Saturday, September 22, 2012

The self editor at work: Writer Vs. Grammar: The Fragment

     How does one go about editing their work? I know people who will edit as they go. There are a few who wait until they are done. Then there are those who write one draft, call it perfection, then whine when others find many issues.

     I edit as I go most of the time. Then I read through once I'm done, then I email it off to people who know better than to say: "Wow, this is the most brilliant thing ever!" I am horrible at catching the little things. I have a tendency to add letters to words: and instead of an; that kind of thing.

    Grammar? I can honestly leave it. I ignore a lot of things that come up during grammar check. I am not writing a term paper or thesis, therefore, I do not care if I have a fragment. Especially when writing dialogue, or when I am in a character's head. It's not that I don't think grammar is unimportant - it really is. But I find that there has to be leeway when writing fiction - urban fantasy is what I am doing at the moment.

     If I was writing an epic tome of literary abandon, or writing a technical paper or manual, then I would really hunker down on my grammar. I would not have as many - if any -  fragment sentences. I know a couple of professional tutors that would absolutely cringe at some of the stuff I write. Because according to them, (male and female) there is no reason to not follow the rules of grammarians everywhere. I happen to disagree. I do not write for the academic masses anymore, nor am I trying to write the Great American Novel.

     I have gone out of my way to split my infinitives, misplace modifiers, and so on. But, my writing is heavy on the dialogue. And characters do not speak perfect grammar. Sometimes they don't even use the right words. But I feel that is what makes characters more identifiable, more realistic.

     Now, there is a difference between completely foregoing all grammar rules and bending a few here and there. I like to bend. And when the people I have reading my work give me their thoughts and critiques, grammar is never an issue. Sure, there might be one or two things that I didn't catch the first few rereads, but all in all, it is not that big a deal. Most of the feedback I get deals with issues that I have brought up myself.

    I know that having a degree in writing and literature makes people think that your writing should be flawless. No writing is. And there are many well known authors who make grammatical errors. So, when you are asked to read someones work, or are in the process of editing your own, take care in how you address what you think are grammatical errors. Remember the genre you are reading, as well as the way the writer goes about telling their story. Not every rule applies to every piece of writing.

     So, as I get ready to edit the novel I have been working on, I have to keep this in mind. I will make the best effort I can to catch all of the added letters, the weirdly worded sentences, as well as the parts where it becomes obvious that I was half asleep when I wrote it. Because, when you feel that you have done your best, that is when to let your baby have a sleep over at a friends and hope that everything goes the way you want.


  1. I am the first person to admit that I don't have skills in the grammar arena. When it comes to dialog (and first person narratives), yes grammar is less important-- it's natural that we speak in fragments all the time-- therefore writing those in dialog makes it more real. Plus, adding in grammar mistakes can show a character's lack of education or refinement. Heck, even though I'm not a huge fan, I even can agree with adding a dialect spelling to dialog. Also, argumentivly, grammar has become more lacks during our generation and probably more so as the generations that have had texting through out their lives become older.
    On the other hand, grammar is there for a reason. It tells us tense, it clearifies meaning, It gives us a 'code' to expect as a reader.
    I know a writer that doesn't understand this. His work is experimental. I can't complain about that, my cornerstone study was Joyce's Ulysses. But I can say Joyce was a master of languages, he knew the rules he was breaking. He was an established writer and professor before Ulysses and Finnegans Wake were published. My friend, doesn't understand why his piece that continually changes tenses and (
    (yes, purposely) isn't being accepted by editors.
    so to sum up, yes, loose grammar can help create character or even tone, but it has to be done with craft. Because if it is in the main piece that doesn't have anything to do with dialog, character development, or backup with an already estabished career, people will notice. It will ruin the flow of reading and more importantly it ruins your accreditablity with your reader.

  2. I have never really had a problem with tense shifts in my writing. And you're right, grammar has gone through many changes these days and everyone has an opinion about little things. Even punctuation is debated furiously sometimes at one of the writers groups I attend. I happen to be a person who hates the use of the semicolon. I avoid it as much as I can. Other people swear by it. And I agree that grammar is important, or people have no idea what is going on in your story.

    For me the problem has always been fragments - I can diagram a sentence with all the bells and whistles (thank you Dr. Lopez). I can construct amazing sentences. But it is when I have a need to use sentences dramatically by putting emphasis on just a few words that stirs up debate. Fragments are more easily accepted with dialogue because when you're speaking you don't think about verb usage and all that good stuff.

    I know someone that has "tense issues" as well. In one paragraph the tense changed three times. It continues throughout the entire series of books. And I think that this is where critiques really come into play. I have given this person advise, as have many others. But this person is extremely hard headed and adamant that their book is perfect. No matter what anyone says, no changes have been made. I have no problem fixing things that someone finds, or that someone is concerned about.

    I think my next post will be about what a writer needs in regards to their critique groups. This has really opened the floodgates with ideas.

    All because I love a good fragment.

  3. Firstly... I love my semicolons ><!!! They are my special treats lol. But seriously, I agree that you can do whatever you want in character thought and dialog - that's what makes it more real and more palatable. Also I agree that it's good to keep the genre in mind. I personally try to follow the rules to a T aside from a few spots that merit special rule breakage but that is me - and that is the style I write. Crimson uses completely different syntax and style and breaks different rules and it makes sense with what she writes. I think that is such a good point aimeeelizabeth - that you have to keep that in mind when editing someone's piece (or even your own pieces) because, given that you know the rules, the content and feel and flow and style and genre are really where the crux of the story lies. Grammar is there but it is not god as some would make you believe. ^^ I like this post.