Friday, March 03, 2017

Word Wrestle #6: What Time Was That Again?

Okay...This is actually starting to get a bit scary.

What's with people writing stories nowadays in which the tenses are all mixed up--not only in the same paragraph, but sometimes in the same SENTENCE? I've just finished skimming a potential editing project in which the author actually used past, present, and future in one sentence. And, no, they weren't talking about time travel. This was supposedly normal narrative.

When I first encountered this, I thought it was a couple of clients with bad habits and/or bad instruction. However, it's become so rampant now that I can no longer assume that. The only thing I CAN assume, that NO ONE is teaching verb tenses in school anymore. I don't mean sketching around them, touching on them briefly, and then going on to "more interesting" things in the language. I mean NOT TEACHING THEM AT ALL.

If this is the case, WHY and HOW did this happen?

Please don't get me wrong. Slang is one thing. Informal, casual speech is one thing. But when I see a narrative sentence that says something like, "She and her brother had never ventured out of the safe area in their lives, so they don't know what they experience when they will..." and so on? This makes a reader's head hurt. Which strikes me, oh, I don't know, as something YOU DON'T WANT TO DO?

It's not DIFFICULT to learn verb tenses. In English. No. Really. It's not. In fact, it used to be common sense. It used to be that you couldn't get out of school without nailing these things. But now, it's basic error I see in manuscript after manuscript from people who think they're writing books, even people who claim those books HAVE BEEN EDITED ALREADY.

By whom? The legendary 100 monkeys with computers, allegedly writing Shakespeare?

This isn't a matter of pedantry. It's not a matter of being "picky." It's a matter of communicating clearly what you mean. And it should worry people who call themselves writers, above all. Because in this age of people taking every single word you say or write, pouncing on it, and giving it their OWN spin to paint you in negative terms...why would you be content writing anything that a) makes you look stupid, or b) is completely unintelligible?

I suppose the upside is that if everyone is equally stupid, they won't do you any lasting damage. But I'm not in a position where I'd recommend anyone take that chance.

The up side, I suppose, is that editors will be getting more work than ever. The down side, however, is that that work should be aimed at higher levels than needing to correct what should have been basic, fourth-grade grammar. 

I'm an editor. Not an elementary school teacher. I'm willing to do my job...but, apparently, there are a swackload of others who are not willing or able to do THEIRS.

And so it continues.
Pardon me while I go take a painkiller now. Or, maybe, six.


No comments: