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Grammar – Again

Another debate on grammar is raging on the Screenwriters’ Bulletin of Shooting People. It’s funny, but it seems nothing like the machinations of the English Language get us writers talking more: there have been so many interesting, controversial and bizarre questions regarding actual screenwriting posed on that list, yet the average poster is lucky if they get two replies… Unless they post about grammar. Then the floodgates open: insults, accusations and assertions fly with abandon. It’s extraordinary.

Regular Readers know that I’m a bit of a Grammarian. I think when you send your work out it should be the best it can be – and that includes proofing for such things as mixed tense, apostrophe misuse, blah-blah-blah. However, am I hung up on grammar? Absolutely not. I’m very glad the average writer does not know that much about grammar; I’d be out of a job if they did (I imagine approximately 80% of my reports reccommends grammar and spelling checks!) but also, get too hung up on grammar and creativity can be affected, as Adrian Mead’s very personal story about his friend’s son and the football story illustrated on the list last week. For those of you who missed it, Adrian described a friend’s child whom he persuaded to write a story about football, only for the child’s mother to deflate his effort when, instead of praising his effort (this was a child who never usually wrote creatively), told him immediately, “You don’t spell this word like that…” Argh.

Early drafts are always littered with spelling mistakes, grammar errors and bizarre typos. Mine are. Lianne, Scott The Reader, Danny Stack and Fun Joel have all seen them too, as I’ve sent my work to them for coverage (and very good they are too, check ’em out). Should I be embarrassed, then? I don’t think so. A good Reader knows, when accepting a private client, that that work will have errors. That’s the whole point of them sending it to you. They want a “trial run” if you like before they send it off to The People Who Can Get The Work Made. Us Private Readers can’t get your work made. We can only help you. Which we will, without judgement.

So is grammar important? Of course it is, but in context. It’s important on your script when you send it to an industry bigwig. Is it important on a list for Screenwriters? Now, we can make all kinds of assertions, like Writers who can’t use grammar properly AT EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAY are not REAL WRITERS, etc etc but does it really matter? And who is correct every second of the day? This blog is littered full of mistakes I’d imagine, maybe even this post, but I expect to see what it’s my head, not always what actually turns up on the page. Because of this, I get my scripts read first before I send them out – but it’s just not viable to get my blog posts checked too! ; )

Anyway, there’s my two pence worth. I’ve discovered how to make web polls (I know! I’m getting into this internet-lark – at last!), so you can leave your thoughts by clicking my sexy new grammar poll or kicking my ass in the comments section.

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7 thoughts on “Grammar – Again”

  1. Oh GROAN! Not this debate again! I haven’t re-subscribed to Shooting People yet this year so I haven’t had the pleasure of following the discussion. But your post has reminded me of your handy little grammar guides from the old blog – time to move them over here perhaps? Also, I find Grammar Girl’s podcast really useful.

    For what it’s worth, my vote was ‘it is important but the odd typo or mistake is okay’. In many of the script reports I do, the guidelines suggest the readers shouldn’t be picky about spelling and grammar unless it’s so bad I have trouble understanding the script. Which does happen!

  2. That’s a good point Lianne, will move them over. Getting rid of AOL altogether when I move so presumably the old blog will disappear, so any other requests for old articles, send em in!

  3. I just did a major boo-boo. Sent something out and there was a format error. My bad. I copied from one software program to another (per their request) and somehow I missed one section of description that ended up as dialogue for a character…

  4. Omigod MQ, clearly you’re never going to work in this town again… Which town do you work in again? Just need to put on MY LIST! > : )

    I voted “Writers with bad grammar should be done by Trading Standards”! But then I don’t write scripts, just torture the writers…

  5. I encourage you to read some screenplays, like those that are readily available of Basic Instinct and The Departed. You’ll find grammar mistakes. And that’s not just the first draft.

    I’m sure you’ll find the same grammar “problems” in other scripts, I just haven’t noticed them elsewhere (maybe because I was more caught up in the scripts? maybe because I don’t notice the kinds of mistakes I make?)

    If you get a hold of unaltered Shakespeare, like in an academic institution, you’ll find spelling irregularities.

    But it’s not just dramatic writers. Editors exist partially because most manuscripts are submitted with errors. This is especially true for non-fiction, and anyone who’s been anywhere near publishing (or the IT industry) should know this.

  6. Thanks for the encouragement though I read a lot of screenplays. Being a script reader ; )

    I’m aware of “big” scripts such as BASIC INSTINCT having spelling errors: however, as I’ve discussed on this blog, spec writers don’t have the kind of liberty afforded to such chaps as Esterhas, which is why I think it’s wise to try and cover one’s bases like grammar in having the best possible chance of getting an option or getting noticed. Also, even though such scripts are as you say, “readily available” on the ‘net, it’s worth remembering that we don’t always know whose mistake we’re actually reading: the writer’s? Or the transcriber’s? We can only be 100% certain if it’s hot off that famous writer’s actual printer and straight into our hot little hands.

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