Saturday, September 29, 2007

Writers and Language

In my previous post, I went on quite a bit about writers (or writers aspiring to publication, i.e. our students) and how they need to be able to use the English language properly, including correct punctuation. It's a funny thing, but there are always students who insist, either openly or with quiet mutterings, that punctuation isn't that important, and the "brilliance" of their story and their writing will overcome any silly prejudices that an editor might have about the grammar stuff. And no matter what you say, they don't believe you.

So here it is from the horse's mouth! Henry Rosenbloom from Scribe Publications has a blog on their site, and his latest post talks about unsolicited manuscripts and how they deal with them. This excerpt is part of how they read what comes in:

"Second, once we’ve asked for sample material, we pay careful attention to the covering note and to the quality of the writing of the sample chapters, as well as to the content. Just as individuals notice and respond to body language when meeting somebody for the first time, an editor will immediately register how language is used by a new author. Punctuation, syntax, grammar, and tone all tell a story, for better or worse."

They sure do. Usually, bad punctuation makes a piece of writing simply unreadable. Those commas and fullstops control flow and sense - if I can't understand what a sentence is saying, how can I become truly involved in the story? I recently gave a talk on Plain English to a group of professional credit managers, and what interested me was that clearly some of them had never thought about their "audience" and whether that audience clearly understood what was being conveyed in their letters and notices. In some ways, there's not that much difference between wanting someone to pay their bill, and wanting someone to enjoy your story. You have to tell it to them in a way that is clear and engaging.

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