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 Is Good Grammar Good Enough?
I have over time written a good deal about writing. I’ve covered numerous subjects including publishing and marketing. Having recently written TR Independent Books Guide to Writing I’ve decided to take one particular aspect of writing and focus on it. If you’d like a free copy of the book simply write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, request the book by name and whether you want the Word version or PDF version. I will promptly email you a copy. This book is not available at retail.
In today’s blog I’d like to take a look at grammar, so I’ve copied the chapter that deals with the subject in general (other chapters deal with certain aspects).
So let’s talk grammar. If you were writing for a college course or a college professor you might be expected to write perfect grammar. Less than perfect might have disastrous consequences. But when you are writing novels good grammar may be more desirable than perfect grammar.
To understand what I mean you must understand what perfect grammar is. In perfect grammar you are not allowed mistakes. In addition, perfect grammar has rules that must be followed religiously. It requires a very rigid structure. But good grammar may at times be perfect (as when the storyteller is narrating) and other times less than perfect (as when characters are talking or thinking). That’s a simplistic explanation but it will do for now.
Let me put it another way; perfect grammar is usually stilted whereas imperfect grammar brings a certain aliveness to the story. In a story with multiple characters you don’t want all your characters to sound alike.
In my speculative fiction series Christland there are robots and androids. There are also humans. Humans tend to use contractions like ‘isn’t’, ‘don’t’, or ‘haven’t’. But androids use a more perfect grammar and say ‘is not’, ‘do not’, or ‘have not’. Same meanings but spoken differently. I constantly check to make sure that the androids never use contractions unless desired.
It’s the same thing with humans. In the series World That Was I had Methuselah use an expression, ‘So God has said, so shall it be’. This becomes a phrase he uses and is therefore identified with him. No other character uses it.
Is it good grammar?
It doesn’t matter. It is something he says.
And that is an important distinction. When someone is talking or thinking their grammar may or may not be good let alone perfect, but it must be consistent! The only acceptable reason for inconsistency would be a change in the character like having matured, gotten educated, or some such thing. There must be a reason that the reader sees and understands!
So here is a chapter from the book.
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 then you better have shown a transformation. Because 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.]
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. (This is an argument for emphasizing thoughts with italics.)
Tip: 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.
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.
Make use of as many resources as needed. And pay attention to grammar and punctuation when editing.
Tip #2: Don’t use slang or social media language. It might be good on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media but not in a book unless the language belongs to the character(s).
That was the chapter on Grammar, but actually the subject of grammar is more extensive than that, which is why other chapters deal with some particulars of grammar. For instance, you can include scenes within that subject. The book has chapters on the Starting Scene, the Middle Scene, and the Ending Scene. You could also include viewpoint (there are chapters on the different viewpoints). Grammar is broad and yet specific.
One of the various resources (yes, there’s a chapter on that also) an author needs a Grammar book that includes capitalization, sentence structure, and a whole lot more.
But a key principle that you should remember is what was stated earlier: Generally speaking you want your grammar usage as correct as possible, but there are exceptions. It is your job as an author to find those exceptions, such as conversation, and use them to enliven your story!
So, is good grammar good enough? Yes, if you’re careful and consistent.
Hope you enjoyed this little excursion into grammar. In the future I will periodically visit a subject found in the writing guide. In the meantime don’t forget that the book is free, easy to read, and the entire book is only 101 pages. And if you’d like to know more about our Writing Services simply request a free copy of our booklet TR Writing Services and we will send you a copy absolutely free and with no obligations.
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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.