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

G. Miki Hayden, who sold an action-adventure trilogy this past year, has a thriller class starting even as we speak at Writer's Online Workshops from Writer's Digest at Her two writing instructionals are Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional and The Naked Writer: A Comprehensive Writing Style Guide . One won an award, but buy them both.