It Turns Out that Grammar Nazis are Schizophrenic

APA, AP, MLA, Chicago and Oxford Walk into a Bar;
You Walk Out With a Terrible Truth about the English Language.

   I believe grammar is one of the most important things in any language but, by now, many readers will have noticed odd little…discrepancies *shudder*.  Maybe my comma use bugs you.  Maybe I end some sentences with prepositions.  Maybe you just don’t like my word choice.  Well, I hate to tell you this, but the way I write is correct, just not with your grammar style book.

If We all Switched to French Everything Would be Easier.

   France legally recognizes L’Académie Française as the ultimate authority on the entire French Language.  That means that, although there are variations between countries, French Grammar is a singular entity.  English should be so lucky.  English has no ultimate authority controlling the language.  English has dozens.  These terrible creatures are called the Style Books *cue dramatic music*.  While the Style Books agree on basic things like spelling (for the most part) and commas (sometimes), they disagree on almost anything else.

   In the AP Style, used by journalists, there is only one space after a period, the Oxford Comma is a plague and may your death be swift and painless if you mess up numbers.  In  MLA, used by scholars for publishing and disgruntled grade school students turning in that last minute papers, never put your name, your instructor’s name, your course name and your date in the wrong order.  Chicago Style, the supreme authority of humanities studies…yeah, I still can’t get that bibliography right…

English:
You Will Never Get it Right…Ever.

So…Do We Just Stick With the Common Rules and Hope for the Best?

   No.  It doesn’t matter that the Style Books are a pain in the ass.  If you don’t pick a style you are never going to be right ever, which is worse than only being right some of the time.

  With personal writing you need to start making dissensions; what style suits what you write best and requires the fewest adjustments from the way you write now?  This can be a bit tricky to figure out but think about why you right that way.  Most people who write well either write the way their high school teachers wrote or the way they read writing most often.  How did your high school teachers write?  Well, how did they want you to cite work?  How do you figure out what style your reading uses?  You are on your own to figure that one out.  Good luck.

  With professional writing you have no mystery to solve.  Every field has a style book it recognizes as the ultimate authority.  Sometimes it’s a matter of legality; you have to use that style book or face severe consequences.  Start studying.  Good luck.

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The Chicken Crossed the Road

No Matter how Big You Get,
No Matter how Famous,
No Matter how Talented,
There Will Always be that Guy Who Tells You About this other Book Exactly Like Yours.

    I dream of the day when I can go after these people with a mace and a battle cry of “DEATH TO THE ANNOYING ONE!” but for now I just roll my eyes.

   If you listen to all the high and mighty literary theory people, there are only eight stories.  Or, because when people are that pretentious they can’t agree on anything, seven.  That’s right, if we strip down every story to its most very basic plot, we only have seven stories among all the innumerable human languages that have ever existed.  Point to that most obnoxious of people who must tell me that other stories have dragons.  Except, if you strip anything back that far, it stops being interesting.

  Think about it this way; everyone on earth gets their mitochondrial DNA from their mothers, right?  And it stays the same, or very nearly the same, from mother to child.  Well, Anthropologists can trace this stuff back a few thousand years to a single woman, probably because she was the only one with surviving daughters at the time.  By the same logic that makes my stories like every other story that has ever been, I can now prove that I am blood related to everyone I have ever encountered, everyone reading this and everyone I ever will encounter.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

   Okay, so everyone who speaks English has heard several versions of that joke.  It’s a set up that makes you roll your eyes.   Most of the time you’ll only get a silly, dissatisfying answer, but sometimes you’ll get a really clever one.   What can make the joke funny is the imagination and particular brilliance of the person telling the joke.  It has nothing to do with the set up.  If you are brave enough to tell a chicken joke, if you are brave enough to tell a story, the annoying one is only ever going to be annoying.  Thus, where that most irritating of people got one point, the brave and mighty writer has earned ten.

Incidentally;
I think the Chicken Crossed the Road to See the Man Laying Bricks.

Title; The End Result of Torture

Oh…I Have to Talk About Title?
Damn.

    Here’s half the problem I have with title; it isn’t actually an aspect of story telling.

It’s an aspect of advertising.

   Back to the problem.  You’ve been writing for a long time.  Each story is your personal baby.  Maybe you’ve given your baby a name, maybe you haven’t.  Either way, don’t expect that name to stay as it is.  The problem is that that super cool title…isn’t serving its purpose.

   Once you’re a household name with a great big publishing company you can have whatever cool, flowery, fancy title you want…if your publishers are particularly generous.  For the moment, though, the title has to be memorable.  It has to communicate an aspect of your story in a way that snags your potential readers.  People can’t hear about it somewhere then forget about it on their way home…or to the bookstore.  For the writer though, at the point at which the story is published, the publishing company has already changed the title.  You hate it, but as far as it does or doesn’t do for the story you can blame them.  You need to worry about the title before it’s published.

You Need to Catch the Attention of The Publishing Companies.

    Okay, no one should write just to get published-there are easier ways to become famous and more productive ways to make money-but don’t deny that little dream you’ve secreted into the corner.   You are writing because you are a writer, but you have a hope, a secret wish, that maybe you’ll get published.  Maybe you’ll hit it big and your story will be made into a disappointing movie.  Kids will watch public TV specials about your life after reading your book in High School.

But First You Need to Get Published.

   At best, you send your story in to the companies, one among hundreds.  Overworked interns page through as many an hour as they can before sending the ones they noticed off to the next level.  Yours may be the best there, great writing, well developed characters, wonderful plot, but you only have a limited, overworked attention span with which to make an impression.  There are three points with which to make that impression; the title, the intro and the conclusion.

This Is Why I Hate Title.

    The skill set I usually work with is entertainment.  I’ve already got your attention, now I’m going to do something with that attention.  Titles are a method of grabbing that attention, but it isn’t like the opening of the story.  An opening sets the first stage.  It’s the set you see just before the play starts.  With the title the reader hasn’t even sat down yet.  The title is just the flyer for the story.  It’s just an add.

Think of the effective advertisements you’ve seen.  Everyone’s seen one or two.   They don’t bog you down with information.  They don’t use flashy colors or words.  They’re simple, with a few striking colors and concise language.  They have an awareness of their audience; who would be interested and capable of purchasing the product.

Guess What?
You Need to do the Same Thing the Advertisers did With an Entire Page or a few Secconds With only a few Words.

Good Luck.

The Basic Character is Basically Boring

“We Are All Hydra Headed Monsters(…)”
Elizabeth Peters, The Seventh Sinner

   If there is a person who acts the same way with everyone in their life, that person has no friends.  I say different things to my cousins than I say to my mother…or at least I use different words.  I stand up straighter with my grandmother than I do with my professors and I use a different tone of voice with my friends than I use with my aunts.  Part of what motivates my decisions and how I go about accomplishing them is about who I am with.   In this odd multiple personality disorder I am not unique.  That’s part of why it’s so awkward to meet a friend’s parents; you suddenly see that person in a context you aren’t used to.

So, if People Are so Crazy Just in General,
Why is Your Character Only One Person?

    We have reasons for the way we act, the way we speak, the words we use.  We have fun we’re trying to have, people we’re trying to impress and goals we are trying to accomplish.  Sometimes we have rivals we want to spite and suffering we want to avert.  Sometimes we’re lazy.   We act differently for all of those situations, even if we don’t think about it.  The innocent little girl who is always innocent no matter what…deserves to be a victim in your story.  A kid is innocent in front of the adults or in front of the parents, not in front of other kids.  Most kids who are innocent in front of someone are delightfully monstrous in front of everyone else.

   What people tend to forget when writing is that the characters do things for a reason.  You can’t have your dragon burn down the village just because it’s a major plot point.  Okay, so burning down the village is cool, but that’s the reason you wanted it to happen.  Why does the dragon want a village of ashes?  He has a reason in there somewhere, and that reason will be influenced by his experiences in the past, his musings and irritations in the present, and his hopes for the future.  It can be profound or petty, but unless it’s there you aren’t finished with your dragon.  Is the village interfering with his hunting?  Are they poisoning the water?  Does he have a particular dislike for the kind of music they play when they’re feeling exceptionally festive?

Make Your Dragons Interesting;
Burn Down The Village Because The Villagers Danced to Polka.

Ah Yes, The Plot…

 If You’ve Ever Walked Into an English Class You’ve Seen A Story Arc

Story Arc

   This is a perfectly good tool to analyze a story, but it’s an incredibly naive way to write one.

A Story Should Follow Multiple Lines, Standard Disclaimers Apply.

   Okay, so who doesn’t have a family, friends, school, a job, some combination thereof and assorted other?  No one has only one thing going on at any one time because we all have to interact with many, many people in our lives.  Thus, from the writer’s perspective, disregard the story arc.

Story lines

   Okay, so there is no right way to go about looking at things, but that’s more the way.  A story more complicated than a nursery rhyme should never be just one story.  Think of each part as a thread.  Each strand on it’s own is fairly boring and doesn’t necessarily interact with the other threads on its lonesome.    What makes all of those threads into the single, coherent entity known as a story is the connecting point, which is usually a person.  That person is the main character.

    Now then, as the story progresses, the threads of the story become more and more intertwined; parts begin to clash, things get tense.  The main character was trying to keep his mother from finding out that he is a detective even though he’s still in high school, but all his friends knew.  His mother is coming to school, what if she finds out?  Oh, and his little sister is meeting with that guy he suspects is really a cereal killer.   The parts of his life that he absolutely meant to keep separate are taking coming together in a way they wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been there.  In the story arch, this part, where everything is getting closer and closer, more and more tangled, is called rising tension.

   Then you hit the crisis.

Training to intrigue

    There are a lot of ways to look at crisis. Crisis could be where everything comes to a head.  It could be that moment when everything absolutely collides.  It could be the moment when you absolutely have to destroy the doomsday device or everything goes capputski.

  Actually, this part of the story will absolutely determine one thing about the story.

Tragedy?

   No, I don’t mean tragedy, everyone and everything goes boom.  Okay, so you can have your boom, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  This is the point where your character can either look at everything that was and make a decision to change, or pass that decision by.  If he makes that decision, maybe, if you aren’t as much of a maniac as I am, the character can have a happy ending with a wedding and flowers and happy sunshine for everyone.

  If he chooses not to make that decision, or if he lets it go by, then it’s a tragedy.  Main character dude, your sister died because you didn’t move on from that one suspect.  Yes, someone else killed her, but if you had moved on to a different suspect instead of obsessing she might have lived a long and happy life.

  End With a Bang, Not a Whimper.

   You, the writer, have another important decision to make; do you want a sequel to the story?

   Yes, that is an important question to ask now, of all times.   It will change how you end the story.  If the answer is no, answer every significant question your readers might have had.  Give your surviving characters, if there are any, a satisfying continued existence, give honors to the dead, have someone analyze how everything went boom.  You can be done now.

  If you do want a sequel please don’t wrap everything up that neatly.  I beg you not to wrap everything up that neatly.  It’s led to ninety nine percent of the horrible sequels in existence.  I have a doomsday device and I am willing to use it in case of the Apocalypse of the bad sequels.

Don’t test me on that one.

   If you want a sequel, your audience needs something to be curious about at the end of the story.   Yes, main character dude’s little sister died, but the killer is still at large.  How is he going to live with the guilt?  How will his mother live with that reality?  How will sister dearest having died because of him affect his detective gig?  These are reasonable things to have left over at the end of a story.  These are the kind of things that can be the foundation of a new story.

Having a Sequel is Awesome;
You Get to Play With Main Character Dude’s Life for Another Story!

Language is Only Useful if You Aren’t Fending off Grammar Nazis

   The Grammar Nazis are on their way.
Do not resist capture.
Do not attempt to Flee.
You will only make things worse for yourself.

     Okay, that may seem a little bit like over kill…just a bit, but mixing up the yours and you’res and using its when you meant it’s is not the mark of a writer.  This is one of the very few absolutes I will stand by.

Grammar Mistakes are Unacceptable.

    Now, one or two people will bring up things like dialect and word choice, but that doesn’t beat the point; such instances are examples of Grammar Manipulation, not Grammar Mistakes.

 So What?

   The person who brings that up will be taken by the Grammar Nazis while I answer the very snide question.  Here’s the thing about Grammar Manipulation; you want people to notice it.  If your writing is just rife with grammatical and spelling errors no one will notice when you do something clever.  The reader will just assume that it’s another error.

    Take my friend Jeromy Spellwrong for instance.  Jeromy has this condition; every word of his dialogue, except for his name, is misspelled.  This is a joke for the reader who gets what the other characters don’t, but if all of the text was misspelled no one would notice.  This is an extreme example, but it does demonstrate the point.

   And it would be a shame if readers didn’t get those little pieces of brilliance.  How much would Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry have lost if Cassey didn’t narrate in a southern accent?  After a marathon of reading the Harry Potter books you should struggle not to think in an English accent.  These aspects, the things about the way the stories are written that put us in a different place, make literature so much richer.

Besides,
Grammar Nazis Glare Impotently at Grammar Manipulation Where They Annihilate Grammar Mistakes.

I Cannot Stress this Enough Nor Will I Try;
Use Spell Check.