I had the fortune of growing up with a grammar dictator parent. At the time, I didn’t think that particular turn of fate was such a great thing. Seriously, being drilled on lay vs. lie and can vs. may as a second grader was a bit harsh. Now, as a writer, I’m thankful for that firm background. Language and grammar are second nature to me.
But that doesn’t mean I’m infallible. Like any other writer, I need writing resources.
I start with the basic grammar and spell check built into Word. WARNING: Word grammar check is about the worst thing you can use to check grammar. I’ve found that that green squiggle is often something I can discount. So why do I use it? Because it can give me a heads-up and highlight something I missed. I can quickly check the squiggles and either correct or ignore as I see fit. The main problem with this tool is that if the writer doesn’t have a solid grasp of grammar, they may not be able to make a judgement call when that squiggle shows up.
My favorite resource is the Purdue OWL. I’ve found the breakdown of basic grammar rules and basic examples there to be quick and clear. No idea what a modifier is, why you misplaced it, or how to find it again? The OWL can tell you exactly what it is, where it goes and where to put it so it works. If you know you have weak grammar skills, this site can give you some quick lessons. I recommend it for any writing skill level.
Grammar Girl is another common resource, one my editor uses. I don’t find this site to be as clear and concise but several of my friends swear by it.
When individual word use is in question, I default to Dictionary.com. This site has another tab I use often which is Thesaurus.com. I use the thesaurus when I hunting for just the right word. Different words might have related meanings but very different connotations, so it’s never a good idea to use a thesaurus to simply swap out words. It’s great for digging around to find just the right word for a specific spot, though. Google is great for a quick definition, too. Just a search with, “define,” then the questionable word and it will bring up a definition.
All these tools come with a word of caution. Writing is a creative pursuit. You don’t need to color inside the lines and live completely in the rules. Let your grammar be wrong sometimes. Do it purposefully. Do it to build character or convey the story. Do it to add to the moment or create drama. Break the rules because you choose to break them, not out of ignorance. This is where art happens and where stories learn to breathe.