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Grammar Enthusiast June Casagrande on 'The Joy of Syntax'

In this Stitcher Premium bonus episode, Grammar Girl talks with June Casagrande, fellow grammar enthusiast and author of "The Joy of Syntax."

By
Mignon Fogarty,
The Joy of Syntax Book cover

JC: That's not a coincidence that we both went to that. That is an indication that there's a trend toward awkward use of "such as" out there. You and I vote against it.

GG: It does — it sounds so awkward. Okay, it's now our job to destroy this rule.

JC: I'm on it!

GG: We have a quorum of two.

JC: The best way to destroy the rule is to point out it's not supported by dictionaries, not supported by the English language. Anyone who doesn't want to use "such as" is under no obligation to, unless you're following a style guide that specifically tells you to. The rest of us can use "like" all we want.

GG: Amen. So I actually want to switch gears a little bit because I know — and we've talked about this is in the past — that you have been working on writing fiction. And I have also been — I'll put it in air quotes — "working" on writing fiction for six or seven years, unsuccessfully. What do you think it is about fiction that makes it — you know, you and I have written many nonfiction books — so what is it that makes writing fiction so much harder?

JC: Well, I would start by pointing out that not everybody finds it harder. I've spoken to fiction writers who think nonfiction is just so hard. How do you know what to say? Which is baffling to me because I always have an opinion on something. But I am one of what I assume is the majority who finds fiction writing much more difficult than nonfiction writing. And I spend a lot of time thinking about it — I do not feel I have mastered the craft yet. So I don't know what the solution to these difficulties is. I just know the difficulties I'm looking at and spend a lot of time thinking about. When you're writing nonfiction, all you have to do is find an elegant, efficient, clear way to express stuff that already exists — your opinion, your observations, something you're reporting, city council meeting votes, all these things. When you're writing fiction, you have to use all these other parts of your brain. You have to try to express stuff that hasn't happened. You have to construct people and events and words and visual backdrops and— that's like five or six times as much work — every sentence is five or six times as much work because you have to make it up. You have to invent people. That's a lot of work. You have to think about what someone who doesn't exist would say in a certain situation.

GG: And they're not you! To authentically sound like someone who isn't in your brain, I find challenging.

JC: Yes. I think the hardest part of fiction for me is to keep the reader interested. To try to keep them asking, what will happen next? And what will happen next? And wanting to know because even if you've mastered all those other things we just talked about, even if you've got a great set of characters, now have great voices, and you've got a great scenario and a great premise, the act of doling out the bits of information in a way to keep the reader hungry — that's really difficult. I'm working on it. I'm trying to master it. I'm trying to learn from people who are good at it, but it's a whole other skill set on top of all those others. I think fiction is probably eight to ten times harder than nonfiction for all those reasons. It's just much more work and then this talent some people have naturally of just throwing out bits of information here and there that makes you want to know, what's next? What's next? So whole new admiration for fiction writers of all levels, including the ones who take a lot of grief for being pulpy and trashy. It's like, if you can write a trashy two-dimensional novel and keep them reading to the end, that is a talent I have to respect because I am still trying to learn how to do that.

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