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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Importance of Being Punctuated

Hi all! I'm Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar, making my inaugural post here! I figured I should start off discussing the topic that is nearest and dearest to my heart: grammar. I know, I know...you're probably wondering how a person can be so passionate about something so tedious, but I just can't help myself! Even in school, my favorite days in English class were not the days that we discussed works of literature, but the days that we talked about Past Participles and the proper uses of the comma or semicolon. Now this by no means indicates that I'm perfect or that I know all the rules regarding grammar. There are way too many rules for one person to know, not to mention there are about a hundred different schools of thought when it comes to punctuation.

One of my favorite books on the topic is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss. This is a very fun and pithy guide to proper usage of English grammar. But even in this book, Lynn talks about James Thurber, who wrote for New Yorker editor Harold Ross in the '30s and '40s. They had extreme opposite views on how the comma should be used:

According to Thurber's account of the matter (in Years with Ross), Ross's 'clarification complex' tended to run somewhat to the extreme: he seemed to believe there was no limit to the amount of clarification you could achieve if you just kept adding commas. Thurber, by self-appointed virtuous contrast, saw commas as so many upturned office chairs unhelpfully hurled down the wide-open corridor of readability. And so they endlessly disagreed.

I don't know about you, but I find this bit of information highly comforting. Though there are some absolutes when it comes to grammar, there's clearly a bit of subjectivity as well. Whew!

I considered elaborating on those "absolutes", but it would take way too much time to type them all out. So instead, I'm going to offer my advice: 1) Pick up Eats, Shoots and Leaves - it's a fun and informative read, and you'll never look at a sentence the same way again! 2) Pay attention to the specific publisher(s) you're aiming to write for. When you're reading books by their authors, take note of how they use commas; do they use semicolons, etc...?

Now I know many might say, "But that's what copyeditors are for! Why do I need to know grammar?" Well, maybe you don't, but I do think submitting the most polished version of your work to agents/editors is a good idea. It will make you look more professional and hopefully make the agents/editors take you more seriously. Will it land you a contract? That I can't guarantee! LOL!

Happy Writing!


12 comments:

  1. Jerrica, what an amusing post. I'm pretty sure I got all my punctuation right in that first sentence. If not, I'm sure you'll let me know. :)

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  2. Good post, Jerrica! I grew up with grammar as the daughter of a college English professor & a school teacher. I'm so glad you said something about different schools of thought. That's so true. What one preaches as gospel, another castigates. Comma placement is a terrible thing to learn & teach. I was a high school English teacher and had a terrible time getting my point across. I love Thurber and tend toward his "less is more" approach.

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  3. Thanks for the book tip. I'm always looking for a good book on grammar to have at my fingertips.

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  4. Thanks for commenting, Dellani! I'm sure trying to teach grammar is quite the challenge! I personally feel I fall somewhere in between Thurber and Ross...I do love my commas. LOL!

    Enjoy the book, Julie...it's really great!

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  5. Grace of Grammar...you truly amaze me, and I feel so lucky to have you as my critique partner. Thanks a million for sharing your knowledge~

    ~Phyllis~

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  6. Great post, but why do I need to remember grammar rules? I have you. I've seen the book "Eats, Shoot and Leaves" but never picked it up. It is probably more entertaining than Strunk and White. Still, "The Elements of Style" is a good tool for any writer. It cures insomnia. ;)

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  7. LOL, Michelle...I would pick up Elements of Style, but I do NOT need a cure for insomnia right now! If it comes with a shot of caffeine, I'll get it :)

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  8. Jerrica great post! I'm horrible with my grammar, so much so, I even leave it out of my critiques. I'll let the more experienced critiquers such as yourself preach about grammar. Perhaps one day I'll pick up "Eats, Shoot and Leaves" And finally learn some grammar until then, I'll just come to you! =P

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  9. All hail Her Grace of Grammar. Us mere mortals couldn't live without her.

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  10. Melissa and Heather, you guys are too funny! But it's nice to feel needed ;)

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