Ask Daphne! About Grammar

September 27th, 2012 • Kate

Another question from my readers! Today, Michelle writes:

It seems that today a lot of emphasis is being placed on the grammar and editing skills of the writer\s. I get generally decent feedback about my plot and characters but get knocked for grammar rules. The people giving me the grammar feedback were all English majors of some sort, which gives them needed skills for editing. I on the other hand did not major in anything that might have used more then the basics rules of grammar. Even saying that, I forget some of those over time. How much weight is placed on the writer’s grammar when seeking representation? Is a missing comma or too many comma’s enough to turn an agent away from a potential client? If this is the case are there any great tools out there that can help a writer grow in this area? I fully admit my greatest strength is not grammar, but I want to improve and do the best I can to compete in this highly competitive market. Are there any other broken rules that appear in queries, sample pages, or requested manuscripts that drive agents bonkers?

I find one or two small grammar mistakes in a full manuscript aren’t going to be a black mark against you, but I do think, if you want to continue to improve your craft as a writer, part of that should include working on grammar and punctuation. I was at the Rocky Mountain chapter SCBWI conference this past weekend, and I don’t think I called out many grammatical mistakes in the samples or first pages I read, until you have three or four or more on just your first page — that speaks to a lack of care and attention. And yeah, sure, grammar rules and knowing when to use a semi-colon instead of a comma aren’t the sexy parts of writing, but they are important — you can’t just depend on a copy-editor helping you somewhere down the road.

Pick up a few books that make grammar fun. Try Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, Things That Make Us [Sic] by friend of the blog Martha Brockenbrough, or Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty. And then just keep practicing, and keep writing, and keep sharing your work with others, who can give you honest critiques and help you improve. Good luck!

Photo by flickr user Sidereal, used under a Creative Commons license.
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4 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Grammar”

  1. lexacain Says:

    Although writing's an art, it's also a craft. Like a furniture builder or electrician, you have to learn the techniques necessary to produce a polished end-product. I sometimes forget rules — but when in doubt, I can always look things up on the internet. The books mentioned sound great! 🙂

  2. thegetoutgirl Says:

    Since we're talking about competition, I'd have to say I agree. I'm editing an anthology right now, and when you're looking at a lot of stories all at once, the ones with bad grammar kind of stand out. It can detract from the story too; too many commas slows down the action. And no commas at all can be exhausting to read, if you use longer sentences! The best grammar, i think, is not really noticeable at all.

    And I have to say, I find semi-colons very sexy 🙂

  3. KSparkes Says:

    Thank you! I was just thinking I was twisted for finding a well-placed semicolon incredibly sexy.

    I really enjoyed Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Very entertaining.

  4. M. Ziegler Says:

    Thank you for the book suggestions. I am going to check them out. I feel like I am in grade school again. Every time I think I have grown as an "editor" someone else points out a whole new group of mistakes.