Traditional Publishing

(Don’t) Relax (Too Much)

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Monday October 1, 2018

I told my friend about a grammatical glitch I found in Outside magazine:

A man came upon a dead bear cub and leaned over and touched it, but the bear had been electrocuted by a downed electrical wire, and the man, too, was zapped. (He lived but had terrible physical damage.) At any rate, the article said the bear had been laying on a live wire. Of course, obviously, the bear had been lying on the wire. (I tweeted the editor and was ignored—so much for the power of social media.)

My friend said, “The trend is to relax grammar so as not to be too stuffy.”

Okay, maybe so, but not, I hope, in a national magazine.

Yes, I relax language, sometimes using “who” instead of “whom,” when “whom” just sounds overly formal—and, oh, maybe I commit one or two other such deceits. But I can’t advocate relaxing language to the extent of confusing two different verbs. Hmm. I don’t think I’d call this a grammatical mistake—I’d call it language misuse. And I should have tweeted the copy editor, not the editor.

Sure, in writing fiction sometimes we represent ungrammatical character speech, but in doing so, we walk a pretty fine line. Because some relaxations can be taken as the author not knowing any better than the character might. And more often than not—and I’ve gone through literally thousands of pieces of newbie writing—that’s the truth. The writer doesn’t know any better than the character.

In making that kind of choice, we should either be more obvious, or find a workaround. Why? Because the pages first go to the agent or an editor and that person is judging the level of writer sophistication.

In producing nonfiction material, do not relax. (Even though I know, and have experienced, that a certain nonfiction copy editor will go through my articles and introduce hideous errors I’ll have to correct in my galleys.)

So study up.

I love to give writing advice—and here’s some for mystery (and other genre) writers: I won an award for this a few years back.

About the Author

Writing the MysteryThe Naked WriterG. Miki Hayden is the author of the comprehensive writing style guide, The Naked Writer, and the award-winning guide for mystery writers, Writing the Mystery: A Start-to-Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional, both of which are available now from JP&A Dyson.

"Whatever your habitual errors are, punctuation, writing style, or even not understanding what the agents/editors are looking for, if you'd like to correct your flaws, take a class with me at Writer's Digest: Or for some less-expensive guidance, you might want to download The Naked Writer for your Kindle at Amazon. Yes, I work with clients privately. Find me on Facebook."

G. Miki Hayden always has a new class starting at Writer's Digest. The feedback she gives is personal, thorough, and actionable.