You don’t need an MA in English Grammar (or in Literature or Creative Writing) in order to write stories. A good grasp of grammar is, though, essential: how to construct a sentence that conveys meaning, emotion, action; and how to punctuate your fine words. Fortunately, there are numerous self-help books available, books that can be very readable and – ’tis true – fun.
The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar and Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage are detailed listing of all the terms you’ll likely encounter in English grammar, and I recommend that you have at least one (or a similar) lexicon of definitions on your bookshelf. In these books you’ll discover the meaning of phrases such as transitive and intransitive verbs. Actually, you probably don’t need to remember all these terms and their definitions – as long as you learn to write well.
Which brings me to a trio of books, all on my bookshelf (along with several other titles – you can never have too many books). These are of immense help with punctuation – and bad punctuation inevitably leads to poorly expressed writing.
First off is Eats, Shoots & Leaves, subtitled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation”, by Lynne Truss. Just look at the book’s title: is it “eats, shoots and leaves” or “eats shoots and leaves”? The meanings are quite different. This book is written as a series of readable essays. More direct are Grammar for Grown-Ups by Katherine Fry and Rowena Kirton and Grammar Rules by Craig Shrives.
Grammar for Grown-Ups is a straightforward guide (it says so on the cover) that covers the basics (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc), punctuation, spelling and chapters on more complicated issues and (especially useful) on the difference between UK and US English. There are also throughout test questions, a great way to discover if you comprehend the text. The main issue I have with this book is a lack of index.
Finally, Grammar Rules: this book has the subtitle “Writing with Military Precision”, and that might give away the fact that the author Craig Shrives was a military officer, who wrote it to encourage clarity in written reports. Even so, rules are rules and work in both fiction and non-fiction.
There are many others guides and no doubt you have your favourite(s) – at least I hope you do. Well-written and well-punctuated work gives you a head start when submitting your words to editors and publishers. After all, if you write, 99% of the time you want others to read, understand and enjoy your work. And even if you want to write “experimental” stories, it really does pay to learn the basic rules before you break them.
Copyright (c) 2016 Peter Coleborn