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Punctuation, Grammar and spelling
Smoothmarmar
Posted: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 6:01 PM
Joined: 8/12/2011
Posts: 2



I would like to advance the idea that proper punctuation is irrelevant to creative writing.

There is no need for writers to be enslaved to their grammar school teachers.  It is time for writers to mold and sculpt language as they see fit.  We writers must dominate language, not the other way around.

Great painters abandoned rigid fidelity to representation over a hundred years ago.  It is time for creative writers to throw rigid fidelity to grammar into the garbage as well.  As writers we smash all barriers to self-expression.  Every writer must be his own literary revolution!

Grammar should be used when it is useful, and thrown aside whenever it is not.

CY Reid
Posted: Friday, September 9, 2011 10:53 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 52


I think this is actually 100% true, and your two biggest examples are Cormac McCarthy and Hubert Selby Jr.

HS is an especially good example, as he used a "/" instead of apostrophes because they were closer on the keyboard. His dialogue doesn't take place within quotation marks (neither does McCarthy's, at least in the portion of No Country for Old Men I read), and it's this crazy screed that tells a passionate story.

But there's a pitfall here - there's a major difference between these two authors and the people who know good grammar, but don't actually care. If you know, unlike HS, that you should be using quotes, regular indentations and so on, and you don't bother simply because it's unappealing to you, that's your decision, but it may impact the reader's ability to absorb the meaning of your work.

I can see the logic behind your comparison of writing to art, but it's just not the same thing. No one needs to use certain rules when looking at a painting to understand it (within the field of most art, anyway; modern and surrealist can be a bit of an uncertainty), but with writing, it has to make some form of sense.

I once read a book called Mogworld by Yahztee Croshaw in which conversations, at some points, took place in instant-messaging format, complete with spelling mistakes, etc. That was fantastic - it modernised dialogue to the point where I, as a member of the internet youth, felt like I really "got it".

TL,DR; grammar can be thrown aside, but you do so at your own risk.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, September 9, 2011 4:58 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I agree that punctuation in a story should be molded to fit the writer's style, but as someone who has studied painting and drawing, you still need to know your basics. You can be creative in how you indicate dialogue, or use nothing at all (Falkner stream of consciousness), but you do run the risk of being too radical or unfamiliar. Not only can it chase readers off, but editors, agents, and publishers as well.

I prefer to use familiar punctuation, like the comma, to show readers the cadence of speech in dialogue. I do not use semi-colons because they act more as soft periods and can take away the conviction that is needed in writing. I used to study writing under a professor who used to teach grammar, and he said that you need to show that you know it, but don't stick to the rules. A writer has his/her own style.

Grammar doesn't make the writer, but for those of us out there who aren't McCarthy or Selby, we need to show what we can do while developing our own style.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Saturday, September 10, 2011 1:10 AM


You might want to read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynn Truss (a really funny book, one all writers should have), because you’re forgetting that the things you’re suggesting be discarded were implemented ONLY to help the reader ‘hear” the words as the writer intended them to be heard.

After all, how would you read, “James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher” if there were no punctuation?

Never forget that if you deviate from what the reader expects they have to do extra work to understand. And if in the end, you offer nothing extra in return for that work, the reader will feel cheated. The writers you mentioned did give repayment, but didn’t start a trend. And, I have to ask. Were they to have used normal techniques, would the work have been looked at as more brilliant? Or, lacking the gimmick, would it have been less? No way to tell, but I don’t think it’s as simple as everyone simply charging off in a different direction. Before anything else we have to convince a publisher to invest lots of company money in bringing it to market. And that may not be easy.


James, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.
or
James, while John had had "had had" had had “had"; "had had" had had a better effect on the teacher.

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 6:43 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


The point I was trying to make is that you have to know your grammar before you play with it. Grammar is flexible, not rigid like all of our grade school teachers taught us. You can end a sentence in a preposition, and split infinitives. I myself have found that it is often about how the sentence sounds aloud and reads than if it is proper of not. Take for instance the sentence, "George and he went to the market," with he being the subject. I'm not going to bother looking it up, but I'm pretty sure that is the "grammatically correct" way to say that sentence. In a story I would write it, "Him and George went to the market," so that the reader doesn't have to struggle over the sentence. "George and he," reads and sounds awkward despite being correct.

Kzinga, I see that your seem to be confused about the difference between grammar and language. Grammar is a part of language, but it differs depending on the language. American English alone has at minimum four major dialects, plus whatever regional dialects add. As I said, grammar is flexible. Also, page formating has nothing to do with grammar.

As for publishing houses wanting perfect script, that wasn't the point Mr. Jay and I were trying to make. We meant that the reader has to be able to read it, and that includes editors and agents. If they can't read it, then they may not understand how good it is. There is no such thing as perfect script, but easy to read script is a must.

Oh, and double spacing is a good writing practice since it makes editing easier. I double space everything.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 8:26 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


As someone with an english degree, I like the way that the language changes. It would be boring if it didn't. I also love the Great Gatsby, so there! XP

Just kidding. I felt like being childish for a moment.

Kzinga, I get what you're saying. From what you have said, it looks like you hate fluffy, purple prose. I dislike it too, but that is a writing decision that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with grammar. Grammar is structure and placement. I once had a teacher in high school that said there are 50 ways to write the same sentence, and thats true. I think where the confusion lies with a topic like throwing aside grammar is that writers make many decisions outside whether to use "proper" grammar or not. There is formatting, use of details, how dialogue is presented, and so on. Writing is such a complex creative activity that there is no right way to do it. As a writer, (and you are a writer if you write, even as a hobby) it is your choice with what you do with your writing.

Here is the reality though. The professionals want you to look professional. A manuscript is like a resume. It needs to be clean and easy to read with no spelling errors or jumbled sentences. Your formating should be recognizable and within industry standards. Unless you are a big name like McCarthy or King, then you have to follow the rules until you are noticed. Not everyone is as lucky as those who were discovered because they were different. There is a fine line between acceptable and not even worth looking at. I know that its sad and maddening, but thats it.

Luckily, for those who refuse to go by the grain, there is the self publishing route. Self publishing has become more popular in the past few years, and sometimes is a more viable option for those who don't want to deal with the hassle of a large publishing house, or a small one.

I will admit that I'm kind of a book snob. I do read a lot of published works that would be more useful acting like a clay pigeon. One thing that should be remembered, publishers like books that are marketable. Twilight would be the best example I can come up with. (Meyer should be shot for those atrocities.) Like all industries that peddle art, its who looks the best in advertising. I have a saying that perhaps everyone should adopt: Just because its popular doesn't mean its good.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 10:53 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


I’m tempted to respond to this stimulating and provocative discussion with an over-written, ultra-long and hyper-detailed response, but I will try my best to be succinct and focused instead:

(1) I’m all for creativity and innovation in the arts, Btu AnY ephect U sss-eek 2 creeATE bi Al-terrain Zspahl-Ling, graMar ANdd syntax MU$T bEEEEEE wOrThhthhhh dee N-err-GEE EIGH x-pend N migh STRA-gahl 2 wreed ITt.

(2) I’m in agreement with the artist who said: (as best I remember): “You can argue that kicking a bucket of bolts down the stairs is artistically equivalent to a Mahler symphony, but you won’t get far with that argument with me.”

(3) I love the passion and fervor and rebellious energy of your rabble-rousing call to arms, Smoothmarmar, but I notice that the power and clarity and vividness of your exhortation is due to its being delivered with letter-perfect spelling precision and . . . err . . . the very orthodox grammar and syntax you argue writers should not be unthinking slaves to.

But thanks for kicking off a great discussion! (And I do agree, albeit in a very limited way, with your point that writers should not be UNTHINKING slaves to iron-clad rules of punctuation, spelling and grammar.)

Lisa Hoekstra
Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011 2:06 AM
Joined: 5/10/2011
Posts: 89


I agree.... As a day job, I work in communications... All day long I have the exciting task of writing and editing text that will provide a direct and clear message to the public. I've actually developed pet peeves when it comes to certain grammatical errors (I won't get into them now). I have also learned that less is usually best. Flowery language and over explanation just clouds the point.... But then I go home a cut loose of those constraints. But I don't throw grammar completely out the window. I actually have been experimenting with using it to my advantage by misusing it at specific moments for emphasis or drama. If used correctly, or rather misused correctly, poor grammar can work really well for creative writing. But when overused (as was pointed out to me in one of my manuscripts, where I over use repetition and sentence fragments) it severely detracts from the narrative.

My point is that I support throwing grammar out the window... In moderation. As Carl mentions, Your work still needs to be readable without much energy required to work out what you're saying.
Atthys Gage
Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:06 AM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467


Picasso, Schoenberg, Stravinski, Cezanne, Stein, Faulkner, Joyce...

Many of art's greatest innovators are not seeking freedom from rules and restrictions. Most, I'd say, have simply established their own set of rules and restrictions, or at least that is the goal. Art works within a system. Breaking out of it is a fine goal, but you'd damn well better take the reader somewhere, and you'd better give them a reason to follow, or they won't. And really, whether you use conventional grammar or not, the basic tools are still the same.

Say something, say it clearly, and say it in a way that makes people wonder why they've never heard some body say it quite that way before. You don't need to abandon grammar to do that.

Atthys Gage
Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011 4:50 AM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467


And LeAnna makes an excellent point when she refers to sound sometimes overruling grammar. In fact, sound has often dictated grammar. The main reason we don't, as a rule, end sentences with prepositions is because it is, often, unclear what we are talking about when we do. Even in a well-written sentence, a preposition at the end seems to hang, and a less than careful reader is liable to think he's missed something. Consider how we use 'an' before a word beginning with a vowel sound, instead of 'a'. Try saying 'I ate a apple." It's more than just convention, it's hard to say. Rules are usually there to enhance clarity, not simply to shackle our wrists for no good reason.

(And I think "He and George..." will work better than either "Him and George..." or "George and he..." 'He' has to be referring to someone, and presumably that someone was made clear in the preceding sentence, so why put George between him and He, if you know what I mean.)

If I'm babbling a little, blame it on the beer. Have another.? Don't mind if I do.

Cheers.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011 1:48 PM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42


"I would like to advance the idea that proper punctuation is irrelevant to creative writing."

Irrelevant, no. I think that proper punctuation exists in order to aid a reader in a complete comprehension of the piece. Unless it's done with precise mayhem, it will not only look unprofessional, it will confuse anyone who comes into contact with it.

"There is no need for writers to be enslaved to their grammar school teachers. It is time for writers to mold and sculpt language as they see fit. We writers must dominate language, not the other way around."

Language exists -- and always has -- to communicate effectively. Thus if we, as writers, seek to go about altering the language simply because we have a better handle on it than the average speaker, we are demonstrating arrogance. If anything we should write our stories to reach the broader, least comprehending audience we can in order to enlighten them. Thus if they can't understand it, then we fail in that goal.

"Great painters abandoned rigid fidelity to representation over a hundred years ago. It is time for creative writers to throw rigid fidelity to grammar into the garbage as well. As writers we smash all barriers to self-expression. Every writer must be his own literary revolution!"

This I can accept. As writers we have a duty to tell a story. But we are allowed to have creative license to be bold, provocative, or even offense in telling it -- whether with out language or misuse of it. People have suggested writers like McCarthy and Selby (I'd also propose Burgess, whose use of language (not necessarily grammar) was way out of the acceptable norm at the time; and I'd even throw out Saramago); these people, however, did not start this way, nor have they done it for every piece they've created since. It's a mechanic, a method, a means by which to demonstrate a point. A style that flaunts the misuse or abandonment of language norms becomes, itself, repetitive and predictable.

"Grammar should be used when it is useful, and thrown aside whenever it is not."

Yes. As a linguist I can thoroughly stand behind this statement. As a non-fiction writer I can stand behind this statement. And as a creative writer I can stand behind this statement. That being said all of the above does not necessarily reflect this statement. Language is meant to be useful; otherwise, what's the point? If grammar helps people understand our meaning, then it needs to be used.
CY Reid
Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011 8:01 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 52


Yes, Kzinga, McCarthy is indeed an example, but do bear in mind he's one of a handful of authors who can pull that off, and he does that by actually writing a grammatically correct novel. Just because he neglects to show dialogue in a conventional sense doesn't mean that all his commas and line breaks aren't in the right place.

Creativity is a wonderful thing, but focused, honed creativity is something I, as a writer and a reader, find truly impressive. As Lisa stated, she works in communications - this rings a bell with me, as I'm a copywriter. Both disciplines require you to get points across in a quick, precise fashion without sacrificing your quality of writing "just 2 get da point acros."

The flaw in the argument of those who insist incorrect grammar is irrelevant in the face of a marvellous story is that many of those people are not the finely honed writing machines they hold aloft as examples of their theory at work. You could tell a story that changes the face of literature, but if you can't even follow basic punctuation, almost no one is going to read it and it will lie alone on shop shelves for some time.

I take issue with your classification of the French language as "backwards" - it's actually a complex language with a very smart and precise set of grammatical rules, and when used well, like any language, can create wonderful works of literature.

Grammar is important if you're a writer, full stop (pun not intended). In 2011, most readers have a minimum set of standards, and if the English or French languages are in some way a barrier to writing good fiction, then all I can recommend is finding a language with which you can communicate your tales more comfortably. Sure, a novel with perfect grammar could, in your own words, "**** ****" (can't bring myself to repeat it). But then again, there's far more chance of a novel being terrible if the opening pages consist of repeated failures at writing a grammatically correct sentence.
CY Reid
Posted: Friday, September 16, 2011 10:18 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 52


I like the idea of actually using a typewriter, but from a grammar nerd point of view. Given that you'd potentially be rewriting an entire novel if there are a few glaring typos anywhere in it (as a word could be pushed off the page, and then has a knock-on effect, etc), it would, if anything, encourage you to be -more- precise with your writing.

A basic book will be seen, yes, but not one that's badly written. The problem with self-publishing and the internet is that every Tom, Dick and Harry with an idea is now a novelist, in the same way that blogs turned everyone into journalists. The upside is that gatekeepers are no longer as relevant as they were, and good works will pass muster with fans even if they don't with agents/publishers.

But the downside is that the slush pile is huge, and The Greek Seaman was proof enough that a book that lacked anything more than a basic understanding of the English language would soon become a laughing stock, because there was never any effort on the part of the writer to edit or have someone skilled in editing read through it, primarily due to (proven) arrogance on the part of the author.

Oranges are best when they're sweet, but it doesn't mean I want to eat one when it's been peeled with a chainsaw.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Saturday, September 17, 2011 2:01 AM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42


@Kzinga: Without trying to sound terribly argumentative, I did not forget "creative writing" when saying that grammar is not irrelevant. Grammar is not irrelevant. As you say "punctuation is irrelevant if you get your point across." However, it's a bit of a catch 22 because you have to have gotten your point across. Grammar is relevant, but it has to be flexible. Rules for the sake of rules (i.e., Strunk & White) is restrictive; but if you go about educating yourself with some of the more established journalistic writers and editors, most of them will say that grammar is meant to -- as you say -- get your point across. If something doesn't work, toss it; but if it's working just fine, then keep it. You have to know what you're doing, though.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2011 6:17 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I have to admit that I'm no longer one of the only ones engaged in this very exciting discussion.

@Dryden: I agree that you have to know what you are doing, and show it. I have just done some edits on my work, and have found that while some things are grammatically correct, they are not needed. It just depends on what is appropriate for the occasion.
CY Reid
Posted: Monday, September 19, 2011 2:43 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 52


@LeeAnna: I agree that it doesn't always apply, but in one specific area.

I find that when writing dialogue, normal grammar and sentence structure rarely apply, because if you stick to it, you can't write realistic dialogue. People don't talk in a thought-through, edited manner, so there are a lot of asides and interruptions that you should reflect accurately within the text.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Monday, September 19, 2011 5:46 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


@CY Reid: I agree. The same goes for reproducing a character's letter (or e-mail) within the body of your text. Real-world people invariably tend to write in run-on sentences, fragments and odd stream-of-consciousness digressions when communicating informally with friends and loved ones.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Monday, September 19, 2011 6:16 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


@CYReid: Thanks for reminding me about dialogue. Grammar can't really apply there. As my 6th grade english teacher put it, "People don't talk like they write."
CY Reid
Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 9:33 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 52


@Carl Exactly! There was a game that came out recently in which you could hack computer terminals and read people's emails, IM logs and such. Within those were spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and as a result all the content felt so much more real and human. People just don't talk that smoothly on a day-to-day basis, and I feel that outside high fantasy, people who speak so formally completely break my immersion.

It's why I loved what I've read thus far of McCarthy - because it's not traditional storytelling, it's literally a he said this, she said that, and I feel like someone's telling me a story as a result, but I don't feel any less sucked in as a result.


@Bob It's depressing to know they were an English teacher. As for when rules should be bent, I'd urge you to take a glance at the writing style of Hubert Selby, Jr.: he came from an area in which grammar was far from someone's primary concern when writing, and made up his own rules. But the writing was anything but terrible, and went on to inspire films like Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 6:08 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


@CYReid: I think I know what game you're talking about, and yes, it does make the experience more real. My husband uses not punctuation or caps in his texts, so sometimes they read like Faulkner's stream of consciousness. People write or speak depending on the situation. In the 19th century, writing in dialect was "the thing." Take Twain's work. He had such a phenominal ear when it came to how people spoke, but unless spoken out loud, it can be incredibly hard to read. I think that there is a fine line between being authentic, and whether the reader can get through it. Having studied english literature, I found that the students who weren't as dedicated as me preferred something that didn't take a lot of work. Its insane the amount of people in high level english courses who refuse to struggle their way through a book. There are a lot of rolled eyes and cliff notes. So, my point is that dialogue or correspondence shouldn't be too formal (unless it fits the situation), but it needs to be somewhat easy to understand.
CY Reid
Posted: Friday, September 23, 2011 7:56 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 52


@LeeAnna: I'm an English graduate myself, but I'll be honest with you - some of those books were horrible. I studied almost every classic on a modern-day curriculum, and the vast majority of them were overhyped, or in a style that didn't gel with a modern readership.

I think the reason we hold them aloft is simply because they're put forward as an example of what writing should be. Reading a novel should never be a struggle, and I think if you're struggling through something, it lacks appeal, and that's not something you can cast aside because it's necessary.

Sure, there were some great books - Heart of Darkness is a good example - but I don't think it's always people being lazy. Sometimes it's just a case of "this book feels like work." I studied English because I love literature, but I will skirt round novels that make my brain sad.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, September 23, 2011 6:24 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662


I understand when a book feels like work, but I hardly struggle with a book. I know, it sounds like I'm bragging, but I really don't. I agree that a lot of what is taught is overhyped, but I was lucky enough to have professors that had some original choices and viewpoints. I took a class on Lord of the Rings, which bores me to tears when I read it, and I loved it. I've also had a Chicano Lit class, and two classes on war lit. The closest I got to being schooled in the conventional cannon is probably my basic american and english lit classes. Out side of that I mostly studied modernism. I took a whole class on Fitzgerald and Hemingway. (That class was awesome.)

I wouldn't say that those books are always put forward as what writing should be. I see them as more representatives of their time and what was popular in writing. LIke I said about Twain and dialect. What makes good literature is all about opinion. I've had teachers and professors break out of original cannon and teach one of the writer's lesser known works.

So yes, I agree that people don't like reading what is work. Which is the point I'm trying to make. There is a fine line between being authentic and difficult to read.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 12:42 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


I haven't experienced most of the 'canon classics' in school. I was a science major at a state school. If we could do a research paper and a five paragraph essay that was enough.

However, I'm a voracious reader, an absolute text addict. If I can't find a good book, I'll read a bad book. If I can't find a bad book, I'll read a pamphlet. Or stereo instructions. Or the back of a serial box. I read fifty to sixty novels a year, plus more articles, textbooks, matchbooks, and serial boxes than I can count.

When I read something and think "I would *rather* be reacing a cereal box, because the grammar, punctuation, spelling, narrative, and characterization would be better," that's a problem. At any rate, it's one thing to know the rules and break them deliberately, it's something else entirely to ignore the rules because you don't know them.


PureMagic
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 1:30 PM
Joined: 12/1/2011
Posts: 35


I tend to write in long, sometimes convoluted sentences.  I use a lot of m-dashes and semi-colons.  Some people have had trouble reading my stories.  There was a time when I tried to alter my style intentionally, but it did not stick with me.

Since then, I have come to equate "style" with "voice" when it comes to narrative writing (not dialogue).  Some people will argue with me that they are different, but I say they are so closely connected they are the same.  The style allows you to hear the writer's voice; the writer's voice is evident in their style of writing.

So the rules of punctuation and grammar, to me, should have a degree of malliability to them.  Writing is not mathmatics with hard and fast fomulae or theory, it should bend itself to the will of the author without breaking.  It is not a coincidence that most classes on writing are called "Creative Writing."

However - referring back to the title of this thread - spelling is a different animal altogether.  Spelling should be correct within a narrative.  Dialogue can take on its own forms and spellings to show dialect or accent, but within the confines of narration spelling is vital.  They don't put spell checks in word processing programs for no reason.  Just turn off the grammar checker!! 
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 6:36 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


If we could do a research paper and a five paragraph essay that was enough.


:shudders:  dear gods, I cannot stress enough my undying hatred of the five paragraph essay...

Also, from now on, you are Oscar Gordan.


Angela Martello
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 8:55 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


"A research paper and a five paragraph essay"! I have to say, I was a dual major in college - the only English (with a concentration in Writing) and Geology major in the entire school at the time (yeh, filling out "anonymous" class/professor evaluations wasn't so anonymous for me when I completed the "what's your major" block) - I was writing all the time! Research papers, short stories, scripts, lab reports, review articles, poems - and did spelling, grammar, and punctuation matter? Yes, in most cases (you can pretty much get away with violating all sorts of grammar and punctuation rules in poetry [and dialog], but you really do need to watch your spelling - unless you're purposely misspelling something for a reason).

I don't think you kill the creative voice by knowing the rules of grammar and punctuation. (PureMagic - I don't know why the trend is toward short, pithy sentences [I blame the twitterization of modern communication]. Semicolons and em-dashes - when used sparingly and correctly - can add so much to a writer's voice.) If anything, at least from my experience, I find it very difficult to read anything that is riddled with bad grammar, wrong punctuation, and misspelled words. I find it very distracting.

And perhaps this is another reason to brush up on grammar and punctuation rules: While it's true that there are editors out there who make a living fixing writers' writing, the more I read up about getting your manuscript ready to submit to an agent or publisher, the more I see an emphasis on making sure your work is as editorially clean as possible.


Jay Greenstein
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 12:24 AM
As someone said, it's the difference between: You know your shit, and, You know you're shit.

Little things count.




Carl E Reed
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 12:56 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


:::ROFL!:::

I didn't expect that from you, Jay! I'll never forget that now . . .

Angela Martello
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 8:39 AM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


So, true, Jay, so true! Would have made a better title than "Eat, Shoots & Leaves"!

Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 11:59 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


Why am I Oscar Gordon?

@Jay - that's brilliant. I wish I could use that in class.

@Angela - Oh, I didn't say I didn't write. I didn't even say that there wasn't writing involved in my classes. What I was pointing out was that the only required courses I took that *taught* how to write were Comp I & II. As noted, State School. Unofficial motto - "It's close, it's cheap, and we never run out of Coor's Extra Gold".

The only courses I took that required reading of something other than a science text were electives. I loved those courses.

Angela Martello
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 1:41 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394


Hi, Robert - you took more composition courses than most people do during their college careers. I knew so many people in college across a wide variety of majors (business, sciences, even in the arts & humanities) who went out of their way to avoid taking any writing courses. They didn't see why they needed to learn anything about written communication. . .

Like your school's unofficial motto!


Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 7:00 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


Robert , I take it you never read Glory Road?

But I didn't go to sleep. The truth is, I've got a monkey on my back, a habit worse than marijuana though not as expensive as heroin. I can stiff it out and get to sleep anyway--but it wasn't helping that I could see light in Stars tent and a silhouette that was no longer troubled by a dress.
The fact is I am a compulsive reader. Thirty-five cents' worth of Gold Medal Original will put me right to sleep. Or Perry Mason. But I'll read the ads in an old Paris-Match that has been used to wrap herring before I'll do without.


Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 11:09 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


@Alexander - Like I said, there are a LOT of classics in all genres I've just never read. Not lack of desire, just lack of time and, more importantly, availability. I'm slowly correcting that with a big 'ol digital library on my iPad, but I only have 20-30 minutes a day to read, while I'm waiting for the school building to be unlocked.

But... I'm wondering how he wrote me so well. 'Cause that's describing me, man. Creepy.


MariAdkins
Posted: Friday, July 27, 2012 2:57 PM
I'm probably going to get booted for this, but I see thread openers like this one and all that comes to mind is:

“I helped my Uncle Jack off a horse”

and

“I helped my uncle jack off a horse.”

In some cases, writing rules are important.


Sneaky Burrito
Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2012 1:40 PM
Joined: 5/28/2012
Posts: 43


I echo the sentiment of a number of other posters in this thread, that dialogue may not follow the rules espoused by the likes of Strunk and White.  We don't talk the way we write.  (Although I still cringe when I hear people say "less" when "fewer" is the correct word, or "taller than him" instead of "taller than he is" or "tell Sue or I" instead of "tell Sue or me."  But I'll stop here because I could go on for pages and pages...)

Generally speaking, I am absolutely in favor of correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation in actual printed works (I relent somewhat in online forums, as you can tell from my sentence structure in this post).  As illustrated by several people above, meaning absolutely can change.  And if your characters' dialect reads like LOLspeak or txt spk, I'll throw your book across the room.

Famous authors who don't obey the rules are the exceptions who prove the rules.  Look at advice on the web from any editor; I recently submitted a manuscript and so I've been paying particular attention to this sort of thing.  The editors ALL say to pay attention to spelling and grammar, to revise, to have someone else look over your work.  And to hew to the rules of conventional written English.

An editor looking over your work wants to know that you can write, and if you're choosing to get creative with stuff you should've learned in grade school, it can be difficult to tell whether you're being avant-garde deliberately, or whether you just don't know what the hell you're doing.  I'd hazard a guess that most of the time, the editor assumes the second and you get a form rejection letter in your SASE.

When you've got a couple of bestsellers under your belt, then you might have more leeway.  Although you risk alienating readers who still care about these sorts of things (myself included).


hagenpiper
Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2012 4:26 PM
Joined: 7/25/2012
Posts: 25


I like it when people conform to a commonly recognized style. Of course, this isn’t algebra, and the English language is not the intellectual property of Strunk and White. If an author strays from their guidelines, all that matters to me is whether or not the author is consistent in his or her own interpretation. That gives me a reason to believe there’s an explanation for why he or she doesn’t place commas between a noun’s consecutive modifiers.

i’m flexible, so long as it’s reasonably nitpicky stuff, and not a matter capitalizing the first word in a sentence. or fragment.


DJS
Posted: Saturday, November 23, 2013 1:45 PM
How wonderful to be traipsing over a greensward glowing with intelligent conversation! Everyone roosting on Book Country should partake lavishly from these informative discussions. Mentioning famous authors who wrote their own set of creative writing rules, I'm thinking of Beckett, Faulkner and, especially, James Joyce. Will the work of these complicated writers continue to find a niche in the maze of space age writing that seems to have lost a sense of classical bearing? I've scrolled through the lists of writers on all the genres and have found few favored books and authors I recognize. It seems that the old authors have been all but forgotten by the younger writers who have been heavily influenced and nourished by the internet; but at the same time I've been not keeping up with what's new, although I have always been able to find something to read in all the generations of writers. On these discussion sites I observe a dichotomy. I don't see the younger writers here. Where does the necessary mix take place? Most of what I've encountered on the genres read like first draft compositions. I found by myself on the horns of a dilemma, driven to offer sound advice on how to write better but without sounding too critical. You guys do it so well, but are you out on the front lines helping these young people to present better manuscripts? Will complicated writers like Beckett, Faulkner and Joyce be read by these new age writers? Will Beckett's Theater of the Absurd continue to fascinate a readership that spent its formative years suckling the desiccated teat of mediocrity found online? I've read where Faulkner would find it nearly impossible to get published today. Will Joyce continue to be read by a generation that demands immediate satisfaction, eschewing books demanding investigations too strenuous to afford? Even though "Ulysses" is not a difficult read when approached with an open mind seeking further widening, will the hopelessly abstruse "Finnegans Wake", which could be purchased with an explanatory key and was the source of a six-week discussion class conducted by Joseph Campbell, disappear completely when books finally disappear and future libraries contain only electronic representations.While I'm impressed with how literate this discussions group is, I worry about the majority of young writers whose influences are mostly writers of recent vintage, with scant representation of classical writers.When a poorly written story is given four and five pen nibs by contemporaries, I can only wonder if this band of aspiring writers has become nothing more than a coterie of reciprocal back-slappers.
TPNiedermann
Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013 10:17 PM
Joined: 2/21/2013
Posts: 40


Well, I think that the Elements of Style approach is the best foundation to go from. You need to know the rules before you can break them. Joyce knew the rules well. When I teach writing, I insist that students know Strunk and White--how to use a semicolon, the difference between "which" and "that," what a serial comma is and why it is important. Too many writers are ignorant of too much and thus are unable to say what they want say in a manner that people understand. If you want to communicate with people effectively, you need to know how to use the tools of language. Period.

 

--edited by TPNiedermann on 1/5/2014, 4:01 PM--


Carl E. Reed
Posted: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 4:23 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608


@TPNiedermann: Entirely correct! I see the "that/which" mismatch frequently at work and on this board.

 

 

Let's bring "Grammar Girl" in to the rescue (for those of you interested in the finer details of restrictive-vs.-non-restrictive clauses): http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/which-versus-that-0

 

 

--edited by Carl E. Reed on 12/10/2013, 4:26 AM--


DJS
Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013 11:27 AM
Smoothmarmar: Surely you jest. Remember the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament? For you it would have been the Tower of Babble. It's good to be a young firebrand, a burning comet of rebellion across the night sky of conformity. If you hold on long enough, you may even be granted a modicum of wisdom when your comet burns out.

Ian Nathaniel Cohen
Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 10:26 AM

Interesting to come across this on the first day a new semester starts, when I'm already dreading the papers I'm going to have to grade.

 

When it comes to creative writing, I must respectfully disagree with your premise that proper punctuation is irrelevant to creative writing.  As others have mentioned, punctuation helps control the pace and rhythm of what we write.  Now, you can get creative with that, and I'm sure there are ways to do it, but certain rules exist for a reason.   

 

I'm most likely to deviate from rules of grammar when using dialogue.  In real life, people sometimes speak in sentence fragments, or they ramble on.  That's when you can really have fun with punctuation - an overly long sentence without any commas or colons in it give the impression of somebody talking super-fast and getting flustered as they speak.  Short, sharp sentence fragments can give the impression of impatience or gruffness.

 

 


 

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