Back on February 17, 2016 I wrote a blog on The Craft of Writing Narrative/. At that time I mentioned some sources a writer might visit to review the rules of grammar. My favorite sources, then and now, are Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style and Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves, but I also often check the back pages of Webster’s Dictionary.
I took a look, and it’s a site that definitely would be handy for writers, so I wanted to mention it here.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but even after all of these years of writing, I still have trouble deciding if I should use effect or affect, and I have no idea if or when I should use fewer or less.
As I said in the original blog about narrative, when dealing with dialogue, accurate grammar isn’t as important. The dialogue should reflect the speaker—the character’s education, class, occupation, and unique speech qualities. Don’t overdo accents or dialect, but include enough to indicate that how the character speaks.
On the other hand, dialogue tags and straight narrative should be written using proper grammar and spelling. Errors (or usage different from the accepted norm) can turn a reader off from a story. I’ve been lucky, Over the years, I’ve had great editors who have caught any errors I’ve made, and word processing programs usually alert me if something isn’t quite right. (Not that I always agree with Word’s assessment.)
Writers need to be aware of proper grammar and spelling in all forms of communication. A letter to an agent or editor with errors in spelling or improper grammar can indicate a lack of understanding of the basic rules . . .or a sloppiness in writing.
For me, spelling and grammar are important even in email posts. Recently I was following a discussion about self-publishing. One woman was talking about a book she’d recently self-published. There were two spelling errors (basic ones, such as using the wrong spelling for the word there) in her short message. She was trying to entice us to order copies of her new book, but from her email post, I decided I wasn’t about to order one. If she was making errors in her general writing, what would I find in a book?
So take the time to reread your email posts (my fingers and brain don’t always communicate with each other correctly, so my rereads general catch errors), and make sure, in any “official” communications you send off, that you’ve used good grammar and spelling. If you’re not sure . . . check the grammar cheat sheet.