They’re more like Guidelines…

Posted Nov 10 2014, 12:01 am

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Now, as a loyal fan of Pirates of the Caribbean, I find the irony so poetic when the “Pirate Code” turns out to be more like guidelines—and the same can be said of grammar rules.

What, you say? Proper grammar regarded as mere guidelines? Blasphemy! Those are rules, not guidelines, or even a piddling pirate code. They aren’t whims to be tossed to the side when the *muse* strikes. Such sacrilege!

Um, yes. No disrespect intended—honest—but for me, grammar rules should be subjected to walking the plank anytime, anywhere the author sees fit. In fact, I feel it’s almost a writer’s responsibility to chuck the *rules* at certain points in his/her fiction. Why? Because that’s what helps to define an author’s *voice.* Allow me to explain…

Remember how you got docked points on your English papers for beginning sentences with *and* and *but?* You were told that wasn’t “proper” grammar. Admittedly, this is one of my favorite rules to not just break but grind into dust. 😉 In fiction, the use of *and* and *but* is sooo powerful, and can lend itself so beautifully to an author’s voice, when put at the start sentences versus just being somewhere in the middle.

Next comes the comma conundrum—where to put or not put them. With the exception of using commas in a list or for dialogue, I consider those little buggers to be *pauses;* opportunities for the reader to take a breath. Yet, an editor friend of mine insists a comma should come before the *and* in a sentence when the second half of said sentence could stand alone (Example: His eyes crossed, and he gritted his teeth.) Say what? No, no. A comma there breaks the rhythm, the flow of the prose. But it’s the *rule.* Well for me, that’s one *rule* in serious need of dying a death by a thousand paper cuts. Don’t mess with an author’s tempo. Bad things can happen—trust me.

Another choice rule I adore breaking is writing in complete sentences. You know, having a noun and verb. Bah! Give me sentence fragments any day. LOVE sentence fragments! 😉 Again, it’s the cadence, the timing, the alliteration of the narrative which should take priority—in my humble opinion—versus some mothball-infested rule.

Lastly, semi-colons. Of all the rules I break, I anticipate this one will garner the biggest reaction. But before I begin, in my defense, it should be noted I was indoctrinated years ago that semi-colons simply weren’t used in genre fiction. Non-fiction and literary fiction, okay. But not genre. I read a post by an author I admire who stated it’s positively nails on a chalkboard for her when she sees commas instead of semi-colons. She says it yanks her completely from the story. For me, the exact opposite is true. I get yanked out every time I see a semi-colon! Who’s right? Well…she is – technically. A semi-colon should be used when separating two main clauses—which are closely related—but each of which could stand as individual sentences. (Example: His eyes crossed; his teeth gritted.) However, for me and my writing style, that doesn’t work. Shoot me, I know… 😉

So what about you? Where do you stand on “grammar rules?” As a reader do you love ‘em or hate ‘em? If your an author, whatcha think? Share your thoughts to be eligible to win one of my titles (winner’s choice) plus a $5 gift card. And don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list. If you do, you’ll be entered to win a $100 GC.

Until next time!

L.

19 Comments

Comments

19 responses to “They’re more like Guidelines…”

  1. Belinda says:

    Well here goes when reading a book I actually couldn’t tell you if there was a comma, semi-colon or exclamation I’m just into the story I really don’t care or notice what’s there unless I’m proofreading for someone there the sad truth all I want is to know what happens next. Lol sorry I’m sure my professors from the three English Comp classes I took in collage are shaking their heads now saying I knew she was trouble. Lol

  2. Andrea Figard says:

    When I read I am able to tell if there are spelling errors or punctuation errors. Even if there are errors I can overlook one or two. More than that and I have to stop reading the book.

  3. Suzanne says:

    Lynda, this is an important topic.
    In fiction, I believe the style should be different between narration and dialogue. IMHO, narration should be more formal and correct in the traditional grammar and punctuation sense, but dialogue should reflect how the characters actually speak. No fancy words, two short sentences instead two clauses separated by a semicolon, a bit of “stage business” to mark a pause in the speaker’s thinking….
    And–the dreaded ellipsis! A period after the three dots if it’s at the end of a sentence as one would do with a question mark or an exclamation point? (We’ll agree to disagree on that one.)
    In short, write in a way to keep our readers engaged. Read our writing out loud. If it sounds phony to us, it will sound phony to our readers, and drag them out of the narrative flow.
    Thanks, Lynda, for stirring the pot!

  4. Min Edwards says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, and thankfully my editor agrees as well, mostly. No semi-colons for me. And I love ‘And’ and ‘But’ beginners. Actually I’m trying to make my voice be conversational, as if I or one of my characters was chatting. And we ‘chat’ in incomplete sentences, don’t we. We take a breath in our sentences… or don’t take one. And sometimes our voice is frantic and manic, sometimes sad and wistful. I think this brings the reader into our fictional world. Good blog! And about those exclamations… a well-known author once told me not to use them unless my character’s hair was on fire. Instead use the words in the sentence to show the surprise, horror, glee or other emotion.

  5. Judy Baker says:

    Great post. I like reading dialogue that sounds natural, and really, how many of us speak in perfect conversational dialogue?

  6. Maria Malaveci says:

    I can overlook the errors, but I ALWAYS notice them

    mmalavec(at)med(dot)umich(dot)edu

  7. Sherry S. says:

    I notice spelling errors and it gets on my nerves but I really don’t notice punctuation errors.
    sstrode at scrtc dot com

  8. Beth Whitehead says:

    DL and I go around and around on this all the time; I’m still on the fence about how to go about it, being the novice and all (but I LOVE LOVE bleeding all over his work! LOL) But what you’ve said makes a lot of sense. Though giving up my semi-colons will be difficult. DL will be thrilled. Thanks for sharing and giving me something to ponder as I trot off to writing class!

  9. E. Ayers says:

    Actually the “rules” are guidelines established in the early 1800’s by a man who wasn’t educated. All that man was trying to do was to set a standard for people who had come to the USA and were converting (and directly translating) their native language into English, which created some very awkward sentences. From his little book, we have added on and added on until grammar books have become tomes worthy of headaches.

    His eyes crossed, and he gritted his teeth. Actually does not need a comma because it is a balanced compound sentence. Most people say it needs it. It doesn’t NEED a comma, but it’s nice to have one. The idea that a breath pause indicates a comma is wrong. Don’t depend on it, because it will have you adding commas in all the wrong places! Someone who is used to writing using MLA is not going to use commas the way CMS suggests for fiction. So people who say they toss a book over comma errors probably don’t really know the rules for commas anyway.

    It’s all about clarity. The reason we use punctuation is to make our sentences clear to readers. How many times have you read a sentence that made you stop and go huh? Chances are that sentence is not saying what the author meant to say. It might contain a misplaced modifier or it’s lacking a comma.

    As for dialog, an educated character will speak differently than a non-educated one. Certain words and phrases will signal a character’s educational background. Catholic schools and prep schools are known for teaching English. So a child who was raised in the slums but was sent to a Catholic school is not going to speak the same way as his neighbor. But children also learn to code switch. When with their buddies, they will “switch” to the language of their friends.

    Writing and grammar is fascinating. English is a borrowed language. We’ve borrowed words from the Germans, the Romans, and a dozen other people and places. We’ve also borrowed the grammar. It allows for a wide range of expression. The ability to utilize words and have them make sense is what is important.

    The debate over the Oxford comma continues to rage. If those experts can’t agree on a simple comma, how does anyone expect the rest of us to make sense of the so called rules? Write a great story, but make certain each sentences says exactly what you mean.

  10. Jana B says:

    If I’m enjoying a story I don’t notice grammar. Thanks.

  11. Jan Murphree says:

    I am not great at Grammar….I just know what sounds right when I read it! Thanks for the chance!!
    Signing up for News Letter!!!

  12. Angela Bartlett says:

    I notice some grammar errors. But if the story is good, the heck with the errors. I just want to know what happens next!

  13. Melissa Keir says:

    I don’t have some hard and fast rules. I like the way you put it…we have guidelines. I do adhere to the semi-colon one. It’s hard to format with it too! I also like to skip dialogue tags… too many said, whispered, etc.

  14. Mary Preston says:

    My pet peeve would have to be paragraphs that are way too long. Short & snappy draws in.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

  15. Hyacinth Janecyk says:

    It depends, if it’s a huge grammar error it drives me nuts. Little things i can usually gloss over, if the story is good.

  16. Shannon says:

    It definitely depends on the mistake. I am not going to nitpick over the small rules but anything glaring would bother me

  17. lbailey says:

    Congratulations, Judy! You’ve won your choice of my titles + a $5 gift card. Who-Ray!
    I’ll be emailing you shortly with more details. Thanks to everyone who commented! 😉

  18. LINDAB/HOTCHA1 says:

    HI LIN, I’VE NEVER READ YOU BEFORE BUT ADDING YOU TO TBBL!

  19. LINDAB/HOTCHA1 says:

    CONGRATS JUDY!

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