Proper Grammar vs. Individual Voice: When, Where, Why

in Writing

Growing up, you were more than likely told by teachers, parents, and the like that if you wanted to be taken seriously, you must, must, must utilise proper grammar. And grammar is all a bit boring, isn’t it?

But at the same time, it seems that grammar is indeed essential, to a degree. It is as important to demonstrate you know how to formulate a sentence as it is to develop a narrative. However, that is not to say there is no room for experimentation. The art of writing is not as rigid as it once was.

Proper Grammar

One of the weird things about language learning is that you pick up all of the technical stuff along the way without even realising it. No doubt, at school, you will have learned past, present and future tense, you will have learned pronouns and adjectives and everything in between. But you don’t necessarily classify this as learning grammar until years later.

Proper grammar is seen by many as a measure of your aptitude for the language. It is seen as so important, that those wanting to ‘speak like a native’ employ services such as Effortless English to achieve this. In writing, demonstrating a comprehensive knowledge of the mechanics of the English language allows your reader to trust you, but good, or even exceptional, grammar can only get you so far.

The way you approach writing with proper grammar in your stories is all down to the type of story you are telling. Historical fiction would require the grammar of the time, while a dystopian novel, such as A Clockwork Orange allows the reader to play around with grammar in a way that reflects the world you are aiming to represent. However, you choose to approach it, the key thing to consider is consistency.

Individual Voice

But the problem with being a slave to the grammatic is that there is too much emphasis on ensuring proper and correct grammar can quickly lead to your work sounding just like everyone else’s. A stuffy, industrialised imitation of every other writer that came before you.

Looking at author’s such as David Foster Wallace, notorious for run-on sentences that changed the subject every thirty words and often ran for pages and pages, or even Cormac McCarthy, who did away with quotation and speech marks altogether. These writers both understood grammar and its importance for coherence, yet pick and chose stylistically to further impact their writing on the reader.

What many people who want to write often fail to understand is that the idea is just the stage on which the story is told. The quality is in how the story is told, not necessarily what story is being told.

Maintaining this individuality is what will make your work differentiate from every person who’s spent their life knowing that they have a book in them.

What it boils down to is the kind of voice you want to have in your work. Proper grammar is important to maintain a sense that you haven’t just closed your eyes and smashed your hands on the keyboard for 50,000 words. But doing this creates a risk that your voice will be hindered by adhering so conservatively to arbitrary rules that are more in line with academic writing than creative writing. And that’s  the whole point of creative writing, to be creative.

Like this article? Share with your friends!

We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links. Learn more.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments