Note: This post was originally scheduled for sometime in 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.
For anyone who’s interested, The Professional Fiction Writer: A Year in the Life is available for preorder in all electronic venues. It will ship on January 15.
Also, while I’m pushing help for writers here, I can’t do better than recommend you read Dean Wesley Smith’s recent post titled “Once More… For the New Year… Pulp Speed.” This one is massively important for anyone who wants to be a professional fiction writer. To see it, click this link: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/once-more-for-the-new-year-pulp-speed/.
A long time ago, those who made their living with the written or spoken word obeyed two self-imposed rules:
- they knew the language intimately, and
- they applied that knowledge skillfully.
It seems that level of commitment has become the exception rather than the rule.
Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Edwin Newman, Mark Twain, Papa Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and countless other professional writers studied the language and knew the meanings (both denotation and connotation in all its delightful intimacies) and spellings of the words they used.
They also knew and applied the rules of grammar and syntax, not because they had to, but because they knew it would enhance reader understanding. And they themselves wouldn’t look like blithering morons.
Those news professionals and writers took no chances that their readers might misunderstand, and they took no chances that their readers or listeners might think them ignorant. And yet the battlecry of contemporary so-called professionals seems to be “Well, it’s close enough. The readers will know what I was trying to say.”
I mention Murrow, Cronkite and Newman because they were news professionals who wrote and read the news on radio and television. I mention them because today’s news professionals apparently don’t know that “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not “probably.”
They don’t understand that a “weapons cache” (pronounced “cash”) is a store of weapons and that “weapons cachet” makes no sense at all to a thinking person. Why? Because a “cachet” (pronounced “cashay”) is an aroma, not a stored collection of weapons or anything else.
And worst of all, at least to me, they don’t understand that such errors DO matter. In fact, they are grievous affronts to our language and to the writing profession as a whole.
A recent correspondent mentioned that in a Michael Crichton novel she repeatedly saw statements like “I better be going” instead of “I’d better be going” (this would be okay in dialogue, but not in narrative) or “would of” and “could of” in place of “would’ve” and “could’ve” (this would not be all right in dialogue or narrative). And this is an author whose works regularly populate the bestseller lists.
So what’s going on? Are these usages simply considered acceptable now?
Sadly, the answer is yes.
They are considered acceptable because it’s much easier to simply accept something as “good enough” than to expend the effort to teach students the correct way to spell and the rules of grammar and syntax.
Consider, the word “acceptable” doesn’t even mean “adequate.” It simply means “good enough.” If it were a letter grade, “acceptable” would be a D, and “adequate” would be a C.
In other words, it’s a soup sandwich, sloppy at best.
“The Reader Will Know What I Mean”
Umm, no, Sparky. Bad writer. It isn’t the reader’s responsibility to figure out what you mean.
That responsibility belongs to the person who puts the words on the page, and um, that would be You.
Unfortunately, it’s too late to simply ask the teachers in public schools to begin (please) teaching their students proper grammar and syntax. Many of today’s teachers can’t do so because they don’t know it themselves.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen in written works that a room was “void” of furniture. Of course, the writer meant “devoid.”
In the manuscript I’m currently working on (back when I wrote this) a character “embarked from” a train. Yes, I changed it to “disembarked.”
The writer or speaker can “imply” something; only the reader or listener can “infer,” yet increasing numbers of writers treat those terms as if they’re interchangeable.
- Would you want your next surgery to be conducted by a guy who barely made it through med school?
- Would you want the guy who’s adjusting your heater to get it ready for the winter to do a job that’s just passable?
- Would you want a contractor whose buildings routinely barely pass inspection?
The fact that increasing numbers of writers accept “good enough” as a standard is an abomination that contributes more every day to the dumbing down of America.
And to any writer who’s worth his or her salt, “good enough” is never good enough. You’re an artisan, one who strives constantly to perfect your craft. And that, my friends, is “good enough.”
Next up, more on safeguarding your credibility as a writer.
‘Til next time, happy writing.
THIS JUST IN FROM KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH: If you have ANY books with All Romance Ebooks/OmniLit, read Kris’ post here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/business-musings-7624150. This is an advance look at her post from later this week.
Two other links that might help are these:
I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.
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