Grammar and ‘The Rules’

Does anyone else ever hear, “These are the rules and you never break them-except when…”

What does that mean?  Where do you go with that?  Are the rules to help avoid mistakes or to simply sell a million books on “The Rules?”

I find myself asking the question of what rules are golden, which ones are someones opinion and which rules are really ways to help in the editing process.  I have been told a few times that grammar is key.  The words that ‘no agent will even look at you if you don’t have impeccable grammar’ have been said by people other then the loathsome critique group. How true is this?  I don’t know but I can offer some help or advice on where to go to help.

I took the words to heart, “No agent will touch your manuscript no matter how well the story is written if grammar isn’t perfect.”  It stung and then I decided to get over it.  Maybe this person had a point?  Although, as of right now my grammar still did not look as horrid as said person had lead me to believe.  But that aside,  I bought a style manual first.  Strunk and White’s to be exact.  Do i find it helpful?  Well yes, a little.  The sad news is I was already using a lot of their rules, but there were some helpful tips.  Something I never saw was the rule or definition of a ‘comma splice.’

You may be asking what I found myself asking, “What is a comma splice?”  Well my fellow writer, it is simply the misuse of a comma to join two complete sentences.  Okay, fine.  I will admit that I have done this.  I remove a word because I felt it was over used and pointless and ta-da I made a comma splice.  Who knew?  The sad truth is that the person I had helping me claimed my writing to be hard to read all thanks to the comma splice.  Lucky for me I had three others that didn’t notice the issue. Alas they are readers not writers, so I chose to take this advice and work on removing the offensive sentences that caused so much grief.  Or that was my intent.  I have yet to master identifying a comma splice and all it’s glory.

So here I am, combing my manuscript with a fine tooth comb over one reviewers comment and I am not entirely sure I am doing any good.  Perhaps i should find an additional style manual but will they touch on every rule out there or not? Strunk and White were said to be top.

Moving on …

Next I was told to look at books on craft.  How does one narrow down which book to choose when there are no less then fifty written on the subject and very few are recent publications.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, has said that the publishing industry is changing.   Well, yes the industry is changing and some genres are being reinvented but on a whole most rules stay the same.  Do I need to read a hundred and fifty page book to tell me the basics?  No, I need cliffs notes of rules not to break based on genre.  Maybe we can start that?

At some point you can over analyze everything and stop writing.  By the time you are done ‘learning’ you might have lost your own voice.  I think if grammar is the worst mistake one makes, then you are doing well.  You can learn grammar – although from which source is best, I am not sure.   Is grammar enough to keep your story from ever seeing daylight?  Well, I will be researching this through different agents and let you know.

After all is said and done, the reality is, most books break rules.  People, real humans, do not speak perfectly so no characters do either.  Which rules are typo’s and which are intentional might be based on perspective of who is reading.  If that is the case, then finding and agent really is about numbers and finding the would be person who see’s your style.

If anyone else has useful information to share to the writing community please post it.  I am interested to hear what others have to say on grammar, rule breaking and getting a manuscript past the slush-pile purely based on these fundamental.  I would hope story is 90% of success but i am being lead to believe differently.  Although if we look at, most recently, Fifty Shades or Gray and Twilight, I am lead to believe I am correct.

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5 thoughts on “Grammar and ‘The Rules’

  1. Brenda Moguez (@BrendaMoguez) says:

    Lessons I learned after going through what you are doing, was to write dang thing. Edit as best you can ( I can’t so I don’t) and find a good editor you click with (yes, it’s an investment, but worth it) let them work their magic. After, those edits, and maybe some rewriting, have it edited again. My opinion is a writer has to play to their strengths, which is the writing. A writer never sees his/her mistakes regardless of how many books read or how well versed she/he is on Strunk and White. It’s one thought.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I agree. I have read over a manuscript at least four times and each time I find something new. The issues is, if I wasn’t aware of a grammar rule that i was breaking I will not find it no matter how many passes. I feel like Strunk and White do hit on a lot of valid information, but it was already information I had. What I want to know is where are all the ‘hidden’ rules that so many people claim are dyer to writing. Apparently they are in the millions of books on crafts. If we spend all out time reading when is it that we write? Thanks for your comments!! If you have an Editor that you feel is tried and true feel free to post a link in a reply for others that might see this blog.

  2. angel011 says:

    Spelling and grammar matter; while it’s true that some illiterate writers made it, they’re exceptions, not the rule. You can learn about the craft from the books, through writers workshops, through classes, and it can really help you find and shape your voice. But the key thing is to write. Many good writers say that, before you write something really good, you have to write a million words of garbage. 🙂

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I would agree that with every word you improve. With today’s many tools on spell check, spelling should never be the issue… now if you write on a type-writer I guess there is an exception. Thanks for your opinion. I know I have seen a lot of your comments on she writes, correct? You write blog involving books and cats 🙂

      • angel011 says:

        My blog does involve books and writing and cats, yes, but I’m not on She Writes all that often; sometimes I’m absent for quite a while. 🙂 As for the spell check tools, they don’t catch it if you write “to” instead of “too”, “bee” instead of “be”, “their” or “there” or “they’re”, “lose” or “lose”… Pesky little mistakes. 🙂

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