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Learn English Grammar: The Sentence
May 30, by Fiction Editor Beth Hill last modified May 30, They can tie a writer in knots, these two writing elements, grammar and punctuation. Writers need to know how to put grammar and punctuation to work. We learned how to use grammar in our native languages when we first learned to speak. We learned about punctuation when we first learned to read. But grammar and punctuation cannot be ignored or set aside by writers. Grammar and punctuation are not the meat of your stories, but they are the framework that makes story stand. And clarity goes beyond word choice. Words and story have to be arranged to convey what you want to say, what you want the reader to take in. But words that make sense and make connections and make a reader think or feel or shiver, those words do make story. What do I suggest is important in regard to grammar and punctuation? Learn more than the basics. Grammar and punctuation are two of the tools of your trade, and you should know them inside out and upside down and backwards and forwards and any other way they can be known. You should know when to choose this rule of grammar rather than that one, and what the use of each punctuation mark would mean for a sentence or phrase. Knowledge of grammar and punctuation rules will cut down on unintended errors. You should know how to clean up grammar and punctuation, just as any artist knows how to clean his tools. And not simply know how to clean them; you should remember to clean them, actually set up a schedule to do it. Spend time periodically reviewing or learning something new about grammar or punctuation. Learn the uses of a semicolon. Read up on commas I know, exciting, exciting. Go shopping for used grammar books and read a different one every year or two. Brush up on modifiers or phrases or gerunds. Not because your grammar must be perfect, but in order to remind yourself there are other ways to write something, other methods to present your character or setting or action or dialogue. Other ways to craft a sentence or a phrase. Other ways to provoke an impact. You may not know you need to search for information at all. Yes, you want to punctuate correctly, you want to get the grammar right and use a variety of options that take advantage of a wide knowledge of grammar. Does that sound blasphemous? An agent or acquisitions editor is not going to reject your manuscript because of a few typos, grammar blunders, or punctuation flubs. They know how to recognize good story. And they know how to correct grammar and punctuation errors. There is a caveat, however: So practice due diligence. Break the rules when doing so serves the story. As atypical word choices can lead to poetry in prose, offbeat grammar or punctuation can lead to delightful phrases, rhythms, and meanings. Be willing to explore non-standard constructions. But do know how to use grammar. The more ways you can work a sentence or phrase, the more potential you have, quite literally, at your fingertips. In this one, I wanted to stress the importance of correct grammar and punctuation while at the same time assuring you that a lack of knowledge about some point of grammar or punctuation should not keep you from writing. If you expect readers to pay for the pleasure of reading your stories, if you want agents and editors to take you on, you owe them each the courtesy of well-written fiction, well-crafted stories. Give readers the best of you. Show them you want them to enjoy the stories you place before them, that you want them to read more of your work. Put grammar and punctuation to the task of presenting your stories with the strongest foundations possible. Learn your craft and put it to work on your behalf.
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