My mailbag

I love hearing from readers. But when I receive a message with the subject line YOUR BOOK, there’s a moment of suspense before I open it. Will it be fan mail? Or a plea from the gorgeous Russian girl who wants to be my mail order bride?

I have never written to an author before but I feel I must do so on this occasion. Your total ignorance of proper syntax is to be deplored.

Oh. So the message I received this morning is a complaint.

For a sentence to be a sentence, it must contain a verb!
For example, on page 19 at line 14 You state “Mirkovic, right there. Small and nasty and powerful and vivid” There is not a verb to be seen.
At page 9, you start a paragraph with the word “Except”! On the same page you state “Noisily, everybody sat.” Did you mean “Everybody sat noisily”? On page 11 you commence 2 paragraphs with the conjunction “And”
Do you not have a proof reader proficient in English prose and in particular good syntax?
I’m sorry but I only got to page 20 before I gave up.

If the language in a novel gives a reader fits, there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t debate the issue with the person complaining. When my sentence structure drives somebody so crazy that they can’t stand to keep reading, trying to explain myself is unlikely to succeed.

I replied to the complaint, thanking my correspondent for giving the book a try.

But I’ll tell everybody else: It wasn’t ignorance.

In English, a sentence must indeed contain a verb if it is to be regarded as complete. I learned that by diagramming sentences in Mrs. Hansen’s third grade class. I also reminded students about this principle when I taught writing at the University of California.

What the reader complained about are sentence fragments. I wouldn’t employ them in an appellate brief. In a novel I do use them in interior monologue, as well as dialogue, as an authorial choice to draw readers into a character’s point of view. It wasn’t ignorance. It was a deliberate disregard of formal syntax for the sake of voice.

As for starting two sentences with “And”: if that word is good enough for the beginning of a sentence in the Lord’s Prayer, it’s good enough for me.

I mentioned this complaint to some friends today. My buddy Craig English replied: “Syntax is what you pay extra on booze and pole dancers — both of which can be found in Meg’s books so I don’t see how there’s a lack of it.”

Thanks, Craig. In a future novel, Syntax will be the name of an aggressive stripper. She’s a dominatrix who chastises customers when they use apostrophes incorrectly.


4 responses to “My mailbag

  1. Why would you fork over the money to read a suspense / thriller novel and then also decide to uncap your red pen?

    “I mean really…..who throws a shoe?”…

    I WILL be looking for Syntax in that future novel!

    ~ todd

  2. What’s good for the goose…

    – Capitalizing “You” is unnecessary.
    – The sentence ending with the word “And” needs a period.
    – “Proofreader” is one word.

    If you’re going to criticize someone’s grammar, make sure yours is exemplary. (If mine isn’t, we’ll just pretend it was on purpose and I was making a point.)

    I am a proofreader (I’ll proof your next novel, if you’d like!), but when I’m reading for pleasure, I try to ignore mistakes (or, in this case, “mistakes”). Life is too short to take a red pen to everything.

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