Grammar – Use it or lose it

I get a paycheck to answer calls for an answering service while I wait to be added to the best seller’s list – any best seller’s list – and I am lucky enough to be able to work from home.  You wouldn’t think of this as a job writing, but when it comes right down to it, writing is a big part of it.  I listen to callers then translate what they say into a message to be read by the client.  How it reads reflects on the company and on me.  If the grammar is just plain bad, it isn’t professional.  But even in the venue of professional message-taking, sometimes cutting grammatical corners is prudent – like when the client prefers brevity over detail.  Even then, I still have to get the message across (pun intended) in an understandable and concise manner.  In that case, a conscious bending of grammatical rules is also professional.  The key word is “conscious” as opposed to “accidental” or “ignorant.”

In fiction writing, the same broad rules apply.  It behooves us to know the basic rules of grammar so when we bend them it’s clearly artist’s license and not a gaffe.  I have a lot of tolerance for typos in what I read, but not so much for grammar so bad it’s unprofessional.

One of my grammatical pet peeves is the overuse of sentence fragments.  I’m seeing them more and more in main-stream fiction – books on the New York Times Best Seller’s List for heaven’s sake.  I don’t mind an occasional sentence fragment that punctuates a point or an emotion, but they shouldn’t take the place of punctuation.  We’re artists, yes, but we’re also the freaking professionals, people!  I say our fiction should reflect both.  It’s all about balance.  Taking a deep breath and climbing down off my soapbox now.

I started writing a column about grammar for my work newsletter.  It’s pretty tongue-in-cheek, but informative, too.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned doing the research for that column!  I thought I had a pretty good handle on the usage of my native language.  Au contraire.  The first stop when researching for my column or whenever I have a question or problem pertaining to writing is Grammar Girl.  I even have her app on my phone.  I highly recommend it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t object to an occasional sentence fragment, just the unnecessary overuse of them.  Really.

I shared mine, now you share yours.  Speak up or forever hold your peeves!

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About inspiration

Something happened this week that made me consider the mechanics of inspiration.  Did I say mechanics?  Maybe magic is more like it.  How else can you account for flights of fancy that start with fingernail polish and lead to a whole new story in my head, complete with main characters, secondary characters, conflicts and a rough story arc?  It defies logic, or anything so mundane as mechanics.

Okay, this is how it happened.  I have a bad habit of bending my fingernails backwards with my teeth until they split or break, then worrying them until they’re gone.  My plan was to put nail-strengthening polish on them to make them tougher, so they wouldn’t break as easily.  I don’t like the feel of polish on my teeth, so it was a good reminder to leave them the heck alone.

It worked!  My nails are the longest they’ve ever been.  Then my youngest daughter decided they needed color.  I asked what color but she said not to worry.

I worried.

After I rid my nails of the clear polish and worked at my cuticles a little, I put out my hand to her and held my breath.  The polish was red.  I mean red.  The last time I had that much color on my nails – well, I think maybe Regan was President.  She did a good job, and it looked great.

When I was describing it to some friends and co-workers in instant messages, I told them I couldn’t remember the brand or the name of the color but it was the color of blood.  More, it was the color of clotted blood.  I could tell, because it exactly matched the cat scratch on my thumb I’d gotten earlier that day from one of our kitties.  As we talked, I held a hand up in front of me.  Maybe it’s because of the number of fantasy and paranormal books I read, but my brain went from the red of the fingernail polish to the red of clotted blood to teens and vampires, and within 2 days and some brainstorming with my friends it had evolved into a full-blown story ready to start putting to paper.

Another story’s inspiration was a dream.  I swear I dreamed the entire story and woke up so excited, but by the time I got some of it written down, I’d forgotten the rest.  I had to work that out myself – meaning the conscious me.  Now I always keep a pen and tablet beside the bed.  I have written another 3 story ideas in it since then.

I also keep a tablet in my purse.  Years ago it was a little black book, about three by five inches.  The one I carry these days is a stenographer’s spiral notebook.  What can I say?  I carry a bigger purse now.  Sometimes I write quotes I happen to overhear in it, sometimes little character studies, and sometimes ideas about a work already in progress.

What kinds of things have been your inspirations?  Add a comment, I can’t wait to hear!

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