1. MarmaladeQueen
    Offline

    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    139
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Cambridge,UK

    Bad English, good literature

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MarmaladeQueen, Sep 16, 2011.

    I'm reading "Skippy Dies " by Paul Murray at the moment, which was long-listed for the Booker prize in 2010. It's a brilliant read - I think it should have been short-listed or even won. However, if I wrote a typical Murray-esque paragraph and posted on here for critique, I bet I'd get lambasted for my use of English. He has whole paragraphs lasting more than one printed page which are made up of just one sentence. He sometimes sets out dialogue with inverted commas, but at other times simply marks speech by indenting the paragraph. Sometimes he will mix the two within one conversation.

    I am sure Paul Murray knows the "rules" of grammar and punctuation as well as anyone else, but he has the confidence to break them.

    How does one get there?
     
  2. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    Two words. Rhetorical devices. This is probably the most important key to high-quality writing and I cannot stress it enough.

    Once you have 100 percent mastered your grammar and syntax, you're allowed to break some rules in order to create a certain type of structure. Sentence structure, punctuation, paragraph structure, etc (the collective of all these is just called syntax or style) create different tones depending on how they're used. For example, short and choppy style is called asyndeton and creates a hectic, jarring tone. This sometimes involves using fragments, which technically breaks a grammar rule. But if you're a grammar expert and can do it right, you'll know how to make it look nice and professional to achieve the mood you're going for.

    I hope this helped. It's hard to go into detail, but if you want more info, feel free to VM me. I'm a huge nerd about this stuff.

    Another reason why writers can use bad grammar is to correctly portray that a POV character is uneducated, or simply very young or from a rough-talking area. Dialogue has to be realistic in good writing, after all.
     
  3. MarmaladeQueen
    Offline

    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    139
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Cambridge,UK
    That answer rather misses the point I was trying to make. I find a lot of critiques on this site obsess about correct grammar and punctuation. I know how to write correct English (but thanks for your kind offer). What I need to learn is how to stretch and mould the language to create different literary effects. Reading "Skippy Dies", I became concerned that the critiquing process here could actually inhibit my willingness to experiment with language. I need to become braver, more adventurous, not more correct.
     
  4. Sundae
    Offline

    Sundae Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2011
    Messages:
    362
    Likes Received:
    23
    Location:
    Astral Weeks
    I think you're thinking of this too structurally instead of stylistically. It's not really bad English, good literature, it's more, good English, good literature. From what you are describing, I'm willing to bet that that the author is not simply just breaking rules, he's conveying a message through that style. It's a stylistic choice, which is completely different than "bad English" or "bad grammar." I haven't read Skippy Dies (but will check out), but I have read other works that do what it is you're describing.

    Rules of Attraction by Brett Easton Ellis being one of my favorites; which starts in the middle of a sentence and half the page is one entire sentence that doesn't seem to stop. Another book that I love is Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh which is crazy read. But they're not breaking the rules, they're creating the rules. They're consciously making a stylistic choice and doing everything that is necessary to make that style work, grammar and English is being modified to fit their needs; but in doing so, they're making sure that clarity is always there, the intent of their words is clear, and it ultimately produces the type of effect they want the reader to experience; they're crafting like geniuses.

    Take the stream of consciousness device which is very abstract conceptually; how thoughts move from one thing to the next that it doesn't seem like they're connected at first, but the more you read, the more you will see the underlying dots emerging and being connected until you can clearly see that there is a definite direction to the story.

    As far as advice is concerned, I can't really help other than say: read, read, read. But the best thing is to first master writing in the quote-unquote normal way. Once you do that, you'll gain more confidence to know when to break, when to not break, how to modify, how to manipulate etc. I think grammar is the least of your worries here, where as, the conceptualization of your story idea and story style will be a lot harder to conquer.

    A starting point could be poetry, particularly narrative poetry and slam style poetry.
     
  5. JackElliott
    Offline

    JackElliott Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2011
    Messages:
    155
    Likes Received:
    12
    Selby's Requiem For A Dream does the same thing. Style attempts to capture the feel of the narrative. Mccarthy's The Road has no chapters, nothing that interrupts the long and continuous story, and it starts to actually feel like a road, and the writing is very spare, no marks to set off dialogue, an effect which gives the dialogue an internal, almost meditative feel.

    A person gets there when they realize that the story and the manner in which they write the story are not exclusive -- they should mirror each other.

    Why would such writing be criticized on a forum such as this? Who knows. You may actually be surprised. But no website or forum should be the benchmark which you measure your work against.
     
  6. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,074
    Likes Received:
    5,271
    Location:
    California, US
    This is exactly right. You have to evaluate the critique you receive here or anywhere else, and decide which comments will influence you to change your story and which will not. You will see, on these forums and elsewhere, where people fixate on a comma, or toss out the standard mantra show don't tell, or make POV comments when you've already decided what POV you want. Ignore that stuff if it doesn't fit with your vision of the story.

    In almost every case, if someone is redlining and re-writing your prose for you, my advice is to disregard the critique. For all other comments and criticisms, you have to use your own critical eye (and indeed your artistic eye) to decide which suggestions fit with what you are trying to do and truly further your goals. You don't have to argue with the person offering the critique - just say thank you to everyone who takes the time, and then take what you find useful and disregard the rest. No reason any critique here or elsewhere should inhibit your art or your willingness to experiment.
     
  7. NikkiNoodle
    Offline

    NikkiNoodle Active Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2011
    Messages:
    159
    Likes Received:
    8
    I think it's just that one has to know the rules before one knows how (when, where, why) to break them. It's a thing photographers get critiqued for often. It starts with, "Get the focus right, frame correctly, composition, exposure, ect...." and then when you've mastered those, moving on to the style choices that can completely change things. Underexpose for mood, create an off balance composition for tension, and so on. Most great painters began traditionally, too, before moving on to uncharted waters. It makes sense that most critiques here would focus on the basics. I haven't read many, maybe not any, work posted here that was or seemed to be purposefully "breaking the rules" or making stylistic choices that would make the difference clear to the reader.

    But, like Jack said and Steerpike echoed, take the advice for what it's worth and then have the bravery to dismiss it if you need to.
     
  8. MarmaladeQueen
    Offline

    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    139
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Cambridge,UK
    Of course it is good English. It is superb English written by someone with breathtaking command of the language. My title "Bad English, good literature" was tongue-in-cheek. I fear in this instance my humour was too dry to be appreciated.

    I'll look out for Rules of Attraction. I've never at all fancied Trainspotting, but maybe I should make myself read it just for the language.

    I started this thread not because I can't write grammatically correct English but because I see some contributors being very straight-jacketed in terms of PaG. The point I was trying to make (which everyone seems to have missed) is that we need to be careful about "correcting" people's PaG. I bet if I typed out a page or so from "Skippy Dies" and posted it here as my own work, I would be inundated with people telling me that my sentences were too long, my use of "and" excessive and my layout of dialogue incorrect.

    The earnestness of the replies to my original post, the failure to grasp the point I was trying to make, rather illustrates the problem. I am relatively new to this forum, and I realise that I need to be wary of being sucked into PaG "rightthink". In terms of my own writing, I need to be more adventurous. After years of writing non-fiction (business English mostly) I need to throw off some shackles.

    I hope I am literate enough to work out for myself the difference between poor English, and adventurous English.
     
  9. Sundae
    Offline

    Sundae Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2011
    Messages:
    362
    Likes Received:
    23
    Location:
    Astral Weeks
    Maybe everyone missed the point of your post because you weren't clear enough in conveying your point. We all answered the question. How does one get there? We answered it. If the point of your post was to point out that people are so quick to jump and correct, then why not ask something like: well, if I post something in a Murray-esque style, will people know that, yes, while I'm breaking the rules, it's done for a stylistic reason and that it's meant to be that way? Will people know?

    I could have answered that question, but instead I thought you were asking how one gets to a point in becoming confident enough to break the rules.

    If a style works, it works and that is all that matters; the difference, however, is knowing why your style works and being able to explain exactly why that style works as opposed to simply writing and not knowing why the style works (why you specifically used that word, why you took the comma off, why you you started the sentence this way as opposed to that way etc.). How does one get to that point? It's by having that understanding of sentence structure and language. It's knowing the WHY behind every sentence that you construct so that if you ever get to a point in which your style no longer works, you can identify why it's not working and fix it as opposed to fixing a something when you can't define the problem that plagues it in the first place.

    So what if some posters point out something is wrong, you need to believe in yourself and instinctively know, that nope, they're wrong and you're right. Most people that critique on here are beginners and they may not be as well versed or as well as read as you. You're posting on an online forum where you're meeting people who may have never in their life have read anything like Skippy Dies. I mean, I can't you tell how many posts I've read on this forum alone where people call Cormac McCarthy a horrible writer simply because he doesn't use quotation marks; they think he's horrible because of that. They call him a bad writer, why? Because they don't know any better, because everything they have been exposed to before has always had quotation marks and so they automatically assume that anything without quotation marks is wrong. You can't help that. You can't control people and how they react to certain things. You just have to write and then put it out there and wait. Wait to see that what you wrote is getting through and yes, people are getting it; where people know to go with the flow because your words are bigger than the fact that you didn't use quotation marks, that your sentences are more impactful than that missing comma, and that all those things are being built up to point to where your style itself has a point apart from your words, because it's got a story itself to tell and it's telling it right along side your words.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,967
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I think that it's usually pretty easy to tell when someone is breaking the rules deliberately, and when they're breaking them because they don't know the rules. And when it's not clear, I generally address that in my critique. ("The above is a run-on sentence; I realize that that may be an intentional style choice.")

    So I absolutely don't think that we need to refrain from commentiong on nonstandard writing, as long as those comments are respectful, and comments should always be respectful. I agree that some writing can benefit from a judicious breaking of the rules; I don't believe that writing can be improved by _ignorance_ of the rules. If the writer doesn't know that something he's written is nonstandard, he should know. If he does know and he made the choice deliberately, then there's no particular harm in telling him what he already knows.

    And quite often, if the nonstandard language looks like a mistake, there's a good chance that the writer is failing to convey the flavor that he wants to convey. He may respond to the criticism by making the language _more_ nonstandard, not less, but I think that it's important for him to know that to at least a portion of his audience, it looks like a mistake, not a choice.

    ChickenFreak
     
  11. JackElliott
    Offline

    JackElliott Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2011
    Messages:
    155
    Likes Received:
    12
    Apologies -- I thought your original post was intended to be more interesting than just a rant about how forum-people don't understand adventurous writing. Why do so many seem to criticise grammar? Because it's easy. Because there seems to be a lot of young people here, not only learning how to craft fiction, but also learning how to appraise the works of others.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,967
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    And, well, because the grammar problems are there. Not every instance of breaking a rule of language is a consciously-made daring decision; often what looks like a mistake is indeed a mistake.

    ChickenFreak
     
  13. The-Joker
    Offline

    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2008
    Messages:
    742
    Likes Received:
    35
    Location:
    Africa
    I agree wuth many people here. Ever read The Help? If you're going to write outside the laws of grammar, it needs to be purposeful and consistent. There should be no doubt what you're trying to achieve. In The Help the narrator has a tilted grasp of the English language, and the entire novel is written in this richly accentend grammatically flawed manner. It's simply a matter of style. By all means if you think you can pull it off, give it a go. It is risky though. I personally couldn't finish The Help because I found the language a bit too grating.
     
  14. MarmaladeQueen
    Offline

    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    139
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Cambridge,UK
    Maybe I'm just missing the point here.

    My question, to myself as much to anyone else, is how to I break the shackles and become more creative with language? The answers mostly seemd to be: learn how to write "correct" English first and then you can move on. But I know how to write correct English. I'm not a SPaG pundit, but I write well enough. Too well. Years of writing business and technical English have given me a style that is painstakingly clear and thorough. I know my creative writing suffers from that. I don't allow enough scope for the reader's imagination. The rules of GaP were so well drummed into me at an early age that I find it hard to break free.

    Perhaps I should set myself exercises - to try, for example, to write in the style of Paul Murray, or Tim Winton, or Virginia Wolf. That might help.

    Does anyone else suffer from this problem?
     
  15. jimr
    Offline

    jimr Member

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2011
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    0
    THIS: {He has whole paragraphs lasting more than one printed page which are made up of just one sentence} sounds like fairly unenjoyable reading. As far as the ongoing trend of uniqueness in literature, frankly, it's lost on me. Albeit, the language in written form that we use today is a conglomoration of style evolution, as evinced by contemporary minilimism itself. But I feel communication technology and computers, along with equal rights and a subsequent inflated awareness of individual importance, are simply stripping the necessary structure from our liturature. Telling compelling stories is what we're supposed to be doing, not impressing readers with our quirkiness. I guess I am just a plebian individual who, like the vast majority of readers, don't want to have to think very much to be entertained.
     
  16. art
    Offline

    art Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2010
    Messages:
    1,159
    Likes Received:
    113
    Your not allowing scope for the reader's imagination is not a matter of style but simply a matter of including that which should not be included.

    It is entirely possible to write beautifully, and with terrifying power, without recourse to flamboyant language or verbal pyrotechnics. Do not get carried away with this idea that your prose must be, of itself, astonishing or ambitious.

    Frankly, fancy prose may not be your thing. What of it? Read Chekhov.
     
  17. MarmaladeQueen
    Offline

    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    139
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Cambridge,UK
    I found the book in question, "Skippy Dies", to be incredibly good, and very readable. I would strongly recommend it. It's a 600+ word novel that takes place over a few weeks in a boys' public (i.e. private) boarding school in Dublin. I don't think he could have achieved the same literary effect if he'd stuck to conventional PaG. As I've said before, the author's grasp of English was breathtaking.
     
  18. jimr
    Offline

    jimr Member

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2011
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    0
    If anyone is interested in taking a look at Murray's style you can read the first 10 page preview here on Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/dp/0865479437/?tag=postedlinks04-20

    The author has an engaging style and I can see your point Marmalade Queen, I stand corrected; I wouldn't read this book, but he shows the ability to carry a whole page in one sentence if anyone does.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,967
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I read the first several pages at that link, and I didn't see a single broken rule. The grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure are flawless. The _style_ is extreme, and I think that it's the flawless English that's doing the engineering of holding that style up and making it work.

    This, to me, is not an example of what you can create if you break the rules. It's an example of what you can create within the boundaries of those rules.

    ChickenFreak
     
  20. The-Joker
    Offline

    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2008
    Messages:
    742
    Likes Received:
    35
    Location:
    Africa
    I also read the above link and the biggest thing that stood out for me was the copious use of present participles eg, "is eating" "is scrabbling". It's still grammatically intact though.

    Check out the link to The Help for an author who throws the grammar rulebook out the window.

    The Help
     

Share This Page