Last week, I was thrilled to receive a message from literary agent Nathan Bransford, of Curtis Brown Ltd., letting me know I was one of 3 winners in his recent blogging contest.
It was a tremendous honour to have my article, Are You a Word Nerd or a Grammar Rebel? aired on Nathan’s website. The post ended up with 130 comments worth of debate over a few finer points of grammar.
There was quite a lively discussion about whether the phrases “white snow” and “cold snow” are redundant, or descriptive. Eventually, it turned into a debate over how many words the Inuit people have to describe snow.
Many commenters felt very strongly about these points, on one side or another.
This made me stop and think about the things writers just can’t seem to agree on. Indeed, even the title of this post (which ends in a preposition) will be controversial to some.
Here are the 3 things I believe divide writers into distinct philosophical camps:
He/she vs. They. To fragment, or not to fragment? Who or Whom?
Show me a writer who doesn’t like to argue over grammar, and I’ll show you one who thinks books are a waste of money.
There’s simply something about it–its strictness in certain areas, and its ambiguity in others–that makes people crazy to jump in one boat the another.
What aspects of grammar get you all riled up?
Outlining vs. Pantsing
Here’s one that’s cut-throat. Truly.
There’s been much heated discussion around the blogosphere regarding which is more effective–planning your stories first, or making them up as you go along.
One must eventually ask oneself this: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous pantsing, or to take arms against a sea of outlines?
To Self-Publish or Not
Ooh, another one that makes people hopping mad.
Is self-publishing really publishing? Is there a magic number of book sales that makes a self-published author successful?
Should publishing houses be allowed to offer self-publishing services to authors of rejected manuscripts?
What Do You Think?
Before I ask you to share your opinions, here are some of my thoughts on these touchy subjects.
I love to talk about grammar, and I love to learn about grammar. I make mistakes all the time, and I’m not too proud to admit it. Some grammar is flexible, some isn’t. My biggest pet peeve is when people forget to capitalize and punctuate–not just one sentence, but entire paragraphs.
I firmly believe in the benefits of outlining, but I’m relaxed on the extent to which one does this. You might plan every scene ahead of time, or just a general plot outline.
In my opinion, self-publishing is good for a few things: it works for those who would simply love to own a copy of their own book, and some non-fiction titles have done well with the right marketing. Do I plan on it? No.
I think it’s wrong to encourage authors to self-publish if they’re rejected. Self-publishing needs to be a personal decision, and an informed one.
Now, your turn.
What do you think?
Join the discussion
Lydia Sharp says
You stated my thoughts almost word-for-word. Regarding the pantser vs plotter debate, author Janice Hardy came up with a more comprehensive list of how we can categorize ourselves as writers. Apparently, I am a Let’s-Build-A-Houser, someone who likes structure, but doesn’t worry about every last detail until writing the story. A happy medium between an all-out plotter and an all-out pantser. 🙂
You can read Janice’s post here:
.-= Read Lydia Sharp´s last article ..Questions From Readers: How Do You Know If/When You Should Give Up On a Story? =-.
Great article, Lydia. Thanks for recommending it! I, too, seem to be a ‘Let’s-Build-A-Houser,’ because I usually do a general plot outline and figure out the structure ahead of time. There’s still a lot I end up making up as I go–as in how to get from plot point to plot point. Thanks!
Bruce H. Johnson says
Lots of us apparently agree to disagree.
For non-fiction, the grammar should be pretty darn good. Fiction dialog is much more relaxed; sometimes “good” grammar is pretty difficult to pronounce.
Pants vs outline? While I tip over to the outline side, each writer will have to make up their own mind. Being a technical writer/programmer by trade for over 30 years, I’ve found that by now I usually don’t have to do a formal outline or design document and rarely have to back up. My understand is that Steven King, for example, is a pantser. With all the published books he’s written, he probably fits his organic chemistry into the accepted novel structure as he goes. We beginning writers can’t really afford that luxury, we’d better get a decent structure in place before we start; otherwise, there’s 10 drafts or so before it’s commercially viable.
Publish or print (self-publish). Hopefully we won’t loose all the traditional hard-copy publishing houses. From what I’m reading on various blogs and publishing sites, the hard-copy vs. Print on Demand/e-book is in a great state of flux. Personally, having my semi-pants 4 novels taking up 5.5″ of POD hard-copy on my bookshelf gives me a wonderful feeling. On my website, I’m offering various electronic versions of them as well as having a link to Lulu.com. I’ve had quite a few takers of the electronic versions and none for the POD. Probably because the POD is rather expensive, especially compared to the electronic price.
This last will shake out. The reader market will set the eventual criteria. Keep up to date on the “conflict” and make your choices.
.-= Read Bruce H. Johnson´s last article ..Tech Writer to Fiction Writer 7: The Plot Thickens =-.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bruce. You make a great point about non-fiction (except perhaps creative non-fiction). Grammar in non-fiction pieces should generally be considered formal.
Jonathan "Blade" Manning says
As far as grammar goes, I think of it more along the lines of art. Sometimes the rules work and sometimes they don’t quite meet your needs. The same obviously holds true for outlining. Some people just make more sense if they remain unplanned.
I will agree that self-publishing is a hot point. Let me ask you another question. How many new titles do you suppose publishing houses actually publish year wide annually? The best estimate that doesn’t include bibles, encyclopedias, or collections of previously published works is around 500,000. There are 6.8 billion people in the world. If only 2% of the world’s top 2% creative thinkers were to write books, thats over 2.7 million. More than five times the ability of the conventional publishing houses to keep up.
.-= Read Jonathan “Blade” Manning´s last article ..Art Journal Aquarius =-.
Thanks for sharing, Jonathan.
I agree with your thoughts on grammar. Sometimes it works, sometimes you need to bend the rules.
Your numbers on self-publishing are thought-provoking, and you’re right–traditional publishing is highly competitive. Writers must choose for themselves whether they plan to beat the staggering odds, or self-publish and try to market it themselves.
TERI REES WANG says
I detest in others the same grammar mishaps that I so relish in myself.
I really do wish I could have my own little grammar fairy sitting on my shoulder.
I blog write completely different from my intended writing but, I see now that it has totally redirected my literary style. I am now my own creative writing mirror twin.
A “friend” has out on the shelves now a great read of his true life altering story.
A big success nation wide, with movie rights to follow.
His first book, was a unsuccessful, self-published, sold locally only, and a unauthentic. I accepted it as his “First wife”, a toes in the water trial effort.
And, I am guessing it did not hurt his artist ego or his writing career.
.-= Read TERI REES WANG´s last article ..Skipping all the way to Serene =-.
A grammar fairy–I’d like to have one of those too! Then I wouldn’t make so many mistakes 😉
I don’t think self-publishing necessarily hurts your writing career, I just don’t plan to do it myself. It’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do, but anything’s possible, I suppose!
Suzann Ledbetter Ellingsworth says
As a multi-published writer and a freelance editor, your blog should be printed and tacked above every writer’s desk. Tattoos on both forearms would be better, but also expensive and would hurt like hell.
I’m with you 100% on grammar. Misused apostrophes and pronoun non-agreement are my bigger peeves.
Snow is cold and white. Save adjectives for descriptions showing readers what they don’t already know.
Outlines are mandatory for a proposal (fiction or non-) to an editor/agent. There’s no reason not to begin with one. Stephen King may not formally outline, but does jot notes as an idea is developing. And none of the rest of us is Stephen King.
Self-publishing is printing, not publishing. That’s fine for those who choose to, but too many believe self-publishers’ pitches and fail to research the veritable impossibility of selling more than a handful of copies.
Vanity press and self-publishing are not synonymous. The former route taken by major, traditional publishers is the objection. For writers to pay for their books’ production, (sans editing, other than cursory attempts) then split all royalties on all sales with that vanity press is tantamount to a scam. For writers’ rejected submissions to be steered to a vanity press division is worse.
Please do distinguish between self-pub and vanity. It’s doubtful the writers’ organizations who have disassociated themselves from publishers with vanity press divisions would have done so, had those publishers chosen the self-publish route.
Writing Sideways is the bomb. You type from experience and smarts. The as-yet-unpublished would be well-served incorporating the topics in their own work, rather than mining for exceptions elsewhere.
Thank you! Your feedback is really heartening–makes me feel like this is all worth the effort.
You make a great point about distinguishing between self-publishing and vanity publishing, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. It’s a subject I should be researching more because it’s now becoming so commonplace.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these 3 topics, as well. Lovely to hear from someone with as much writing and publishing experience as you!
As one of the recent lightning rods for the planner-pantser debate, I feel I should weigh in on that point in your brilliant post. Let me begin by agreeing with you — it is one of the things writers can;t agree oon — and I agree with Bruce, and wholeheartedly. Also, Stephen King’s name keeps popping up in this discussion, he’s become the pantser poster boy. But it’s really very misleading, and anyone who uses King to support the pantsing process is really playing unfairly.
Why? Because King does the outlining in his head, AS HE WRITES his stories. Don’t think for a moment that he doesn’t have a solid plan in his brain before he begins writing. If you can do that — or worse, if in your effort to be like Steve you start a story with no clue where to take it — or if you understand the principles of story structure as well as he does, and you’re a freaking genius prodigy like he is, then sure, “pantsing” works. Just outline as you go.
But that’s not pantsing at all. Believe me, King isn’t experimenting with ideas, going down blind alleys, starting over and over again — which is precisely what pretty much all other pantsers sign up for. His advice in his book, “On Writing” — in effect, to just sit down and start writing, see what happens — is perhaps the most irresponsible and naive piece of writing mentoring to ever hit print.
He should stick to writing books and leave the writing instruction side of things to others.
That oughtta keep the debate heated up, ya think?
.-= Read Larry´s last article ..What We Can Learn from Episodic Television =-.
Thanks for your thoughts. I kind of thought you might pop up to comment 😉 I haven’t written about story structure at all, because you certainly have the best content on the web in that regard. No doubt, I’d just make a hash of it if I tried!
And yes, I think the debate will continue, indefinitely. Thanks again!
Now I know what “pantsing” means. I didn’t know before. Should I admit that? lol
It’s a good thing to know– although I can imagine it sounds a bit funny if you don’t know what it means 😉