Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Punctuation, Spelling, Grammar and All That Stuff - Why Bother?

There may be some people out there who think that getting the punctuation, grammar and spelling right doesn't matter. There are editors to do all that stuff, aren't there? And no one really cares about it - what really matters is the story or the ideas.

The current reality is that publishers are looking for manuscripts that are pretty much ready to go to press. The days of an editor laboriously working their way through a manuscript with the author have long gone. Yes, an amazing story or a stunning idea will make it through regardless of the quality of the presentation, but that's going to be true for only the most fabulous of tales. If an editor has a choice between two manuscripts of roughly equal story quality they'll choose the one which requires least work.

And people do care. The most common complaint about self published work is the quality of the editing. People don't like reading work with poor punctuation, spelling, grammar etc and they can, and do, complain. It doesn't matter how wonderful the story telling is if no one gets beyond the first few pages.

I think it's like dressing up to go to some amazing party. You've dressed incredibly carefully in your best clothes, then just before leaving you nip to the loo and set off with your skirt tucked up in your knickers/flies undone and shirt sticking out.

Finally, what does poorly presented work say about your attitude? It's easy enough to employ a copy editor, although the more mistakes there are, the more expensive it is. With luck you can find a friend who'll do it for you for free/alcohol/favours.

Either way, you have to try to make your work as perfect as possible. If you can't be bothered to make sure your work is the best it can be, then why should anyone else be bothered?


womagwriter said...

I agree, but I'd go further. A writer who can't spell, punctuate or get their grammar at least approximately right is like a doctor who doesn't know the names of medicines they prescribe, or a gardener who's not sure of the differences between weeds and flowers. It's part of the job, and easy enough to learn with the help of a spell-checker and Strunk and White.

Also, punctuation and grammar can change the meaning of a sentence. How can a writer tell the story they want to tell if they can't get these things right?

Sarah Duncan said...

I like your similes! I see a lot of people who are frightened by punctuation etc because they've missed learning the lessons at school, and fear makes them shy away from learning the rules - which are pretty simple. But you do need to either learn or pay/beg someone else to do it for you.

penny simpson said...

I can spell okay and have good basics but when I first started writing, I round the mechanics of formatting difficult. How to slot in speech, when to break prose, etc. So, I used cheat's learning. I noticed how well the Dick Francis books were formatted and that he used a similar style of short paras and a lot of dialogue, and so I copied until it became second nature. It works, I think!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post! Absolutely right.