Ask an editor: Voice or Grammar?


This week on Twitter, I put out a call on my personal Twitter account and asked people if they had a burning question for an editor, because I needed blog topics for my personal blog. The response was so enthusiastic, that I decided to use a few of the topics for the Carina blog as well, so I could get to more of them faster. If you want to see what I’ve covered so far, you can visit here for those posts.  On Monday, Jenny is going to be covering one on the production side of things, but today I tackle an editorial question. @stacey_kennedy asked: What is more important the voice or the grammar?

I’m sure there are other editors out there with different opinions, but I believe, at least initially, the grammar is most important? Why? Because without good grammar, your voice is going to appear unpolished and more…remedial. Quite often, one of my initial issues with a manuscript, after it not starting in the right place, is poor writing. Poor writing that comes not from the inability to plot or tell a story, but comes from poorly constructed sentences, extreme misspellings, dialogue that doesn’t fit with the stature/background/vocation of the character, and heinous abuse of punctuation. These are things that actually both add to voice in a negative way, as well as detract from the voice, and thus, the story.

Now, it needs to be said that when I refer to grammar, I mean a good basic grasp of grammar and how to polish your own grammar quirks out of your writing so you have your character’s voice, instead of yours. I’m not suggesting that you feel you need to be a grammar expert, or have a manuscript so polished, you barely seem to need a copy editor. I’m just talking an attention to crafting sentences, narrative and dialogue.

Is voice important? Heck yeah! Voice is that undefinable *thing* that makes editors keep reading, that makes readers pick up the book, that makes the word of mouth grow and gathers fans by the droves. Voice is incredibly important. It’s why authors like JR Ward, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Brown and others are NY TImes bestsellers. Readers love the voice of their stories. But because I believe grammar is one of the building blocks of voice, that’s why I say it’s more important to start. It’s one of those things that, once you’ve got it down, isn’t really an issue at all!

Are there exceptions? Sure. I can think of a particular author who’s gotten a number of multi-book deals and has a nice fan following, despite her seeming inability to grasp grammar (and what I consider unpolished writing, but who am I to argue with her sales?) So bad grammar won’t always affect your chances, but I’ll refer back to this post, where I suggest you not believe you’ll be the Cinderella story. We call them exceptions for a reason!

4 thoughts on “Ask an editor: Voice or Grammar?”

  1. Agree! If I can’t figure out what you’re driving at, I probably won’t want to go along for the ride.

  2. Great topic, Angela. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Kelly says:

    Just thought you might like to know your article kicked off a firestorm of discussion on FF&P. I haven’t seen anything get this much attention in a long time. Thanks for the terrific post!
    Kelly Whitley

    1. Angela James says:

      Oh, well, always nice to be the source of debate :P

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