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Proper Grammar (we don't need no education, no dark sarcasm in the classroom)

Discussion in 'Ask the Staff' started by tantric, Sep 9, 2015.

  1. Centinuus

    Centinuus Scribe

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    Figure it might be somewhat relevant to touch on this, considering its one of the key motivations to my recent "drifting away"" from the site. Ive currently posted a fair number of lore and stories from my fictional mythos, and while i will concede to anyone that I am not particularly grammatically gifted i do consider myself to be at least somewhat well spoken and able to put what I wish to say into words, even if said words arent spelled or punctuated correctly or are involved in a rather laborious run on sentence such as this one. But my seeking out of this site (Again coming from the perspective of a new inexperienced member.) has been to receive feedback, positive or negative, about the writing style or narrative of my work.
    While i certainly got a fair bit of assistance from lovely members referencing me to sources to better my writing, the vast majority of feedback i received entailed improving the grammar of my story, or making it more appealing to the reader. From this point i would like to point out yet again that i acknowledge i am a new member, and my criticism comes purely from a outside perspective, but i believe that grammar and presentation is the refined perfection of writing, and to expect every "newby" to mill through his extensive work he may have written elsewhere to dot every I and cross every T is a tad, and i hate to use the word, pretentious. If I'm seeking advice on my writing I'm looking for advice on how to improve my character development, my scene creation, my descriptiveness and over-descriptiveness ect. With that in mind i wont spend nearly as much time perfecting every subtle punctuation mistake or spending half an hour on a particular paragraph to make it glimmer. to be clear, i completely understand how as literary minds, these mistakes can be jarring, and will shine like a beacon when someone writes im instead of I'm, but I'm merely suggesting it might be turning some writers, myself included, who are looking for more than a reminder to use spell check in their criticism. Apologies for the rambling response, I just figured this was a issue i could bring a different perspective to.
     
  2. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I can sympathize that grammar and spelling are genuinely difficult for some people, and issues like dyslexia can be a huge stumbling block. However, it is also genuinely difficult for me to read posts where things are misspelled and uncapitalized. Every single other piece of writing that I read--books, work documents, articles on the Internet--have been proofread and follow the rules of grammar. Breaking those rules adds labor to the act of reading your posts--the necessity of interpretation. It becomes harder to read your posts than any other person's: can you truly expect your meaning to be given the same time and consideration?

    I know that sounds harsh, but consider posts in the Showcase. Any feedback there is completely voluntary on the part of the reader. You can't force anyone to crit something they're not interested in. On the same level, if it's difficult for them to see the scene, the characterization, the meaning, can you really demand that they do the mental work of correcting your errors for you? A few errors can easily be overlooked. Reading through dozens becomes a chore.

    You are essentially saying that you want feedback, but you're not willing to take a few minutes to run your piece through a spelling and grammar check in MS word or a free program online to get that feedback.

    I am sorry that this is turning you away from the forum. It is a struggle with two sides, and I think that you can either prioritize your comfort or refine your writing for a better response. Neither of these choices is right or wrong, but the world is a practical place. What you put in, you get out.

    For what it's worth, I can see that you are well-spoken. I don't have as much of an issue with errors in regular forum posts as the rules enforce (it makes sense from a macro viewpoint, appearance of the site and all). But when it comes to presenting your writing for others to read, isn't that extra step of proofreading worth it? Don't you want people to see your writing crystal-clear, not fogged with errors? I think that if you put in the time, even just to spell- and grammar-check, you will get a difference in how people respond to your stories.
     
    FifthView likes this.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    @Centinuus,

    There are problems with critiques and problems with the Showcase. And it's often true that the feedback you get isn't the feedback you're looking for or the feedback that's the most helpful. But the biggest problem is that people resist the obvious, honest, necessary criticisms.

    If people with more experience than you are telling you that you need to improve your grammar, then you probably do.

    If there's a reason that you struggle with grammar, you can always put that upfront, and people will try to understand. But in most cases grammar is not presentation, it's not writing "perfection," it is - in all frankness - the writing minimum. It is the basic mode of communication for a writer. It's how English works.

    And, if I can risk being even more direct, I think that an aspiring writer should endeavor to make every sentence, even a practice exercise, as strong as they reasonably can. Practice does not make perfect unless you're pushing yourself forward. If that's not what you're doing every time you write, then you're training yourself to write poorly, even when it counts.

    Finally, someone's "writing style or narrative" are all about building flow and momentum and emotion in your writing. If a reader, or even a writer offering a critique, has to spend the energy translating poor grammar, then they're doing that while they read instead of experiencing the emotional momentum of your narrative. With bad grammar, you're asking people to comment on something you haven't let them experience.
     
    Nimue likes this.
  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    How to Be a Newby

    Step One: Capitalize the letter "I" but fail to do so for the pronoun later in the sentence.
     
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Step Two: Protect your newbie status; don't attempt to elevate yourself out of newbie status by learning such pointless things as proper grammar, proper spelling, and proper punctuation.

    Step Three: Remind critics that criticizing newbies is like clubbing puppies to death. Since newbies don't wish to stop being newbies by learning pointless things, the clubbing would never cease and the puppies would never stop being clubbed. This is bad.

    Step Four: If your critics hate puppies, instead point out that they are simply pretentious, because shaming critics works. Don't worry about being such a strong critic of those critics; newbies can't be pretentious themselves, by definition.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Can we not make fun of people please.
    If someone has a concern and they're having an issue with something on the site, wouldn't it be better to try and help them understand rather than driving them away even faster?
     
    Devor likes this.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I teach history. Here's what I tell my students about grammar.

    Grammar in itself is not important. Grammar rules are essentially the invention of 18thc scholars who decided what with so many ordinary folk becoming literate, there was a need for some rules. The rules became embedded in the burgeoning education system, which was solidified once that system was made compulsory. We are the heirs to that. All sorts of lively arguments can be had over whether that process was Good or Bad or merely Inevitable.

    That said, there are three good reasons for learning good grammar good. <wink> One, those who master the rules can break them masterfully. Two, if you make too many grammatical mistakes in a sentence, the meaning of the sentence gets muddled or breaks down entirely. Keep in mind that the word "sentence" and the word "sense" have the same root. A mangled sentence literally makes no sense. Pile up too many of those and you lose your argument (or your reader) entirely. Communication must trump style. Three, mastering the tools of language--of which grammar is fundamental --increases the likelihood of constructing an effective argument (or writing a good story), for it instills clear thinking. There's a reason why they call it grammar school.

    I don't usually do this but I'll call out FifthView on this one. The OP seemed sincere enough to me. I do recall the earlier exchanges and I totally get frustration, but I don't think Centinuus came back just to rile us up. I regularly get students who express more or less the same view. I try hard to convince them that all my grammatical notes on their essays is not a form of useless snobbery. Sometimes I even succeed. But not by sneering.

    BTW, there's an excellent medieval scholar who in his forum posts never capitalizes the first person pronoun. He does this deliberately, arguing that electronic communication is a new form of communication, entailing new norms, and he chooses to note this by his arbitrary change in punctuation. He's been doing that for twenty years or more. It never convinced me, but I mention it to show that not every such use comes from n00bz.
     
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    @Svrtnsse:

    It is all about understanding.

    So a new member shows up, receives lots of input, but the vast majority of that input came from pretentious people.

    That's like biting the hand that feeds; or, calling the food bitter, so bitter. But I thought the puppy metaphor wouldn't hold if overused.

    I was going to put a Step Five: Expect detailed, helpful, in-depth, and time-consuming criticism while putting out little effort yourself. But others had already addressed that point.
     
  9. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I agree with Svrt. I don't think that Centinuus is deliberately scorning grammatical rules the way that the original poster did, nor that an honest question about the necessity of perfect grammar needs to be shamed. There are better arguments that don't hinge on callousness.
     
    Devor likes this.
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think the better point is that grammar and punctuation are not rocket science or brain surgery. There are definitely some finer points that are difficult to remember, some odd cases. But being able to hit Cap/Shift while hitting "I" is not terribly difficult; and being able to capitalize the pronoun I sometimes but not other times, unless a real physical ailment causes such an inconsistency, is not a sign of artistic license or ignorance of the proper form so much as laziness or negligence. Example from the post in question:

    And to point fingers at those spending their time leaving commentary about these things, calling them pretentious, is itself pretentious, in my opinion.

    This is not to say that I think Centinuus is a bad person or has wicked motivations or any such thing. I can somewhat understand where C. is coming from. But I simply doubt that C. has spent equal time considering where others are coming from.

    Oops did I end that sentence on "from?"
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  11. Centinuus

    Centinuus Scribe

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    Thanks for the feedback everyone, and firstly I would like to say I entirely understand the perspective of Fifth. As I stated I understand how some of the more literary minds simply cannot look past the exclusion of grammar in serious writing and as stated I entirely understand and sympathise with that. In particular I was establishing that when it comes to the more inexperienced writers such as myself who are most certainly not gifted with grammar, and tend to produce my writing in short bursts of inspiration frantically slapping keys until I think I have best visualised what was in my head. For me personally however, when I write anything it is just as I described, I'm enjoying attempting to chip away at the marble block of empty page until a magnificent sculpture of text has made up the image of what I was attempting to portray, to then go back, and examine under a microscope every fractured edge to polish, every indentation and crack to smooth, it seems extremely laborious in contrast to the thrill of initially jotting down idea's. while I can full admit this may just be me acting the part of a sub par writer, I believe that bad grammar and only bad grammar is not the full worth of any persons literary capabilities. and whilst obviously I expect that wherever I go I will be judged on my grammatical capabilities, or lack thereof, I would have hope the criticisms to not be quite as lopsided on the side of grammar. whilst I knew it was inevitable, I had hoped to hear more what people thought what I personally valued in my stories, that being the character and the settings and less so the grammatical opulence. As such I arrived at the conclusion that perhaps I suffer from a case of similar, but different in regards to this site. I hold the same values in terms of good storytelling, but at different ratio's.
     
  12. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    By using the term "grammatical opulence" it strikes me that you are missing the point.

    Grammar is not a gift or a talent, it is a discipline to be learned. When it is done well it is not remotely opulent, in fact, when it is done well you don't even know it is there. But it is a foundational skill for writing. When it is not done well it serves as a barrier that prevents your reader from getting to the stuff you (and they) think is most important.

    Is a lot of writing laborious, hard, sometimes boring, detail work? You bet it is.

    Your approach strikes me a little bit like a new player who shows up at basketball practice and when the coach says "you really need to work on your footwork and defense" says "yeah but what did you think about my around the back dribble to a fall away three?"

    In this situation, if you want to solve the issue and you have an internal locus of control the solution is simple. Clean up your grammar and nobody will continue to comment on it.
     
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  13. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I will say that I understand, maybe completely, wanting to share your writing after the thrill of pouring it out on the page. I have a not-great habit of posting up first drafts, or giving them to people to read, and in that first flash of inspiration it's easy to be blind to flaws.

    However. When I get feedback that revolves around weak verbs or too much narrative distance, issues that I already know I have and have heard about before, my reaction is going to be "Ah well, what did I expect?" And not "Why don't people react to the story as though it were polished and immersive, even if it isn't, yet?"

    Because while I know about these problems with my writing, if I haven't actually gone and fixed them, then I can't expect readers to overlook them. They're still there, mucking up the writing and the story with it.

    There are a few answers to this, as I see it. You can:
    - Spend the time to fix the grammatical issues before asking for feedback.
    - Look for a different community, maybe one of readers and reviewers, and one that isn't as picky about presentation. (It may be harder to find critique aimed at helping you improve, but there are other kinds of feedback.)
    - Ask specifically for non-grammatical or content-only feedback. (This wouldn't resolve the issue of people having to work to read your writing, though, and would likely result in less feedback.)
     
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  14. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    The way I see it, the biggest barrier between the audience and the story is the medium in which it is presented. In our case, as writers, the medium is text. The way I handle this is by trying my best to make my words flow. I try to remove any obstacles that make the reading cumbersome.

    I don't want the reader's mind to stumble as it reaches through the text and into the world I've created.

    Does it work? Not all the time, but it works well enough. It's a while since I last posted in the Showcase, but it does happen (here: http://mythicscribes.com/forums/showcase/15248-emmas-story-draft-2-chapter-1-scene-1-1070-words.html). That time, there was still plenty of discussion about the way the story was written, but it mainly centered on how I went into too much detail on character movement.
    I only skimmed the thread now, but I don't recall getting any comments about spelling or grammar.

    Compare that to what I think may be my first post in the Showcase, back in 2013: http://mythicscribes.com/forums/showcase/8970-conversation-feedback-request-386-words.html
    Checking over the comments there, they focus much more on basic technicalities than on what's happening in the scene.

    These days I feel like I've got a decent grip on the basic mechanics of writing, and it allows me to focus more on learning how to tell a story. When I ask for feedback on a piece, I usually get comments that are relevant to me.

    However...
    I do have the benefit of being a long-time member of this forum and people here will recognize me as such. Make no mistake, this is a benefit, and as a newcomer you don't have that. As a newcomer, you're unknown and people are uncertain of who you are. The only thing they have to judge you by are the posts you're making as you make your way around the site.

    Online, just like in real life, first impressions are important.

    If you present yourself in a sloppy manner, people will think you're a sloppy person. They may change their minds once they get to know you, but if you don't make a good enough first impression, they may not be very interested in getting to know you.

    Reading someone's story works in much the same way.

    Based on how a story is presented, we create an impression of what it'll be like. If I come across a post from someone in the Showcase and I find that it's poor technically, I'm going to assume a few things about the story as a whole, even without having read it through to the end.

    This isn't fair.

    I know it's not fair. I know it's unjust of me. I know that beauty is only skin deep, and that it's what on the inside that counts. That isn't going to stop me from subconsciously judging whatever I come across by the first impression it makes on me. If I get a positive first impression, I'll look closer. If I get a negative first impression, I'll probably not look again and I'll soon forget about it. There are other things to look at.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  15. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Centinuus,

    I'm going to jump in to emphasize a couple points other members have made beyond the grammar issue.

    First.... When you showcased your work for others, did you specifically ask them to focus on what you think you needed?

    Six months ago, I formed a live critique group in SoCal with what I think is a unique approach. In this group, the writer is in charge of their own critique. They direct the reviewers to focus the lens on aspects they want help with. We do this by asking specific questions at the outset of each submission. Submissions and reviews are made electronically. At the live meeting, the writer provides feedback for the reviewers, asks clarifying questions, and offers up topics (sourced from the reviews) for group discussion.

    This format is creating a group of writers that is learning about what each other needs, our individual goals, and visions. That takes time.

    Even if you do ask for focused replies on certain story aspects, you may still get advice that strays because whatever they're noticing may detract from their ability to focus on what you're asking.

    In my live group, we have a member who speaks English as a 2nd language. She's Russian. Her sentence structure in English has a lot of room for growth. Even though we all try to look beyond the grammatical problems and delve deeper into her stories, it's difficult. The grammatical errors detract from the storytelling. There's just no way around it. Slowly, she came to accept that to tell her stories to the best of her ability, she needs to first focus on her grammatical deficiencies. From reading your posts, I'd think she'll have a longer road to correct her issues than you will, but she's trying. She's a hard worker & I respect her for her effort. Everyone in the group does & because of her effort, she continues to get everything we can offer.

    You can't simply expect others, who have no clue about who you are and what your goals are, to offer precisely what you need with only impressions formed from brief interactions online. You certainly can't expect them to aid your vision if you don't ask for exactly what you want.

    Critique partners are relationships like any other. Some will blossom. Some will fail. They all take time, along with trial and error.

    I've been a member here a long time. I've probably done hundreds of critiques & been involved in countless debates on craft. I give help where I can & I get help when I need it. This community is wonderful in that regard, but like anything, you'll get out what you put in.
     
  16. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Well...painters use a canvas to create their art. Writers use words and grammar is a huge part of that. Why? Because clarity. If readers can't understand your prose, then how are they supposed to make judgments on character, plot, and setting? Just saying.
     
  17. UncleanGenes

    UncleanGenes Dreamer

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    English is not my 1st language. I'm no writer and probably will never be. I'm here as a Graphic artist. That being said and following this thread, I remembered something I once heard from the great Anish Kapoor, an artist who works with reflective sculptures that need to be polished painstakingly by assistants days after days. He said all that work was needed in order to eliminate all and any type of imperfection, so that the viewer would not get stucked in the imperfection and could transcend the object. :) It became my motto.
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There's some charged language in C's follow-on post. To with:

    >literary minds simply cannot look past the exclusion of grammar
    There's no evidence that folks here cannot look past it (not sure what "exclusion" is meant to mean here). In fact, examples were given of very good writing that broke grammatical rules. There is a difference, however, between breaking a rule on purpose and breaking it accidentally. Also, the use of "literary minds" is a rhetorical device designed to discredit the critics by painting them as snobs. Folks burn straw men pretty quick 'round here.

    Another example of charged language:
    > examine under a microscope every fractured edge to polish
    This, of course, means "correcting mistakes" but is cast as if correcting mistakes was a labor too trivial to undertake. Sure. I have cheerfully overlooked the innumerable fractured edges in Tolkien or Asimov. That was sarcasm.

    And one more line, slightly different coloration:
    >hope the criticisms to not be quite as lopsided on the side of grammar

    I hear this plea regularly. Just look past the imperfections I either did not see or did not care to take the time to correct, and get excited about the story. I refer to my previous post. Make too many such mistakes and you take the reader out of the story and defeat your own purpose. That's not a trivial goal. That's not pedantry. And I assure you most earnestly, every agent, every publisher, will tell you that the author who cannot be careful on the small things will not be careful on the big ones either. The skills are related.

    But I said my piece and now have tried to re-say it. Done now. In the words of the poet, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.
     
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  19. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Centinuus,

    First up let me say I feel your pain. Grammar is also a problem of mine. (As is typing too fast and never looking at what appears on the screen - which may explain some of my posts!) But the question here is what's the point you're trying to make?

    Being a novelist / writer is a hard slog. And while I agree that the most important part of any story telling should always be the story, prose is important. Grammar is part of how you get your story across to the reader. It can't be ignored. A minimum standard of grammar is needed in order for prose to do its job - and its job is to basically get out of the way so that readers can enjoy what is read without having to be stopped every few sentences because another obvious discrepency has jarred them out of the story.

    The OP charges that he wants to be able to write his posts in his own unique style and that we shouldn't complain. And technically he may even be correct in some respects. If his style includes non-capitalizations everywhere maybe that can be considered an issue of voice rather than a mistake. But that's not the point. Reread his OP and then ask yourself this - is it clear? Did you at a glance read his post with full comprehension? Or did you have to reread some of the lines? Did you look at the wall of text and immediately want to read something else?

    I personally had to reread some of his sentences, lost track with the lack of paragraphing and the lower case "i's" kept throwing me. So in the sense that he wanted me to read his post and understand it, he failed. Yes it may be his voice. Yes if he's consistent it may even be correct from a certain standpoint. But if it doesn't get the message across clearly it fails.

    If you want to post work for critique that's grammatically poor and don't want to be ticked off about that part, that's fine. Simply state it up front so everyone knows what is asked for. People will understand that you really only want to look at story structure etc. But don't imagine that your final work can be published in that form and readers won't have issues with it. They will.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  20. The other answer is to get Grammarly. That is the bomb dot com. Helps me learn grammar, damn that comma, and helps me more so than regular ole spell check.
     

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