Wednesday, September 30, 2020

With all due respect

Do you find that proper grammar and structure sometimes interferes with style and tone? What liberties do you take with language for the sake of style?

by Dietrich

I don’t find that it interferes — because I won’t let it. Not because I’m a rebel or challenged by literacy, but for the sake of tone and style.  

An understanding of grammar is a wonderful thing and certainly leads to clarity and effective communication. The funny thing about grammar is I studied up on it when I took to writing short stories some years ago. There was a tall stack of texts on my desk, and I relearned what I had forgotten from my school days, and then some.

“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” – Jack Kerouac 

Anyone who’s read my stuff can tell you I don’t exactly adhere to what I learned from that stack of texts. And while I don’t follow many grammar rules in my novel writing, I’m familiar with them, and I know when I’m breaking them.

And it’s funny, we generally break grammar rules all the time. Ever stand in a line with a sign that reads Ten Items or Fewer. We don’t balk when someone says, “Hey, what are you up to?” Although we might raise a brow if someone said, “ To whom shall I pass the joint?”

"That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put!” – Winston Churchill

“I can’t get no satisfaction.” — Mick Jagger

“Lay lady lay.” — Bob Dylan

I generally write from the perspective of a character, so the writing needs to sound authentic to that person. And I assure you most of these people wouldn’t know an adjectives from an adverb, let alone know there’s a royal order to them. And they don’t know squat about em and en dashes, subject-verb agreement, split infinitives, compound or run-on sentences. They speak in fragments and start their sentences with conjuctions and end them with prepositions. And if you pointed it out to them, they’d give you a look and say, “What’re you gonna do ‘bout it?” What can we expect, they’re misfits, marginals and criminals. And not one of them’s ever pondered why the O sounds different in “tomb” and “bomb” or “comb.” 

The important thing is that the characters sound natural and real. It most cases it would sound phony if they started speaking proper English.

“Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles.” ― Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

And consider that William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce and Jack Kerouac, didn’t have much use for punctuation. 

So, grammar is the correct use of English, and I generally stick to the rules when I’m writing letters or a blog like this one. But, when I’m writing fiction, that rulebook goes right out the window.


Brenda Chapman said...

Good post, Dietrich, with some good examples of incorrect grammar that works.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda.

Paul D. Marks said...

I like your first sentence, Dietrich. It says it all.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Paul.

Susan C Shea said...

Less and fewer - two of the worst offended against words. Drives me nuts. Lay and lie - another two. I'm not a grammarian, but I have to say it pulls me right out of story or a newspaper article to see words grievously misused. I mean, there are easily understood correct choices that aren't prissy, they're just accurate. And let's not go near the randomly placed apostrophe!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan.