for you, but be honest with yourself: wouldn’t you also like for other people to enjoy the story as much as you have?

If so, you’re going to need to get a copy edit.

You want to present a polished manuscript to your publisher. It doesn’t have to be perfect (no manuscript is), but you do want it to be as good as it can get so that the publisher doesn’t take one look at it and say, “this is a mess, forget it.”

There is an exception when it comes to spelling and grammar, though, and that’s in your dialog. When characters (and people) speak to one another, they don’t always follow the rules of grammar (they split infinitives, just as I did here, and they even do more than that) and the spelling may reflect their accents. They say, “I could care less,” instead of the correct “I couldn’t care less,” and they say, “ain’t,” “carryin'” and “Australopithecus afarensis.”

Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

So, with the exception of dialog, you want your narrative to be spelled correctly and use relatively proper grammar. Don’t make it a mess. Turn on that spell check, and have a couple of people go through and edit your copy once you’re finished.

Remember, even editors, when they go through your manuscript and make changes, are capable of spelling and grammar errors. No one is exempt. Always check your work.

Sometimes, it’s the difference between having your work read and having it trashed.