1. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you need to be an English expert to be a good writer?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Hubardo, Jun 14, 2015.

    Think of your favorite writers. Do you think they could explain to you the exact mechanics of their writing? I don't know very much technical information about writing and I wonder sometimes if this has negative impacts on my writing. Wondering if others wonder about this too.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    They probably won't be able to explain every single aspect of grammar if that's what you're talking about. Thankfully, knowing whether or not something is a transitive phrasal verb isn't going to make a difference when it comes to how well one writes. All that matters is that you have a solid grasp of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
     
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  3. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    I'm not sure exactly what you're asking, but I think you need to know (and observe) the rules of grammar, usage and spelling in whatever language you're writing in.
     
  4. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thirdwind above mentioned "transitive phrasal verb." I don't have any idea what that is. Do most good writers know what a "transitive phrasal verb" is?
     
  5. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Grammar is very little of creative writing. I think it really only matters insofar as it keeps your writing firmly composed and gives variety to sentences. It's more about how thoughts are presented, not the tecnically best way to express a thought, because it might not have the intended impact.
     
  6. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I'm teeeeerrible at explaining grammatical rules or putting into words how I know how to do what I do. IMO as long as you can put together coherent sentences you're good. I think the best thing for me was to just read a lot and get a sense, from experience/exposure, what reads well. Knowing minutiae about part of speech or participles or whatever isn't the most important thing.

    I have no idea what a transitive verbal phrase is. My brother probably would and he's a programmer, but I, the family writer, haven't the [expletive] foggiest. You're fine :>
     
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  7. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Writing is communicating. It's not about technical perfection, but effective communication. If you can get your message across in an interesting and engaging way, the technical details become less relevant. You don't need to be an expert, but it helps to have a solid understanding.
     
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  8. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    No, you don't have to be an English expert to be a good writer.

    It's like saying, 'if I learn to play the piano, can I make great music?' The answer is no.

    Edit: that's exactly why a lot of established authors say, you can't teach writing.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to know how to write correctly. I don't think it matters much whether you do so by instinct (probably from reading a great deal of good writing) or by instinct plus the knowledge of terms and rules that allow you to explain the things that your instinct tells you to do.
     
  10. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    I'll disagree, but it may depend on who your readers are. Those who read (and enjoyed) 50 Shades of Grey probably don't care much about proper grammar, or even spelling, as long as the heroine is being properly abused.

    I like to think that I write for a more discriminating audience, and they want to be able to read my work without having to constantly stop and go back to examine a grammatical error.

    I don't see any reason one's writing can't have the 'intended impact' and also follow the rules.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Transitive = the verb has an object.
    Phrasal verb (or verb phrase) = sometimes a single verb concept is composed of more than one word. Beat up, put off, give in, etc. There are tons of them.

    Do you need to know the name and composition of this particular syntax in order to use it? Clearly not, but knowing these things can help when one is unsure of the correct deployment of syntax. It helps in looking things up and discerning one grammatical phenomenon from another. It also comes in handy when one realizes that perhaps a particular bit of grammar one uses often is technically ungrammatical, even if common, so that one can make a choice as to whether to stick to the letter of the law, or show some artistic license. There's a big difference between showing artistic license and simply not knowing any better.

    Were I to see the following somewhere in your narrative:

    She had ran the store since her mother died last October.

    There would be little "artistic license" that could be argued here for the error in bold. Again, this is not in some dialogue, but in the narrative of your story. Had + simple past tense is a common grammatical error one hears in vernacular speech. Common enough that many don't know it's an error and fewer still understand the mechanics of the error. If I were to point out this hypothetical error in your WIP and explain that the auxiliary verb always takes the past participle in this kind of construction and you're not familiar with the words I just used, then we have an impasse. If I were to just tell you that it's always had + run, never had + ran, then you know the fix for this one set of words, but not the reason and logic to employ whenever you come across similar constructions using other verbs. Knowing what an auxiliary verb is and what a past participle is allows you to take the correction and apply it in all cases, or.... not apply it when it's in dialogue and the character who is speaking is a person who makes use of this particular ungrammatical structure as part of his/her idiolect.

    I think a good number of my preferred writers could explain the mechanics of writing, simply because one of the things that tends to make a writer fall onto my preferred list is a deft deployment of syntax and phrase, be that syntax law-abiding or not. This does not preclude, though, that a writer with a very precise use of language does not engage an organic understanding of usage rather than a systematic one.

    I see this conversation/thread already setting up its two usual camps - prescriptive grammarians on one side and descriptive grammarians on the other... tedious - but that's not really the question you asked, is it? Nor is it your fault. Your question touched closely enough to a related topic that is one of those topics that makes people put their backs to the wall, blades at the ready. You asked if one who strives to be a writer should have a strong grounding in the mechanics of a language, and my answer is yes. I personally feel that to be a successful writer you need to understand the tools you will be using, and you should understand them well. What you do with those tools, once you know them, is completely up to you.
     
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  12. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    You can't create art without understanding your tools, but the quality of your art is a totally different matter.
     
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  13. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am so glad you exist.
     
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  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Define what a 'good writer' is. Because there are some people on this forum who think something is fine art if it doesn't start with a car chase.
     
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  15. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I concur.
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And I believe that to be a completely different topic than the one in question, so before the train derails and the cars fold up like an accordion across the landscape, go forth, find a thread on that topic, take thee thither.
     
  17. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Seems perfectly relevant to me.
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I learned all those grammatical terms in school - and promptly forgot them. I did, however, remember how to use them. Same way at work and home - I can't tell you what that wrench-like thing is, but I know how and when to use it. I doubt any agent or editor is going to ask you about such things...
     
  19. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Someone like Stephen King who clearly knows his linguistics stuff (going off of On Writing) might be a 'good writer' and someone like James Joyce might be literally an expert in linguistics and not be to everyone's tastes. I see two issues here, linguistic/grammatical knowledge and the concept of 'good writing'.

    Something like the sentence 'There is no there there' by Gertrude Stein might be playing with the structure of English, but I don't find it interesting to read as a writer/reader. But does 'interesting' mean 'good'? The question might appear simple, but really it's raising a very complicated issue to be honest.

    I don't think you'd need to be an expert on grammar and linguistics to be a good writer (providing you who read this are not one of those people who object to the word 'good' in that sentence), a good writer can use language in the same way Jimi Hendrix could not read sheet music, but could play the guitar like a master. Robert Burns, the Heaven-taught Ploughman, had only a peasant farmer's education, and no formal education in grammar or literature past his teenage years. Yet he wrote poems that remain powerful 200 years after his death. That surely is a 'good writer'.
     
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  20. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have had editors tell me to go through an MS and look for grammar issue XYZ, and I've had to figure out what the hell XYZ is before I can look for it. But it's not that hard to figure it out when I need it.

    ETA: And I've had an editor tell me to go through and look for passive voice, when really she meant something else that I still don't truly understand. So it's not like editors are always right on this stuff, either.
     
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