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!


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. writingturtle
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 01:18:58

    I totally agree about the sentence fragments! I know they’re supposed to emphasize certain parts, but it’s just plain silly when you use too much of it. Take Twilight, for example. It has so many sentence fragments that you wish you could just take the book and rearrange it.


  2. Cynthia
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 21:08:08

    I agree. Seriously, when writing dialogue I sometimes need to remind myself that this particular character probably isn’t going to use proper grammar. I also remind myself that no all my characters will have the same vocabulary, political views, pet peeves, etc.

    I also have a few other pet peeves:
    * We stand ON a podium and BEHIND a lecturn
    * Cavalry/Calvary
    * Prostate/prostrate

    There are more but they escape me at the moment.

    I love your blog and look forward to reading more.


    • C J Gorden
      Oct 21, 2011 @ 22:01:00

      Good point. Characters have to not only reflect their own education levels, cultures and opinions, realistic spoken language is rarely grammatically proper. That would include mine. When I write I can think about and proof it. My off-the-cuff speechifying is rife with sentence fragments pleasingly balanced by run-on sentences. Heh.


      • Cynthia
        Oct 22, 2011 @ 02:43:28

        I’ve written about 1/3 of a play (or all of a one-act play) and I’ve definitely had to take that into consideration. I feel fortunate to have known many of the “characters” I have in the play. Although, having said that, the characters are composites of many people. OK, I think it’s very late and I’m getting very punchy. I’m looking forward to reading a lot more of your blog. (Ah, another pet peeve: a lot is not alot.)

  3. C J Gorden
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 14:11:02

    As an exercise, I may try writing a character who uses every grammatical blooper that drives me nuts. Then I can fast-track his or her karmic comeuppance. Writer’s have heady power at our fingertips. Heh heh.


  4. Cynthia
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 13:16:59

    I LOVE that idea C J. Now I might have to try that as well. I would definitely be a great exercise.


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