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Cole Parker

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Perhaps people could weigh in on this. I have a story in the editing phase that should be on AD soon. I also have a intransigent editor, marked by recalcitrant fits of pique and juvenile balkiness, who insists on following certain rules of grammar that are not it keeping with the context or feel of the story.

How many of you write to your passions and where strict formal conventions collide with your feel of character or plot movement, make your story sing its song to your own tune, rather than using well-worn harmonies that others have explored and expounded on before you?

How subservient to the rules of writing do we have to be? Is what's important to write the story such that maximum feel of time and place and maximum plot and character development is produced, even if it's at the expense of conventional grammar, or should our maxim be, if it breaks the rules, don't to it?

Opinions?

C

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First and foremost, as an author, you are an artist. What you want to do towards making that story/masterpiece/artwork perfect in your mind's image is what is the right thing to do. Words, placement of words, and use of spaces are critical to presenting your image. Rules of grammar are there to help people comprehend your work, but they should in no way be allowed to control it.

If an artist painted on the backside of the canvas, or displayed the work upside down in the dark, it would be tragic, in that nobody would see it, but that doesn't take away from what was intended, a work of art. It is the viewer's issue and should not be the artist's issue.

I think an intransigent editor is missing the point completely. Suggest things that might assist both parties, but don't ever INSIST on anything.

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What a delightful, insightful and helpful comment, Trab. Right on!

I can only hope my editor comes here and sees it. I don't have high hopes for that as his feet are firmly stuck in the mud of pedantry (not pedastry, thankfullly!) and his head is in a dark place that is difficult to reach, so seeing this might be difficult for him.

Oh, I should have said, in my original post, that his objection isn't to what you might think it is when reading this story, if you chose to do so. There are certainly disruptions of our language as we've learned it, wiling away our youthful hours in drudgery in our classrooms. Those rules being broken willy-nilly didn't bother him. It was a more arcane rule he had problems with, and our arguments about it were fierce and ferocious. He's more bullheaded and cantankerous than I am, if you can believe it. Probably why I pay him the big bucks.

C

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Cole;

I have to admit to breaking those rules on a regular basis. I'm rather fond of the long sentence and, fortunately, I have an understanding editor. We have the odd disagreement here and there, but I just have a problem with the choppy nature of writing that tends to follow the "rules" too closely. I can't stand reading something like: "See Dick. See Dick run. See Dick catch Spot the dog." You get the general idea...

I admit to getting carried away on occasion, but my trusty editor tends to step in and point out the problem, along with suggested changes. I sometimes modify his suggestions, but we get there in the end. Thanks, O' Blue one!

Rick

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Thanks, Rick. I agree. Rules that are dogmatic can be stifling, and you don't want anything doing that.

I wish my problems were only with a penchant for long sentences. I love long sentences and can have several run-ons in a story because I love the flow of them if they're written well. I also like short sentences. I tend to use them for emphasis, or for dialogue as lots of kids speak with extreme brevity.

One problem I have that I have to be constantly aware of is the tendency for two characters to sound alike. It's so easy to fall into that habit because, naturally, I want to talk in a style that's familiar to me, but two kids, unless they grew up joined at the hip, rarely sound exactly alike. I have to watch that like a hawk, and frequently change the pattern and rhythm and word selection of two characters after the fact just to achieve more distinctive separation.

I edit a fair amount, and it's interesting how much that teaches you about your own writing, and what to avoid. Yet, I also make mistakes that I correct in others. Then my editors delight in showing them to me. Case in point: while it's acceptable to write 'OK' either like that or as 'okay,' most published works now use the OK convention almost exclusively. Not too long ago, it was being written 'O.K.' Then 'okay' became popular. So, when editing, I mark any usage but 'OK,' with a note that the other is acceptable but the shortened version is preferred. Then, in my current story, for a number of nuanced reason that are probably over-subtle and don't need explaining, I wrote 'okay' every time the word came up. Caught justifiable hell for it, too.

C

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Cole, the bottom line is it's your story: you are God within its boundaries. If you choose to write in a weird vernacular or some such, then it's your choice, and either people will read it and like it or they won't. Anthony Burgess did okay with Clockwork Orange.

Camy

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Yes, the author can do anything. However, if an author just really does things that are incorrect, do you WANT to read the story?

You ever see those stories with impossible punctuation? Authors who think irregardless is a word? I mean if you KNOW it's wrong (and it's not something in quotes that a character says), why would one perpetuate an atrocity on your readers?

There's a difference between doing something for "art" and just doing something

"because" you can irregardless of the facts. (And nothing I say will ever make this sentence acceptable in any story.)

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The reason for rules--better, conventions--is communication--on two levels. First, an author needs to communicate the basic narrative of his or her story so that the reader comprehends the basics of the plot. Without rules, tha author might as well be writing in tongues.

However, the author also is trying to communicate the poetry of his narrative--the feelings, beauty, emotions--and poetry has fewer rules.

So there will always be this dueling between basic and poetic narrative. Who is to say that Fitzgerald or Hemingway is too basic and Faulkner too poetic? The poetry that Fitzgerald and Hemingway produce from simple sentences is, arguably, equally at a similar level as Faulkner's several-page-long sentences and unannounced switches of point of view.

As an editor, the test has to be: Does it work? Does what the author put on the page work? Or, can it be made to work with tweaks? If the editor doesn't think that it works, either the editor or the author is off base. And, unless there can be an understanding between them (perhaps after some vigorous debate), then it is time to split the relationship.

Young/new authors often need the eye of a strong editor to point out what works and doesn't work (I don't count you in this group, Cole). So, I would urge young/new authors to have patience with a good editor until the understandings are established or the relationship is terminated.

Editors have an obligation, however, to foster the author's work, even in ways that may be unconventional as long as communication continues. Creativity and communication must balance each other.

Case in point: Over at Nifty there is a story in young friends entitled Lem. The author needs an editor, but an editor at the polishing edges, not one who might stifle an incredibly original writer. The story is perched on the rim of the exceptional, but a willful editor could easily destroy the Montana vernacular, the sense of place and time and the whole tone of the story.

Ultimately, Cole, there is no correct answer to your question; you need to decide if this editor is benefiting you, and he or she needs to decide how much leeway to give you the author.

I ramble. Enough said.

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Despite my comments about the problems and issues being the reader's, not the writer's, I must point out that the real discussion here is about how much 'power' the editor should have. If the author ignores the best advice of the editor, and insists on doing things his/her way, there is a large risk of not only alienating the editor, but also many of the readers. To continue with my analogy, a painter who never listens to his advisor and never has his/her paintings facing the public will likely have very few interested in his/her works. Same thing for the written word.

And, yes, I have forced myself to read some awful stuff, but I've also just given up in frustration with others. I have also ceased dealing with a story when the author told me "I know what I'm doing", and flatly refused to even consider making very appropriate and vitally necessary corrections. I don't need to deal with stories that are deliberately riddled with irritations. It may be a wonderful story, but the delivery sucks too much for me. I can only hope the writer got personal satisfaction from writing it.

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I think the point Cole and the rest of us are attempting to make is that we all develop our own style as we learn the craft of creating a story. Wibby's point is well taken, however, in that if I stumble across poorly written text, i.e. gross spelling errors, incorrect word choice, and glaring punctuation errors, I have a tendency to get hung up on the problems, and overlook the story itself. In fact, I tend to just walk away from such things anymore.

Part of my revulsion with the above mentioned issues centers around the crap that passes for official office communication these days. Being an engineer, I'm constantly amazed that some of today's young engineering graduates were able to earn passing grades with their dismal skills in the use of the English language. I've even noticed a serious decline in the standard of writing at some of this nations major journalistic institutions...I am depressed.

At the rate we're going, we'll all be reading text message speak as standard English in a few more years...

Rick

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Beautifully said, Vwl.

As I do with all the editors who favor me with their skills, I chose what I like, disregard what I don't, and try to stay friends. I think most of us have strong opinions, and the artist in us cries to be heard in his original form. Editing is difficult. You want to stay true to the writer's style and vision, yet enhance the readability. I'm always happy if a writer accepts over half of my corrections. If he accepts them all, I feel I'm probably having too much influence on the story.

I'm glad to see varying opinions here.

C

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I think the point Cole and the rest of us are attempting to make is that we all develop our own style as we learn the craft of creating a story. Wibby's point is well taken, however, in that if I stumble across poorly written text, i.e. gross spelling errors, incorrect word choice, and glaring punctuation errors, I have a tendency to get hung up on the problems, and overlook the story itself. In fact, I tend to just walk away from such things anymore.

Part of my revulsion with the above mentioned issues centers around the crap that passes for official office communication these days. Being an engineer, I'm constantly amazed that some of today's young engineering graduates were able to earn passing grades with their dismal skills in the use of the English language. I've even noticed a serious decline in the standard of writing at some of this nations major journalistic institutions...I am depressed.

At the rate we're going, we'll all be reading text message speak as standard English in a few more years...

Rick

Rick, I too am an engineer. It's probably why I so much appreciate clarity in writing. I want to understand what I writer is trying to communicate. Some writers love ambiguity and inference. I like concrete and sharp edges.

Your reference to engineering students and their writing skills falls on sympathetic ears. I have the opportunity to read student papers from college students in an Arts program at a university that is heavy on engineering students. The class that generates the papers I see attracts both engineering and Liberal Arts students. It is incredible to me what passes for English writing these days. Granted, in California, nearly 50% of the student body at many schools claims to have English as a second language in their homes. This will obviously affect their writing. However, they're working toward a degree from an American university. As college graduates, it should be mandatory they can write basic English correctly. They unequivocally cannot.

I've been seeing these papers for several years. It's the same now as when I began reading them. Awful. Atrocious.

Here are a few sentences I read last night.

As we approach the final days of of the 21st century. . . .

She was usually surrounded by various ways. . . .

He has this prolific notion and a special gift that only true writers withhold.

The piece was written in a very sentimental manner which occasioned to portrayed melancholy from the readers.

I sometimes find some humor as well, perhaps more so because it's unintentional.

One student, researching and writing about a classical composer, wrote: He expresses pain well in his music. His last composition had so much pain he had to have five movements.

I could give you many, many more examples. In some papers there isn't a single sentence that doesn't have some mistake in it.

I got an engineering degree, but I still had to learn to write correctly. It was expected. But that was many years ago.

C

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Cole;

Something, clearly, needs to change. Colleges claim they spend entirely too much time on remedial education. Public schools claim they don't have enough money despite tax increase after tax increase. Administrators blame the teachers, the teachers blame the administration, and the students are the ones losing out. I can claim to have had one good English teacher in all my years as a student, all the way through college, and that teacher taught a college expository writing class. The rest were a complete waste of the space they occupied. I suspect that situation has only gotten worse.

What happens in American high schools these days? Text messaging 101? And yet those same schools are capable of producing people like our own Colinian and some of the other young writers here, who clearly managed to learn how to use the language in a clear and eloquent fashion. I suspect they learned the use of the language in the same way I did, in spite of, rather than because of, the people nominally charged with teaching the language. I learned how the language worked by reading it, lots of it. I was reading author's like Leon Uris and Tolkien when I was 10, and suspect those who can still use the language learned it the same way.

Aristotle said, "What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." I honestly suspect this is the root of the problem. Reading simply isn't cool...it wasn't even when I was a kid.

Rick

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Cole;

Something, clearly, needs to change. Colleges claim they spend entirely too much time on remedial education. Public schools claim they don't have enough money despite tax increase after tax increase. Administrators blame the teachers, the teachers blame the administration, and the students are the ones losing out. I can claim to have had one good English teacher in all my years as a student, all the way through college, and that teacher taught a college expository writing class. The rest were a complete waste of the space they occupied. I suspect that situation has only gotten worse.

What happens in American high schools these days? Text messaging 101? And yet those same schools are capable of producing people like our own Colinian and some of the other young writers here, who clearly managed to learn how to use the language in a clear and eloquent fashion. I suspect they learned the use of the language in the same way I did, in spite of, rather than because of, the people nominally charged with teaching the language. I learned how the language worked by reading it, lots of it. I was reading author's like Leon Uris and Tolkien when I was 10, and suspect those who can still use the language learned it the same way.

Aristotle said, "What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." I honestly suspect this is the root of the problem. Reading simply isn't cool...it wasn't even when I was a kid.

Rick

Man, do you think like I do!

Colinian learned to write probably because he liked to read. You did that, and I certainly did. I was a voracious reader probably before 10. I still remember reading The Three Musketeers and looking up every third word. If you ever want to know what the word 'chimerical' means, read that book. He uses it over and over, and you ended up looking it up even if you didn't want to.

I never, ever had an English teacher who taught me how to write. The one I had in my junior and senior years in high school was terrible. She criticized what we wrote, but never gave us a hint how to improve. Negative criticism without instruction destroys a student, it doesn't uplift him and make him work harder. She mocked us. She told us a paper we were to write was just for our benefit, they'd be marked and returned, but would be kept private. Then, she read half a dozen of them to the class. She didn't identify the authors, but in some cases it was clear, and very embarrassing.

I think part of the trouble in the schools is the movement in the 80's and 90's to promote kids' self-esteem at the cost of discipline. That's when they began social passing in the elementary and middle school years. Kids no longer had to perform to succeed. What a thing to teach them. Too many took advantage of it. Hard to blame them. They're kids and don't know anything. They have the chance to work hard and pass, or do no work at all and pass. Tough choice, huh?

We've taken it further than that. Today, in California colleges and probably elsewhere, all teachers are graded by the students. Yep. The kids get graded by the profs, and the profs and graded by the students. They call these 'student evaluations.' And they aren't trivial. The deans all look at them for all their faculty, and if a teacher gets poor evaluations, he gets spoken to and told to shape up. So you don't only have to know your subject and be able to teach it, you have to be popular too. This has probably taken a toll, too, on insisting kids all be able to write well.

Colinian went to a good school in a good school system. He also took advanced placement writing classes. They never heard of those when I went to school, and in fact I never had a class that talked about writing fiction. Essays, yes; fiction, no. I think in many ways, schools are better now than when I attended. They certainly have more options. Some of the science courses are light years ahead of what I got. They're teaching math in high school now that I didn't have till my second year in college. I suppose it depends on what school system you're in. As is usual, the economically comfortable communities tend to have better schools, and students more involved and interested.

It has to be a problem too if you didn't hear English spoken in your home as you were growing up. English is a difficult language to learn. It has more words that any other, I believe, and by a large margin. Some of our verb forms are tricky. They are in other languages, too, but put that and vocabulary together, and have both differ dramatically from what you learned while on the nipple, and you have a tough row to hoe. But, I still think you should be able to write a college level paper before you get a degree. And if that takes more remedial work at the junior college level, so be it. It benefits you in the long run. I know when I had people working for me, and I was hiring them, their proficiency in English was one of the ways I evaluated them.

You're right, Rick. This is indeed a serious problem. Perhaps the direction will change now. We're entering a time of reduced job opportunities. That means, to be hired, to advance, you have to be better than the competition. I think there will be increased motivation in the next few years to prepare yourself for employment. English skills should be one area affected.

C

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Isn't it almost universally accepted that teens try to hide things from adults? Surely that is part of the reason they use garbage English, to prevent adults from knowing what they are saying to each other. (I don't believe that for one minute.)

The whole mess started with Dr. Spock. A whole generation, and then another, became convinced that discipline and control is bad for baby. Well, now we have uncontrolled and undisciplined results. Take a look at countries that didn't go that route. Well educated achievers. I'm pretty sure you will find that most of those who have good control over the language also have strong parents who weren't afraid to set some standards and repercussions for failure to meet the standards.

And please, don't use the excuse of English as a second language. I was raised with Dutch at home till I was in Grade 12, and for the first several years of school here, I had to help my parents learn English, as I was picking up more at school than they could at home and at work. It is the will to learn and practice the language that is the deciding factor, not what is spoken at home. Reading was very much encouraged, and I managed anywhere from 3 to 5 books per week, and many more during summer vacation.

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You're right, Trab. It never is just one thing. Some people thrive in situations where most fail miserably.

Personal motivation is so important. Some people have a will to learn. Some don't. No one knows where it comes from. In a family of several kids, some do well, some do nothing at all, and they have the same upbringing. It's a personal thing. You, and your parents, evidently wanted to succeed, and were willing to work at it.

Having to learn English along with everything else you're learning is a very hard situation, harder than if you don't have to do it that way, but some go the extra mile and make it. A lot don't have the will or gumption or whatever it is that allows the successful ones to succeed.

You're certainly to be applauded that you had the moxie to to do what did. It's an incredible achievement. In this day and age of permissiveness and lax discipline, a lot of kids aren't pushed to work that hard. In today's world, that's a recipe for not being able to reach that elusive brass ring.

C

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Cole;

Something, clearly, needs to change. Colleges claim they spend entirely too much time on remedial education. Public schools claim they don't have enough money despite tax increase after tax increase. Administrators blame the teachers, the teachers blame the administration, and the students are the ones losing out. I can claim to have had one good English teacher in all my years as a student, all the way through college, and that teacher taught a college expository writing class. The rest were a complete waste of the space they occupied. I suspect that situation has only gotten worse.

What happens in American high schools these days? Text messaging 101? And yet those same schools are capable of producing people like our own Colinian and some of the other young writers here, who clearly managed to learn how to use the language in a clear and eloquent fashion. I suspect they learned the use of the language in the same way I did, in spite of, rather than because of, the people nominally charged with teaching the language. I learned how the language worked by reading it, lots of it. I was reading author's like Leon Uris and Tolkien when I was 10, and suspect those who can still use the language learned it the same way.

Aristotle said, "What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." I honestly suspect this is the root of the problem. Reading simply isn't cool...it wasn't even when I was a kid.

Rick

Actually, I went to a public high school in a district that takes teaching students seriously. I had good to great to absolutely outstanding teachers in all of my classes. There was a major effort to make sure every student received the assistance they needed to succeed. Of course, if the student and/or their parents didn't give a crap, there wasn't much they could do except transfer them into the alternative high school in the district. With a few hundred students they can give one-on-one support that isn't possible in a high school with 1,800 students. My high school district's academic performance index is #1 in the state for the last four consecutive years.

My intermediate school is part of the city school district. I learned how to write starting in eighth grade when I took Creative Writing. When I transferred to high school, in addition to English I was able to take Creative Writing classes for three years (they wouldn't let me take it for a fourth year). I took English every year in intermediate and high school, including Honors English. I took Communications Studies as an elective course. I took Russian in the eighth grade, and three years of Spanish in high school. I think all of these classes all helped me become a better writer.

Cole wrote that I read a lot. That's true. Reading is essential.

Colin :wink:

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Rick said it and Colin and I supported it. Colin says it is essential. Reading is the basis of writing well.

I try to be creative in my writing, but if I accomplish that, it's because I've read so much, witnessed so much creativity it what I've read, and I've been able to see how others do things, how they push the envelope, and I can envision doing that myself. I get ideas for stories from a number of sources, but most of them come from what I read. I read something and it suggests a story to me. I see how a writer created a situation and resolved it by taking the plot in a certain direction, and wonder, what if it went in this different direction? I'd guess we all do this. Reading inspires us, and we take it from there.

I guess if I had to have a short answer for someone who asked me how to write, I'd say read, and read some more, and pay attention to how different authors go about telling a story. Look at how they use the language to support what they're saying. When you're reading, ask yourself why the author has set up the structure of the story as he has, why the dialogue is moving in the direction it is, why he has chosen the characters he has. Those are all decisions he's made to promulgate the story in the best way he knows how.

Reading is the beginning for us, the source of our ability to write. We gain our knowledge of how to write as we read without even realizing it. Reading is indeed essential.

C

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It sounds, Cole, like you and your editor on not in synch with regard to your intentions. I have said before that in any author/editor relationship, the editor is the logistics expert, not the artist. We're like the support team that makes sure the story gets to its readership in a form that is comprehensible and enjoyable, not the guy who creates the story. It is not our place to attempt to alter the intentions of the author and re-create the story into what we might have written.

If you have explained the effect that you are attempting to create with the unusual grammar/spelling/other mechanics that you are choosing to employ, and your editor is just not feeling it, then you have to make an executive decision, and your editor needs to be able to live with that. If that is not possible, then some parting of the ways will have to happen, whether it's just on this particular tale or in your joint work altogether.

It could well be that what you need is more sets of eyes seeing the work and further opinion on what is being offered, and I would be more than happy to throw my two cents into the debate. If you'd like to send me the work in question, I'd be happy to beta read for it, and offer whatever analysis I can come up with.

cheers!

aj

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Thanks, AJ. That's very kind of you. It's too late, however. The story was posted this morning.

I guess I need to make a couple more comments, for clarity's sake.

I wasn't really upset by the editor's comments. I have a rather loose and fun relationship with all my editors. Probably because of the way I approach the task with them, they tend to write back sarcastically when discussing my 'mistakes.' They tease me, and I tease them back.

When I say 'them,' that's what I mean. Presently, I enjoy the direct help of five editors. I didn't really go seeking them; they all volunteered. And they do a remarkable job. All of them help, and I make changes each suggests. I've truly found that different eyes see different things, and there is a lot of merit in getting different perspectives on ones writing.

The case that started this topic was not the obvious lack of standard English that permeates the story that was posted today, Rusty. All my editors had much less problem with that than I'd thought they would. No, the problem that fomented this discussion was a technical point in the writing that would probably not be obvious to many readers. I refused to make the change advocated; the editor said I had to.

We're still friends. At least I think we will be when he finally gets over his childish pet and writes me again and admits he was wrong.

C

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