My Name is Aravan. I Use Bad Grammar.
Posted by Alan Edwards
I am a writer, and I have sinned. I have committed grievous and continuous offenses to all forms of correct English grammar, and I approach the altar as a supplicant, begging forgiveness. I have let my participles dangle obscenely. I use Inappropriate Capitalization. Fragments. Sentences have been written passively. I have even succumbed to the strange thrill of writing increasingly complex and hard-to-understand run-on sentences because I love the strange but unmistakable air of someone who’s really trying to hard to say something all in one breath so that it seems like the sentence itself is generating its own sense of manic energy and continues on long after it shouldn’t and would make Ernest Hemingway roll over in his grave if he could manage it. So I bow before thee, gods of the grammatically correct, and beg your forgiveness. I have done well with the basic essentials of grammar, I swear, like correct punctuation and sentence structure and things like that, and my spelling tends to be good, so there’s still hope, isn’t there? I present myself to you humbly and beg and plead for leniency and I promise that I’ll never –
You know what? Fuck that.
I get the rules of grammar. I do. I understand that the rules are there for uniformity of language, so that words aren’t just randomly sprayed across the page like buckshot. It’s all well and good. But I have to admit that I have a problem with the overstiff formality of several of the grammatical rules, specifically the ones I’ve listed above. The main problem with these rules is one thing, that one major problem that makes the rules so darn hard to keep intact and pretty and perfect like a 10-year-old in their Sunday best.
It’s people. People are the problem.
Listen to people talk to one another in real life. The grammar is terrible. Fragments, run-ons, unclear subject-adjective-verb relationships. And yet, somehow, we are able to speak to one another and make each other understood without having to sound like we are pretending like we live in Victorian England. I’ll willing to wager quite a lot that the only people who spoke that way in the Victorian Era are the people in novels written about the Victorian Era. This disconnect with how people speak in real life and dialogue on the written page is part of the reason (Standard Disclaimer: in my opinion, of course) why dialogue can be so hard to write and read. The writer tries to make it grammatically correct; the reader tries to imagine the conversation playing out. It doesn’t always come out too well.
The people problem causes a ripple effect. English isn’t a dead language like Latin. Living people still speak it conversationally, and that means that new ways of speaking become accepted. Slang words become mainstream. All manner of shenanigans follow. “Who’s that guy I saw you with?” is a normal thing to hear. It’s grammatically incorrect. It also makes perfect fucking sense. I understand the question. You understand the question. The only people who would correct it are the types of people who deserve to get punched in the face for correcting grammar in others’ speech (unless it’s your kids, then you get a pass. Everyone else just needs to be left alone). Especially if you bust out a Whom. If you are the kind of person who regularly uses Whom, then, well… you are unlikely to enjoy my writing.
Why? Because I like to break the rules. Not because I’m some Grammarian James Dean, smirking and leaning against a library bookshelf. It’s because I can use incorrect grammar to make a point, like I did up top with that run-on sentence. I like using them occasionally, to convey a sense of a lot of things happening in a very short span of time. I use them when the character’s perspective lends itself to using them – if I’m writing from the eyes of a manic who just finished eight shots of espresso, I need that sense of breathless thought to come across the page. Deliberate, planned, coherent sentences don’t lend themselves to me trying to show this viewpoint to the world.
Same thing with fragments and Incorrect Capitalization and all that. I do it on purpose, because that’s my style. It becomes much more pronounced in first-person stories like “Blamers” since they are, to me, extended dialogues. I use them a lot less in fixed perspective stories like Curse, and still less in narratives like “The Space.” For better or worse, it’s how I communicate with the world, and I can’t do it any other way, because when I try it feels less genuine, less like me.
So I’m going to keep doing it. I’m an Unrepentant Despiser of Whom. I apologize in advance to those I offend with my flouting of the rules. But I assure you: I do know those rules. I just don’t always choose to follow them. My voice is far from perfect, but it’s Mine, and it’s the only one I know how to use.