Many years ago, I was fond of the work of a highly successful fantasy author. He was successful not just because he told a good story but because he wrote supremely well. However, he once ventured an opinion that knowledge of grammar and spelling was irrelevant to the writer’s craft. If memory serves, he offered the metaphor that one didn’t need to be an engineer to drive a car. The metaphor is true enough as a stand –alone statement but is it apt?
The idea that grammar is for fuddy-duddies has taken root at all levels in society. I used to supervise science PhD students with first class honours degrees from elite universities. Some of them were illiterate. Recently, an English academic professed the view that he was fed up correcting his student’s English and drew the conclusion that we should ignore bad grammar and spelling even in ‘arts’ degrees, such as English literature.
But is it true? Can an illiterate write stories?
Actually, the car metaphor was quite apt but close examination shows that we should interpret it differently. You don’t need an engineering degree to drive a car and you don’t need to be especially literate yourself to read and enjoy a book but you had better have access to some decent engineers if you want to design and manufacture a car.
I bought a forty pound SF book recently. The graphics were stunning but the accompanying text was so appalling that I could not bear to read it. You have to have some nodding acquaintance with the tools before you can master any craft. Writing is no different in my opinion.