Eric Kester, author of "Gut Check," talks about teenage slang, "further" versus "farther," and how he uses grammar to shape his characters' voices.
Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?
Eric Kester: Lately I’ve been really digging the adjective “crepuscular,” which means “related to or resembling twilight.” To me, the sound of “crepuscular” beautifully reflects the feeling of dusk, juxtaposing its creepy, disquieting ambiance with its soothing, sibilant tranquility.
GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?
EK: It’s not really overused or misused, but I always cringe when I hear the word “ponderous.” When I was in 9th grade, my crush told me that she couldn’t stop thinking about me as she studied for her vocabulary quiz; the word “ponderous,” she said, reminded her of me. I hadn’t studied for the quiz myself, so I rushed home to look up the word’s meaning, eager to see what blend of “super smart, super handsome, and supremely dateable” was to be found within the definition of “ponderous.” When I got home, I galumphed upstairs, plopped down at our family computer, and typed in “ponderous + definition” with my sausage fingers. I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that “ponderous” means “clumsy and unwieldy.”
GG: What word will you always misspell?
This is going to sound pretty meta, but I always want to spell 'grammar' as 'grammer.'
EK: This is going to sound pretty meta, but I always want to spell “grammar” as “grammer.”
GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?
EK: “Farther” is for physical distances (“ten feet farther”) while “further” is for figurative distances (“there will be no further discussion”). But don’t ask me what to do for the metaphor “further (farther?) down the road” when referring to time…
GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?
EK: I think too many young creative writers believe it’s okay—and even preferable—to abandon proper grammar when writing dialogue or first person narrative. Yes, it’s important to carve out a distinct, realistic voice for each character. But clarity should supersede everything, and relaxing your grammar for the sake of realism will only reduce the clarity and precision of your story. It’s possible to be both colloquial and grammatically sound, achieving voice and clarity together. There are rare times, however, when proper grammar simply doesn’t fit the character and scene: The behemoth of a 7th grader, Rocko, glared down at the group of cowering 4th graders. ‘Okay, you insignificant butt stains,” he growled. “To whom will I give the first atomic wedgie?”
It’s possible to be both colloquial and grammatically sound, achieving voice and clarity together.
GG: Do you have a favorite quotation or passage from an author you’d like to share?
EK: "Glenn used to say the reason you can't really imagine yourself being dead was that as soon as you say, "I'll be dead," you've said the word "I," and so you're still alive inside the sentence. And that's how people got the idea of immortality of the soul—it was a consequence of grammar." –Margaret Atwood, "The Year of the Flood"
GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?
EK: As a YA writer, I’m constantly struggling with proper usage of teenage slang. Take the terms “turnt” and “lit.” They both describe people and places that are excessively energetic/fun/wild, but you’d be gravely mistaken to use them interchangeably. There’s a very subtle difference in their usage that’s understood inherently by teenagers but that’s totally lost on old weirdos like myself.
As far as I can tell, the relationship between “lit” and “turnt” is similar to the relationship between rectangles and squares. Just like how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, anything that’s “lit” can also be “turnt,” but not everything that’s “turnt” can also be “lit.” Not following? Don’t worry—during the time it’s taken to read this, both terms have become passé and decidedly un-turnt.
About the Author:
Eric Kester's writing can be found in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, and other publications. Eric used to work as a ball boy for the NFL and he played football at Harvard. He teaches and lives in Boston with his family. "Gut Check" is his debut children's novel.