Stop Grammar Police Brutality

A writer’s plea: why it’s important to tell your own story

Stop Grammar Police Brutality

Nobody wants to come across like an idiot. I think we can all agree on that. There’s a grammar baseline necessary to deliver a story well. Beyond the baseline, the writing’s direction should be up to its author.

There are purists, the grammar police, who enjoy nothing more than pouncing on authors who end sentences with prepositions, forget to say fewer, and think we must all speak as though we’re running against Abraham Lincoln.

But if we let the grammar police have their way we wouldn’t have Hemingway, Kerouac, Burroughs, Stephen King, Lee Child or a thousand other authors.

No one told Jackson Pollack he held his brush wrong (or if they did he ignored them). The bending of language is part of the art. It’s a writer’s job to develop her own voice. We take that voice away when we sterilize the writing with proper-ness.

Here’s a story I wrote about finding your author’s voice:

There’s a real danger in weaponized grammar.

I see this often, a fantastic book is trashed by a handful of reviewers, all for its use of language. When an author is punished publicly, be it through book reviews, or word of mouth, and that author bends her writing so she doesn’t get such a beating next time — we all lose.

If an author’s work becomes too sterile the work loses its uniqueness. Story is not reality. Story is art. Reality doesn’t follow the rules of grammar. Listen to a couple people have a conversation. Grammar isn’t eternal either. Language evolves over time. Slang become actual words. Actual words fall out of fashion. Writers stop using semicolons, because they’re stupid. The change list continues as we progress (and digress).

Language is in a constant state of flux.

When we get too caught up in grammar, we may lose the essence of the story.Yes, you should avoid passive voice. Yes, you must spell words correctly. Yes, most stories are not written well, and I will I forever judge you if you use the word broke instead of broken (ex. my car’s broke) — yes, I will.

But we must be careful.

Every good story has a color all its own. Every great piece of writing contains words carefully-chosen, to give a certain feeling to a scene. The thumb of grammar can be heavy-handed. We can clean up our work to a point anyone could’ve written it, but is vanilla writing the answer?

Novels are not mirrors of reality. They are bent reality at best. As writers, we do our best to clean all the boring bits off reality and distill the story to the page. Our characters rarely brush their teeth, shop for deodorant, or sleep eight hours. So, why the hell do they have to speak as though they came from Victorian times?

Is this heresy?

Absolutely not. All writers should learn the bones of their craft. Without a firm handle on grammar we won’t know enough to break the rules properly.There’s a fine line between deliberate and sloppy. We can’t skip this step. Jackson Pollack was a classically-trained painter before he started tossing his cams across the room.

There’s no shortcut to awesome.

We learn. We fall. We fail and regroup. We find our voice and chop off the dumb bits to make the language ours.

Now it’s your turn. Raise your fist. Put down the weaponized grammar. Let your freak flag fly. Go tell the best story you can, because we need you.

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