Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THE NEW PENNY DREADFULS?


The world is becoming a frustrating place for us pedants.  We cringe and grind our teeth at the wrecking of the English language but it makes no difference. And while I have yet to see my family referred to as the Curries* as though we were takeaways, the day will surely come.

No, I’m not going to bang on about mistakes people make. Well, I might, but only to make a point here and there. After all, I make mistakes too, and people are always quite rightly crowing when they point them out.  Nobody’s perfect.

What I’m thinking about is how people are writing novels that other people want to read, and popping them up on Amazon and Smashwords as e-books. Nothing wrong with that – go for it, I say. It’s been done for centuries, one way or another. In 19th century England (and I’m not making quality judgments here, simply drawing a parallel) they were called  “penny dreadfuls” – cheap fiction, printed in corner shops and devoured by thousands. The market was there and still is, the writers were there and still are, and all they have to do is find each other. The quality may be patchy – in fact it is bound to be, given the sheer volume of the trade and the fact that the books don’t go through a rigorous selection process – but I have reluctantly decided that this may not be a bad thing after all. At least people are reading books.

We pedants might throw up our hands in despair at sloppy writing, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure, but here’s the thing: people no longer know the rules, and what’s more they don’t care. They don’t notice the mistakes, so they don’t care. Their world is full of the same quirky constructions and erratically sprinkled apostrophes and they don’t care.  They enjoy the stories so they don’t care.  The writers like writing so they don’t care.

Thirty years ago, for the first edition of my writing manual (A Beginner’s Guide to Practical Writing) I constructed something like this exaggeratedly awful paragraph to illustrate the need for writing to be right, in grammar, spelling, punctuation and tone:  “A paragraph with comma’s in the, wrong place or Capital Letters’ where they aren’t needed, brackets (where there shouldn’t be any) and sentences that stop or start. In illogical place’s. Not to mention the use of those “pesky” quotation mark’s or exclamation mark’s to show that your joking or worse being cute!!!”

The world has caught up. The other day I read that “Joel wiped the blood off his hand’s, and looked at her, Belle’s were clasped tightly around the cricket bat.” Oh dear.

(*It should of course be Currys.)

 

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