Mastering Grammar (Artistic License Included!)

Nat RussoBasics, Grammar, How-To, Writing Leave a Comment

Many fiction writers might view grammar as a necessary evil—the tedious checking of commas and semicolons that seems far removed from the creative process of storytelling. However, understanding and effectively utilizing grammar can profoundly enhance your narratives, character development, and reader engagement. This comprehensive guide will delve into seven key aspects of grammar that every fiction writer should master, emphasizing how these tools can transform your writing.

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1. Understanding Grammar as the Framework of Storytelling

Grammar is often likened to the framework of a building. Just as a strong architectural structure supports and shapes a building, a solid grasp of grammar supports and shapes your storytelling. Basic elements such as subject-verb agreement, tense consistency, and proper sentence construction are the building blocks of clear, understandable prose. When these elements are in place, your narrative stands firm, allowing readers to immerse themselves without stumbling over awkward phrasing or confusing structure.

However, grammar’s role extends beyond just the basics. It influences how your narrative unfolds, how your characters develop, and how engrossed your readers become in the world you create. A well-constructed sentence can convey emotions subtly and powerfully, while a poorly constructed one can disrupt the flow and distract from the story. The more intuitively you understand grammar, the more freely you can manipulate it to serve your narrative.

2. Defining Character Through Voice and Dialogue

Grammar is crucial in defining and differentiating character voices. The way a character speaks—their syntax, the complexity of their sentences, and their grammatical correctness—can reveal their background, education, and personality. For example, a character who uses precise, formal language might be portrayed as meticulous or reserved, whereas another who speaks in fragments may come across as casual or distressed.

Using grammar strategically in dialogue can add layers of meaning. Consider how a comma can change the rhythm of a sentence, a pause that might suggest hesitation or a shift in thought. Similarly, the use of a semicolon in dialogue could reflect a character’s tendency to elaborate or a propensity for thoughtful conversation.

3. Utilizing Sentence Structure for Effective Pacing and Tension

The length and structure of sentences play a pivotal role in the pacing of your story. Short, abrupt sentences can quicken the pace, making action scenes more intense and dialogue more dynamic. Conversely, longer sentences with multiple clauses can slow the narrative pace, allowing for deeper description and a buildup of suspense.

Grammar allows you to control the flow of information and the emotional trajectory of a scene. For instance, a sudden shift from long descriptive sentences to short, sharp ones can jar the reader, effectively using structure to mirror sudden changes in the story’s action or the protagonist’s realization.

4. Maintaining Perspective and Point of View

A consistent narrative perspective and point of view are essential for clear storytelling, and grammar plays a significant role in maintaining this consistency. Shifts in tense or person can confuse readers and weaken the narrative structure. For instance, maintaining a consistent past tense can help anchor a story in its timeline, while slipping into the present tense might inadvertently pull readers out of the narrative flow.

Understanding how grammatical choices affect perspective can also help in deepening character development and enhancing narrative voice. For example, the choice between first person and third person changes the proximity of the reader to the thoughts and actions of the characters, influencing how stories are perceived and experienced.

5. Achieving Economy of Expression

One of the marks of a skilled writer is the ability to say more with less—conveying complex ideas with a few well-chosen words. Mastery of grammar aids in achieving this economy of expression. Knowing how to effectively use adjectives, adverbs, and various clauses can make your prose powerful without being overly verbose. This is especially crucial in fiction, where every word needs to contribute to building the world or advancing the plot.

A deep understanding of grammatical structures can help you eliminate redundancy, choose stronger verbs, and structure sentences more efficiently. This not only improves clarity but also enhances the impact of your writing.

6. Directing Reader Experience with Punctuation

Punctuation in writing isn’t just about adhering to grammatical rules; it’s about using those rules to guide the reader’s experience. Like a conductor with an orchestra, punctuation helps you control the tempo of your narrative. It tells readers where to pause, what to emphasize, and how to interpret lines.

Consider how a well-placed colon can introduce a list or a dramatic revelation, adding rhythm and weight to the narrative. Or how ellipses can build suspense or create a trail-off in dialogue, adding a layer of emotional subtlety.

7. Artistic License in Breaking Grammar Rules

Once you understand the rules of grammar, you’re better positioned to break them effectively. This artistic license, when used deliberately and thoughtfully, can add a unique voice and style to your writing. For instance, choosing to ignore conventional punctuation in a stream-of-consciousness passage can immerse the reader more deeply into a character’s psyche.

However, it’s crucial to break these rules with a clear purpose in mind. Randomly flouting grammatical conventions can lead to confusion and disengage readers. But when done with intent, it can enhance the narrative and showcase your creativity.


Embracing grammar is not about stifling creativity but about channeling it more effectively. As a fiction writer, your command of grammar can be one of your greatest assets. It enables you to build compelling narratives, create vivid characters, and engage readers on a deeper level. Understanding and mastering the principles of grammar will not only improve the clarity and impact of your writing but also expand your creative possibilities. Let grammar be not a hurdle but a tool that elevates your storytelling to new heights.

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

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