Sunday, February 15, 2015

Great Grammar Equals Great Literature?

Grammar is important when writing a novel, or even a business letter, but does it equal great literature? The Grammarly team (grammarly.com/grammar-check) has done some interesting research. You can view it here: Fifty Shades of Grammar . While good even excellent grammar is important there are some instances in which rules can be broken. Missing commas, wordiness, colloquialisms, accidentally confused words, sentence fragments, and other grammar mistakes don't necessarily doom your work to oblivion. The key is knowing when to avoid mistakes and when to bend the rules.

Grammar rules can and sometimes should be ignored in dialog. People don't speak using perfect grammar. Dialog is a way to distinguish the speech patterns of your characters and make them come alive. Some of the most boring books I've read have been written by authors using the same good grammar in dialog as in the rest of the novel.

Another exception is poetry. The flow of the words sometimes doesn't lend itself to good grammar. The example from the Grammarly study of Shakespeare's use of a preposition in the Tempest is an excellent example. Some memorable quotes ignore the rules of good grammar and produce a masterpiece.

Grammar and the expectations of the reader have changed over the years. While readers of Jane Austen were comfortable with the passive voice, modern readers are more interested in action. Authors sometimes write in the present tense to give the writing more immediacy. People still read and enjoy Austen because of her insights into personality. The passive voice does not deter them.


While grammar is important and knowing the rules facilitates good writing. It's also important to know when rules can be broken. Even more important than grammar is having a good story to tell. Readers are willing to put up with a great deal if you entertain them. Story comes first. 

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