“Grammer Dont Matter”?

(This post could have been titled “Sometimes, he has to tell someone off for being deliberately, unspeakably stupid.”)

Warning: contains metaphors, sarcasm, and cussing. Also contains logic. Read at your own risk.

I find it both disheartening and immensely annoying to see so many new novels full of objectively bad writing. As a reader, I am offended by these novels, because the authors clearly didn’t care enough about either their craft or their audience to have the errors corrected, one way or another. As readers, none of us should have to wade through a half-dozen (or more!) foolish mistakes in grammar and punctuation per page in our search for the complex characters, fascinating settings, and exciting plots we were promised.

Yes, I know (nearly!) all books contain at least one or two mistakes. In fact, the industry standard for professional editors/proofreaders says that as long as the error rate is below five percent, it’s fine. Five percent means about one mistake per page… although, as readers, we hope to see far fewer than that. I’m not talking about the occasional typo, though. Believe it or not, word order alone can greatly affect the meaning of a sentence. Whether or not there’s a comma after a word can affect its meaning. And meaning matters. A single sentence or paragraph that doesn’t say what you think it says can have a huge undesirable effect on how readers perceive your plot, characters, or setting.

Perfect grammar and spelling used to tell a trite, tedious story, the proverbial plotless wonder… That’s not something I have any interest in reading. Chances are, neither do you. (There was a pseudo-steampunk novel set on Mars… Beautiful prose, both flawless and poetic. Music played in lines of ink. Too bad the plot, characters, and even setting were so uninteresting. I think I read about half of it before giving up.) However, ‘You care more about grammar then story, you just want perfect grammar and you don’t care is the story good!’ is a straw man argument. It is deliberately misrepresenting everything I and people like me (fiction-making people who do respect our craft and our audience) say about the importance of good writing mechanics, claiming we’ve said the mechanics are all-important and everything else is irrelevant.

If this is your argument, point out one time I’ve said flawless grammar/punctuation is all that matters in the quality/readability of a work of fiction.

Also, if this is your argument, fuck you.

I don’t have time for such nonsense; I have rational, creative writers to educate, encourage, and socialize with. People who espouse disdain for the tools of the craft are not welcome.

 

 

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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6 Responses to “Grammer Dont Matter”?

  1. Sheron says:

    It all matters. An interesting story with engaging characters is necessary, but if readers have to wade through poor grammar, boring or confusing sentence structure, and indiscriminate pov changes, they will chuck it across the room–and rightly so.

    Having said that, perfection in writing Isn’t easy. So many elements flying about. I reach out for absolute perfection and it’s always a sentence away.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been reading a NYT best-selling author. Her stories are great, but her use of commas is atrocious. She simply doesn’t use them in compound sentences. I can’t not notice it now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is one of the hazards of knowing the mechanics of writing (or good storytelling techniques, for that matter): you can’t NOT see when something you’re reading is doing it wrong.

      Like

  3. ziresta says:

    I once read a book for a review group that had such bad grammar and punctuation that I had to take breaks from reading it because it was literally making my head hurt.

    To put this in perspective, I proofread a book by a dyslexic who had a dismal grammar education and had typed the book on a malfunctioning keyboard. There were only about two sentences where I had to ask her what in the world she’d meant to type, and none that were so bad they caused me physical pain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The first book I wrote a review for here on this blog… *shakes head* I’m not supposed to know, however, that it isn’t correct (and isn’t done) to put a colon after the word “project” in the name of some fictional secret science project. I’m not supposed to know that a question mark for dialogue goes with the dialogue, not on the end of the long tag following it. I’m just supposed to be impressed with the nonstop action and violence with no point and a main character who’s got superpowers and unsupported angst and no brain…

      From my blog post about it:

      OMFG, the bad punctuation!  The run-on sentences, the capitalization where it doesn’t belong and lack of punctuation where it does belong, the weird and inconsistent use of quotation marks — single and double — in places that make no sense whatsoever… The author clearly doesn’t know how to handle dialog tags, either, nor that a question mark for dialog goes at the end of the dialog, not at the end of the tag following that.  (“Is that so hard to figure out,” he asked?  Looks pretty damn stupid, doesn’t it?  Yeah.  So don’t write that way.  A more typical sentence structure from this novel would be like this, though: “Is that so hard to figure out,” asked the involuntarily retired former military badass, looking around like a chimp in a jungle full of dangerous tigers and knowing that there were snakes in the trees too?)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. curioushart says:

    I agree with you. Precision and accuracy are not just optional writing strategies; they are necessary tools for coherent story telling. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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