I spend an inordinate amount of time every week reading and responding to the writing of other people. I read blog posts and comment; additionally, I read more than a couple of books (primarily e-books) and post reviews.
As I read these published texts, I am often appalled by the number and nature of the grammatical and mechanical errors.
Obvious capitalization errors, spelling errors, punctuation errors, run-on sentences, and the like dance across the screen or pages with wild abandon.
When I mention this to someone, they often respond that it’s content that matters. Besides, they offer, errors such as the ones I mention can even be found in books written by widely-published, iconic authors.
To a degree, that’s correct. Sentence fragments, run-ons, and other “construction” issues can be found in books and magazine/newspaper articles.
Sometimes that’s because of poor writing and sloppy editing. Those writers and editors should be ashamed of themselves for their lack of respect for their reader and their craft.
Sometimes, however, those “errors” are deliberately and very- thoughtfully made.
Writers — those who produce the very best texts that engage and motivate and move those of us who read them — can bend, and even break, the rules.
Why? Because they have demonstrated their knowledge of the rules of grammar and mechanics, they typically followed them for many years themselves, they now know what effect will be created by the breaking of a rule, and they want to achieve that effect.
Think back to your first day in a chemistry class, or, if you’re like me and never (thank goodness) took one, imagine that scene.
On that first day, did the instructor unlock the cabinets in which all the chemicals and beakers and test tubes were stored and call out with glee, “Go for it! Have fun!”?
Of course not. They knew, hopefully not from experience, that the result might very well be a blown up table, at the very least.
Instead, you weren’t allowed to touch anything but your textbook, notebook, and pen/pencil for a couple of weeks, until you knew about various chemical properties (or something like that — I have to admit that chemistry terminology is beyond me) and the rules for mixing, for example, an acid and a base. Only then were you allowed to actually work with the actual chemicals.
But, and here is the key, at least some of those once-novice chemistry students went on to break the rules. Individuals who followed the rules in high school chemistry class and who decided to continue those studies in college and grad school became scientists in laboratories across the country who violate the basic principles of chemistry that mere mortals (i.e. high school chemistry students) cannot.
They break them because they know the consequences of breaking them and, as a result, do so safely. They do so with the intent to create something — a cure for leukemia or for Parkinsons or for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for example.
If those very-knowledgeable and skilled individuals never broke the rules of chemistry, new and wonderful things would never be invented.
And so it is with words and sentences. The rules must be followed until they are mastered and until the writer knows how to effectively break them to create something new and wonderful.
As a result, a skilled writer can pen, “But Mary’s phobias kept her from exploring the world.” to create some effect. They can even construct similar sentences on a fairly-regular basis as part of their writing style.
However, if a writer is not trying to create an effect and is simply writing sentences like that out of habit, they need to edit more carefully.
(Explanation: “And” is a conjunction; conjunctions join words and groups of words. If a conjunction is found at the beginning of a sentence, the words after it are not joined to anything and, typically, do not constitute an independent clause. Hence, a fragment. However, there are situations in which a sentence can begin with a conjunction, but that’s a topic for another Tuesday.)
The internet is a wonderful tool, as are e-readers. However, the world is being flooded with poorly-written pieces by bloggers and fledgling writers.
I have my own opinion as to why that is happening, and I’ll share that next Tuesday.
Of course, now that I’ve posted this, my own writing will no doubt be more-carefully scrutinized by anyone who stops by. That’s okay. I know the rules, and I break some of them.
Deliberately. If you read much of what I write and if you know the rules of grammar and mechanics, you’ll recognize those that I break as part of my own writing style.
Let me know if you do!
Just for fun, think of your favorite iconic writers. What “errors” do they make as part of their writing style? Share your response through a comment below.
Let’s take a minute to be totally transparent. What are the mechanical and/or grammatical errors you tend to break (by accident) most often? Share via a comment below.