Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why Do I Care About Grammar?

I've been holding forth on the Helium message boards about the need for syntax and grammar. I should have cut myself short and posted the rant here, instead. I actually had two other opportunities to stand on my soapbox there today.

The first was a thread about its versus it's that veered a bit off-topic into handling indeterminate gender. The second addressed using short or long sentences in your writing. I've discovered that the Writer's Craft board there is full of such treasures and gives me much fodder for posts both there and here.

I've not put into words before why grammar and writing style matter. To define “writing well” you must consider what type of writing you are talking about and rank the elements of a “good” piece. Otherwise, you are left saying, “I know good writing when I read it.” That's fine on an individual level, but if you're going to put yourself out there as a writer you need to be able to point to specific instances.

Can you write an opening paragraph that grabs the readers attention, introduces the subject, is clear and concise without being abrupt, and can be followed readily? Did you misspell anything or insert unnecessary commas? It takes a lot of practice to catch more subtle errors of grammar and syntax as you write them. This practice comes from proofreading and from reading well-written material.

Popular novels are often a miasma of grammar meltdowns and poor construction. If the story can carry you past those, more power to the author. But the minute they stop holding your attention is the minute you start noticing awkward language that distracts you from the book.

Ideally, the story will be riveting and the underpinning will never show. Realistically, there must be more to admire than concept or a book (or article) will not stand up to rereading. Your bread and butter as a writer comes from people wanting to buy your book to read again and again, and to buy copies or recommend you to other people. Add the depth and strength of a powerful idea and a strong structure to capture them every time.

Of course, I keep my mind open to other points of view and welcome a dissenting opinion. Some authors experiment with language quite successfully. Tell my why I'm wrong and you may just change my mind.