I’ve thought this. I’ve seen writers think this. Grammar doesn’t matter. It’s the soul of our writing that matters. It’s what we’re expressing and telling the world that matters. If I cannot spell, or if I cannot put a comma in the right place, that does not matter. I was wrong. If you’re reading this, thinking, “Yeah, man, you got it,” you’re wrong. Grammar matters.
Before you huff off, let me explain the epiphany I had long ago as to why it matters, along with how it matters. Without grammar, correct spelling, and concise communication, people can’t see our souls. It’s like being told in front of you is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen, but there is a dirty window between the two of you. That beautiful woman is your idea. It is fantastic, with curves in all the right places, a perfect smile, soft skin, and emerald green eyes. Blond hair cascades down her shoulders like threads of gold. You think about her every night before bed. The reader just sees a blur behind a really dirty window.
That dirty window is your grammar. It is your way of communication. If you cannot communicate in a clear way, it doesn’t matter if Kate Upton’s on the other side of the window because your readers can’t see anything. With poor grammar, it’s difficult to read sentences. Individuals have to go back and reread quotes to make sure who said it. Sentences, maybe even paragraphs, are skimmed over because they just get in the way. Kate Upton is in your head, but your reader is left guessing as to if the person on the other side is even human. It could be a fish-man with a blond wig.
While writing Kelst and Ayne, one of the most reassuring comments I received was “It is an easy read.” Now at first I was offended, figuring I had conjured something for elementary school kids, but my friend explained what she meant further. She rarely had to reread. She understood what was happening and the communication was clear. Without clear grammar, word usage, and other mechanics, your book will be as painful to read as Moby Dick.
Grammar and spelling doesn’t need to be perfect. I know, you’re all up in arms now. I just said you need grammar, and now I’m saying it doesn’t have to be perfect. Let me explain before you pull out the stake, kindle, and torch. While taking a creative nonfiction class, we read a piece with inconsistent grammar. I honestly can’t remember which rule was being broken then adhered to, but it was there. The entire class was bothered by it, so the question was, what could be done? No one could agree on which way was truly right. Checking the Harbrace Handbook, the rule changed depending on what year you purchased your edition.
The class finally came to a consensus: if you plan on breaking a rule, stick to it. Break it each and every time (or in this case, use the outdated Harbrace Handbook every time). I will very rarely write whom. If I do, you’re reading an experimental piece, and each and every time I write whom, I’m trying to improve my handle on the English language. I know I can’t consistently use whom right each and every time and it is more distracting to use it incorrectly or inconsistently, than it is to not use it at all. I’ve read a story where whom was used maybe three times. Each time it was used, the writer might as well jumped out of the book and smacked me in the face with a giant salmon.
The short of it is, grammar matters for the sake of clarity. If we can’t read what you wrote, we can’t see your beautiful work for what it is. If you do plan on breaking a grammar rule, make sure to make it a rule for you so you maintain a standard readers can follow, instead of switching the rules and pulling the reader out of the fiction.