Posted On April 28, 2017 by Print This Post

Splices and splits and filters, oh my! By Claire Davon

Note from Becke: I’m a lifelong grammar geek, but that doesn’t mean I have all the skills. Back in middle school, my parents bought me a small framed image from a vintage English book illustrating the word “Preposition” and its definition. The gift was to commemorate a test I failed, confusing prepositions and participles throughout. My reason for mentioning this embarrassing incident is to underline how much I relate to Claire Davon‘s wonderful post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

The beginning of Star Trek states “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” Or, as a relative used to say “to boldly split infinitives where no one has before.” Every time I heard this I laughed. And I had no idea what it meant.

For years I wouldn’t have been able to define these, or most writing rules. I didn’t know what a split infinitive was, or a comma splice, or a filter word or any number of grammar infractions. I didn’t know if I was following them or breaking them. I would nod my head and look knowledgeable but that was as far as it went. I went to good schools and got a good education but somehow the basics slid out of my brain like cheese on a cracker. Not such a good thing for a would-be writer. My brother would often give me feedback like “it’s a good story, but you have too many comma splices” and I would thank him and go on my way in blissful ignorance of what he was referring to.

That changed when I got a traditional publishing deal. I could no longer shrug and move on; I actually had to know what my editor meant when she said “remove most of the filter words.” That’s when my real education began. Rather than admit I didn’t remember a thing from English class (bad Claire, bad bad!) I turned to the Internet. That old joke from my childhood translates into being the uninflected form of a verb along with to—for example, to walk, to inflect, to split, then creating a split infinitive by placing an adverb between the to and the verb—in the above illustration: to boldly go. Who knew? A comma splice is the use of a comma that joins two independent clauses. Filter words like saw, realized, decided, etc., are basically any word that separates the reader from the action.
Spelling, fortunately, has never been an issue for me. I know the difference between lose and loose; moot and mute. I can correctly use their, they’re and there in a sentence. I did have to learn about the Oxford comma, however, and can add that to the list of “things Claire did not know about proper English.” I thought because I was great at spelling I had a pretty good handle on the rest, even if I couldn’t define them. Turns out that that is mostly correct. Like any human being I’d picked up bad habits along the way. I had to unlearn them. At first I didn’t think I needed to, and thought I had few significant flaws. My editor (rightly) cured me of that conceit with a few clicks of track changes – or rather, more than a few. I didn’t realize how many times I used knew, heard, shrugged, or nodded until I saw them highlighted in my manuscript. It was a sea of yellow. Groan.

The thing about being a writer is you can break the rules. We do not have to have our entire work written in complete, grammatically correct sentences because that’s not how real life is. People don’t say things properly. We all have colloquialisms (“wicked” is one of mine). Sometimes a phrase makes more sense without proper English. That’s part of writing. In my opinion it’s also necessary for us, as writers, to know the rules before we can break them. If not I run the risk of looking like an amateur when faced with questions and/or requested changes from my editor. I’ve learned (or perhaps the better word is retained) more about the mechanics of writing in the last few years through working with my editors. It’s been a tough process sometimes but well worth the pain. I often see people posting that they don’t need to learn the rules because that’s what an editor is for. While true we first have to get that editor interested in our work, and good grammar can help with that.

I still have bad habits, at least in my first drafts. I use comma splices like crazy. Adverbs are my friend. My characters realize, decide, nod, shrug and otherwise do placeholder actions that I know I will fix in my second draft. I’ve come to see that there is a difference between coming across a bit pedantic (as with the joke above) and knowing how to form proper sentences so that I don’t pull a reader out of the story. My aim is to have my prose seamlessly take the reader through the journey instead of having a copy of Strunk and White by their side. Part of the way to do that is not to commit any jarring infractions of grammar.

Now, without further ado, I am off to casually split some infinitives.

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What about you? What are your pet peeves about grammar or spelling? What pulls you out of a story?

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Bio:

Claire Davon has written on and off for most of her life, starting with fan fiction when she was very young. She writes across a wide range of genres, and does not consider any of it off limits.  If a story calls to her, she will write it. She currently lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time writing novels and short stories, as well as doing animal rescue and enjoying the sunshine.

 

Claire’s website is www.clairedavon.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClaireDavonindieauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClaireDavon

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/bibimarlowe/

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5 Responses to “Splices and splits and filters, oh my! By Claire Davon”

  1. Thanks for this much-needed reminder, Claire! I know the first draft doesn’t need to have perfect grammar, but my writing always goes in fits and starts. I obsessively check Strunk & White – those slim volumes are always close at hand.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 28, 2017, 7:35 am
  2. Hi Claire,

    I refer to Strunk & White, CMOS, and a couple grammar websites I’ve bookmarked on my computer when I’m unsure about sentence structure. My peeves when proofreading or reading for pleasure are the repeated use of the same sentence structure. For instance, starting every other sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’. Also more than three successive compound or comma splice sentences drives me nuts and puts me to sleep.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 28, 2017, 4:10 pm
  3. Loved this as I am guilty of knowing the difference and doing it anyway lol well, not really funny at times. Great post

    Posted by Barbara | April 28, 2017, 8:24 pm

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