Monday, November 19, 2012

Writing A Novel: Grammar Police

I was recently asked an interesting question by a friend who's an English teacher. She wanted to know how much leeway has with grammar when writing a novel, and how much one could bend the rules of writing. I told her that there really aren't "rules" when writing a piece of fiction -- but you should know HOW to write before taking liberties with grammar and sentence structure.

Her question came about because she noticed that I'd used some slang in my book, as well as some sentence fragments, and she wasn't sure whether that counts as proper English. No, it probably doesn't, but I do sometimes bend the rules in my writing for effect -- especially when I'm writing from the POV of a 15-year-old and am trying to keep the narrative conversational. For instance, my novel starts off with Melinda sharing, "I staggered and stumbled down the hallway holding my largest textbook —- history —- behind me, in a vain attempt to cover my ass. Literally. I'd busted right through my jeans. In the back. And now everybody had a full view of my purple flowered underpants."

Technically, this paragraph is full of grammatical errors. However, I include the pauses in her speech for effect; with each little reveal, you see how her situation is slightly worse than before. I wouldn't write in this manner if I were writing a college essay, but I felt as if this set up Melinda's dry, snarky voice and youthful inner dialogue.

The trick with taking grammatical liberties is to not overdo it; I also think that an author's writing will vary, depending on whether the narration is told in first or third voice. For most of the book, Melinda's speech is clean and grammatically correct. I don't want to give my readers a headache as they go through the story! But there is some room for creativity in fiction. If everybody's work sounded exactly the same, books would be very dull.

I think that grammar is really important and wish that schools would spend more time teaching it. It kills me when I read people's posts where they've mixed up your and you're or its and it's. However, I'm not so rigid in my thinking that I think that every single sentence should be textbook perfect. There's a fine line between writing well ... and telling a great story.

Please read and review REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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