Yesterday, I attended an eight-hour class at the LOFT Literary Center in Minneapolis. The topic was style and grammar in non-fiction and it was taught by the phenomenal Jill Swenson; her energy and enthusiasm were contagious.
The class was attended by thirteen people ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-sixties. We didn’t take a poll, but I would wager a guess that everyone had a college degree. Attendees included an engineer, several teachers, a journalist, a marketing professional.
It seemed as though all of us had followed very specific rules we learned in middle school, high school or college and at different times people expressed astonishment that the rule was no longer correct. Jill explained that what we learned may have been considered the standard at the time — but following those rules now would flag our writing as amateur.
Two things I learned:
1. Including “said” as an attribution is preferred to clarify who said what in dialogue. You can use “said” over and over and over, we were told; it’s considered an invisible word. This is different than what I learned, which was to mix it up, and include different types of declarations such as she exclaimed, she shouted, she pleaded, she scoffed, she yelled, she whispered. Jill explained that if declarations are needed, then the dialogue failed to express the appropriate emotion.
2. Quotations need to go at the beginning of paragraphs. So, instead of writing something like, “She peeked around the corner and said ‘boo’,” it is now considered correct to write “‘Boo,’ she said after peeking around the corner.”
Jill noted that writers can always make the choice to break a rule. But, we need to know the current rule before choosing to break it. Have you experienced this? Have you learned grammar rules you’ve followed for years or decades are now antiquated?