I grew up in a great school district, one that always challenged me, and I am grateful for it. I was able to be in an advanced reading program and math program while I was there, and it was awesome (okay, the math not so much…). One thing I never truly learned in school (elementary, middle school, high school, even college) was grammar.
This is the point when you give me the O.o look. I seem to be able to form complete sentences. I only you fragments and run-ons for choice moments. Capitalization greets the beginning of each sentence, while punctuation kisses it farewell. Semi-colons are used properly, and I seem to be able to tell the difference between “there,” “they’re,” and “their”. What’s the big deal then? What is this nonsense about not learning grammar? See, I never said that I didn’t learn grammar. I said that I never learned it in school.
Where did I acquire my understanding of the construction of the English language, then? In sooth, I gained enough from constant reading to be able to grasp elementary mechanics. But that level of grammatical understanding wouldn’t get me very far in the world. I actually learned most of my grammar courtesy of FictionAlley.org. Oh yes. I said it. I learned grammar by writing Harry Potter fanfiction.
FictionAlley is a specialised website, so if you want to submit something, you basically need to rock. You need to have excellent grammar and perfect spelling, and you need to have a plot. Believe it or not, they actually want you to be able to write… otherwise they kindly refer you over to FanFiction.net (the horror!). But I am stubborn, and so I kept revising and revising until it was right. So, in my freshman year of high school, I went from writing like this:
“Kris? Oh! There you are.” Kris’s new friend, Alyssa LeBonjou, a famous horse breeder and trainer from France, stepped into the stable and rolled her eyes “I should’ve looked here in the first place.”
“Hi Alyssa.” Kris stopped grooming her favorite horse, Sandrilene’s Wishing Star, more commonly known as Wish, to acknowledge the newcomer’s presence.
To writing a little more like this:
“That was an awesome story!” Peter squealed once they were out of the professor’s hearing range.
“You should write fiction,” agreed James.
“You should read my homework essays,” Sirius responded, grinning ear to ear.
Remus scowled. He had read Sirius’ essays many times, and most of them ended up with the subject being burnt to death or sold into Muggle slavery. “You should be worried about your grades at this point in life,” he pointed out.
Since then, I daresay, I have improved further, but both these pieces were written within 2 months of eachother: the former in early 2003, and the latter in autumn of 2003. I was always proud of my achievement, fueled by obsessive fan girl writing, even though I had to learn to edit harder to get rid of things like word overuse. However, in trying to stay true to the canon, I became a character writer (because you have to know the characters inside and out or you get ripped apart in reviews). Learning grammar in Potterverse, however, is the reason why much of my English is British-English. I try to catch myself, but words like “colour” or “specialised” may be spelled incorrectly by American standards. I don’t mind so much, actually, because it’s still correctly spelled somewhere.
So. What about you folks? Have you learned any important life lessons in nontraditional ways? Miss something in school that you had to teach yourself? Have you ever dared to tread the embarrassing paths of fanfiction? Share your stories!