Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ink Tip: Punctuation And Grammar

So which category do you fall into?  Are you a flexible whatever gets the job done?  Or do you have strong opinions about the proper usage of an Oxford comma?

It's loves bedsheets, sales, and fireflies!  Not bedsheet sales and fireflies!
I've seen several articles over the last few days talking about how being rigid about spelling and grammar can actually form barriers to diversity and multiculturalism in publishing.  I've also seen some thoughtful commentaries about how English is a rapidly evolving language that accepts variants (exhibit one: Shakespeare's entertaining spelling choices).  And finally, there have been the articles decrying the dumbing down of North American culture.

I'll admit to having mixed feelings on the subject.  On the one hand, poor spelling and grammar drives me nuts.  I don't even like the LOL Catz.  But I also recognize that the rules are inconsistent and vary quite a bit.  That's why there are different rules for grammar styles. (my editing house uses the Chicago Manual).  And for the most part, the minor variations between them don't affect comprehensibility.

I think that there is room to be inclusive and different voices make stories interesting.  So I don't believe that anyone needs to be particularly difficult about sticking to any particular style.  And frankly, in a world of autocorrect and touch-screen typing, none of us are living in glass-free houses when it comes to throwing error-rocks.

But I also don't think it's ridiculous or overly fussy to expect a certain level of professional language from a writer for a published work.  Nothing will throw me out of a book faster than a mis-used homonym like "the reign came down in soft fat waterdrops."  I don't attack people for mispellings or odd grammar choices in their social media posts or even day to day writings, but if they have asked me to pay for something they've written, I expect not to be jolted out of the story.

So how can we find a balance between making sure that there is room for everyone to tell their stories and no one group is dominating publishing, and making sure that readers have enjoyable reading experiences?  I don't know the answer to that particular riddle but I've heard some good suggestions, like offering free spelling and grammar editing for aspiring authors who might otherwise be barred from submitting to publishing houses.  

Because the thing is: people do care about grammar and spelling.  It's not just about being understood and everything else is a bonus.  Properly written, the words become invisible to the story, flowing directly to the reader's mind to create a fictional world that can become more real with every chapter.  And that's how it should be.

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