What Makes Great Authors? They Don’t Write Term Papers

A little bit of a writing tip post today, simply because so many of us out there think we need to use perfect grammar. I recently nuked a copy of The Skyehawk Chronicles and am re-reading the document to find places where I need to reinsert italics since I wiped the entire document clean in an effort to create a better .mobi file. I was pleased to see the work kind of follows the way of the great authors. In other words, I didn’t make The Skyehawk Chronicles sound like a term paper.

Needless to say I’ve found zero typos and plot holes thus far; not bad for a self-published reader magnet that was never professionally edited; just my eyes and what the Jerry Jenkins Writers’ Guild taught me last year.

But I did find some spots in my narration which I describe as “loose writing,” and one sentence that went like this: Seneca climbed to her feet, which took about thirty seconds, but succeeded.

Obviously, ‘but succeeded’ could’ve and probably should’ve been omitted, but at the same time, most readers might overlook this.

Even if Jerry Jenkins himself would’ve grilled me.

Now, if you have glaring grammar errors and typos, you might be on a shorter leash. But if there are some loose ends here or there, most readers shouldn’t mind. In fact, it’ll make the work sound authentic.

Why is that?

Read on and you’ll discover.

 

Be Authentic

So, if you write books as if you’d write a college term paper, I can tell you right now you’re going to lose a reader’s attention unless you’re writing something sophisticated in the non-fiction genre. For fiction writers, you want the characters to be believable, and that means a screwup or two (not glaring, obviously) in either narration or especially dialogue can work in your favor.

It adds in authenticity.

Why?

Just listen to people talk around you.

Do any of them sound perfect?

Of course not, so why are we giving our characters a uniformed voice?

Are they real people or robots?

Exactly.

So, a tiny error in grammar or tense when in deep POV or dialogue will actually work in your favor. Again, we’re not trying to misspell anything or give a glaring weakness unless the character calls for it, but hardly a soul on this Earth speaks proper grammar.

Now, if you have a character of high IQ, then of course you DO have to go to the grammatical extremes, but again, it’s all on the characters’ voices.

Here are a few examples of my own:

1. I have one character in Raven’s Flock who constantly says ‘is’ where ‘are’ should be and likes to use double-negatives.

2. Cain, my main character in Books I-III tends to swear and also likes to say ‘I could care less.’

3. A supporting character in Raven’s Flock never uses contractions and speaks in a passive manner.

The list goes on, but you get the point.

 

Narration

Using some grammar miscues in narration might work to your benefit. For instance, if you’re writing deep first-person POV, miscues further adds to authenticity.

The same can even go via third-person POV.

So, even outside dialogue miscues work to your favor and good readers will pick up on these immediately.

I’m not saying a misspelled word is going to do favors. For instance, when I proofread Northern Knights, I had a line that stated ‘Cain picked up a third create.’

Clearly, the line makes zero sense and needs to be changed.

‘Cain picked up a third crate’ is what I meant to say, and you can bet the second I came across the sentence a few months back I hurried into KDP and made the correction. Thankfully, this came before I started really pushing the book via promos and building a subscription list.

So, a few grammar miscues are good, but typos are a huge no-no, so remember that golden rule.

 

Voice

Each character should also have their own unique voice. Try to make the voices so unique that you don’t have to constantly use dialogue tags. The readers should know who’s speaking without tags.

They can tell when Cain’s talking in Northern Knights due to his speech pattern, his use of swear words and (at times) inappropriate jokes. Yes, my protagonist has the persona of an anti-hero; he’s not the most likable guy, but on page one I give the readers a reason to root for him.

I have one supporting character in the work named Ferguson, who’s really just comic relief for the reader. Ferguson stutters and makes strange bodily movements while speaking at a lightning pace.

Clyde Flanders, another supporting character, tends to speak slow and will mix his words up.

Being in Cain’s POV throughout the work, it’s not uncommon for me to use swear words in my narration or use lingo that one might find in the Pittsburgh region, since Cain’s native region is based on that Greater Pittsburgh Area. In fact, an early draft of the work included the word ‘jagoff,’ which is specific to Pittsburgh, so if you find my narration using words like jagger bush (thorn bush), spicket (spigot), crick (Creek), pop (soda, soft drink, cola, cokes), sammich (sandwich) or the most notable term, yinz (you guys) that’s basically the native colloquial language of Cain’s region, and therefore SHOULD be included in narration.

Again, the more voice is used, the more authenticity one can bring to the table and good readers understand this.

 

Conclusion

So, don’t be afraid to overlook some small speech errors or even minor grammar errors in your narration unless you happen to be writing for a formal audience or if your character speaks in a one-hundred-percent grammatically correct manner.

These days, writers need to add believability in fiction as we continually compete with TV, radio (those fossils still exist), smartphones, iPads, and other devices. Luckily, we have audiobooks these days and can always download works to our own devices, so reading will never die in the same manner that certain types of music will always live on—and I’m from Steubenville, Ohio, so I can attest to you from experience old music always lives (Dean Martin, anyone?).

12 comments

  1. Hello Todd, you are very correct on this post here. Some people are very quick to crucify others for the very little blunders made when they write. I as a writer have always had my own share of this especially because I have worked as a freelancer and if you know what it feels like to write for real writers, you can tell that one is always under fire. Your tips are really great. I can take them because you too are obviously a good writer. I enjoyed reading this one. Thank you.

    1. Yes, writing for writers would be a crucible, that’s for sure. I know a lot of them will take the liberty of editing your work, however, so submitting a good article that’s as error-free as you can judge it is usually all it takes before the editor takes over. When I first released my works, I had to self-edit because a real editor was out of the question, but it just took several rounds of editing, more than the average editor, to get my work up to par. It’s very time-consuming, but it will keep a manuscript clean. 

  2. Hello Todd
    The truth in my case I would like to be a good writer. In my case I really like to write life stories. I think that the message one wants to give must be well understood by our audience. 

    We will have errors that the reader will ignore as long as the reading is interesting and why not exciting. 

    Thank you!

    1. I like that final point, Claudio. Yes, even your bestselling work will have its errors but if the reader is absorbed in the story, they’ll most likely overlook these if they even notice them at all. 

  3. Hi,

    Excellent tips on how to use grammar (or not use it) correctly. It is something I have pondered in the past as I want my characters to be believable and easily identifiable by the way they speak.

    You are absolutely right about trying to get an edge when it comes to keeping a reader hooked as there are too many people who now watch TV instead of picking up a book! I know audiobooks is very popular these days and it is a market that is going to grow even further but hopefully we can make a difference with the written word.

    Tony

    1. Hi, Tony, many times we make the mistake of writing in a uniformed manner because it’s what we learn in school; but the difference is we’re rarely asked to write fiction, even if we read a lot of it. Big difference between reading it and writing it. Audiobooks have become extremely popular and it’s something I’m looking to do with my own series. 

  4. Interesting article. I do agree that characters should have their own voice so the reader doesn’t constantly see the name line after line.Good characters seem to take on a life of their own.

    Books that are too wooden, term paper type, quickly lose my interest I have to admit. Having always been an avid reader I like a book that grabs my attention in the first few pages and then keeps it. I think the sign of a really good book is when you can’t put it down and just have to read just one more page.

    The authors own voice and style should come through the writing because then you get to recognise the writing style and enjoy it more. I don’t think readers notice small mistakes, the brain automatically corrects them anyway. 

    Glaring mistakes aren’t good as they break the focus, too many and it’s off putting.

    Thank you, I enjoyed this as it really made me think about reading in a different way.

    1. Hi, Linda. Jerry Jenkins is one of the authors I’ve come across stating the perfect book would have zero dialogue tags. This would be tough, and very few authors have accomplished this feat (some great ones don’t even need to use quotation marks), and Jenkins did this with one of his works. I was proud to have accomplished this in Part I of The Skyehawk Chronicles, but was unable to hold for Parts II-V.

  5. It actually took your explanation for me to see why ‘but succeeded’ could have been omitted. I was actually okay with that sentence. I know when I began writing I was too keen on using  the perfect English. This was too hectic and it was almost too painful to write. When I started writing in my natural voice, words have been flowing effortlessly and I even enjoy reading my own piece. I love the idea of using a character’s unique voice. I already see myself getting down with some creative, non-perfect writing. Great post!

    1. Hi, Carol, I think a lot of readers would be okay with ‘but succeeded,’ but for me being formally trained as a minimalist, it sent a shockwave through my body when I read over it. I also have a bad habit of inserting comma-splices whereas shorter sentences can be used. But again, it’s all about voice, so when I go back and edit, unless it’s a huge grammar thing, I’ll stick to my unique voice as well as my characters. And yes, if you can go back and enjoy reading your own writing, you know you’re on the right track for something big. 

  6. Hi Todd, I’m so glad I came across your article because I thoroughly enjoyed it. You’re right, nobody wants to read a novel written like a term paper; that’s just about as boring as studying, especially a school subject you aren’t even remotely interested in. I also agree that typos are a definite ‘no no’. I am not an author (I often wish that I had the talent to write because I love, love, LOVE to read), but I do know what a turn-off it is for me to come across a typo in a good book that I’m reading, especially by a well-known author. 

    Thank you also for your your other great writing tips. Do you have a sample of your books that we might read? 

    I also had to laugh at the end of your article about Cain’s native region being based on the Greater Pittsburgh Area. I was born and raised in Weirton, West Virginia, just across the Ohio River from Steubenville. (“Hey Yinz Guys!!!!”)

    Now I live in Cayce, South Carolina. (“Hey Y’all!”)

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise and in such an interesting and readable way!

    Sue

    1. Hi, Sue, I do have samples available over at Amazon on the ‘Look Inside’ feature. Here’s the series page: https://www.amazon.com/gp/prod… be warned, though, it’s not the most Steeler-friendly work haha! It’s cool you were born in Weirton, that’s actually where I live these days, but am making plans to move to Northeast, Ohio to seek yet another endeavor I’m passionate about. 

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