Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Correctness vs. Impact

I've been thinking about this one for a while now, and it has me pondering.

There's a lot of stuff (technical word) flying around about writing being absolutely correct in the strictest grammatical sense. While I'm not opposed to the use of proper grammar (far from it - I've become a little bit of a grammar Nazi, but there's a limit to that), I greatly wonder if in the pursuit of grammatical perfection we lose a little something of emotional impact.

As an intuitive writer, I'm very much a feeler as well. I tend not to notice the errors if I'm totally engrossed in the emotion of the moment I'm reading... provided that the errors are not so many and are not so egregious that they impact meaning, of course.

Academic writing is not meant to be emotive. It's meant to be objective, scientific, to the point while creative writing is, well, whatever the creator wants it to be.

For me, I get a slightly sadistic kick out of seeing other people tear up when they read something I've written. It means I've reached them; gotten to their centre. That's the objective of my writing.

Now here's the thing - it's not like my grammar is terrible. Alright, I confess that sometimes I leave a lot to be desired when it comes to sentence structure and grammar. Sometimes, however, I feel that writing it the way someone else has suggested will lessen the emotional quality of the passage in question. Is that just me being... well... overprotective of my prose?

I think that might have something to do with it, if I'm being honest with myself.

Yet still, I have read grammatically perfect sentences and felt nothing. Moreover, it's often my less perfect sentences that get my readers (and myself) to shed a tear or two. Perhaps absolute, immutably proper grammar is a little sterile, a little too academic to reach people in the same way?

Of course, I'm not giving myself (or you, for that matter) an excuse to write poorly. I mean, I still have to be understood and that means good writing. I'm just musing aloud about whether grammatical perfection dampens emotional impact.

I'm not an editor, and I haven't taken a course on professional editing (though, you know, I probably should), so some input from those who have would be wonderful. Do you find that absolute correctness dulls the impact? Do you consider emotionality when you edit, or is it all purely about sentence structure? Is there a difference in your approach when you edit for academic/business articles and when you edit fiction and creative non-fiction?

I'd also love to hear thoughts from any readers following this blog.

Right, that's enough musing for the moment. I forgot to include the Forgotten English after yesterday's book review, so you get a two-for-one special today.


A lazy, loitering fellow.
- James Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1855

A lazy, lumpish fellow; [from] John Lyly's Mother Bombie (1594).
- Sir James Murray's New English Dictionary, 1909

Loiter Pegs, an idler; East Yorkshire.
- Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary, 1898-1905


Care, trouble, anxiety.
- Robert Willan's Glossary of the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1811

To take the fash, to take the trouble, to be at the pains.
- Sir James Murray's New English Dictionary, 1901

In Australia we say flack. To cop the flack is to bear the brunt of the trouble (usually punishment or a berating). I wonder if they are related somehow.


Renee Miller said...

Grammatical correctness in fiction writing is much different than grammatical correctness in technical or article writing.

Writing proper sentences has absolutely nothing to do with emotional impact. You can adhere to rules and still affect your reader. The place to stray from grammar rules is in dialogue. (that's both internal and spoken) Run-on sentences and improper word usage distracts the reader by reminding her she's reading. How does that make the emotional impact better?

I do know what you mean, but I think it's a matter of good judgement. For example, a sentence fragment is frowned upon by grammar purists, but can be used for effect when writing fiction. And it's not wrong.

I have to say though, that when an editor (as in a qualified professional that knows the craft) suggests something, it's not just for shits and giggles. It's to improve your story. AND it does not take away from your voice. What the editor does is remove the fluff so that your voice becomes louder.

S.M. Carrière said...

I adore you're third paragraph. That just had to be said.

Excellent points, though. It was really more the sentence fragments I was thinking of. As well as the use of 'and' or 'because' to begin a sentence. Mostly 'and,' to be honest.

I wasn't thinking of something along the lines of:
And then he went and done that other thing.
Not those kind of grammatical errors.

Still, I agree (now), though, as you know, I had my share of crazy getting used to it.