Out of all of the items in our publication contract, the one I get asked about most often is “The Publisher may make all corrections of typographical or grammatical errors without the Author’s consent.” Does this mean I will make corrections to a manuscript without consulting an author? Probably not. I find most authors understand the importance of proper grammar. I also know that doing so would make the editing process more stressful for both the author and myself. So why is it in the contract?
Simple. It’s to remind authors that the rules of grammar are not optional.
The rules of grammar exist for a reason – they make text easier to read. Leaving out necessary punctuation can create run-on sentences. Putting periods in the wrong place can create sentence fragments. Incorrect comma usage can create situations where text doesn’t flow properly when read. Leaving out some form of dialogue attribution can leave a reader wondering who is speaking. All of these things will make your manuscript harder for a reader to understand and ultimately enjoy.
What about incorrect grammar in dialogue? After all, not everyone speaks the Queen’s English. Here my rule is simple – everything in moderation. If every one of your characters sounds like an extra from Hee Haw, you’ve probably gone a bit too far trying to make your dialogue sound “realistic.” That said, I expect third-person narrative to be grammatically correct, and even first-person narrative should strive for grammatical accuracy. If you need a good grammar reference that’s easy to follow, I recommend The Blue Book of Grammar and their online web site (http://www.grammarbook.com).
So why did I choose this for the topic of my blog? It’s because I’m finding that I’m having conversations about the importance of grammar more and more with authors, particularly the use of correct grammar in narrative. Recently, I received the following response to the suggestion that an author use correct grammar in his third person narrative:
To get a better feel for 1940s vernacular, you could try reading a book from that era. Then you might notice how authors follow the rules in actual novels.
I found this comment unnecessary. Noir is one of my favorite genres to read, and I can assure you even the most famous authors understand the importance of correct grammar. This author was referred to another section of our contract, which states “If the Work as delivered is determined to be unsatisfactory for any reason by the Publisher, the Publisher is entitled to terminate this Agreement.”