Wednesday on Writing: Why Do Word Processors Even Have Grammar Check?

A lot of people are not big fans of the grammar check function in word processors. Many wish they could turn it off, but many times, it’s tied to the spell check function and that one is useful. Usually. 

I will confess that I don’t absolutely hate grammar check software. I don’t think I’d miss it horribly if it went away, but I do find it useful at times. Here’s why.

First, let’s get something straight. Grammar checking software, like most of these sort of things, is not perfect. It’s also not 100% useful to a fiction writer. Grammar checkers use the strict rules of grammar- all those “stupid” rules you had to learn in English class and have (mostly) forgotten. If you are writing a formal paper or report of some sort, you might well need that grammar check to keep your writing professional sounding. But fiction? Fiction is different. We pretty much never want our writing to feel formal and dry like a dissertation or article for a professional journal. We fiction writers are more informal and approachable, right?

Right. For the most part. And that is especially true for dialogue. Very few people anywhere speak in strictly grammatically correct forms. We use contractions, idioms, colloquial phrases, and just plain wrong sentences. As writers, we need to be aware of those things, because if every character we write speaks absolutely correct grammar, they would all sound stilted and uninteresting. 

However, we do need to be aware of some basics. Punctuation, sentence structure, verb tense- all of these are marks of a good writer. Yes, we sometimes break the rules, but you gotta know ’em to know when to break ’em. In addition, sometimes, we need to be reminded when we are going too far wrong. See that long, run on sentence that the grammar checker is telling you to add a comma here, take one out there, put in a preposition or a conjunction? Yeah, maybe what the grammar fairy in your computer is really telling you is that you should rewrite that behemoth into a few somethings less confusing.

That’s where I use the grammar check. I usually ignore it for dialogue, unless I am writing a character that I want to sound stilted and overly formal. But I do look at the suggestions for the rest of the writing. Most get dismissed out of hand. But there are often a few that make me rethink that sentence or fragment. Sometimes, it makes me work at it and turn it into something better. Maybe the better isn’t grammatically correct, either, but the flag on the original made me stop and consider if it could be better.

So don’t dismiss your grammar checker out of hand. Give it a chance to tell you a few things about your writing. You don’t have to listen to it on every detail any more than you have to listen to any other critique you get. But at least let it, and those other critiques, force you to think about whether you can make your writing better. We can all do with a little help now and then. Let’s take it wherever we can get it.

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Two's Company small thumbnailMedusa “Deuce” Grainger is smart, confident, and as good a pilot as she is a poker player. A freelance shuttle jockey working for an independent terraforming company, she’s left her former life, and her father, behind. Mostly.

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Things have been quiet. No demonic possessions, no otherworldly intrusions, nothing. And then Lucifer shows up in Johnny’s living room, claiming that two archangels are missing, and something is definitely not right in the heavenly- and other- realms. Saying he has nothing to do with it- this time- he asks Johnny and Cerise to help him find out what’s happening, and who is behind the disappearances. While they are trying to do just that, Lucifer is devilnapped by a larger-than-life serpent. He manages to get a clue to Johnny before he disappears. Johnny and Cerise are left to puzzle out the disappearances and try to find the missing angels. Oh, and stop what could mean the ultimate destruction of pretty much everything.

Snake’s Alive, the Yo-Yo Files #2 is an urban fantasy novelette with elements of the supernatural and humor. Learn more here.

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