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Grammar Hampers Voice

September 20, 2010

I got my first peer review for my character sketch today (I‘m taking Creative Writing at Uni). My hands shook with excitement as I waited for my internet to download the document. My eyes tuned out and in focus before I started reading. Clear description of character…dialogues are clear…use less emphasis on the narrator…good development…good pacing at the beginning, needs to slow down at the end…tenses kept changing back and forth (Me: What? No way! Of course it‘s past when he‘s thinking back and present when he‘s in the now. The distinction is clear!)…There were some grammatical errors!

Grammatical errors? Okay, so I haven’t learned as much English at the Uni as the other students in this class (it’s a master’s degree class, but I got an exception because of my enthusiasm), but, in my opinion, there was nothing wrong with the grammar. I even posted the character sketch on my crit-group forum and no one said anything.

That leaves me with the question: Should novels be strictly grammatically correct? And (like the debate on TV/videogame violence) is it the author’s responsibility to provide reading material that is grammatically correct?

My answer is no and heck no! Misspellings and non-intended errors should be eliminated, of course, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flexing grammar a little to provide a good story. The author’s purpose is to provide the reader with entertainment and emotional experience. At least that’s what Randy Ingermanson says, and I hereby take that up as my motto. If that means bending the rules of grammar to better suit the holy purpose, then authors should do that!

I’m also a strong believer in “grammar interferes with Voice” (yes, capital V). Which has more voice in it? “I don’t want to be here!” or “I so don’t want to be here!” I’m gonna say the second and break the grammar in this sentence to inject some voice into my blog. Most people speak with grammatical errors, so why shouldn’t the people whose PoV we’re reading from do so as well? And I’m not just talking about dialogues – internal monologue and overall action as well. Doesn’t that make them more real to us?

I’ll be the first to admit that I read the Twilight series in 10 days and fell in love with it. I didn’t know anything about writing until long after that, and I have read countless books since then. Looking back, I see that the grammatical correctness of Twilight is enough to put an insomniac to sleep, whereas series such as Sookie Stackhouse and House of Night would keep the insomniac entertained during his hours of suffering. There’s a reason those series have the most memorable characters! Those books are packed with grammatical errors – probably all intentional – and I don’t care one bit. I don’t even care much about most of the unnecessary adverbs and the occasional passive tense, even though I try all I can to exclude those  in my own writing. The books are entertaining, emotional and fantastic.

If I want to learn “proper English” I’ll read books on English grammar!

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