Grammar: One Novel at a Time

At some point in my life, I’m sure I was taught grammar. It seems like it would be one of those things teachers are required to impart as you are funneled through the scholastic system. To be honest, other than gerunds in sixth grade, I don’t remember any of it. I’m not even sure what a gerund is, but that’s because we killed him off.

What I know of grammar, I learned from reading, so if I do it well, it’s because the authors I read had a firm grasp on it–or a really good editor. It’s why I like to believe that I can write with—fairly—decent grammar, but couldn’t begin to tell you what part of speech a word is. Other than the obvious ones like verbs and nouns. Over time, I learned to trust my natural instinct when it comes to sentence structure. So long as I don’t overthink something or make a typo, I’m likely to get it right on the first try. I’m pretty good at pointing out when something is wrong, but I’d never be able to tell you why. It just is.

My novels were my grammar handbooks. They were my dictionaries. They were my writing textbooks. To this day I’m sure I pronounce all sorts of words wrong, because I sounded them out in my head when I came across them and nobody ever bothered to correct me. It would likely be a problem if somebody did, because that would mean somebody was in my head listening to what I had to say, and it’s a bit of a scary place in there. I have a tendency to understand the meaning of a word, but wouldn’t know where to begin actually defining it. I’d probably tell someone to go look it up in the dictionary.

Through reading I learned to recognize when stories worked—and more importantly, when they didn’t. I began to realize how stories were put together, that “rising action” and “denouement” weren’t just words Lit teachers bandied about to torture their students. My passion for reading meant I went through hundreds of books, frequently rereading them until they fell to pieces in my hands. The best books were always the ones that I could gain some new understanding of on each reading, either that or the books that I couldn’t see the plot twists coming from the end of the second chapter.

In my opinion, the number one failing of YA fantasy is how predictable it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s my genre of choice for both reading and writing, but it’s annoying how formulaic it can feel. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many books that I’m able to pick up on the subtle, or not-so-subtle, hints that are dropped. I hate when I can predict early on in a book what is going to happen simply based on what happened in other books. I don’t want anybody to roll their eyes at my books the way I do when I find out that the love interest is actually, possibly, maybe the heroine’s brother. So when I write my own books, I try to figure out what the reader is going to assume will happen. Then I try and do the opposite.

Grammar. Story construction. Don’t be predictable. That’s what I’ve taken from all the books I’ve read.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go learn some more lessons.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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