Limyaael (limyaael ) wrote,
  • Mood: aggressive

Grammar/spelling/punctuation part 1

Well, everything except the paper and 1200 words on one of the stories is done, and that will work out, and I have two pages done on the paper so far.

(Translation: If I keep working, I'm going to go crazy).

So this, for right now.



10. Most people don't. It's apparently a shockingly high number, from reading editors' web comments (such as in Teresa Nielsen Haydon's weblog). I don't know if it comes from people not having read enough to know the basic rules of grammar and thus not realizing how wrong they are, or having incompetent beta-readers, or just being so sure the book will sell that they don't bother proofreading. Whatever it is, sending in the manuscript covered in typos can get it rejected without a second look.

9. It's professional. Would you really turn in a job application covered with typos? A college paper that's worth 50% of the final grade? Anything that you honestly hope to impress people with? If you would, get used to disappointment. However high your level of genius, you're not going to look like one if you can't be bothered to correct for basic mistakes.

8. Manuscripts are not the Internet. Many websites don't have spell-check features. People type fast in chat (or in LJ comments). Some people use odd spellings, no capital letters, and so on as style markers. The Internet culture usually understands this and gives the writers quite a lot of leeway.

In a manuscript situation, however (unless the book is actually structured as Internet transcriptions rather than a traditional narrative), none of that applies. You have a spell-checker on your computer, or time to acquire one if you don't have it. You have all the time in the world to review a book as you don't an LJ comment or an IM. And the editor who will see your work doesn't know you, and doesn't know if you fancy yourself 'different' or 'radical' because you like to spell women 'wimmyn' or if it's just a sign of incompetence. So don't treat your original writing as you would an LJ comment.

7. "Writing is art with language as the medium." One of the best and most succinct statements I've ever seen on why people need to proofread their writing. (It comes from the Wicked X Witches, a no-longer-updated site that rips bad X-Files fanfiction to shreds). Just as most people don't think they can take up a paintbrush and instantly become an artist, they shouldn't think they can sit down, rip off any old thing, and produce salable writing. Writing may be no more creative than the other arts, but it certainly is no less. And if you're going to break the formal techniques and rules, first you have to know what they are, and exactly how it will make you look if you break them.

6. The chance that you're the next e. e. cummings is slim to none. You may think that you're making a "statement" by not capitalizing any character's name or by using commas in all the wrong places, but believe me, it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between that and specific mistakes. (This especially applies if you get the rule right some of the time and screw it up the rest). If you're selling to a small market that appreciates this kind of thing, such as a feminist magazine that regularly spells women as wimmin or wommyn, this may work. Otherwise, even if the editor suspects you're doing it on purpose, you're far more likely to come off as silly or pretentious.

5. No one is under any obligation to buy something poorly spelled or written. Yes, a lot of would-be authors don't use proper grammar or punctuation. But deciding that you don't have to because they don't will leave your work behind in the dust compared to someone who takes the time.

4. "Grammar is boring" is not an excuse. Maybe it was boring the way they taught it to you, or maybe you don't appreciate it, or maybe you have a whole host of excuses that start with "But." "But the whole thing's written in dialect!" "But I don't like grammar!" "But I'm sure they don't care that I misused every -ing verb in the whole book!"

My answers to those particular ones would be:

A little dialect goes a long way, and again, it's a matter of knowing your market; there's a reason that not every character in Harry Potter speaks like Hagrid.

Too bad for you not liking grammar. You're probably not in love with the alphabet either, but as a writer, you have to know it.

Yes, they will care.

It really doesn't matter what your level of interest in the subject is. You have to know it well enough to get past.

3. People will make judgments. Imagine you send a novel manuscript where everything is spelled and written properly- except in the first twenty pages. Is the editor going to get past those first twenty pages and notice the brilliant middle? Probably not. She's going to make an assumption that the book is not worth buying, that you couldn't take the time to check your spelling or grammar, or that you are an idiot. And maybe none of those assumptions are true, but it's the way you'll come across.

You don't have contact with people who only see your writing, particularly if you send it without an agent or anything else to require particular attention. You have only the words to act as your voice. And a host of misplaced commas can do as much damage in that kind of situation as stuttering can do in an important face-to-face meeting.

2. Editing for spelling and grammar mistakes is the author's job, not the buyer's. Yes, copyeditors will go over it if it's being published, but that's a rigorous job meant to catch those last-minute mistakes that have so far honestly slipped away from all eyes. Sending your manuscript un-proofread because "the editor will catch those errors" is dishonest. If you know you did the best job you could, it's a lot easier to accept a rejection than if you know that you sent it out as fast as you could because you just couldn't wait to see your name in lights.

And finally...

1. There may be a great story under all that mess, but no one's going to waste the time digging it out. I've seen writing that would have been absolutely brilliant with all errors corrected...assuming that the errors could all have been corrected to what I assumed they were, and assuming the author cared enough to do so, and assuming the piece was short. If I run across a webpage or online novel with errors every paragraph, I give up in disgust.

People are usually right when they talk about grammar and spelling as basics. The problem comes when people forget that "basic" has two meanings. It means simple, and it means bottom line. If you have the greatest characters and plot in existence, but no one can tell that because you misspell every word over two syllables and guess wildly about verb tense, then it's your own fault.



Do I sound bitter? Looking at student papers will do that to you.
Tags: fantasy rants: winter 2004, rants on style
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