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[personal profile] shalanna
Heh. What would the world do without me to stumble along and suddenly post something provocative that occurs to me? *grin* Probably have far lower blood pressure and be happier, come to think of it.

But I stirred up some protest that led to an interesting discussion about the teaching of language arts/English grammar and usage. Didn't really know I was going to, but then I never seem to anticipate these things, do I? *duh*

At Ann Leckie's journal, when an offhand comment I made on a prior entry led to some consternation, there's now a discussion of students and what helps them (or doesn't). At Rachel Swirsky's journal, I actually get quoted! I'm famous. (GRIN) Don't take me too seriously, as I'm usually just musing and I do expect to hear other points of view (which may become mine if I let things percolate for a while). Generally I don't stir up people that much with just a few lines. Oh, do I? Surely there's some GOOD use for that talent. I might even find it sometime.

At the time, I wasn't thinking so much of students in general (when I typed all that jumble) as I was of students who know they're going to become writers. Students who aim for other careers won't be So Serious about the semicolon and colon, naturally. But I always knew I would write (whether or not you can pretend I am a "real" writer or just think I'm a scribbler is moot), so I tried to master usage and grammar and punctuation. When I was young, my teachers and parents said I didn't have any interesting stories to tell, so I should prepare for the time when I would have some cool story (if only that time would hurry up and arrive) by becoming a master of the tools of the craft. I suppose people who are natural storytellers or who have ideas that are more in line with what sells today don't have to worry so much. Or they find editors.

I concede that the "average" (everyday, normal) student through the ages didn't study grammar and punctuation and so forth very thoroughly, and people in general are probably as literate now as they have ever been. (Consider that many jobs in the past didn't require literacy so much as a strong back. Now we have far more office professions.) But shouldn't someone who is a professional novelist know his or her tools? A carpenter knows his/her tools before building a house, and has practiced until he/she can use them properly. I don't see why we can't expect a professional writer (one who publishes a novel, no less) to be one of those people who studied grammar and usage and punctuation for himself or herself, whether or not it was taught in school.

As always, what I said was what I was thinking at the time. Didn't really mean to imply that "the kids are baaaad," if I did. Because really, I like the young adults of today! They're nice people. They are bright. They are changing the world. But they are not, IMHO, maintaining the emphasis on punctuation and grammar in written language that we used to have in publishing (at least). Is this a good or bad thing? Well, to my mind, anything that does not serve clarity is doubleplus-ungood. So when we omit punctuation or use nonstandard grammar that doesn't make a sentence easily understandable, I think we're going downhill.

The author whose work was under discussion in that thread had written sentences that confused everyone, and was defending her book as having "nothing wrong." A reviewer had written that her self-pubbed novel (in e-format) is riddled with errors, although the story itself (said the reviewer) isn't bad. I extrapolated to say that nowadays, it seems that good grammar and punctuation don't even matter. Not even to mainstream publishing (IMHO, judging by the many errors I see in published novels). I see contest entries (in RWA chapter contests and writers' convention contests) that simply have not been cleaned up--and the judges' sheets seem to completely give them a pass on that. It's as if they are saying that editors and agents don't care at all or will not notice. That it's all about the story. I do not believe that (maybe I should), but it certainly seems that way from this vantage point. I think writers need to wake up and start caring about the mechanics of their work.

Or perhaps it will matter less and less as self-publishing becomes the norm.

That poor li'l author who was clueless now has a bunch of one-star Amazon reviews. I guess she had her fifteen minutes of fame, at the bottom of the pile-on, that is. Oh, well. More people looked at her work than I could ever hope to have look at mine, which is saying something. Not sure WHAT. She could go on to do the talk-show circuit, though. Parlay this into a mini-flash of fame. Make it her platform!

As far as my little drama burst about the kids and their resistance to learning . . . go read _Generation X Goes to College_ by Peter Sacks or _The Dumbest Generation_ by Mark Bauerlein (or any number of books about students' lack of interest in general knowledge and gaining traditional academic expertise). It's true that students today get inflated grades and often expect to get great grades despite not turning in the work. In the past, students would get bad grades for poor work; now, parents often intervene to get the students' grades ratcheted up a notch. People were wondering why I said that, and thinking all my evidence was anecdotal. Well, there's research that will tell you we do have a problem there. But it probably doesn't matter anyhow, as the world is changing. (Ya THINK?)

The bit about the cool kids taking over publishing . . . well, that's just me. I feel as if the cheerleaders and the jocks decided it's cool to have a book in print, and the rules therefore changed accordingly. No longer must you be a grammar wonk or a stickler for correct usage to write books. My magical talent becomes unimportant just as I start waving the wand. Frustration city.

I understand that the next generation is going to take over and do things any way they like. But I don't have to like it when I see a decline in the quality of books on the shelves. Who knows whether the young crowd is to blame--or perhaps people of all ages who didn't learn how to self-edit? It seems that the shift is taking place just as a new crop of writers matures . . . but of course correlation doesn't guarantee causation. The culprits could be a bunch of old fossils like me who were too busy smoking pot to bother learning how to punctuate. Whatever and whoever is causing it . . . I think it's leading us down a less positive path.

On the other hand, just about anyone can go self-publish and then say he or she has published a book now . . . which is nice. It's up to readers whether they actually want to READ the books, as ever.

I'm sure one of the reasons I feel such angst over crappy writing vs readable writing is that I can't find much on the shelves now that I like. Nothing speaks to me. So many books start out clunky and don't speak to me. I did get some good recommendations from a couple of people, though, and that gives me something to look for at the bookstore. It could just be a phase I'm going through as I enter my second childhood.

Or it could be a hardcore midlife crisis. *flip a coin*

Think this guy has anything to hide??

Date: 2011-03-31 04:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com
I do think there is less awareness of grammar than in decades previous--witness news anchors who consistently utter sentences with dangling modifiers, or say things like "Bodies were laying all over the field."

But if people are not educated to hear those errors, then, yep, they slide right by. So it is with reading. I can say "I was consistently poked out of the story by grammatical errors" and if another reader says "What errors? You're just being Ms Picky Pedant!" then . . . I guess language is changing. As it always has.
Edited Date: 2011-03-31 04:18 pm (UTC)

Date: 2011-03-31 04:43 pm (UTC)
ext_12726: Pen writing on paper (Freewriting)
From: [identity profile] heleninwales.livejournal.com
As a creative writing tutor, I certainly correct the grammar and spelling in the stories I mark.

I find that a lot of new writers genuinely don't see errors in their work because they read what they meant to say. We all do it to some extent which is why even the best writer needs an editor to see the typo or edito that keeps slipping by unnoticed.

I am quite sure that the poor clueless self-published author would never utter sentences like the ones she wrote, but a lot of people think that writing has to be totally different to speech and they end up writing the most contrived rubbish if they're not careful. Disclaimer: I know writing is different to speech, but not as different as these people seem to think, especially if they're writing in the voice of a first person narrator or even writing in third but using a character's voice.

Date: 2011-03-31 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pameladean.livejournal.com
I think the real problem with the self-published author was not her ignorance, which is correctable, but her attitude, her immediate attack on anybody who points out flaws. A different personality would have wondered if there was something to the criticism, and checked it out, rather than flinging herself violently into a corner, spilling the paint bucket, and then blaming those who criticized her for putting her in such a horrid position and making a big mess on the floor.

I'm not sure how new any of this is, either. I mean, Roger Zelazny -- ROGER ZELAZNY -- either did not know the difference between "lie" and "lay" and was let to continue in his not knowing, or else he did know it and somebody messed it up and he couldn't stop it. Other writers of his generation never could get the subjunctive right either. I think you have to go much further back to find really good grammar and sentence structure even in pulpy popular stuff, like Burroughs or Doc Smith. Something really has happened, but it's not really fair to blame younger people; the whole thing feels more like a very slow creeping blight to me. It also has benefits, since some of the rules clung to (never end a sentence with a preposition, anyone?) are goofy and impede colorful narrative.

P.

Date: 2011-04-03 06:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-knight.livejournal.com
When I was young, my teachers and parents said I didn't have any interesting stories to tell

What a terrible thing to say to a child. it seems to me as if _they_ were the people without imagination, because a great storyteller can spin a great story out of mediocre ideas... and they don't wait until brilliance hits them. Sure, you need to be able to communicate your ideas clearly - grammar and spelling are part of that, as are rhythm and register and other skills more - but there's more to telling a story, and most of those things can be practiced and learnt. (Not all of them, and not of everybody - but I don't think anybody under the age of thirty-five should even begin to worry.

the emphasis on punctuation and grammar in written language that we used to have in publishing

I pick up a book at random, published in 1984, and read:
But to her way of thinking, better it was for them that they perished now than in what was to come when the ship docked at the Curtain Wall station of Murias

Another random book, published in 1962:
That got them. They were the last two men on earth ever to go in for goggling, but they went in for it all the same.

I propose that 'books then' has just as many akward sentences as books now. It's just that we tend to forget the dreadful and mediocre ones.


Date: 2011-04-04 04:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shalanna.livejournal.com
>my teachers and parents said I didn't have any interesting stories to tell<
>>What a terrible thing to say to a child.<<

Isn't it, though? Thank you for saying so. I believe we should at least PRETEND to be listening when our children (any children) are telling a story. I suppose my teachers and parents were exhausted by the long-winded kid-style things that I would say, and that's what led them to this. Or they were expecting a pro-level plot. Still . . . we should encourage free expression. I think they DO that more in the schools now, and that's why we see so many people with the confidence to write. (Bravo.)

>'books then' had just as many awkward sentences as books now.<

Oh, yes. I don't argue with that. What I keep saying is that *punctuation and grammar* get neglected. I think they do. As Pamela and Sherwood point out, though, it could be that it's a change that's here to stay. (sigh)

But I would say that *awkward* stuff can be punctuated properly and all the words spelled correctly, too. Look again at the examples. I believe (and maybe I'm wrong) that they are both grammatically correct and both have all the words spelled correctly. (Maybe "goggling" could be iffy, depending on what the author really meant.) I am just perverse enough to think that the first one is a little bit eloquent. Kind of Russian-sounding. "Better it is for them that they perish now than in what is to come!" I can imagine one of Tolstoy's characters shouting that, or perhaps Chekhov's. *grin*

They might be awkward or overblown or purple, but they were copyedited. (I'll bet.) Do all books get copyedited now? They should.

There were certainly lots of penny dreadfuls and pulp novels published in the past, though. I wonder what the equivalent of an old "Penny Dreadful" would be now? An e-book free with a pack of gum?! *GRIN*

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November 2012

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