Between The Quotes, Grammar Doesn’t Count
I’m a Grammar Nazi. I admit that freely and fully. Bad grammar—and other associated issues like slang, syntax errors, and all the rest—drive me absolutely bonkers.
Ask my kids.
But the simple fact of the matter is that between the quotes—that is to say, in dialog—grammar doesn’t count.
If, for example, your hero is a good-old-boy from the swamps of Alabama, I can assure you he will say something like, “…I ain’t got no good learnin’…” now and then. If he doesn’t, he sucks as a character. And it doesn’t matter if he went to Yale at some time.
Your characters should speak just as a real person with the same background, education, and all the rest would speak in a similar situation.
These are things that all decent writers already know. If you haven’t actually learned this someplace, you just plain know it instinctively. Folks, this ain’t rocket science.
Yeah, I can say that…I grew up in the hillbilly Ozarks and have a degrees in physics and mechanical engineering. I know what rocket science actually is.
The bad news is there are more than a few editors out there who clearly don’t know this. They will red-pen you for using “ain’t” in dialog. They will nail you for dangling participles and other grammatically esoteric rules. And some will still try to enforce the dreaded split infinitive.
So, how do you handle such editors? There are two basic ways…
Method One: Change your story to fit their whims. This is a VERY bad practice. Your character speaks in a certain way for a particular reason. I can assure you that if you make these changes, you will cripple—if not kill—your story and its believability. I strongly encourage you to forgo this solution in favor of Method Two.
Method Two: Correct the editor. There are three phases here…first, point out to the editor that the problem lines (for them) are within dialog and are central to the character’s development. If that fails, tell the editor that this is the way it will be and the discussion is now closed. If this fails, fire the editor or tell the publisher you want an editor who actually understands how this whole process works.
See also Rule Number Eight.
Never—EVER—forget that YOU are the writer. The creative process is totally YOURS. YOU develop the characters and how the reader sees them. Absolutely NONE of the creative process is in the field of the editor.
As Rule Eight states, do not fear the editor. The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you will need to sell your story to another publisher, probably for more money.