Taming the grammar beast

Writers and academics and linguists and regular folks argue incessantly about grammar – what IS proper grammar? Is it really necessary to follow stringent “standard American English” grammatical rules when writing? The myriad answers you receive to these questions can be frustrating, daunting, and confusing. Because there is no one answer.

Here’s my take on grammar for anyone who wants to be a published writer:

Make sure your sentences are clear and clean. No typos, no misspelled words, appropriate punctuation for your purpose.

But HAVE a purpose. When considering how a character in your story should sound, or how a particular passage should visually look on the page, think about what you want to accomplish and why. Why should that character sound like a caricature of Paula Deen? Is that really necessary? Why does this person speak only in slang? Why did you not use any commas or periods? What effect were you going for by using no paragraph breaks, no conjunctions, and no apostrophes? If there is no good reason for the choices that you make in your writing, then default to what most people would consider “proper” grammar.

The important thing is to create clear prose. Clarity = good writing. And there’s no getting around that. If it isn’t clear, your reader will not understand what your story is about, and you will lose an editor’s attention faster than a yellow jacket fleeing poison spray.

Consider your audience and compose for them. Beyond that, I suggest ignoring the hundreds of opinions on the issue. Write, write clearly, and write for a specific audience. Don’t let the grammar beast block your path.

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