By Eileen Register, English teacher and author of Adrianna and the Grisholm County Chronicles series.
Sometimes I really hate being an English teacher! Before I went to college and earned my BA in English Education, I enjoyed reading much more than I do now. Why? It’s because I wasn’t as concerned with how the author of a book wrote as I was about what they wrote. I could delve into the story and never give a second thought to whatever grammar and punctuation errors there might be in the book. Of course, I’d notice gross errors, but the little things didn’t bother me. Now they do.
When I was in elementary school, we studied verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and all that kind of stuff, and it wasn’t all that painful, as far as I can remember. (Let’s face it, though…at my age, I don’t remember all that much about elementary school, except for the popsicles we could buy for a nickel or dime while waiting for the afternoon bus ride home. Oh, and I DO remember that really cool sixth grade teacher I had – very tall, very handsome, and a very good teacher – that sums up Mr. Rose.)
As the years passed, I remember writing, lots of writing, and I loved it. I think the mechanics of writing were instilled in us back then by rote memory as well as a stern hand on the blackboard and a lot of red ink on our assignments. Most of it came naturally, though, for me. I loved reading, so the rules of grammar seemed to grow with me as my repertoire of books grew. I even delved into Shakespeare in eighth grade, reading “Romeo and Juliet” and doing a report on it that earned me an A- for grammar (I had a few misplaced modifiers, which we hadn’t even studied about yet.) and an A for content – the teacher said I did a better job on it than her students in the senior class who were studying Shakespeare. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer (and a brain surgeon, but I soon found out that Science and Math were not my fortes, so that dream never came to fruition).
In the next few weeks, I’m going to write a few BLOG entries about proper grammar and writing mechanics. I’ll discuss such things as subject/verb agreement, adverbs (don’t forget the –ly), unclear antecedents (too many pronouns, not enough nouns), sentence structures, split infinitives (how to not do that), proper word usage, and punctuation. I’m sure that as I write the entries, I’ll come up with a few other errors writers are guilty of (including me – even an English teacher screws up sometimes). Let’s try that last sentence again since I ended with a preposition: I’m sure that as I write, I’ll come up with a few other errors of which writers are guilty. (Gosh, that sounds awkward!)
One advantage authors of fiction have is that we can get away with a lot more improper grammar than those who write non-fiction, especially essayists and writers of text books. I use a lot of dialogue in my writing, so I get to break all the rules – nobody talks the same in casual conversation as we are taught to write in formal essays and such.
So here I go…I’ll try not to make grammar too boring, and I hope my efforts will help authors write better books. If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of trouble figuring out the story you want to tell, the characters you want to create, and the scenes where things happen. That’s why we are writers. Polishing our words is a bit more challenging. Let’s meet that challenge together.
(By the way, if you noticed that I incorrectly use only one space after the periods at the ends of sentences, you’ve got a sharp eye. You’re also totally correct about that. In the day of electronic books, though, using double spaces at the end of sentences messes with the programming that converts our manuscripts into E-books. Because of this, I have noticed that paperbacks and hardcover books often skip that second space, too. I guess this is one punctuation rule that is changing, and I, for one, don’t give a rat’s patoot about it anymore. After having to go through entire books removing those extra spaces before publishing them as E-books, I’ve decided to take the easy road. The one suggestion I have regarding the two-space rule is: Be consistent. Don’t switch from the two-space side of the argument to the one-space side in the same piece of writing. If you choose to do it one way, stick with it.)
C U L8r! (Oh, I hate all the abbreviations we use in texting! How will our books and other writing look in ten years if today’s kids never learn how to write a proper sentence?)