Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alas, poor Yorik.

I've been spending my downtime working. Not writing, unfortunately, but grading 1200 papers for the university writing assessment. Although tedious, I've found what the students have to say about writing very interesting. For example, almost all of the papers I've read so far say something to the effect that writing would be fun if there weren't so many "rules." I suppose that's true. If we never had to stop to insert a comma or indent a paragraph, if we could just keep going and ignore spelling and mechanics, everyone would enjoy writing. Alas, we cannot. We cannot ignore the basic rules of composition.

When I'm teaching, I try to explain that the rules of grammar are in place for a purpose. I use this analogy:

You've been invited to the party of the year and you've been given written directions: turn right at the second stop light, left onto Elm, go the the third stop sign, make a left onto Bird's Eye Ave, and the party's at the third house on the right. You put on your best duds, jump into the car and start out. Suddenly, you realize that there are no stop lights, no street signs. How do you find the party? You're hopelessly lost with no way to find the party of the year.

I tell them that grammar and mechanics are like those roadsigns. They help the reader interpret the writer's work. Without those rules of grammar, no one would understand anything that's ever been written.

There are rules, some can be broken by the wants/desires of the agenting and publishing community like that "single space between sentences" thing that's all the rage. Cormac McCarthy seldom if ever uses quotation marks during dialogue (but then he's Cormac McCarthy). The comma preceding a conjunction in a compound sentence is now dust on the publishing house floor. BUT (big but) most of us still cling to the rules, those grammatical roadsigns we so desperately need. To write, the would-be author must not only be good at spinning that fascinating yarn. He/she must be good at the craft of writing, the rules, the mechanics.

Well, there's my two-cents worth, but then again, I'm an English teacher by avocation. Those rules of grammar work and they've provided me with one more semester of work as a member of adjunct faculty.

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