The Write Intention: Part 1 (Glorious Grammar)

How many times have we picked up a book and after a few pages in, our eyes darted straight to a grammatical error that made us gasp! For who is the editor who allowed for such a dreadful thing? Or could it be that the author didn’t bother to even consider hiring a proofreader before publishing something with their name on it? Or, could it be that these mistakes were the sacrifices made in the name of “style”?

…I cried out, while the title of this entry contained a typo for the sake of a pun.

Welcome to The Write Intention! A series of essays where I vent my heart out for things that normally people don’t worry about too much, but I thrive at nitpicking because I’ve been doing this for years and I’m tired of seeing the same shenanigans happening over and over again, so here we go!

There are some topics that I avoid speaking about when it comes to media. Namely the scripted ones, which usually consists of some series of drafts (or at least I hope they do), i.e., whatever that ended up as the final product is expected to have been meticulously and repeatedly checked from top to bottom. So, what exactly is my beef in all this? Several things, actually, which includes consistency and continuity, and especially intention.

Firstly, let’s talk about grammar.

Grammar is not only a set of rules. It is a system and it defines the structure of a language. Every language ever used has its own grammar, and there are different schools of thought that go beyond the limitations of language. Take Noam Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, for example: According to him, every human being is wired to understand how language works, which diverges from the behaviourist view of language, i.e. developed later due to the exposure to whatever language(s) that is/are around them.

However, I will not turn this entry into a linguistics class and will come back to its original objective, i.e., discussing about intent in writing.

I use ‘i.e.’ a lot because I’ve been editing academic papers a lot and have probably been hardwired to write like this ad infinitum, which is also a good anecdote to segue into the topic of ‘style’.

Style, namely writing style, is basically how a writer presents the written word. It can be expository (like how I hackneyed the usage of ‘i.e.’ because of my background and experiences), descriptive, persuasive, and narrative writing. Then there’s writing styles in literature, which can be a mix between some of the above styles along with other things. You can observe through a variety of authors that they wrote their stories to evoke different themes and moods from their work. Take, for instance, Ernest Hemingway, who wrote concisely and objectively. This is most likely due to his experiences in the war and that he was a journalist. So we can see why he opted not to use the flowery adjectives and went straight for the kill.

“Oh Jake,” Brett said, “We could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly, pressing Brett against me.
Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” 
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

There are also experimental writers who don’t exclusively rely on words to exude the intended feel. One of my favourite examples is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. As you can see in the picture below, he employed multiple styles of typography to have the readers feel a real sense of space; be it a cluttered congestion of words or a series of nearly empty pages. And although it’s a mess to look at, let alone to read, it’s an effective device in bringing the mysterious and downright horrific 5 and a Half Minute Hallway in the Navidson house to life within the pages of a book.

While the sentences are not grammatically incorrect, the typography here were presented in a very unconventional manner. Perhaps you’ve seen text wrapped around images in magazines and newspaper columns, but not deliberately around empty squares, and definitely not in multiple directions, including mirrored. However, I can give this a pass because that’s what it was intended to be: to make the readers feel uncomfortable, to make us want to scrutinise every inch of this jumbled-up paragraph, and to give a sense of claustrophobia in several parts of the book.

Till next time!

Strunk & White noted in their book that writing style is convey the message of the text, but not to display the writer’s abilities and knowledge. I know it’s kind of a clash between the two, because a writer still needs to show their level of understanding what their characters are like. You can’t write 3 chapters of exposition, highlighting how smart your main character is, only to show her do something that contradicted her nature, i.e., by not being smart or by saying something that is lesser than what is promised. However, I will elaborate more on the topic of character description and consistency in another entry. Till then, happy writing!

Sources

  1. Fromkin, Victoria, et al., (2011). An Introduction to Language (9th ed). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
  2. Strunk Jr., William & White, E. B. (2005). The Elements of Style Illustrated. Penguin Press.

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