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I realise people like me are probably many, i.e., amateurs who want to write a book and then get frustrated by having to learn all this very intricate grammar just to please the odd poindexter who may read their book. Especially these days with grammar on the decline, it seems those who can even identify good grammar are very scarce.

Do many people even care about "good" grammar in novels?

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People do care about good grammar in novels.

I understand what you mean about the "intricate details" if you're referring to the oxford comma and grammar rules of that nature that even many editors won't really pay attention to. But, basic rules of grammar apply, unless you have a specific reason to throw those window.

For example, if your character doesn't speak English well, you might use less grammar in his dialogue. Or, if you're writing about an entire civilization of people that never learned proper English, you may not want to use as much grammar, especially if your narrator is a person of the civilization.

But, outside of cases like those, the rules of grammar do apply. This article may provide some insight: http://simplewriting.org/does-grammar-matter/

This one may also be of assistance, though it argues the contrary: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/general/why-i-dont-care-about-grammar-and-why-you-should-stop-worrying

The way I've always been taught, and the way I've come to understand grammar, is that you must learn the rules before you can break them. And, if you break them too much, as I've learned the hard way, people can't understand your writing.

So, no, novels aren't expected to be written in MLA or APA format, but they are expected to be coherent.

  • 1
    Agree totally. The main point of grammar is to help make sure the reader "hears" the text the way the writer "said" it. If grammar is poor or omitted, the text may become unclear. Or, worse, it may slow the reader down and make them reread parts to parse them again. That is frustrating and can cause readers to stop reading and leave. – Joe Dec 28 '16 at 1:50
  • And of course, what's "proper grammar" would depend on your locale. US, Canada, UK, Australia, South Africa, etc. etc. all have slight variations in what's "proper". Even if you can't always tell from the spelling, the grammar can show where a person is from. – jwenting Dec 29 '16 at 14:33
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You have to make a distinction between good grammar and what we might call the grammar of the good. Or perhaps I should say between grammar and the grammar of the good.

Grammar is the mechanics of how language works. Every comprehensible sentence is comprehensible because of grammar. Either your language works -- conveys meaning to a reader -- or it does not. You cannot make yourself understood at all without grammar.

Then there is "Grammar", which is the study of how grammar works, and an attempt to define its operation, which, it turns out, we don't completely understand. You don't need to know anything at all about the study of Grammar in order to speak or write with grammar. In fact, grammar has to come before Grammar because you need grammar to understand anything that is said about Grammar.

Then there is the grammar of the good, which is a set of prescriptions, nominally derived from Grammar, ostensibly for the purpose of teaching people better grammar, but with the larger purpose of separating the speech of the educated from the speech of the uneducated so as to create effective barriers to social mobility. The grammar of the good contains all kinds of rules that have no justification in actual grammar, or in Grammar. Some of them even come from other languages. But just as with Grammar, you don't need to know the grammar of the good in order to write a compelling story.

What you do need to do is to become as fluent in written English as you are in spoken English. The two are substantially different. To become fluent in written English you are going to need to read and write it about as much as you had to speak and hear spoken English to become fluent in it. Which means a lot. Lots of adults just aren't there simply because they have not done enough practice to be fluent.

Unfortunately, while the lack of fluency is written English can manifest itself in a number of different ways, most of which are not actually grammatical, people who don't have a vocabulary for talking about these flaws will fall back of calling them "bad grammar". Unfortunately, this leads many to suppose that you have to go learn Grammar and conform to the grammar of the good in order to write well. This does not work terribly well, however, if for no other reason than that most of the faults people are complaining about are not actually grammatical, but are matters of convention, style, usage, or other things. Reading good books will do more to improve your fluency than reading Grammar books.

That said, the gatekeepers of the publishing world number themselves among the good. While a few have the good sense to know that a great story does not always come across the transom in the grammar of the good, many of them will use it as their first filter. If it is not in the grammar of the good, they won't read far enough to find out if is a great story.

And if the do find a great story that is not written using the grammar of the good, they will insist on editing it into the grammar of the good before they will publish it.

In short, while you don't need to master the grammar of the good in order to write a compelling story, you almost certainly need to present your story in the grammar of the good in order to get it published.

On the upside, since the vast majority of (professionally) published work is published in the grammar of the good, if you read and write enough to become fluent in written English, you will have picked up both grammar and the grammar of the good by osmosis.

This is not to say that you won't ever be criticized, since the grammar of the good is being constantly reshaped by the social mobility that it is designed to resist. Thus most of the latinate rules (no split infinitives, no ending a sentence with a preposition) which were the frontier of the grammar of the good fifty years ago are now mere ruins to be gawked at by tourists, while whole new prescriptions have grown up around things like pronouns.

But that is the writing life.

  • Great answer! I had not heard of the "grammar of the good" before, but it certainly makes sense. – Joe Dec 28 '16 at 1:56
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RE Lavender is right, just look at wattpad. I've seen tons of books with no grammatical sense whatsoever, and I have to stop what I'm reading to re-read it and try to figure out what it's supposed to mean. Commas aren't that bad, but spelling, punctuation, a lack of vocabulary, and all the rest can really affect the reading experience.

There's an exception for non-English or English as their second language people, like Lavender said, and also younger people. Like a three year old might say, "why me have to sleep? I no tired." And nobody will question that, it's normal. There are some people who pay close attention to grammar in books (like me) and will literally stop reading to stare at the mistake (like me, I got mad because there was no comma) but other people won't notice the TINY mistakes.

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Bad grammar makes a piece of writing look amateurish.

But keep in mind that your own unpublished, unreviewed work is allowed to be unpolished. (Some would even encourage working your first couple drafts in an unpolished state.) The piece will be revised and proofed, maybe several times, by you and your readers before it's published.

So don't sweat it too much. Just write, and clean it up in revision. But do clean it up.

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I think it depends on the audience. There are plenty of books out there with mediocre grammar and a very vernacular type of writing. If you know your audience and you know you want to cater to your audience then you should be able to write. You can find out the easy way. Write something you think would entertain someone. Let them read it and then ask for feedback. You don't have to be a researcher to do this with surveys and polls. One or two readers would give you great feedback for this kind of question.

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