Monday, August 10, 2009

"i" before "e", except ... does anyone care?

Tip of the Day: New to Twitter? Type #scbwi09 into the search box on the right column, and you'll see only tweets from or about the 2009 SCBWI conference. (I didn't go to the conference, but you can find me on Twitter @katefall).

Are you a writer who ignores grammar and spelling as you write your early drafts, only to worry that you've missed corrections on revisions? Or are you like me, unable to write another sentence while you're mentally stuck on wondering if you've just placed a comma correctly?

I'm sort of a grammar snob. I don't mean to be. I know it's irritating. It irritates me, too. I struggle to resist the urge to re-punctuate manuscripts I'm critiquing. When I apologize for it, crit partners often tell me, "Oh, go ahead, I want you to do that. I'm not all that good at commas." That always makes me think, "Then why would you trust that I'm putting them in correctly? Won't you just ignore my marks?"

The next logical question: Is any of this important? Does ANYONE care about commas? Well, anyone other than us grammar snobs. But we sell our stories on plot, setting, and characters. What's important in a manuscript is tension and story arc, not grammar. If I sell a story on the merits of the story, won't some copy reader come along and try to change all my correct commas anyway? And let me tell you, I'm not arguing essential vs. nonessential clauses with a publisher. They can put the commas wherever the heck they want if they pay me.

There are two ways of looking at this:

1. The editor thinking of buying your manuscript could also be a grammar snob, and those incorrect commas will grate on her soul like tin foil on a cheese shredder.
If your story is great, it probably won't stop her from buying it anyway. Will it?

2. If you know the rules, you can manipulate them.
Although I'd be really hard pressed to tell you who's going to be impressed by your manipulation of commas and semi-colons. So many people use them incorrectly that I think most readers will assume your creatively placed semi-colon is simply used incorrectly--if they notice at all.

All I can say in favor of being a grammar snob is that writers I've met who don't feel they have a firm grasp of grammar seem insecure about it. So I have one less insecurity in the writing world. Um, yay me.

If you want to write but you don't feel you know your "rules" well enough ... for God's sake, write anyway. People like me who will fix your grammar are a dime a dozen. It's not a real valuable skill on the marketplace; trust me on this. If you have a story, tell it!

Are there any hardcore grammar nerds out there willing to make a better case for grammar than I have?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


DeenaML said...

So far none of my rejections have been bc of misused commas! Go me! :)

Christina Farley said...

Oh I'm so glad you're a grammar snob! My manuscript will forever thank you. I must say I'm not but I'm really trying to be better about paying attention to details. Really. I am.