Lia London Books

"I was with book as a woman is with child."~C.S. Lewis

Lia London Books - "I was with book as a woman is with child."~C.S. Lewis

3 Grammar Rules to Break and 3 to Keep

Will the sour-faced, red-pen-wielding ol’ school marms please cover their eyes while I blaspheme?

Which grammar rules can you break?

  • Fragments.  In fiction and casual writing, fragments are perfectly fine.  They are parts of sentences standing alone, and they can be used very effectively to convey the intended timing of the author.  It’s how we talk much of the time.  That said, don’t overuse so that the narrative sounds like choppy juvenile poetry.
  • Split infinitives.  This is the rule left over from Latin that says one cannot stick an adverb in between the “to” and the verb (the infinitive form).  In Latin, you couldn’t do it because it was all one word.  It was imposcompletelysible.  Most of the time either the split or the undisrupted form work equally well: to run quickly vs. to quickly runto cut carefully vs. to carefully cut.  Unless you’re writing a formal paper for prescriptive grammar English prof, don’t sweat it.
  • Ending phrases with a preposition.  Who are you sending that to? vs. To whom are you sending that?  Where are you from? vs. From where do you originate? Get real.  Again, unless it is highly formal writing, stick with the way people actually speak (known as ” the vernacular”).
  • Subject/verb agreement when speaking of unspecified gender.  Each boy should leave his uniform in his locker. vs.  Each child should leave their uniform in their locker.  In the first sentence, we know we’re talking about boys, so we can say “his”.  However, when the gender is unknown and you don’t want to have to say “his or her uniform in his or her locker”, it is generally acceptable to use their even though it is plural and “each child” is singular.


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Which grammar rules do you keep?

  • Don’t dangle modifiers.  This is a clarity issue.  If you don’t clearly assign a modifying phrase, it creates confusion.  This is the error that makes the corny joke in Mary Poppins work: “I once knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith.” “Really?  What was the name of his other leg?” (**snort**)  In this bit, “named Smith” is vaguely placed.  Is it the leg or the man that carries the name?
  • Avoid run-on sentences (also known as comma splices).  This is when you string together sentences without any form of punctuation more than the occasional comma.  Besides the fact that it doesn’t allow your reader to mentally breathe (see that split infinitive; hear it roar), it also adds to confusion.  Very few people can write a three-plus line sentence with correct grammar…and even if they can, modern readers don’t generally like them.
  • Apostrophes & contractions.  I’m a member of the APS (Apostrophe Protection Society).  Not one of the militant chapters, mind you, but I have been known to scream.  This has to do with things like differentiating it’s from its.  (The former is the contraction of it + is, and the latter is the possessive form of it.)

There are more rules, of course.  But these are ones that show up frequently with the green squiggly lines on your word processor.  Now you know which ones to ignore.

Life Isn’t Getting in the Way of Your Writing

Sometimes I feel like life is getting in the way of my writing time.  Days will pass, and I won’t hear the steady tap of my fingers on the keyboard.  I won’t feel the satisfaction of generating a page full of type.  That bugs me because getting stuff done is happy-making.

I remember one week in particular.  Life accelerated and swerved, but did not take me to the desk to write.  It took me instead to visit an elderly woman in a physical rehab facility who had alarms on her bed that sounded whenever she tried to stand up.  She wanted to escape badly.  She was lonely and bored.  But very weak.  I cajoled the nurse into letting me take her for a walk, and we set off down the hall with her walker.  At the end of the hall, she lingered, staring at the key pad on the door to the stairwell.


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“I know the code to get out,” she mused.

“I don’t think you’re ready to tackle stairs just yet, honey,” I said.  “And I don’t want to break your fall and wind up a patient here myself.”

After a long beat, she nodded, and we turned back and went to the other end of the hall.  It was a long walk with a few seated stops for breath.  I did all I could to make her laugh, and at one point, at my jest, she began strutting as if beginning a dance routine.  It did her heart good.  By the time we made it back to her room and the alarm was reset, she was exhausted but happy.

We later “got in trouble” for taking that walk, but it was worth it.

A day later, a beautiful young mother needed me to take her to the police station to file domestic abuse charges and obtain a restraining order.  The place was sterile and emotionally cold, with hard chairs and bad lighting.  She was scared of what she was doing, and scared of what would happen if she didn’t do it.  This step had been years coming.


I did little except help initially with some Spanish translation, and then just stayed by her as moral support.  We were there for over two hours, and that was just the beginning of her labors to find peace and safety.  It was boring at best and degrading at worst, but it was worth it.

Two days later, a friend called in crisis.  Her world was falling apart and she was losing perspective.  She needed a sounding board, and so I listened and folded laundry, and listened and washed dishes, and listened and picked the grime out of my microwave, and listened.  I did my best to validate her worth and give her courage to stand back up.  I handed her the words with which she could dust herself off and start all over again.  I got almost nothing on my “to do list” done that day, but it was worth it.

What does any of that have to do with writing the next scene in my novel?

Nothing and everything.

When life gets in the way, and we take time to think about what it means, we become deeper, richer human beings.  That will pour into our writing.  If we give ourselves to others in service with compassion, that will show up in the pages of our blogs, books, poetry or journals.


We cannot improve the world around us without improving ourselves, and we cannot improve ourselves without improving our message.


And that gives us something to write about when we finally do have time to sit down.

Why Not Everyone Will Love Your Writing (and why you shouldn’t let that get you down)


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Family and friends love everything you do and cheer you on enthusiastically.

Or they don’t.


Getting my family and friends to read my first novel was a year-long chore.  And not all of them finished.  Some have yet to give feedback three years later.


Now, I could get all depressed and feel sorry for myself.  Or think unkindly of them.  But none of that would matter because their reactions boil down to a very simple matter which is out of my control (and theirs).


They simply don’t like to read fantasy fiction.  Period.  It’s not their thing.


Most of them prefer nonfiction.  Self-improvement, news, history…anything with lots of facts and very few adjectives.  They don’t want to have to imagine anything in their heads or keep straight a winding plot line and large cast of characters.


So, duh.  They don’t like reading stuff with weird names, imaginary locations, and bizarre mystical happenings.


And you know what?  I feel the same way about the stuff they read.  Snoozer…  Who gives a diddly?  What a waste of time!  Does that mean the writers of their favorite books are bad?  Of course not!


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It means that you have to get your book to readers who like your genre.  Otherwise, they won’t be able to give you feedback that will improve your work within its style context.  The changes they would make would alter the whole flavor of the writing.  And…as with a recipe…some ingredients are to be added “to taste”.


Your taste.


You have to like the way the final product feels.  Because it has your name on it.


So don’t sweat it if your true crime mystery-reading cousin slashes your romantic comedy.  Don’t get mad if your gardening how-to aficionado friend thinks your historical fiction is too flowery.  Shrug it off when your sci-fi geek of a brother takes a laser to your personal memoir.


Let it go.  


And keep writing!  Those for whom your words mean the most will respond with vigorous approbation.  That’s your target audience, and you will  hit a bulls-eye for them.