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...that the more famous a writer gets, the worse the grammar in their books seems to be?

For example, I first noticed in a recent Clancy novel the misuse of "which" when it sould have been "that". Not once but several times in the space of just a few pages. I recently finished the latest Harry Potter book (after I pried it from the hands of my younger daughter) and spotted the same thing.

I'm not talking about things that are normally glossed over (such as the occasional dangling participle that is easier to read than a more precise grammatical construct. Who wants to read something like Winston Churchill's famous "That is something up with which I will not put."?) I mean outright flaws, such as "There is something which I have to take care of." instead of the (slightly more) grammatical "There is something that I have to take care of." (Obviously, "I have to take of something." would be even better, but it's just an example.) It's not a matter of interpretation; the former is flat out wrong. Yet I'm seeing it in more and more books, always by big-name authors. There are other examples, but that one came to mind because I saw it several times recently.

I can't help wondering if the more successful writers have a clause in their contracts that says "Editors, keep your cotton-pickin' fingers off my deathless prose!" It's either that or the famous authors are suddenly being assigned incompetent editors, and that hardly seems likely....

What's going on?

Mark.
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RE: Mark: "that the more famous a writer gets, the worse the grammar in their books seems to be?"

Authors are the same as athletes or actors. As soon as they're getting paid for celebrity value rather than actual production their quality tends to suffer.

SB (they're just human)
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...that the more famous a writer gets, the worse the grammar in their books seems to be?

Doesn't it depend on in what circles the author is famous? I have never, ever read a Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele book in my life and I don't intend to. I quit reading Michner when he got to the point where he had a big staff doing his research and much of his writing.

Are we talking famous or popular?

I haven't noticed any degradation with Kingsolver, Lamb, McEwen, Cotze, etc. I'm not sure where Wally Lamb went (if you haven't read "I Know This Much Is True" I can't recommend it enough) but the others continue to produce really fine prose and fiction. Their grammar seems to be holding up just fine.

I think those writers who write for the masses and just pump the stuff out must need to let something go. How else could they fulfill the terms of their multi-book contracts?

And then there is Stephen King. He seems to manage okay.

P.
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>>>>Authors are the same as athletes or actors. As soon as they're getting paid for celebrity value rather than actual production their quality tends to suffer.

SB: Maybe so, but that doesn't explain why the *editors* don't correct the more obvious grammatical errors. Isn't that their job? I'm not talking about something that would ruin the elegance of a soaring description of the cosmos; I'm simply referring to basic sentence structure. Why wouldn't a competent editor correct that stuff? They seemed to in earlier works by those authors, but not in the later stuff.

Are the authors cranking out stuff too fast for the editors to keep up, or are the authors demanding that the editors not change anything? (Perhaps there is a shortage of editors these days due to the economy (i.e., layoffs) and there aren't enough to go around.)

Mark.
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RE: Mark: "that doesn't explain why the *editors* don't correct the more obvious grammatical errors."

For the same reasons a director allows a hot actor to interpret a role to fit their image rather than portrey the character as written, and why the football coach gets fired when the $20 million quarterback has a bad season.

SB (it is a business)
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Are the authors cranking out stuff too fast for the editors to keep up, or are the authors demanding that the editors not change anything? (Perhaps there is a shortage of editors these days due to the economy (i.e., layoffs) and there aren't enough to go around.)

I wonder if it's just complaceny? You start selling very well, over and over, and you start to overlook things you wouldn't or didn't when you knew even something as mundane (but important) as grammatical errors could keep you out of print.
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Part of it may be the timing between manuscript receipt and publication. There are times where the book is advertised and scheduled for release in, say, 3 months, and the manuscript isn't even halfway done (I've talked to several authors where this was the case). Not that it's an excuse, but it's certainly a reason. Not enough time, not enough money to hire more people to do the work, etc. The usual stuff.

SB: I've even caught several glaring *spelling* errors in Gastronomica, so no one's immune!

CK
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>>>>Part of it may be the timing between manuscript receipt and publication. There are times where the book is advertised and scheduled for release in, say, 3 months, and the manuscript isn't even halfway done

CK: That's certainly possible. I hadn't thought about that. And it would explain why some earlier works didn't have the problem. (The author wasn't yet famous enough to have fans waiting with bated breath for the next masterwork; or the author didn't have as many of the distractions of fame that result in the manuscript being finished late. Look at the latest Harry Potter book: a *year* late to market! I don't know how much of that was due to the book being so much longer than the previous ones vs. all the distractions.)

Mark.
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>>>>For the same reasons a director allows a hot actor to interpret a role to fit their image rather than portrey the character as written

SB: This isn't the same thing, though. It isn't a matter of an actor taking the same dialog and changing the emotions, or the body language or the accent, or even ad-libbing the dialog. This is a matter of the writer messing up the English language and the editor not correcting it.

If I "interpreted" the first sentence above as "This same, though, isn't the thing." You would expect the editor to correct it, wouldn't you (assuming he/she could figure out what the heck I meant by that! <g>)? (Unless, of course that mangled grammar/syntax was *intentionally* done in the context of dialog spoken by a recent immigrant or a space alien.) In the cases I was referring to, the sentence was simply part of the author's exposition and was clearly incorrect.

There are plenty of grammatical rules that authors break intentionally for effect (such as one-sentence paragraphs, sentences starting with But or And, etc.) and I'm fine with that. (I do it myself.) But I have to wonder at the basic errors that could/should easily have been corrected by editors, and weren't. CK's suggestions seems likely, and is one I hadn't thought of previously.

Mark.
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RE: Mark: "This isn't the same thing, though. It isn't a matter of an actor taking the same dialog and changing the emotions, or the body language or the accent, or even ad-libbing the dialog."

You're right, in that it isn't a matter of that.

SB (and I'm fine with that)
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