Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grammar as guidelines

I hope you all like the slight revamp to the site design! Really gives it a nice elegant touch, doesn't it?

Anyway, on to a bit more serious post: my views on grammar.

Now, I will be first to say the basics are essential. Failing at those will have prospective readers throwing up in their metaphorical mouths before they throw away your book/delete it off their e-reader of choice.

But that's the basics. You probably already know (assuming you've read all my posts up to now) how I feel about the lie/lay distinction, but that's just one of many more advanced and obscure rules that the English language has. And a lot of them are even more complex than that.

So we come to my view about these cases, which is: advanced grammar is a set of guidelines, not rules. Follow them as you see fit.

I know, this is going to shock the grammar nazis of the world. You go anywhere on the Internet, you're going to get dozens of blogs and sites spelling out why violating these rules are Terrible Horrible Things that any sane sensible writer would steer one hundred miles clear of.

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of people don't know what 100% perfectly proper grammar is (including many sticklers for perfect grammar themselves). While some may lament that fact, it does give writers like me quite a bit of flex room, particularly when actually following those sneaky grammar rules would result in more stilted phrasing. (It's not common, but it does happen from time to time.)

There's a good rule of thumb for writers, especially if you have a solid education in the English language. (If you don't have such an education, you may want to get one.) If you have not heard of a particular grammar rule, there is a fair chance the majority of people do not know about it either. Doubly true if it's something as complex as lie/lay.

For the writers out there reading this, there is one caveat: you have to be consistent. If you "break" a "rule" once, you have to do it the same way every time. Otherwise, you're even worse off.

So in short, I don't worry if I'm grammatically perfect. To readers, you shouldn't worry about that either, as it typically does very little to detract from an actually good story. To other writers, you also shouldn't worry about it. There are much more important things, like writing a good story and getting it published.

Now, if you can excuse me, I'm going to go stick "nodded" in a dialogue tag, just to complete my day of annoying the grammar nazis. Take care!

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