Monday, August 8, 2016

RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN - SOMETIMES

Grammar - The Bane of my Existence.

I recently finished another short story draft and I'm ready for the part that always creates a conundrum for me--revisions. When it comes to grammar, should I do what is proper and mechanically correct or should I do what sounds and feels right?

Since returning to the writing world, I've discovered I don't know as much as I thought I knew about the English language. I used to be excellent with grammar, A's in English all through school, but some of the rules seemed to have changed in recent years. The subtle changes give me pause and make me hesitate in areas I've always been so confident about in the past. My doubts have me scrambling to look up the rules again. I wish I were all-knowing about writing (and everything else) like I was when I was sixteen. 

Now, what is an infinitive again? I remember I'm not supposed to split them. Ah, yes.  An infinitive begins with to followed by the simple form of the verb. Sometimes, but not always.

Never start a sentence with “There is” or “There are.” Except sometimes it's okay.

I've been taught never to begin a sentence with "This"; however, I've discovered it is now okay to do it--sometimes.

Use active not passive. Okay, this is important. I know this. Always use active voice. Except sometimes a passive voice can be perfectly acceptable. The passive phrase "rules are made to be broken" is a good example. 

Sometimes? It sounds as if many of today's rules should have a "definite maybe" clause attached. But I digress. 

Never start a sentence with "And" or "But." Oops. I need to make another pass through that draft. I also need to correct a sentence in the previous paragraph.

Never end a sentence with a preposition. That one reminds me of a joke...

Always use “more than” instead of “over” with numbers. Also, data is plural, so the verb must always be plural. Huh? No problem. I was born without a math gene, so I try to steer away from any subject that involves numbers.

Back when I was in school, my teacher told me never to use "fun" as an adjective. So I'm not supposed to say we had a "fun" afternoon at the movies. But what if we did have a fun afternoon? 

And what about those pesky second person plural pronouns! "Thou" is no longer in popular usage and when it went out of style, things became more complicated. My current series of stories are set in rural America in the 1950s (or is it 1950's?) so I often break all the language rules when my characters speak. I use "Y'all" a lot (for non-Southerners that is pronounced "Yawl.") Some of my characters occasionally say "youins." Those of you who grew up in the American South or Midwest will understand. For you Yankees, there is "youse" and "you guys." In my travels, I've heard "you guys" and "your guyses" more often than any of the other dialects combined.

So many subtle changes, and to those changes, so many exceptions. To further complicate matters for me, my husband is from London, England. He is writing his memoirs. It is a very interesting book. It takes him from a young man in the employ of the British Secret Service (MI5) in the 1960's to his days as a Road Manager for top Country Music Entertainers. I am trying to help him with grammar and punctuation, but do we use British or American English? We discuss the correct usage on an almost daily basis. 

When he was a child, my husband's mother sent him to class to learn the proper way to speak the Queen's English. The difference between British English and American English is a lengthy topic for another day. I'm pretty sure he is more often correct than I am--if we lived in England.

I think a writer can be in danger of writing the life out of their fictional story with too much mechanical structure, but maybe I'm wrong. Do you have any problems with grammar and punctuation or do you think rules are made to be broken?

12 comments:

  1. I break a lot of those rules. I think you just have to know when to break them.
    Yeah, I'm sure there's a big difference between British and American English.

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    1. Between his British accent and my Southern accent, we make quite a pair when we travel. My husband's friends tell him he now speaks British English with an American South accent and I've been accused of sounding British at times. It is an unusual mix. I say potato; he says potahto.

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  2. I think this is where that old saying, "You learn the rules so you can break them" comes in handy! But yeah, some of those rules are dead now. Active voice is still preferred. I wrote for an outlet that required me to eliminate all uses of the word "is" and "are" to avoid passive voice. Try that sometimes--it's HARD! And I felt that it made the piece sound less conversational. I still try to eliminate "is" and "are" sometimes and replace them with more actiony words, but there are many instances where those words are necessary and DON'T turn the sentence into a passive one.

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  3. No "is" or "are"? That would be hard to do! I tend to let my characters write my stories and not all of them are good with the rules. ;-)

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  4. No one is perfect with grammar (well, except my daughter--haha!). That's why we have editors (oh yeah, that's what SHE is!).

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    1. When you email or text your daughter, does she send it back with corrections? ;-)

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  5. That would mean I MADE mistakes! :)

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    1. Hahaha! I'm glad to see someone doesn't need all those silly rule books!

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  6. I look up phrases that look off to me and sometimes they're right, sometimes they're not. I'm not good at remembering grammatical terms, but I find that my writing is pretty clean, so I absorbed a lot in school and from learning on my own.

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    1. That may be some of my problem Medeia. I was good with grammar 40 years ago, but some of the rules that were drilled in my head conflict with some of today's rules. Writing has become (a little) more relaxed and less formal. I think it is better now.

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  7. It can be a tough call - sometimes what is proper on paper is different from how folks really speak. As an author you want authenticity. I find that if I read my work out loud, I can tell what works or doesn't. Good luck

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    1. Thanks, Joanne. I agree. Reading out loud is a good idea. I always forget about that trick. I need to give it a try.

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