As a writer, do I really need to worry about grammar? Can’t I just claim poetic license and let it all slide?
I’ve got a simple quiz to answer that question:
1. Are you Cormac McCarthy?
Yes. Yes I am.
You may disregard the rules of grammar. Hell, you can even toss out quotation marks.
You’ve won the Pulitzer. You can write your next book in hieroglyphics, if you wish.
No. I am not Cormac McCarthy.
You need to learn your freaking grammar!
Yes, there are some specific situations in which you may disregard the rules of grammar. But you need to know you’re breaking the law, and you need to do it for a reason.
Why Does Grammar Matter?
First, bad grammar is distracting. The wrong there, an incomplete sentence – these are things that can break the spell you’re trying to create, and pull the reader out of your story.
What’s worse, bad grammar can be downright confusing. If you’ve got a run on sentence like this:
Kathy put down her steamy hot romance novel she turned to the rain-streaked window.
The relationship between those two actions (putting down novel, turning to window) is unclear. Did she turn to the window BECAUSE of the novel? Did she turn to the window AFTER putting down the novel? Are the two actions totally unrelated?
You want your reader to be engaged, entertained, and emotionally invested. You don’t want your reader to be confused.
What Can I Do?
So what can you do to make sure your novel is a grammatical masterpiece as well as a literary masterpiece?
1. Read it out loud!
You’ll catch so, so many errors just by taking the time to read your writing, slowly, out loud.
2. Have someone else read it
Joining a writer’s group is a fantastic way to combine 1. and 2.
3. Do Your Research
You’re on the Internet, so you already have almost all of human knowledge at your fingertips. That, and about a billion cat videos.
Use that power wisely.
If you haven’t already seen The Oatmeal’s grammar posters, check them out.
For more nuanced advice about specifics, check out my personal favorite Grammar Girl.
Now get writing!