Every week I deal with different subjects in this blog. I also post my blog to my Facebook page at RFrederickRiddlesWorld. This week I am taking a look at Writing Good Grammar.
Below is an excerpt from my book TR Independent Books Guide to Writing:
Your grammar must be perfect!
Actually that depends on who you talk to and the specifics involved. Here is my take:
Generally speaking you want your grammar usage as correct as possible, but there are exceptions. For example, let’s say one of your characters only has a ninth grade education.
You would not want that character talking like a professor. For that matter, you really don’t want any of your characters to talk that way unless they actually are professors.
Now I don’t recommend that you try to imitate slang and accents, but just be cautious. Maybe allow a character to have a favorite saying. In Perished: The World That Was I had Methuselah with a favorite saying, “So God has said, so shall it be.”
Which brings up a related principle: Be consistent. If I later had someone else using that same phrase it could have been a jolt. Be consistent.
So here’s the principle: When you are dealing with conversation (or even thoughts) you can and should be less than perfect but consistent. Everything else should be perfect.
Aside from speaking, there is the matter of punctuation and spelling. With the tools available this should never be a problem, but it does occur. It is therefore necessary to check your spelling and punctuation as often as possible.
Tip: Be consistent. If Bob is talking like a country boy on page 2 and a professor on page 132, you better have shown a transformation. Your reader will spot inconsistencies!
The boys is clothed alike. [This is poor grammar.]
The boys are clothed alike. [Much better.]
“You guys look the same.” [OK.]
“The boys is clothed alike,” Martha said. [Ok, if this is consistent with Martha’s education and you’re emphasizing it.]
Tip #1: A rule of thumb is that grammar rules don’t have to be followed rigidly when verbal conversation is taking place or when someone is thinking.
While there are some purists who’d disagree with that tip it is true. Don’t believe me. Listen to people as they talk to one another. They simply don’t talk like some cutaway from your most recent English language book. Nor do they think that way. In fact their speech often denotes who they are.
Some authors go all out and embed a character’s speech with all sorts of idioms. That is fine but to carry it throughout the book might prove to be a heavy task. I suggest a more practical way.
In my novel Perished: The World That Was I peppered Methuselah’s conversations with ‘So God has said, so shall it be’. That was a major departure from anyone else. For the most part his speech was pretty common, easily understood. But phrases like that and the manner in which he talked spoke of his wealth and authority. In other words I let the character’s personality dominate and come through his speech.
As for thinking, I suggest that you italicize the words. This immediately tells the reader that this is different than verbalizing. It should also reduce the need to add ‘she thought’ or ‘he thought’.
Tip#2: Don’t use slang or social media in your language. Slang is both geographical and time restricted. You use a slang word in New York and it may mean something altogether different in Michigan or Florida. Of course, if your character is a New Yorker you might be able to get away with it. But then you have another problem. Slang is not constant. So what you knew as slang ten, twenty years ago may no longer be in use. Your use, therefore, of old slang in a modern setting can confuse your reader.
Best to stay away from slang altogether.
Both my wife and I try to watch our grammar usage. One of the tools we use is Microsoft Word’s grammar checker. It’s not perfect, but it helps. Also, we use the spell check, but it is not always up-to-date. So we make use of the ‘Add to Dictionary’ tool.
Other resources are grammar books (especially older versions that really emphasized good grammar), and the internet (not the way people talk on the internet like FaceBook, but information about grammar).
Make use of as many resources as needed. And pay attention to grammar and punctuation when editing.
To learn more about grammar and other aspects of writing TR Writing Services is currently giving away – that’s right, it’s FREE! – our TR Guide to Writing. Simply contact us and request a copy (PDF) and we’ll send it to you. While at it why not request the TR Writing Service booklet? This booklet will tell you about our different plans and prices. (The current plan discounts expire June 30th.)
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R Frederick Riddle is the Editor of TR Writing Services providing help to struggling and/or new authors to write and publish their books. In addition he is the author of several books and is best known for Christian Historical and Speculative Fiction. For more information on him or his books visit his Amazon Authors Page. He is also co-founder and Vice President of T&R Independent Books where his books are featured. To reply to any blog you have the option of commenting on a blog and/or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also be interested in his Facebook page at RFrederickRiddlesWorld.