Respect the Word

I’m in that weird place where I’m almost done a bunch of books and I don’t have anything to review. Okay, I finished one last night, but I need some mulling time before it gets a review. That means I’m postless. I have no review! What now. Then, I came across something I wrote a couple years ago – not long after I started using Wattpad. For those of you that don’t know, it’s a website where writers can post their work and get feedback from people all over the world. It can be a great resource to connect you to more people than you could ever normally reach (typically).

However, a lot of the work posted there is written by young authors. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. A lot of them have great ideas, and some of them write great work. But there are a lot of stories posted to the site that have such incredible spelling and grammar problems that the work becomes unreadable. When critiques would point out that there were errors, the response would often be – those things don’t matter, or I’ll fix those later, or stop being so picky. But those things do matter. These weren’t final edit errors. These were complete lack of understanding of the English language errors. The idea that language doesn’t matter from someone who apparently wants to build their life on words is insulting.

I’m running into some of the same problems with the books I’ve been requested to review – not all of them, but some. These are published novels. They should be polished, but there’s just something lacking. I don’t claim to be perfect, but I just feel like there’s a higher standard for those books that get to live in a published format. And for those of us that are unpublished, we should be writing like we could be. I still agree with what I wrote then, so why reinvent the wheel.

“In essence, every story in the world has already been told. What I mean by that is that the bones of the stories have already been developed. There are basically two types of love stories: love lost or love won. There’s the coming of age story about overcoming adversity or discovery and growth. The mystery/thriller is either supernatural or the villain is a stranger or known by the protagonist. And so on and so on. The basics of every genre have already been done. It’s our responsibility as writers to find a way to shape the story idea into something new, interesting and well structured.

Taking an idea that is familiar and writing it so well that people don’t notice that it’s an old idea can be more satisfying than going for the surprise. This is where grammar comes in. I’m not the expert (I’m sure there are errors in this post), but I keep reading that grammar isn’t important. That is just not true. While we don’t need to have a laser focus on being perfect in the first run through, or even the second, we should always be aware of grammar and spelling. There are style choices that can allow for the use of imperfect grammar (sentence fragments for pacing, dialects, phonetic dialogue, etc) but the choice should read as just that – a style choice.

One of the most common errors I’ve noticed lately is people mistaking the way words sound with the actual words being said. Here’s the example that irks me the most: should of. Should of is not a phrase, and it does not mean what people think it means. The word they’re looking for is should’ve (the contraction of should and have). I’ve actually noticed an increasingly incorrect use of the word ‘of’ and other prepositions in general. They are not like salt and should not be sprinkled liberally for flavour. Unfortunately, nothing kills a story faster than poor writing. Not everyone will like every writing style, but poor grammar/spelling is just not readable.

Also, being aware of structure in the first draft can make editing easier. If we’re just cleaning up grammar and structure, the focus of editing switches to the storyline rather than making the story readable. But no matter how hard we try, the story probably won’t be perfect. That’s why they make editors! And, that’s why sites like this are so beneficial. Not only can we get beta readers from our target audiences, we get people who point out: mistakes we may not see when reading, mistakes we may not even be aware we’re making, or when style choices just don’t translate to a reader.”

Even Weird Al recognizes that words are important. And he does it while parodying a song I loathe. Respect.

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3 thoughts on “Respect the Word

  1. Finding a misspelling or misuse in a story, for me, is like being hit with a cube of ice. It jolts you out of the story. That’s why I rarely read authors who are not apart of a big publishing house.

    • It absolutely takes you out of the story. I’m in this place where I’m trying to decide what my threshold for mistakes is. Three mistakes in the first two pages? That might be it.

      • You are so kind. For me it’s 2 strikes. Please read that Soul of Soup Bones short story from Apex. I am sure you’ll like it. It passed my test. 🙂 She’s one of the few new writers I can actually read.

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