Appropriate Usage

All throughout school, we are taught to use proper grammar and effective style. We must write and communicate well in order to be taken seriously. A poorly written essay, letter, or advertisement shoots holes in our credibility.

However, fiction writers have a secondary plain on which we operate. Our language must match our story. For example, I was recently reading a fantasy in the Middle Earth vein. The beginning of the book especially drew me in. The world was well-crafted and complete, with its own language and customs. The omniscient narrator had a story-teller feel; I felt as though I were sitting around an ancient fire listening to the recitation of an epic.

As the story moved on, the language became sloppy. I was especially taken out of the story when a character said, “But things can change fast.” In a contemporary novel, this would have been completely appropriate. Coming from a character who always spoke most properly, however, the statement broke the layer of reality the author had so carefully constructed. Things do not change fast, adjective; they change quickly, adverb.
(For those of you who are like me and usually can’t remember the parts of speech to save our lives: an adjective describes a noun; an adverb describes a verb. Change is a verb, thus quickly is the appropriate word choice.)

Alternatively, proper English is not always appropriate for the story. I was reading through my draft, told in close third person from the POV of a teenage boy. The scene is one of intense fear. Flames and battles are raging everywhere and the MC is trying to find his friends to make sure they are safe. I came across this phrase: “In which dorm was she staying?” Okay, how many teenage boys, especially in the face of unknown danger, would say “in which”? I revised: “Which dorm was she staying in?” Proper English can take the reader out of the story as much as improper English can.

Moral of the story: you should use the style of language appropriate for the story you are telling.

Happy Writing!

Croggon, Alison. The Naming. Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Mass. First US Edition, 2005. Page 240.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s