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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Use What You Learned in School

We all learned about spelling and grammar in grade school, but how important is that to us as writers? It’s very important. If you want to be respected as a writer/author then you must adhere to the basic rules of the written word. Some readers are willing to overlook errors as long as the story keeps them interested. Others simply won’t tolerate it.

The English language has several words that, when spelled differently, mean completely different things. ‘There, they’re and their’ are some examples. “Henry hung his hat on the rack over there.” ‘There’ is a location. “George and Jake simply held onto their hats.” Spelled that way, the word shows ownership. Henry mentioned to his date that he wished they could stay longer. “I know” she replied, “but they’re needed at another event.” They’re is the same as “they are.” There are several more examples too. Your, you’re, we’re and we are a few. ‘Whose’ indicates ownership while who’s poses the question “Who is?”

Now that we know how important proper spelling and grammar is, I have something else to say about the subject. You don’t always have to follow the rules! In real life, people don’t always use proper terms in the course of normal conversation. Locales influence the way we speak. In the northern parts of the country soft drinks are called ‘pops’ while in the south they’re called ‘sodas.’

Education also has a great influence in how we speak. A college grad is going to speak differently than someone with limited secondary education. So if one of your characters has a limited education, or was brought up in a certain area of the country, make them sound authentic. Go ahead and break the rules with their dialogue. You wouldn’t expect a man that grew up in the mountain backwoods of Tennessee to speak like a college professor would you? Of course not, he’ll use slang words and improper grammar.

I’ve often referenced the dialogue that Elmore Leonard used in his novels. His characters are rough, and street smart. Their dialogue indicates their tough personas. It works very well too because they’re all colorful characters. Use whatever dialogue works for your characters and follow proper grammar when it’s needed, but you don’t have to all of the time.

Now go ahead and start writing that great novel kicking around in your head!