I’m With -ER

I’m going to go off on a grammar tangent, you guys. I love grammar. LOVE IT. As a Linguistics minor in college, I learned to respect changing language, and in spoken language, I heed the general “if a person is understood, then the language is working” ideal. But written word is a different animal, and it’s harder to break me of these rules. Yes, if you’re understood, the language is working, but also, editors answer to a higher power: copyeditors (angel sound). And copyeditors don’t want ANY of your bs.

I totally understand (and embrace) that language is a living, growing, changing thing. I do. But there are some things that just sound like a farty honk in the middle of a beautiful symphony. And one of those is this new, strange tendency to use MORE something instead of something-ER in all cases.

I have hypotheses about why we are using MORE more. In brief: I think it’s partially because of the excessive use of hyperbole (it’s even MORE annoying than it was ten years ago when all we were saying was a thousand percent). But it also has to do with the rhythms of language now.

I listen to language a lot, and carefully. I hear patterns. And a very contemporary pattern is for very staccato sentences. We even do it in our writing, with. That. Very. Trend. (You’ve seen it, right? With the periods between words for emphasis? Can we just not though? It’s tired. I’m tired.)

The use of MORE instead of the often grammatically correct –ER plays directly into that trend. Consider this example:

(Incorrect) OMG I’m even more cool than I was yesterday. (You can practically hear the periods.)

As opposed to

(Correct) Yo, I’m cooler than I was yesterday. (This feels more languid, and almost skater-ish in tone.)

Coooooollllerrrrrr as opposed to more.cool. (laaaaaaaa vs. bam.bam)

I hear it, and I get it. But my grammar marm self (who is, actually, an editor) can’t get on board. If you want to sound staccato in this case, choose a word that takes more instead of -er. More kickass. More badass. More something with less ass but two or more syllables.

Here’s another example:

(Incorrect) Wanda is more smart than Patrick, and that’s why I’m voting for her!

I still hear what you’re getting at, but I also want to tear down Wanda’s streamers and balloons and replace them with flyers that say “I’m with -ER!”

The way to get my vote is to say

(Correct) Wanda is smarter than Patrick, and that’s why I’m with her!

The actual rule, according to my grammar teachers and the Interwebz is that we use more for polysyllabic adjectives, and –er for monosyllabic adjectives. So things are greener, but more yellow. Posher, and more elegant. Your writing can be more excellent, and also more marvelous, and your prose shorter, greater, and tighter. This blog post is more terrific and grander than the last one. (Look how I just combined a more and an –er in one sentence! Wut. Magic!)

There are exceptions, there always are. In this case they are words that end in y: Prettier. Funnier. Sillier. Jauntier. Wonkier. (All things I aspire to be.)

Write how you want to write. Use language how you want to use language. But know this: Editors know the rules and you better have a very good reason for breaking them. Don’t give us a reason to suspect you don’t know what you’re doing.


Critique Vs. Edit

Critique Versus Edit

Happy New Year, everyone! I know it has been a while since I’ve shared anything new with you, and that’s because I’ve had some exciting changes. I’m back on the editorial side of things again, where my heart lives, and where I can get my hands all wordy (and nerdy). You can find me at HeatherAlexanderEditorial.com for more information about that.

I have done critiques for many of you at conferences, retreats, and through KidLit College. And some of you have been wondering, what is the difference between a critique and an edit. Here is my attempt to explain.

A thoughtful critique will quickly help the author focus on the essentials of writing: Character, plot, pacing, dialogue, and any inconsistencies the reader comes across. A critique is an honest commentary on what is and isn’t working. It may offer a little feedback on how to improve, but doesn’t necessarily focus on the big, structural or thematic stuff.

An edit, however, takes the plunge. A good editor will go beyond the surface issues and offer suggestions when she can to improve the overall work. It will have margin notes to identify themes, help develop voice, pinpoint specific places that can be developed or eliminated, ways to reconstruct the plot, call out characters that might be superfluous, all accompanied by a big, fat letter to communicate all of these things.

Imagine it this way. You’ve just seen a movie with your best friend. On the way out of the theater, you both mention things you liked and didn’t like about the movie. The conversation may last until you’ve ordered dinner, but then you move on to other topics. That’s critique.

The edit is the 4 page New Yorker review of the same movie. (This analogy doesn’t totally hold up, since the author of the New Yorker review isn’t asking the filmmakers to revise, but in terms of depth of analysis, I think it’s pretty accurate.)

Or maybe it’s like House Hunters: Critique is when the couple is walking through a house, hating the countertops and cabinets, but loving the finished basement. Editing is when they begin tearing down walls to make the perfect home.

Too Many Cooks!

I’m doing a webinar in a couple of weeks about how to be a great critique partner (hey, it’s my blog, so I can self-promote all I want), and as I prepare, I keep coming back to a side point.

Having friends/your writing group/beta readers/classmates read your work is invaluable. Getting outside opinions can help get through those rough patches, or fix that plot hole, or round out flat characters. But having too many readers, or having readers too early, can make a potentially rich stew into yesterday’s oatmeal. The problem is not having the work critiqued, it’s having the work over-critiqued. Too many cooks spoil the manuscript.

I sometimes get queries accompanied by a litany of other editors and agents who’ve offered up their opinions on the work, and those I read with trepidation. You know how in art class when you’re learning to mix colors, and you add in one too many and it all turns to an indescribable shade of poo? That happens with editorial opinions, too. Too many dull the edges instead of sharpening. (Mix metaphors! I don’t care!)

Something I’ve noticed of late is that many manuscripts (and books) seem to fit the same mold. Nothing really stands out loud and proud. I can’t say for sure why this is happening, but it seems to be a symptom of writers trying to incorporate too many opinions too soon. If a manuscript is critiqued after only one draft, how does the writer have the time to find that bold, weird, singular voice and style before the group steers them to a safer place? How can a story take a bizarre, unexpected turn if the hive-mind wants a predictable path?

Consider this both a warning and an encouraging hug. Write the story. Write the whole story. Let it consume you, and then rewrite it and feel brave in your weird ideas. Don’t listen to your inner critic, and by all means, finish it before you share it with your outer critics. But like, truly finish it. Don’t start asking for opinions before it’s done. And for the love of cayenne pepper, be bold about your work. Stand proudly in it instead of meekly offering it up.

You don’t start a stew and invite your friends over to season it in the middle. You serve it to them when you think it’s perfect. And if they have opinions, you take some and you leave some and maybe it comes out better next time. As that old earhanger says, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.