Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Conversational Writing Vs. Writing that is Grammatically Correct

 I recently tackled a manuscript that was going to be relaunched by my publisher with a spiffy new cover. I was granted the opportunity to make any necessary changes or updates to it.


As far as changes were concerned, the only ones I needed to make were to typos that had slipped past review when this book was originally published. But with updates? I had plenty. It’s been nearly a decade since this book came out and I have absolutely experienced much as a writer since then – including enduring a long dry period!


But what I noticed about my writing style nowadays compared to back then is that, while I want my writing to be conversational, I don’t want it to be riddled with “street lingo.” In other words, I wanted my writing to mostly stick to the rules of grammar.


One notoriously large grammar mistake I make is adding a period after each word in a sentence to note emphasis. An example: “You. Are. A. Writer.” Yes, that is actually in the book. And anyone who sees that would recognize it as a way of emphasizing each word. This kind of writing has actually gained so much acceptance in the media that it has been used quite a lot, without an editor slashing it from existence.


But just because something may seemingly be accepted in the writing world and it has been used a lot of times, that doesn’t make it okay. I bet there are readers out there who cringe when they see those kinds of sentences.


And the last thing I want my writing to do is cause anyone to cringe!


Even I cringe when I think of that sentence. So why keep it? Because I want my writing to be conversational. I WANT that emphasis to be there, in that sentence, because I was talking about getting through a dry period.


Sometimes, italics doesn’t cut it.


And sometimes, PUTTING ALL THE WORDS INTO ALL CAPS doesn’t cut it, either.


Sometimes, you just need that full stop right after each word in a sentence to get that emphasis across. To hammer home the point you are trying to make.


In the end, I left it in the revision notes and decided to let my editor have the final say on whether or not to keep it. My editor knows Conversational English well. She is also a publisher. She knows whether or not that style is okay in a book, for that particular audience, or if it should be rewritten.


But when it comes to a writer who is writing without editorial input on their final draft, I think it is a good idea to stick to conversational English that is still true to as many rules of grammar as possible. Follow the rules, but don’t allow your writing to be so dull that you lose people after the first few sentences. 

Part of keeping a reader interested is writing in language they understand, using the same words they would use, but ignoring the rules of grammar often, even intentionally, can show that perhaps the writer doesn’t have a strong grasp on how to write correctly. You don’t want your readers thinking you failed English Grammar 101. So stick to the rules, but do so in a way that is still conversational. 

Some grammar rules have to be broken for the sake of keeping the writing style in a conversational tone. You may notice I have a ton of fragments in this post. While fragments are often frowned upon by grammarians, they are in common usage when people talk with each other. That’s one rule that I feel is okay for us writers to break, but it’s a good idea to not break too many of them.

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