A Grumble About Grammar

Posted on 3rd June, 2016

Does the correct use of English matter in a novel? I don't mean in dialogue, where characters might use slang or dialect or have their own turns of phrase. I mean within the narrative.


I recently read an award-winning novel in which the author routinely used, 'She was sat,' and 'He was stood.' Wait, I hear you cry. Was the book written in character viewpoint? Well, yes, it was. But firstly, the viewpoint writing wasn't deep POV in which the narrative is the character's internal monologue; and secondly, even if it had been, an educated, cultured person in the first half of the 20th century wouldn't have used this particular phraseology.


No, all the was sats and was stoods represented the author's personal use of English. Didn't the editor mind? And if s/he did, did the author refuse to change?


And then there's the new book by an author I've been reading for nearly twenty years. Never before has this author used a dangling participle - believe me, I'd have noticed - but the new novel is peppered with them. ('After descending through the clouds, Paris lay beneath her.')


Am I old-fashioned? Or a grammar snob? What do you think? Does the correct use of English matter in novels?


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Comments (6)

Thanks for commenting, Carol. How lovely to hear from you. I'm so looking forward to reading your new novel later this year.
Great blog, Susanna. All the difference between flowing prose and fluttering! I make my worst mistakes when I'm rushing. Panic, the voice whispers! Patience, should be the reply! x
How I agree with you, Jen! The editorial role is an essential part of the process. I'm glad to have you on my side.
If you're old fashioned, Susanna, I'll happily join you! I'm irritated to be pulled out of a story by grammatical errors. Where was the copy editor? Was there a copy editor? A good copy editor is priceless, and it saddens me that their role is often not valued.

Thanks for your comments, Louise. I'm glad I'm not the only one!
The one that annoys me is when a writer gets "me" and "I" the wrong way round. As you say, how does it get past the editor? Interesting post.