Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MatrixGravity, May 30, 2011.
Is proper grammar everything when it comes to writing? What else must you maintain..
Proper grammar is not everything, and can never everything else. Of course to be a good and successful writer one must have the mastery of language or must construct grammatically correct sentences. But as a writer you must go beyond it. If you have great themes or ideas and yet you have no confidence in what you write grammatically, your minor grammatical errors can be corrected or edited. What is more important is your idea combined with your technical savoir faire. If you are thematically excellent and technologically savvied your success as a writer is unquestionable. Grammar is not everything else. You must go beyond grammar.
It makes it easier to read something. If fiction is written in broken, or just horrible, English (try Twilight by William Gay (not the Meyer one)), it can be hard to read, which means it's harder to appreciate.
If you can't understand something to the point that you have to close it and leave it behind, then there's a problem.
It's a basic necessity. Eloquence, poetry, plot, suspense, characterization -- all elements will suffer if every other word in the text is spelled wrong, or commas are all over the place. Bad grammar is simply distracting.
Proper grammar isn't everything. It's a prerequisite to everything.
You, sir, are excellent. I am quoting that in my signature, henceforth!
Ok, well I am asking what else you must need to maintain. Grammar,Punctuation,... What other factors?
You found William Gay to be broken, horrible English? I'd say it's a different style, and more advanced in terms of structures and vocabulary than many readers may be comfortable with, but I haven't found anything he's written to be horrible or broken English.
Cormac McCarthy far more, though again it's not even the grammar that is a barrier, but the style and approach.
I've read plenty of manuscripts that the grasp on the English language was so poor that I literally couldn't make sense of denotative meanings, much less connotative, but I wouldn't consider writers like William Gay in that group (nor most published writers, no matter how vapid or stupid the prose is, it's all generally fairly readable).
There's a difference between a complex, or even broken style, and a writer who is just ignorant.
... Advanced? I'm sorry, but no. William Gay's style is not advanced. It lacks simple punctuation, even so far as lacking quotation marks for dialogue. Different style, yes. Advanced style, no. Lack of "style", yes.
It's difficult to read because you have to stop every few words because you think, "Oh wait, someone was SAYING that?" It's difficult to read because you have to stop every few sentences because you think, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" It's filled with awkward turns of phrase and a terrible use of grammar.
As for Cormac McCarthy, don't even get me started on HIS problems. Good NIGHT, sir!
You have difficulty understanding Cormac McCarthy? Are you serious? I haven't read William Gay, I'll admit, but if you can't understand Cormac McCarthy the problem is yours, not his.
Proper grammar and punctuation and such are the first hurdles to get over. It may take time, especially if you didn't pay attention in school (or if your teachers didn't provide you the opportunity to learn).
Then there is the storytelling aspect. That is harder to 'learn' but one can hone that skill with practice.
It's difficult to succeed without the ability to present a piece with competent use of grammar--spelling, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, proper verb tense, pronouns and antecedents matching, etc.
It is impossible to succeed without the ability to weave a good tale using all that 'grammar and stuff.'
This was when I stopped taking you seriously.
Edit: I'll add that you of course are entitled to your opinion, but I find it lacking to have a discussion with someone so limited and constrained in their views on the craft of fiction they can't see beyond 'issues' like this, and seem to think grammar issues are so important as to not allow themselves to be immersed into a work if the grammar isn't appropriate.
Yeah, McCarthy is funny because his style is easily rejected by people overly concerned with surface issues (read as: people who're more comfortable rejecting a work based on the use of quotation marks or who concern themselves more with whether a sentence is a fragment rather than what it says. All the while, his prose is some of the most direct, immediate, accessible and effective prose around.
I think he did it on purpose, as I can usually tell if I want to continue discussing fiction with someone (or talking to them at all), based on their impressions of The Road. It's not just a book, but a social tool!
100% absolute agreement. I don't think we need bother asking for impressions of The Road at this point, considering it's lack of quotations and all. Probably never made it beyond the first page.
I agree. I believe that he actually follows more of a traditional literary style of writing in which quotation marks are knowingly omitted . His work is direct but often profound in its simplicity.
I can name many who follow this style, and yes it is a style. James Joyce being a classic.
But one done that is more contemporary is Frank McCourt who did it with this three memories.
of course it's not 'everything'!
but it is where one must start... after that comes style and story... with enough talent and skill, all of those elements come together and the result is 'good writing' that makes for 'good reading'...
In term of actual Linguistics, grammar isn't everything in some sense. That is, for instance, there is no logical reason why double negatives can't be used; they may be a grammatical "rule" of English, but several other languages (including some related to English), and even many dialects of English, use them fine. There isn't anything inherently "bad" or "confusing" or "illogical" about double negatives - that's just a cultural construct of it.
HOWEVER, that doesn't mean you should ignore grammar. I don't agree with many grammar nazis in principle, for instance, but sometimes standards are necessary. Many of the people who will read your book will probably be trained to acknowledge a certain type of grammar - or, at least, the publishers will, and you want to make sure you get on their side. Furthermore, a number of grammatical errors can be confusing to many people - even if there is nothing inherently confusing about them - such as having extremely long run-on sentences. Basically, it all boils down to keeping things understandable and straightforward.
Unless, of course, you intend to write a difficult to understand and confusing story. However, although many people say that rules of writing were meant to and can be broken at least once in a while, many of the writers who have done so have done so consciously and purposefully. Before you can break the rule, you must know it and understand it, after all.
Grammar isn't everything, of course. The story is what's important. Grammar usually just helps you articulate it in a way that's understandable and acceptable to the reader - or, well, at least the publisher.
People seem to sometimes miss the fact that grammar and any 'rules' with language are purely descriptive, not prescriptive. Linguists don't tell you how you should communicate, but explain how you are or have communicated. Even English teachers teaching grammar, if they're any good, aren't teaching you how you should write, but instead describing how people are writing.
Grammar and language rules change as the language changes, they don't change the language. People, as users of a language, are the ones with the authority over that languages use. Grammar is a way of making sense out of the way we communicate, but isn't even the force that drives good communication. Simple understanding is what defines whether communication is good or not. If your meaning is clear, grammar rules in tact or thrown out the window, then your communication is good.
What irks me is discussing a passage of prose with a writer who claims up and down the 'problem' with it is the grammar, or some other rule, and using that as an excuse to not admit they understood perfectly well what it means. If a passage is clearly conveying it's meaning, to then judge it as somehow inferior or not good enough reeks of pretentiousness.
Granted, clarity is a variable thing. Some may struggle to understand certain writers, but it's usually not some problem with grammar or rules, simply a miscommunication between that author and reader. If it makes anyone at all 'wrong' then I'd say it's the reader when millions of others do seem to understand it perfectly well.
And if expecting a higher standard than clear communication in writing is pretentious, then what does that make writers who seem to intentionally be up-writing their prose. Sure, the meaning is clear, but I'm going to be extra fancy about it! First off, few writers can actually do that and still be as clear, and secondly, I don't think there's a single genre that likes that kind of thing these days. Clarity is king, plain and simple, and it's about time as that's been the truth of language for a long time and I'm glad fiction has finally caught up and isn't as convoluted as in ages past.
Thank you for this, you expressed it probably better than I did.
After all, in our daily language, we mess up grammar all the time, and yet people still understand.
So, are you suggesting that we all write in the style of a Dick and Jane reader? "See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!" Very clear, but few among us would regard that as good prose.
The magic of prose - of language in general - is that it has the capacity to communicate meanings beyond the basic information conveyed by the dictionary definitions of the words used. Language is not just about definitions and rules of grammar. It also involves rhythms, pacing, puns and other forms of wordplay, allusions, metaphors, and all the other rhetorical devices that make it possible to communicate far more than a Dick and Jane reader does.
Understanding this kind of language is somewhat demanding on the reader - the reader should have an education. But it's far easier to communicate with educated readers than with uneducated ones, because they get your references, your allusions; they understand your figures of speech. You can say a lot in a few words. I remember an old Captain America comic book, in which a villain says to Captain America: "I'm your friend!" (not an exact quote), and Cap replies "Like Brutus is to Caesar you are!" That says a lot about betrayal in only seven words, and it sure helps if you have an education, even if you're only reading a comic book.
My point is that writers shouldn't have to dumb down their language. More can be communicated using smart language and all the options available to smart, educated people. If some people can't follow it, then those people aren't part of the target audience.
To the OP: Besides the basic skills like grammar and spelling, I think you need to learn storytelling, descriptions, characterisation, point of view and dialogue to be a writer. There are other skills which are important, but I think the above are the minimum to write, say, a good novel.
I had a big long rely, but honestly, I'm not even going to bother. If you thought my point was that we should dumb down our language, then there's no point in my continuing to make them.
This is the point. I've seen your posts here. You're a highly educated writer, one I respect. Why, then, did you post what you posted? It looked like you undermined a lot of what you'd said in other threads. I admire you, but in the post I quoted, you seemed to backtrack on what you'd said before. It's late at night right now, so I'm not going to go into detail, but you disappointed me. I know that you're not here to please me or anyone else, but still - arrgh!
Of course not. The transmission's not everything when you're building a car, either, but good luck getting the thing to drive without one.
If I say don't break the speed limit, would you think I meant stop the car? If I say don't yell, would you think I meant never speak again? Advising to not over-write doesn't mean one should dumb down their prose to base levels. That's actually a problem in educating writers, they think learning big words means they should use them. I mean, how else will everyone know they've been educated and are smarter than others if they don't show it off, right?
The smartest people I know are the ones who use ordinary language to bring about extraordinary insights. The stupidest people I know, especially writers, are those who think writing fiction is a showcase of their own education and talents (which again usually has a negative, ironic effect, as it's at the expense of the story, and becomes bad writing). There's a reason writers traditionally have very high IQ's, yet the best writers make it look as if anyone could do it.
Sorry to disappoint you, but I've met enough writers who think their job is to show off, who run their manuscripts through Word statistics ensuring it's at the highest possible reported grade level, who think how they sound saying something is more important than what they're saying, much less whether anyone can make sense of it. All under the guise that it's the 'proper' way to speak or write.
Sadly, this is often rewarded in the classroom and in academia, where students and even professors don't want to admit they don't understand the intelligent-sounding gibberish someone is spewing, and I've also seem professors or student-teachers strive to be confusing, thinking that if they talk so far above everyone's head that the class can't keep up then it will somehow prove their status and position in the class. And sadly, I've seen these types of people's mediocre writing rewarded for similar reasons, they sound so smart, so they must be, right? Seemingly whole committees of writers with advanced degrees and respectable publishing credits not wanting to be the first one to suggest maybe the writer is just full of it.
So no, I not only don't think proper grammar is everything, but think those who think it is and place importance on grammar are missing the point of communicating. But, but, but, proper grammar is vital in communication, right? Nope. It only even matters when communication isn't clear, and at that point the problem is still a lack of communication, not improper grammar. Grammar then becomes the tool, not the purpose.
This extends into the absolute worst reviews/critiques being those that focus on grammar. May as well just save everyone time and write 'Tsk tsk, I'm smarter than you and going to use my education into grammar as proof' and get on with saying something useful, or not bothering, as at that point it becomes more about the reviewer than the manuscript.
Separate names with a comma.