My Eternal Struggle With Grammar Continues

Sorry, it has taken so long to write another blog. Life gets busy. The good news is that my second and third book are in the editing/publishing process. Yay! The bad news is that my eternal struggle with grammar continues. When I last wrote about my struggle, I was trying to overcome the perils of the coma and the quotation mark. On the coma, I still haven’t completely figured where they should go. Lots of different opinions in this matter. I understand most the logic behind where to properly place them. The problem is that using them correctly makes my sentences read awkwardly. In that area, I still do my best, but my editor has to make many changes.
With quotation marks, I still follow the same format. Bob said in a deep voice, “Do this.” Often, I read in other books: “Do this.” Said Bob in a deep voice. I find that style confusing as I want to know who is speaking. To me, this reads like the lights are off and somebody starts talking in a monotone voice. When they stop talking, the lights turn on and it is revealed to be the main character. Then your brain puts it all together and you fill in the fact that the main character HAD a deep voice. Somewhere there is a smart reader thinking, “I knew it all along.” While the rest of us are thinking, “Ahh, now that makes sense.”
I have added a new wrinkle to the quotation mark mystery. My characters in one story are telepathic. I decided not to use quotation marks. Bob thought to Jane, <Do this.> There are no formal rules about telepathic thoughts because there is no such thing. For me, this is my style choice and at least to me, I think it reads well. I also think it allows the reader to feel like they are really inside the heads of a telepath. It’s also really cool to set yourself apart when you write.
Another issue is how to deal with exclamation points. One, two or three? I also struggle with italics. I use them to show a book or movie title. I also use them to emphasise a word or show when a character is thinking. Overall, I use these two writing tools like bullets in a six-shooter gun. Pick your targets carefully!!! Wait, that was wrong. Pick your targets carefully!
Overall, I think that my writing has improved. I use contractions more often and I pay more attention to my non-book writing. I also think a lot about what I am reading and I’m now finding a lot more mistakes than I used to. Overall, I can see a huge improvement.
I did fond an unlikely helper in my struggle. The addition module to Microsoft Word, Grammarly. It comes in two parts. The first is a free grammar checker and the second part offers “tips” that strengthen your writing. I was reluctant at first, but I installed it. It is a really slow interface and this presents a major issue. The problem is that while using Grammarly there is a huge delay after you make a change. Grammarly also disables Microsoft Word’s internal spell check. I find that after you make a Grammarly pass that you have to go back over your work with Grammarly again to find out what it missed. Then turn Grammarly off and go over it with the Microsoft Word checkers on. Often these second efforts reveal many misspellings and other issues that cropped up in the first Grammarly pass. What they need is a little icon that indicates, “Hey, I’m off doing my checking. So, go get yourself a cup of coffee while I think. I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”
My first use showed over 1600 issues. It took a week to go through it all. Most of the issues were obvious. However, there were some issues that really improved my sentences. The majority of the issues were words that should be combined with hyphens. The other area of concern were words that were spelled correctly, but they were the wrong word. IE, “It’s two late.” Grammarly also wanted a lot of comas added and words moved around. I think the result was stronger and it saved at least 2 hours of professional editing time. I didn’t pay for the “tips” addition because this was $30 per month and I wanted to see what I was getting before I paid.
Was it worth it? I think so. When you present a stronger document to an editor, you have much more control over the process. The editor acts less like a hardcore worker and more of a manager. This allows the editor to do what they do best and I think it makes for a stronger end result. In that area, I think Grammarly is a really great tool.
I did learn something important. The spell check and grammar check in Microsoft Word are really basic. There is a lot of room for improvement and I think Microsoft is now aware of this. Hopefully, they will make some improvements.
Will Grammarly ever replace editors? Absolutely not. In the future, AI will get much better. The result will be better products like Microsoft Word and Grammarly. However, I feel that AI will only address issues in the mechanics of a document. It will be difficult to use AI to address style, fact check, logic, and flow. For example when a character uses slang or bad English, “Who dat over dere?” Or, “WWII ended on September 2, 1955.” An incorrect date could lead to endless complaints about an otherwise great document.
One of the things I do is repeat a thought. “Bob walked out the door. It felt good to be outside. Bob was now through the door.” I have no idea why I write like that. I probably get all wrapped up with emphasizing an important point and end up writing about it too often. It’s probably the engineer in me. The point is that the sentences are perfectly valid. Microsoft Word and Grammarly would never identify the issue. A good editor would catch issues like that.
I do have an interesting history with grammar programs. Long ago, there was a standalone DOS program that would take a word processing document and check it for grammar. I cannot remember the name. I recall that it was not a popular program and the company went away. After the program ran, it would insert comments like: This is a big, big {missing comma} big problem. You would then look through your document and find the {} marks to make the change. I was not too impressed with the program and I always thought that the program used a random number generator to add comments. However, I diligently used it for several papers.
There was one particular paper I did for my psychology class. This final paper was on the relationship between stress and humor. I did a lot of research, came up with logical arguments and presented my case. My professor pulled me aside one day and warned me that she had “great concerns over my grammar” and I needed to make a special effort for this final paper. I used the program, went over the document several times and had a friend with great grammar skills looked it over. He made many corrections. The result was a C with a comment that the subject matter was fine, but the grammar was dismal. As a final insult, she had scratched out a D grade and wrote a C grade.
As I was writing this blog, I decided to go back and look at the paper. I looked it over and there were some areas that needed improving. I ran it through Grammarly and it did find a few items. The items were not too severe and the mistakes were not outrageous. I needed a few commas and there were a few words that were in the wrong tense. However, in the context of a college student, this paper is not that bad. This confirmed what I thought at the time. My teacher was bat-crap crazy. I passed that class and that was all that mattered. For kicks, I put the paper up on my website.
So where does this leave me? I hope AI improves and I will keep using a professional editor. I think editors will always be needed and they are an important part of the process. The good news is that I am improving. The bad news is that I have a long way to go. “Is it less or fewer?” To me, it will always be less. Still got to work on that.
You’re the best -Bill
April 07, 2018
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