The Naked Writer

(Don’t) Relax (Too Much)

I told my friend about a grammatical glitch I found in Outside magazine:

A man came upon a dead bear cub and leaned over and touched it, but the bear had been electrocuted by a downed electrical wire, and the man, too, was zapped. (He lived but had terrible physical damage.) At any rate, the article said the bear had been laying on a live wire. Of course, obviously, the bear had been lying on the wire. (I tweeted the editor and was ignored—so much for the power of social media.)

My friend said, “The trend is to relax grammar so as not to be too stuffy.”

Okay, maybe so, but not, I hope, in a national magazine.

Yes, I relax language, sometimes using “who” instead of “whom,” when “whom” just sounds stuffy and formal—and, oh, maybe I commit one or two other such deceits. But I can’t advocate relaxing language to the extent of confusing two different verbs. Hmmm. I don’t think I’d call this a grammatical mistake—I’d call it language misuse. And I should have tweeted the copy editor.

Sure, in writing fiction sometimes we do represent the way a character speaks, but in doing so, we walk a pretty fine line. Because some relaxations can be taken as the author not knowing any better than the character might. And more often than not—and I’ve gone through literally thousands of pieces newbie writing—that’s the truth. The writer doesn’t know any better than the character.

In making that kind of choice, we should either be more obvious, or find a workaround. Why? Because the pages first go to the agent or an editor and that person is judging the level of writer sophistication.

In producing nonfiction material, do not relax. (Even though I know, and have experienced, that this copy editor will go through and introduce hideous errors I’ll have to correct in my galleys.)

So study up. You can start by reading The Naked Writer and continue by using the book as a reference. (The book’s Curiosity Quills’ release date is December 16th. Hooray.)

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The Naked Writer

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