Writing Tips; Rule #2

What About Good Grammar

Good grammar can sometimes suck the life out of a sentence and bad grammar can suck the life out of a good story. The point, sometimes bad grammar may be overlooked.
It is often said that you have to trust the writer’s ear. In other words how does the sentence sound? Does it bear up to scrutiny? Does it make sense? Will it be understood? Is it honest? Likely if all those things can be answered affirmatively you can tell the grammarians to stick it.
A few years ago when having trouble with a sentence I would submit it to a writer’s newsgroup. Then I’d wait for the fun. There’s nothing more fun to watch than two or more English grammarians fight back and forth on verb usage and the like. And they all have solid reasons. The point, sometimes grammar can be arbitrary, but it must make sense and read well.
There are times I have received criticism for my grammar. I take a long hard look at the sentence under criticism. Sometimes I see immediately the problem, thank the critic, and make the change.
Yet, there are times I leave it alone. Why?
Each story is told with a voice. Allow me to explain. Most writers write ins the first person or third person. That voice is telling a story; it is telling the story his way or her way. Every story I write seldom comes from the same voice. If I write 10 stories in third person, it could come from 10 different voices.
Allow me to explain or complicate.
A story about a cattle rancher in Wyoming is told with a different voice than a story about a lonely subway rider in Manhattan.
What does this have to do with grammar? For the story to have some authenticity it has to be told as if the readers were there. The story must appear fresh and as it happens. As story is being told. It is not a legal document, term paper, or thesis.
The story is the most important element. Just make sure the grammar doesn’t take away from it.
If sentences are kept simple grammar is seldom a problem. Simple sentences are evidences of deep thinking.
Often, those who pick on grammar are just itching for a fight or trying to flex their intellectual superiority (not in all cases). Let them win the fight, you don’t have to be right. You just want to write a good story.
If your sentence structure is criticized don’t be so stubborn as to not make an effort to improve it.
Here’s a little trick I use. If I’m not sure that a sentence is grammatically correct and too lazy to look up the correct grammatical rule (which is always), I make it a quote. Bad grammar is quoted all the time.

There is a book that has helped me immeasurably. I’ve used it for over twenty years. It’s called Elements in Style. It is a short book, yet contain concise information about good writing. I personally think that one’s chances of becoming a good writer are greatly increased by reading it.


Blather away, if you like.

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