Friday, August 24, 2012

Who Even Needs to Know Grammar, Anyway?

Clearly, I have strong feelings about the importance of good grammar, proper punctuation and well-crafted writing. But am I wasting my time, and yours, by blogging about it? In a world where word processing software highlights misspellings, underlines bad grammar and comes with a built-in thesaurus, besides, just where exactly do people like me fit in? Why do you need me, if you've got software that does it all for you?

 Oh, You Need Me

You can't even compose a tweet without getting spelling help nowadays, and every time I screw up during a blog post a helpful red line pops up to guide me. I don't even have to hit backspace and re-type the word; I can just right-click my mouse and magically fix the problem. That's the wonder of technology, and it's easy to grow incredibly complacent (lazy) when it comes to good writing. What's the point of knowing all this grammar garbage when any half-decent software program will do the job on its own? 

Because it can't read, that's why. I know that computers are cool, and iPhones can do darned near anything. I'm a big fan of streaming video and satellite radio and all the awesome extra stuff you can find in MS Word if you start looking (and I do go looking). But no matter how great your system happens to be or how wonderful your software is, it cannot read. It will never read your story and cry, or laugh out loud, or feel shock or surprise. It has no idea what you're writing about, and it never, ever will. Your word processor doesn't even comprehend that you're creating a book, and doesn't care. No computer can ever have the understanding and recognition that a human being has...that you have. 

And that's just the first problem, though honestly that's all you need to know to know that you've got to make good grammar decisions. The second problem is that word processing software is often wrong. It probably won't recognize most of the first and last names you give your characters, it'll flag place names all day long, and there are all kinds of foreign phrases it's going to pretend not to recognize (and we all know it's fluent in at least a gagillion languages). 

Forget about using it to double-check dialogue. If you're breaking your sentences up to make them interesting and actually writing the way people talk, chances are pretty good that you're getting an error line on every other line of your book. I've personally been waylaid by the built-in grammar checker on numerous occasions; once, my laptop even had me questioning my own sanity. It's a computer program that's trying to make sense out of something it cannot possibly understand, and if you rely upon it to write your book you are going to be led astray.

Only you can read your book the way actual reader are going to be reading, and only you know the story you want to tell. It's your job to tell that story in the best way possible, and that means knowing how to correct your own grammar. You wouldn't let someone else choose your book cover or name your protagonist, would you? Would you let someone else choose the price or pick the title for your book? 

Then why would you leave the writing of it in the hands of a machine that has no idea what it's doing?

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  1. Word loves to change my correct grammar into gibberish! It's a good job I know better - it's and its is one of the most common ones, and I'm always right!

    Yep, clearly I have strong feelings too lol

  2. It's easy to get those two mixed up, and Word is often wrong about it. Thanks for weighing in, Annalisa!