…or any other form of grammar, in everything you do? Yep, I’m afraid it does. Even more so for indie authors who are often condemned as poor writers based on their spelling and grammar skills, or lack thereof. It’s your face in the world.
I can already hear the howls calling me a purist, reminding me the English language is a fluid one that’s changed tremendously over the years.
Hear me out –
As a lover of the language I respect that, but another word for writer is wordsmith, because we use words to craft our stories in order to be able to share them with our readers. If we don’t use the most correct, common and accepted forms then our readers won’t be able to understand us – not only those of us for whom English is our first language but those of us for whom it was not. It also makes us look, if not incompetent, then lazy. (What, couldn’t find a dictionary?)
What brought this up? Two things. A writers blog where two very common words were misused – not misspelled but misused. Mistakes happen but the particular words, although most people understood what was meant, were pretty common. Taken literally, one should have completely changed the meaning of the sentence, unless taken in context with the rest of the content. The other example was a letter to the Car Talk Guys from NPR, where the writer used impudent instead of impotent.
And therein lies the problem. Did he use the wrong word because that’s what he heard or because he saw someone else use it that way? Clearly he didn’t know the difference in meaning but the Car Talk Guys corrected him, gently. Why? So he would know which word to use in the future so he wouldn’t sound like an illiterate boob.
Words are a writer’s stock in trade. I wonder how many people read that blog, hit the first error, then hit the second and dismissed the content of the entire blog? If I were sharing that blog I’d have winced since those kinds of errors reflect on me as well. They would make everyone wonder who the editor was and if anyone else in the group had looked at it before it was put up. Or does everyone on the blog write that bad? How many people passed that blog around to their friends pointing out the errors? It might have gotten it seen more but how many would come back?
If our goal is to give readers an experience, take them into another world, then we have to guide them there with words they’ll understand. English is a wonderfully complex language, using sources that range from Latin to Cajun. Knowing it, the richness and the depth of it, gives us the ability to immerse our readers in a time or place or convey for a speaker a particular tone.
She looked up at the blue sky. She looked up at the azure sky. The first tells you the sky was clear, but doesn’t the second call up images of a richer shade, a vibrancy that plain old blue doesn’t? The word azure was based on the Persian word for lapis lazuli, knowing that helps you understand the color they meant. Or ‘she had cornflower blue eyes’. If you know what a cornflower looks like, then you know exactly what color her eyes were. They’re all blue and yet each sets a specific feeling or tint. They also broaden people’s vocabulary and stretch their imagination.
He spoke confidently. He spoke with authority. Both mean approximately the same thing but one implies he was at ease while the other indicates not only was he confident but he had power to go with it.
A character may use bad English and grammar, but the writer never should. Using a specific jargon or patois adds flavor and flare to a character, sets them in a specific time, place, or background.
That’s the magic of language. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adapt to the changes in it – as I did here using BTW in place of by the way – if they become common usage, but we shouldn’t forget where the words came from and what they mean. As writers we should try to use them the best we can, and we should also remember the impression we leave on others with our use of it.