Proper grammar isn’t essential.
Wow. It’s taken me years of therapy to be able to say that. But it’s true. The music of creative language transcends stricture and structure.
In the first decades of the 20th century, when the gods of modernism (Eliot, Joyce, etc.) demolished the obligatory semicolon and allowed the preposition to conclude sentences, they actually were just reverting written language back to its original form. The reason that Chaucer and Shakespeare played fast and loose with their grammar and spelling was because there were no hard and fast rules to follow. Regulation of the English language only dates back to the Age of Reason, and this in turn led to the overregulation of the Victorian Era which the modernists were rebelling against with their free form experiments.
So proper grammar isn’t essential.
What is essential, though, as with any criminal act, is knowing what the rules are before breaking them. Otherwise, where’s the fun? For example, in grammar school (ha!) I learned that one should always maintain the third person in expository writing (as in the sentence “one should always maintain the third person in expository writing). Personally, I find that rule to be rubbish. I can recognize its purpose in academic writing, where the form is supposed to be invisible and content is supposed to be the absolute, but in all other cases it creates a forced formality and makes the writer sound like he or she’s got a copy of Strunk & White in place of a soul.
In other words, I suppose the pet peeve I have regarding grammar is when it is always obeyed. It’s the anathema of good imagistic poetry and the black hole of good fictional prose. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that creativity should be hampered by limitation. I believe that obstacles force an artist to soar. But sistah pleez. Always adhering to grammatical standards is like painting by numbers. Make the language work for you, not the other way around.
(See? I used second person and ended with a preposition and the world didn’t come to an end. My therapist would be so proud.)
In other news, today marks the street date for our own Shane Gericke’s novel Torn Apart. Here is its back page:
A teenage girl, brutalized and discarded. A rural sheriff, gunned down and left to die. A beloved landmark, destroyed in an instant. A tidal wave of violence is rushing full-speed toward the quiet Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois. Detective Emily Thompson is locked and loaded—ready to stop the bloody crime spree in its tracks. But she’s up against a deadly countdown that threatens everyone she knows and loves. . . . Her partner. Her best friend. Her whole world. In these final desperate hours, Emily will bring down the most diabolical killer she has ever faced—or die trying . . .
Oooooh. I’m so there. And by there, I mean Thrillerfest this week, where I hope to get my copy signed by the man himself. If you can’t come to Thrillerfest, please purchase a copy here. Do it for the children.