Not Just a Grammar Nazi

“…I lay in his sleeping arms…” I wonder how many people would stop reading a book when they came across this phrase. It’s from a book that received an enthusiastic review and that sounded very much like something worth reading. I looked up the sample, started reading, and by the fourth or fifth page, I couldn’t go on. Which isn’t the same thing as saying the book isn’t worth reading — for someone else. 

If that phrase had been the first thing that made me stumble, I would have continued, but there had already been several stumbles, not quite bad enough to take me completely out of the story, but enough to distract. They were little things that most readers probably wouldn’t notice, like “…in search of a life I had only heard in rumours.”

Sometimes I think I’m much too fussy about the quality of writing. I probably reject a lot of enjoyable and worthwhile books for reasons that most contemporary readers wouldn’t even understand. I can ignore punctuation errors if they’re not too frequent or too conspicuous. After all, my own use of commas is somewhat shaky. I can overlook an occasional misspelling or clumsy sentence construction, even a poor vocabulary choice, as long as it doesn’t make me laugh or groan.

I like graceful writing. It can be plain or ornate, but every sentence has to read in a way that doesn’t cause me to trip and fling my arms around to regain my balance. Anything less is like that label on the back of your shirt that has you reaching for it over and over because it doesn’t lay flat or it scratches your skin. A little nitpicky thing that’s unimportant in itself, but repeated over and over drives you crazy. Or, in a book, little nitpicky things that pop up everywhere. I try not to be a grammar nazi, but I’m very much a style nazi.

6 thoughts on “Not Just a Grammar Nazi

  1. Thanks, Cynthia. That’s the kind of post that expect to earn calls of “Snob!” I didn’t want it to be a rant, though I was in the mood for one.

  2. You know me. I’m a big picture reader. I’m reading a book now, a best seller, and I ‘ve found errors in it. Not many, but they’re there. Most of the general public, even if they notice small mistakes, will overlook them in favor of a good story.

    My pet peeve: Talking Heads. Ugh! That’s what makes me pitch a book toward the O file.

  3. The biggest problem with talking heads is that a lot of writers don’t know how to keep the reader from getting confused about who’s talking. I admit that I do a bit too much talking heads, but I’m learning to break it up. I think of talking heads as the exact opposite of too much exposition. Either one can ruin a book.

  4. I agree that style is important. I’ve come across some highly recommended books that other readers I respect have liked and I didn’t just because of style and not just grammar.

    The other day though, a friend mentioned how semi-colons pull her out of a story every time. Personally, I thought that was a strange detail to make a person stop reading, but we all have limits.

  5. Semi-colons? Wow. Of course, it’s possible to overdo them, and that can be distracting. Used wrongly, they wind up being fancier comma splices.

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