This is a mini-rant.
I have no idea how much this influences the times we are living through now, but—allow me to set the stage first—part of my job (day-job) is reading books for possible inclusion in inventory. These are generally self-published. In spite of everything, I have become…an editor.
As a youth, I experienced impatience with what have become known as Grammar Nazis. As with so many elements of good writing, I didn’t care that much as long as meaning was conveyed and the story moved along. Event was my drug of choice, character not so much. The elegance of the prose…well, sure, but it wasn’t necessary.
So I thought.
Years later, having labored at my own fiction, I found myself pitying that young idiot. Event means nothing unless character conveys impact. The elegance of the prose is primarily a property of the kind of writing that allows a reader the full range of experience through a story. Style, substance, character, plot. Take any one away, the text falters. Make them work together and you get something worth reading, perhaps even memorable.
And now I see the downside of haste and the ease of Getting The Book Into Print regardless of its quality. Or qualities.
And then I listen to the speech of our public figures and can’t help but wonder if we are in a state of communicative disarray because they (not all, but some, perhaps many) never learned how to write or speak well.
Once upon a time, Rhetoric was taught as one of the primary Arts.
There are many reasons we should revisit that. I will say here that Grammar (as it was taught to me in school and probably as it is still taught) is no substitute for a full course on the Reason To Learn To Write Well.
If we cannot speak to each other intelligibly, how can we ever hope to solve problems?
Regarding the books I read for my job, most of them, usually, are written in what I would say is serviceable prose. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, subjects, objects, all those elements are mainly in their proper places and meaning comes across.
But sometimes, where it matters most, a significant handful of hopefuls write in what I can only assume is a manner (mannered), a style they think is “literary.” Convoluted constructions, run-on sentences, what Mark Twain called “second cousin words” instead of the right ones. And attempts at conveying…something…of which the writer has no real understanding and covering that lack by piling on Important Sounding Verbiage.
Primarily, the problem is the writer does not actually have a grasp of what they are trying to convey. Secondarily—and fatally—they haven’t taken the time to find out how to do the craft.
Likewise with so many second-rate pundits and politicians.
We live at a time of unprecedented access to public dissemination. In the past, you couldn’t get your words published unless they could get past an editor. Now we can put out any damn set of sentences we want with no one to tell us we shouldn’t. Self-publishing has created a glut of bad prose and an entitled generation of self-important blatherers who think their words are worth the same time and attention as someone who has worked hard to learn the craft and—most importantly—understood what is important to say.
And I’m not talking about paper books or even ebooks. Multiple platforms exist to allow access to people for anything they feel moved to say. In the sense of it being a forum, all the social media outlets are functionally publishers and too many people think they’re worth reading by putting something on them.
The result of which is a degradation of public discourse. Hitting Enter has become the sinecure of too many empty minds, vacuous ideas, and poorly reasoned diatribes.
Something about seeing bad prose on a page between the covers of a physical book makes it more obvious.
Years ago I became aware of a subset of wannabe writers who felt they could be writers while eschewing reading. This baffled me no end. To begin with, why would you conceive of the desire to be a writer if you did not already love reading. Of course, the truth is, they do not want to be writers. They have no idea what that would be. What they want is to be Important. Noticed. They want a stage. They assume the desire is sufficient to the purpose.
Likewise for people who wish to be Thinkers without troubling themselves to learn how to think. But of course, they don’t really want to be Thinkers. They want to tell others what to think. They want to be Important. Noticed.
We have given them a stage. Many stages. And since the price of admission to the show is usually free, well, as they used to say (and may still) you get what you pay for.
Please. Communication is not a trait like hair color, height, or eye color. It has to be learned. You have to work at it. And just because you learned how to talk does not mean you automatically know how to speak.
Thank you for your time and attention. I’m going to go read some more books now.