Thursday, July 5, 2018

Regarding Grammar

Grammar is the backbone of writing. It is what we all work with to insure that the reader knows exactly what we are talking about. As someone who is not only an English major, but someone who teaches English, I am always pushing to see quality grammar in writing. For those of you in the writing community, I always find it funny that one issue continues to show up time and time again.


This is something that countless English teachers drive into our heads when we are in school. "To make your writing stronger, NEVER write in passive voice. This rule is often clumped in with other rules such as: "Never start a sentence with because." or "Fragments and Run on sentences are bad."

The problem here is that there are a ton of exceptions to the rules in grammar, and especially, when writing fiction, these issues will arise. Since we use dialogue in our writing, our characters will use these "improper" forms of grammar more often than not.

Let me take the time first to define the concept of active and passive voice. This information is coming from the 7th edition of A WRITER'S REFERENCE by Diana Hacker. This is my "go to" text for all things writing. I know a lot of people think Strunk & White is the best, I have found that
Hacker really does an infinitely better job of talking about grammar.

When using Active Voice, the subject of the sentence is the initiator of the action - The surge of power destroyed the pumps." In the case of Passive Voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb - "The pumps were destroyed by a surge of power." (Hacker 156).

Now, this is where I want to really go to Hacker. She notes, "Although you may be tempted to avoid the passive voice completely, keep in mind that some writing situations call for it." (Hacker 157)

The problem many writers face with grammar is that we can make things grammatically correct, but if the fluency of the writing is not there, that grammar is going to be counter-productive to what the writer is trying to achieve. In other words, sometimes writing in passive voice is going to sound better than writing in active voice.

Just because something is written in active voice does not always, as the definition implies, make the writing stronger. The strength of your writing comes from how you craft your sentences, how you use your words and how you make the characters jump off the page.

So, what should we take away from this? First of all, grammar, punctuation and spelling do matter when we write. We want to have the cleanest piece of writing possible to showcase our stories to the editors and agents. Secondly, we do not want to overly obsess about the grammar. If your attention is all on the grammar and you aren't thinking of the story, you will have nothing more than a grammatically correct piece of garbage. Finally, remember that your characters may use this grammar that would make English Grammar Freaks cringe. So what? That is how your character talks.

Hope this relieves some of your tension.


  1. Another great post that gives such good perspective on the whole issue. Thanks.

  2. This is where writer groups, beta readers, etc.. come in to play. Get the story out of your head. Write crap in the first draft. Passive voice the hell out of it. Get it out of your system. When first draft is complete the real work begins.

  3. Thank you!!! You cannot imagine how glad I am to actually hear someone in the industry saying this! Knowing the rules is different from writing something the way it needs to be written, using wording for effect even if you need to break the rules to do it. And I loved how you put it: "If your attention is all on the grammar and you aren't thinking of the story, you will have nothing more than a grammatically correct piece of garbage." YES! THAT! THANK YOU!