The grammar continuum

This is the way I see it: there are uses of grammar, and there are abuses of grammar. An otherwise fine piece of creative writing that is “corrected” to follow the “rules” of grammar is one of the abuses.

The uses of grammar are illustrated by a continuum. At one end sit legal and technical writing. Because clarity of thought and exact expression of ideas are paramount to these kinds of communication, strict application of grammar makes sense. At the other end of the continuum is poetry, which is as free from the formal rules as clouds in the sky. Somewhere about in the middle lie high school term papers and basic journalism. Grammar serves as the low common denominator that high school students must strive for and general readers comprehend.

Fiction writing sits squarely between high school term papers and poetry. Grammar can help along the way, but the rules can be ignored whenever a better way of expressing an idea needs to be used. In fact, creative writing can sometimes strive to be obscure, and grammar can often get in the way of that.

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Why do I rant about grammar so much? I use it. I used to teach it. I used to edit for it. I think what bugs me about it is not the grammar itself but the advocates of it. I see again and again blog posts about how critical grammar is to fiction writing, but it seems to be written by people who make only rudimentary, unreflective use of it. (And I see a cavalier dispensing of grammar by writers who win acclaim, awards, and longevity.) I really should get a different hobby than tilting at windmills.

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