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Best ways to brush up (1 Viewer)

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Mickeyq

Member
Morning all,

I've been doing a lot of writing recently and one thing that I realised I struggle with is my grammar. I started reading quite a famous book on writing style called 'Elements of Style' by Strunk & White and frankly had no idea what they were talking about. I had to look up what a past participle or independent clause because I either forgot over the many years I didn't write, or never learned properly in school.

If anyone knows of any publications, books, courses that would help me to brush up on this stuff in an accessible way that would be great as I feel it's holding me back from being to write properly.

Also, in people's opinion, how important is it to understand and be able to master the building blocks of English language rather than writing from what feels and looks right which is what I'm doing now? There are various tools like Grammerly and Hemingway that do this stuff for you but they're not completely reliable and it seems like dealing with the symptoms rather than the underlying gap in my ability.


Thanks,
Michael
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
'Elements of Style' by Strunk & White and frankly had no idea what they were talking about. I had to look up what a past participle or independent clause because I either forgot over the many years I didn't write, or never learned properly in school.

Elements of Style can be heavy going if you're coming into it cold, so don't feel bad.

If anyone knows of any publications, books, courses that would help me to brush up on this stuff in an accessible way that would be great as I feel it's holding me back from being to write properly.

Anyone following my recent comments is going to think I'm a broken record, or a shill (LOL) because this is the third time in the last several days I've recommended It was the best of sentences, It was the worst of sentences by June Cassagrande. It's available in both ebook and print for about $10, and that's a bargain for any writer who needs it. June's lessons are funny and valuable at the same time, so the reading is not dry, as you most likely experienced with Elements of Style. ;-)

Also, in people's opinion, how important is it to understand and be able to master the building blocks of English language rather than writing from what feels and looks right which is what I'm doing now? There are various tools like Grammerly and Hemingway that do this stuff for you but they're not completely reliable and it seems like dealing with the symptoms rather than the underlying gap in my ability.

In fact, grammar software will drive an experienced writer crazy with over-reporting. Yes, they will catch things you may need to correct or at least think about, but they'll also report a dozen things you don't need to correct for every one you do ... or at least that's my experience.

It's extremely important to have a good grounding in grammar and certain elements of vocabulary. You come across a one in a million "raw genius" from time to time, but none of us can count on being that rare exception.

You don't need to be able to pass a test naming the elements of grammar. For example, if you can't define a past participle you aren't authorially crippled. However, writers do need to understand independent and dependent clauses, subject-verb agreement, correct punctuation--including punctuation in quotes, run-on sentences, etc.

Sometimes you will break rules of grammar on purpose--for example you may write a sentence fragment as an effective way of portraying an action scene--but when you do it you need to understand what you are doing, and why. Breaking rules of grammar through ignorance leads to prose which is awkward for the reader in the best of circumstances, and difficult to understand in the worst.

Additionally, vocabulary is important at least to the extent that authors not use the wrong homonym, or even words which aren't strictly homonyms, but have a similar sound. (This is especially challenging for some ESL--English as a Second Language--writers).

This subject isn't something only someone with your question needs to work on. I made straight A's in English all through school and college, but by the time I starting writing fiction in volume there were things I needed to refresh, myself. Additionally, there are elements in writing which transcend basic grammar in a sentence and apply to an entire work ... such as picking past or present tense and sticking with that tense throughout the work.

There are a lot of things to learn, but the good news is you don't have to learn them all at once. A good program for you might be to start with June Cassagrande's book, then write short pieces and post them in the Fiction Workshop on this site. Members will point out areas where you still need work ... generally in a friendly and positive way. :)
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
By being a native speaker of English, your brain knows a huge amount of English, even if you can't say what it is. If you can step back and be a reader for your own writing, you can keep working on it until is as clear and easy-to-read as you want and as powerful as your scene deserves.

And I want to say, like vranger did, that you also need a basic understanding of English grammar. Like independent clauses. But -- I have not been able to come up with any argument for that, or at least nothing I found convincing. So I can't say that. Does it matter if you can find the ungrammatical commas in this answer? I don't see how.

And, in my opinion, we writers have a lot of tools at our disposal to help us write more clearly. But I don't know how many authors actually learn how many of those tools. If anyone is still reading this -- what have you learned about the English language that you did not know before you starting being a writer?

So, to answer your question, what probably matters most is a passion to write well. and a sense of whether your writing does what you want it to do. Beyond that, the books can help; looking at other author's can help; what you learn from your own efforts will help. I can probably think of a hundred things to tell you that will, on rare occasion, produce a marginal improvement in your writing. If you work at it, I think you can probably find the important things by yourself.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
If anyone is still reading this -- what have you learned about the English language that you did not know before you starting being a writer?

* overworked words
* cliché avoidance
* copular verbs
* passive voice
* increased sentence clarity
* overuse of adverbs and adjectives
* using the same word too close together
* avoiding filler words
* spicing up sentences without taking it to the purple prose level
* better punctuation
* better recognition of little grammar/vocabulary traps like less/fewer and affect/effect

For a start. ;-)

Now, I was aware of much of this before I started being paid to write. However, being exposed to the information is the first step forward. Putting it into action in the midst of hundreds of thousands of words is the arduous journey.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Also, in people's opinion, how important is it to understand and be able to master the building blocks of English language rather than writing from what feels and looks right which is what I'm doing now?

For me, it's important when reading and writing that a good grasp of English is in evidence. There are some horribly lucky people that have a kind of style that transcends all that stuff. However that is pretty rare in my experience. More common is a general unformed writing style that tends to need a bit of work. It's not an either-or though; ideally there would be something of both, where the command of language communicates the exact emotional content.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I started reading quite a famous book on writing style called 'Elements of Style' by Strunk & White and frankly had no idea what they were talking about. I had to look up what a past participle or independent clause because I either forgot over the many years I didn't write, or never learned properly in school.
I had the same problem with Elements of Style, the main thing I remember is "Omit needless words!" which is great advice. At least as you go along and realize what the needless words are! I didn't know that yet when I tackled writing and I'm still learning.

One thing we did do in school that provided a great basis for understanding sentence structure is diagramming. I couldn't diagram a sentence now without a refresher course but actually doing that through a lot of sixth grade taught me a lot for how words go together for coherency. Sadly, it looks like they're not teaching sentence diagramming now so for my own kids I'd like to pick up some books on this and get them to do it as 'momwork'.

Grammarly can be a help and there are sites like Grammar Girl that cover grammar in-depth.

As you're writing and getting some critiques back and looking up specific grammar helps for what you're working on, you'll learn a lot. Reading for pleasure helps, too.

Also, in people's opinion, how important is it to understand and be able to master the building blocks of English language rather than writing from what feels and looks right which is what I'm doing now? There are various tools like Grammerly and Hemingway that do this stuff for you but they're not completely reliable and it seems like dealing with the symptoms rather than the underlying gap in my ability.l
Use Grammarly as a tool for helping you to learn rather than an automatic fixer that you just run your work through.

Written language has nuance to it, you'll find that there are tons of ways to write a sentence that are all grammatically correct but which one is right for your story?

How you choose to construct your sentences can and will do a lot of different things.

  • Reveal, hide, or hint at information
  • Control the pace at which the words are read
  • Create the tone of the piece
  • Compare and contrast
  • Etc.

In short, as you go you're going pick up grammar that does what you want your writing to do. It's a good idea to just start and then be willing to learn. Giving and receiving critiques is a pretty good learning tool, too, though not always comfortable. :)
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
For me, it's important when reading and writing that a good grasp of English is in evidence. There are some horribly lucky people that have a kind of style that transcends all that stuff. However that is pretty rare in my experience. More common is a general unformed writing style that tends to need a bit of work. It's not an either-or though; ideally there would be something of both, where the command of language communicates the exact emotional content.

I believe that the best way to get a good grasp on the language and a sense of style is to read... a lot. Probably everyone here has a book they spend a couple hours with everyday. It's kinda funny though, the more I write the more I mentally edit my pleasure reading.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Each of us learn in our own way, so perhaps you can learn better grammar from the right book -- I have a copy of Strunk & White on my desk and use it from time to time as a refresher -- but, in my opinion, you may learn more effectively by reading the work of authors you enjoy and actively examining how they use grammar, how they structure their sentences, and how they use punctuation. What lines resonate with you, and why? Emma has a point when she says you already have internalized much of what you need. All you need to do now (be wary of any advice which begins with the phrase "All you need to do...") is to learn to recognize what you already know, and to learn to apply that knowledge. That's not easy (if it was everyone would be a best seller) but, IMO, it's one of the great joys of writing. Good luck!
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Also, in people's opinion, how important is it to understand and be able to master the building blocks of English language rather than writing from what feels and looks right which is what I'm doing now? There are various tools like Grammerly and Hemingway that do this stuff for you but they're not completely reliable and it seems like dealing with the symptoms rather than the underlying gap in my ability.

Most writers have imperfect grammar. If they didn't, there would be no need for editors.

Imperfect grammar isn't really a problem. The problem is, like with any writing issue, when it becomes distraction.When I read a story where the writer has spelling/punctuation/grammar problems, whether or not I care is exactly proportional to the effect it has on me as a reader.

Broadly, there are two types of possible effects that result from bad SPaG. At its most extreme level, I may not actually understand what is being communicated. It can be so bad that I quite literally cannot read the story. That's obviously unacceptable and untenable.

The slightly less obvious but far more common effect that can come from bad SPaG is not one of comprehension but one of confidence. Consider this sentence:

He took the cigar from the fumidor and sat back in his chair to smoke it.

What's wrong with it? Nothing? Well, except...there's no such thing as a 'fumidor'! The word that is trying to be used here is 'humidor' -- a container for storing cigars.

In this case the writer (me! this is from a story I wrote when I was nineteen -- I thought it was 'fumidor' because of the Latin for smoke being fumus) used an incorrect noun.

You still probably knew what I meant, the sentence was comprehensible regardless of this one error. But...that isn't the point. The point is that when I took that story to a workshop, everybody felt the need to tell me 'the right word is humidor' and, suddenly, the entire scene was harder to take seriously. Because it was written by the guy who didn't know what a 'humidor' was. This stuff happens all the time.

How about this?

If only, he thought, there would of been somebody there.
This is a slightly more questionable one. 'Would of' is, infamously, an incorrect version of 'would have'. Yet, this is written in italics as internal thoughts. Depending on how it is written, if it is being written to reflect the character's voice rather than as simple narrative, it might be okay. However, if the reader doesn't believe this to be intentional, suddenly it's a distraction

Finally...

To boldly go where no man has gone before

This is the kind of 'bad grammar' that really doesn't matter much in faction. The debate over split infinitives is tedious, overblown and unnecessary -- as Star Trek proves. This is the kind of shit you can ignore in Strunk & White et al. Nobody cares.

Ultimately good grammar is about ensuring comprehension first and foremost. I assume, based on your post being decently grammatical, you can do that. If so, the remainder comes down to reader perception. The hallmark of all bad writing is writing where intent does not match perception. It is because of this that 'bad' grammar can be acceptable in one book and not another.

What are your goals here, anyway? If you want to self-publish, you will need to either have excellent knowledge of SPaG or you will need to hire an editor. If traditionally publishing, it's somewhat less important, because your work will be edited for you. In traditional publishing, the expectation is for your manuscript as polished as possible but NOT professionally edited (never pay to have a manuscript professionally edited if traditionally publishing). The importance of SPaG knowledge then is rather varying. At a minimum, you should be able to edit everything yourself to the extent there are no 'howlers' (nothing immediately noticeable) but whether it needs to be perfect or not depends on you and your wallet.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
"Boldly to go where no man before has gone," doesn't sound very . . . uh . . . futuristic, does it?

That being said, I try to occasionally avoid split infinitives if it sounds better or more atmospheric. (I'm not even going to edit that sentence. lmao)
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Grammar is something I suspect teachers can present better. There is assessment and evaluation. A Google search could reveal such a online distance program. Without a teacher it would be cheaper. Unfortunately such studying can be pricey. I figured I would pick up spellbinding sentences for syntax. I will also pick up the other book from Barbara baig. She might have courses. She has a webpage I haven't visited in a long time. If you can afford her courses then of course the books can also be used for practicing creative writing. One is for syntax which is one of the most important aspects of grammar to master. For spellbinding you learn syntax patterns and do the exercises regularly. It seems ideal for my needs.
 
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clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
I know people who are adept in multiple languages. I work at liking their other sterling qualities of character to disguise my simmering envy of their facility with languages.
They all agree, however, on one aspect of English from which we should take hope: English grammar is among the easiest of European languages to learn and use. The core structure in English sentences--subject/verb/object--is straightforward. Forming questions in English is simple; recognizing and placing subordinate clauses is simple; positioning adjectives and adverbs is simple; etcetera (the simplest cop-out of all). I am told that native-German philosophy students in German universities study Emmanuel Kant in English, because his German is so dense.

That's the pep-talk part of this little post. We gots it real easy-like compared to folks in other languages. But we still need to walk the walk, and learn the stuff. So that we can break the rules on the long journey towards our own style. I agree that Strunk & White assume (by not explaining) that their readers are right up on the technical language of SPAG; when necessary, it's usually a short study to look up key terms. And worth it, because their little book remains one of the best around.

But, as others have said, don't get too hung up on these issues. Everyone reading this is a good writer wanting to become a better writer . . . THEIR kind of writer. The title of Strunk & White's book is Elements of . . . That's all. It's neither a Manual nor a Template. It's a Guidebook, a springboard into the pool of "Best Practices". Before you execute the half-gainer with 2 1/2 twists, you need to get the feel of that board , learn how it works on its own, then learn how you want to bend it to your singular purpose. To make the dive from it your unique dive.

Plato's insistence that the Philosopher King had ten years of mathematics had little to do with mathematics.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I don't know if teaching prose style is something I need. Since Barbara Baig is a teacher. I assume she has expertise. Movement of prose is something I want to do. Repitition creates rhythm or rhyme because once you know syntax you can manipulate it. You can repeat clauses, parts of speech varying the words to achieve that rhythm. Spellbinding sentences says consult a grammar book to manipulate the language. I think Emma Sohan likes to use grammar to achieve style. Judging my her posts.

Here's an example that shows you an example of exploiting grammar and syntax for style.

Writers often make use of the words it and there as tools for creating sentence emphasis, enabling them to invert subject and verb to place the emphasis on the subject:

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit.

I assume I do not have those skills. They say I write too much fly on the wall. Something a critic whose feedback I value wants to maybe see change in my writing style.

Style and grammar can both help one another. Imitating a writer's style and changing the words completely can entertain the reader. To then achieve those patterns. This post is just adding to what I wrote.

(By reading works and analyzing these you can try to change your style. She even has this as one of her practice exercises assuming you master the content. I have owned it on kindle but my notes are too large to export. I need a physical copy)
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
* copular verbs
* passive voice

Again, I cannot imagine an author not knowing grammar. When I argue that a writer might not need to know grammar, I am just playing devil's advocate.

The devil's advocate keeps constructing good arguments. King famously attacked passive verbs, and that attack used a passive construction. He wouldn't be intentionally hypocritical. So he probably did not notice.

More evidence: I went through a chunk of one of his books, looking to see if he used passive constructions. He did. And, over and over again, I found myself saying What a good reason to use passive. Now, remember that diatribe? He constructs a passive sentence that he admits is okay, but he says the verb still "irks the shit" out of him. So that's the best he can do for an example of a passive sentence, when his own writing contains wonderful examples of when passive is useful?

Again: He apparently is not aware of using the passive in his own writing.

So, how important is it to know what a passive sentence is if King isn't thinking about it? A desire to save words will probably eliminate the worst of passive sentences. A desire for strong verbs might dispatch a lot of passive, copulas, and progressive verbs. An ability to say That rewrite doesn't work would protect the good passives.

You might want to argue that in the end, it does help to recognize why there is a problem in a sentence, and that might help with improving it, or at least speed up the process. I want to argue that too. But it might be just a small advantage.


BTW, King's sentence was:

Messrs.Strunk and White don't speculate as to why so many writers areattracted to passive verbs.

One could argue that wasn't passive, leading to an annoying discussion defining what is or is not passive. The answer would have no impact on writing or editing -- you either prefer that sentence or the rewrite.

(And thanks, your answer was an unexpected treat.)
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
You would be surprised how much you already know. If you're anything like me, the only difference between yourself and others is they know the proper grammatical terms and you don't. Don't be put off by that. Not knowing the colour of the sky is 'blue' doesn't stop you selecting the right colour when you paint it.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Again, I cannot imagine an author not knowing grammar. When I argue that a writer might not need to know grammar, I am just playing devil's advocate.

The devil's advocate keeps constructing good arguments. King famously attacked passive verbs, and that attack used a passive construction. He wouldn't be intentionally hypocritical. So he probably did not notice.

More evidence: I went through a chunk of one of his books, looking to see if he used passive constructions. He did. And, over and over again, I found myself saying What a good reason to use passive. Now, remember that diatribe? He constructs a passive sentence that he admits is okay, but he says the verb still "irks the shit" out of him. So that's the best he can do for an example of a passive sentence, when his own writing contains wonderful examples of when passive is useful?

Again: He apparently is not aware of using the passive in his own writing.

So, how important is it to know what a passive sentence is if King isn't thinking about it? A desire to save words will probably eliminate the worst of passive sentences. A desire for strong verbs might dispatch a lot of passive, copulas, and progressive verbs. An ability to say That rewrite doesn't work would protect the good passives.

You might want to argue that in the end, it does help to recognize why there is a problem in a sentence, and that might help with improving it, or at least speed up the process. I want to argue that too. But it might be just a small advantage.

I think this is the third time a discussion has come to this point in the last few months. The "rule" about copular verbs or passive voice isn't to never include them, it's to not use them all the time. As I've pointed out about the literary agency which includes an entire page on their web site devoted to the evils of copula spiders (which most commonly means "is/was"), they don't want to see more than one on a page. That means you can write "was" NINE TIMES on ONE PAGE and they're OK with it.

A few months ago I picked up on a request for beta reading here on WF. I read the first two chapters and stopped. FAR TOO MANY sentences in his book used "was" as the verb. Until someone reads something like that, they may not realize how dry and boring it is. (His other problem was backstory overload). Otherwise, I thought he showed real promise, but until he rewrites to eliminate all those copulas his work isn't fit to read. You could read it, but why? You could stumble into any shelf in a library, pick a book blindly, and find something more interesting.

So we learn these things and implement them, or we risk having our work be irrelevant.

Late in my first novel, I decide to write for a while without using a single "to be" verb. It 'was' (haha) demanding writing, but I kept it up for about half a chapter. That section REALLY pops.

"Was" is the 14th most used word in the English language and "is" is number 10 (the, and, of, a, in, to, I, it, is, that, for, you, was, he, with, on, at, this, they, be ... to name the top 20). You don't get to an "interesting word" until you hit number 60 ... "people". Interesting words don't start to appear on the list with frequency until you get into the 150s.

So we're going to write this stuff. We simply want to examine it when we do and decide if there isn't a more interesting way to word that sentence. Those Top 20 words appear frequently in everyone's writing, which I believe underscores how important it is to make the rest count.

BTW, King's sentence was:

Messrs. Strunk and White don't speculate as to why so many writers are attracted to passive verbs.

One could argue that wasn't passive, leading to an annoying discussion defining what is or is not passive. The answer would have no impact on writing or editing -- you either prefer that sentence or the rewrite.

(And thanks, your answer was an unexpected treat.)

Taylor and I recently laughed over a question similar to King's sentence. He starts out strong "Meessrs. Strunk and White don't speculate." The strong beginning and "writers" before "are" lead me to conclude the sentence isn't passive voice, but it does include a copula. He has two independent clauses connected by a bunch of filler. "Writers are attracted to passive verbs": It's not clear to me how to restructure that sentence to make it more effective. Often you fix that construction by turning it around, but "Passive verbs attract writers" changes the meaning into nonsense. That's why we get nine copulas per page. ;-)

Back to Taylor and me and our question. Take, "I enjoyed the drink because it was sour". Do you get a break for "it was sour" because you started strong with "I enjoyed the drink"? "I enjoyed the sour drink" doesn't convey the same message. It only describes the drink, not why "I enjoyed it". "I enjoyed the drink because the sour quality tickled my fancy" drops the copula but is wordy.

Again, nine times per page ;-), so I believe the strong beginning independent clause carries the weight and forgives the weaker clause following.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
If anyone is still reading this -- what have you learned about the English language that you did not know before you starting being a writer?

Not about the English language per se, but about writing fiction. Don't head hop!

And someone else on this forum, sorry I can't remember who, said, good writing makes the reader forget they are reading.

So, to answer your question, what probably matters most is a passion to write well. and a sense of whether your writing does what you want it to do. Beyond that, the books can help; looking at other author's can help; what you learn from your own efforts will help. I can probably think of a hundred things to tell you that will, on rare occasion, produce a marginal improvement in your writing. If you work at it, I think you can probably find the important things by yourself.

Agree! Just read, write and enjoy...

I have read posts on this forum, where people say they can't enjoy reading another author because they are always analyzing the writing. I think that's sad. I love reading and never think about much more than the story, unless the language reminds me that I am reading. In some ways, I'm glad I don't know that much about the English language!

You sound pretty articulate so I say just go with what "feels and looks right".
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I think this is the third time a discussion has come to this point in the last few months. The "rule" about copular verbs or passive voice isn't to never include them, it's to not use them all the time. As I've pointed out about the literary agency which includes an entire page on their web site devoted to the evils of copula spiders (which most commonly means "is/was"), they don't want to see more than one on a page. That means you can write "was" NINE TIMES on ONE PAGE and they're OK with it.

A few months ago I picked up on a request for beta reading here on WF. I read the first two chapters and stopped. FAR TOO MANY sentences in his book used "was" as the verb. Until someone reads something like that, they may not realize how dry and boring it is. (His other problem was backstory overload). Otherwise, I thought he showed real promise, but until he rewrites to eliminate all those copulas his work isn't fit to read. You could read it, but why? You could stumble into any shelf in a library, pick a book blindly, and find something more interesting.

So we learn these things and implement them, or we risk having our work be irrelevant.

Late in my first novel, I decide to write for a while without using a single "to be" verb. It 'was' (haha) demanding writing, but I kept it up for about half a chapter. That section REALLY pops.

"Was" is the 14th most used word in the English language and "is" is number 10 (the, and, of, a, in, to, I, it, is, that, for, you, was, he, with, on, at, this, they, be ... to name the top 20). You don't get to an "interesting word" until you hit number 60 ... "people". Interesting words don't start to appear on the list with frequency until you get into the 150s.

So we're going to write this stuff. We simply want to examine it when we do and decide if there isn't a more interesting way to word that sentence. Those Top 20 words appear frequently in everyone's writing, which I believe underscores how important it is to make the rest count.



Taylor and I recently laughed over a question similar to King's sentence. He starts out strong "Meessrs. Strunk and White don't speculate." The strong beginning and "writers" before "are" lead me to conclude the sentence isn't passive voice, but it does include a copula. He has two independent clauses connected by a bunch of filler. "Writers are attracted to passive verbs": It's not clear to me how to restructure that sentence to make it more effective. Often you fix that construction by turning it around, but "Passive verbs attract writers" changes the meaning into nonsense. That's why we get nine copulas per page. ;-)

Back to Taylor and me and our question. Take, "I enjoyed the drink because it was sour". Do you get a break for "it was sour" because you started strong with "I enjoyed the drink"? "I enjoyed the sour drink" doesn't convey the same message. It only describes the drink, not why "I enjoyed it". "I enjoyed the drink because the sour quality tickled my fancy" drops the copula but is wordy.

Again, nine times per page ;-), so I believe the strong beginning independent clause carries the weight and forgives the weaker clause following.

'I enjoy sour drinks'. :)
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
When I argue that a writer might not need to know grammar, I am just playing devil's advocate.

I'll be that devil.

At the risk of running athwart the wisdom of those who have had more publishing success (or are more invested in textbook and self-help book sales) I believe a general ground is of use, but hardly the foremost concern. Plenty of grammatically-sound works are unreadable. Plenty of mechanical trainwrecks have gone on to become classics. Seldom do English teachers become greats.

There is a difference between cleaving to grammatical law and a state of illiteracy. A work rough around the edges but peopled with living, breathing characters that carry the reader along on adventures is a far cry from 110-pages of derivative crap bereft of plot, punctuation, or purpose. Grammar is of concern only so far as to the readability of a story; if your readership has to fight the physical urge to red-pen a work as they're reading it then yes, a return to basics is probably in order.

Grammar should not, however, be foremost in the mind in the process of writing.

Put it this way:

Suppose you are an automotive mechanic. As part of your work you have an understanding of various system in your vehicle; how an internal combustion engine works, the ins and outs of electronic systems, the importance of good brakes, tire wear and its effect on handling, and so forth.

One day you're driving home when a black van full of sinister men with machine guns open fire on your car. There ensues a chase. You don't know who they are or what they want. What you do know is things have gone drastically sideways, and unless you act you're cooked. So you put the pedal to the floor and haul for the horizon. No plan, no clue, just you and the urge to not die today, thanks.

You possess a high degree of automotive knowledge. The scene to follow is not the time to worry about this, because you're otherwise occupied. All your expertise doesn't count for beans if you wind up in a burning heap. A fixation on grammar here is equivalent to thinking about tire tread depth and smoking a school bus instead of driving the damn car.

First, write the story.

You can work out the rest later.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
There is a difference between cleaving to grammatical law and a state of illiteracy. A work rough around the edges but peopled with living, breathing characters that carry the reader along on adventures is a far cry from 110-pages of derivative crap bereft of plot, punctuation, or purpose. Grammar is of concern only so far as to the readability of a story; if your readership has to fight the physical urge to red-pen a work as they're reading it then yes, a return to basics is probably in order.

Grammar should not, however, be foremost in the mind in the process of writing.

I'm going to point out the practical fallacy of your theory.

Most of the people this discussion will be helpful to are writers just starting out. I don't know how much work you've read from writers just starting out. It could be a lot for all I know, but I have read a LOT of first time works, and critiqued them.

The average first time work is garbage, and the average reason it's garbage is because it's filled with sentences you'd swear were written by a third grader. The vast majority of the time when you politely point out the grammar problems which ruin the work, the first time author, who believes in their heart they've just produced "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", or "The Hunger Games", or "The Great Gatsby", gets upset with the messenger and goes on to never improve, and never have a chance to find a readership.

So when we get a beginning author who is eager to avoid that trap, let's not tell them that grammar will work itself out. Grammar WILL NOT work itself out. There is a lot of study and work and self-evaluation and revision that comes between garbage and something you can present proudly to a reader. If you don't have a foundation, you won't make that leap in quality.
 
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