I’m a compulsive quiz taker. As a sponge and a hoarder of useless information, I can’t resist trivia contests of any kind. Those ubiquitous Brain Candy quizzes, with come-ons like “Only Someone with a Ph.D. Can Pass This Geography Quiz,” that pop up on my Facebook timeline and in my email on a daily basis, is pure crack.

The other day I took one called “How Well Do You Know the English Parts of Speech.” (Of course, that should have been “…the Parts of English Speech,” since the parts themselves don’t have a language. A noun is a noun in English or German, though sentence structure is different in each language.) The quizzes are never particularly tricky and some appear to have been written by a non-native English speaker, but they’re good for two minutes of fun to break up a work day.

As I took the grammar quiz, I found myself singing (to myself, mind you) the songs from Schoolhouse Rock!, Grammar Rock!, in particular. It struck me that for anyone in the United States watching Saturday morning television in the 1970s, Grammar Rock! probably did more to drill the basics of English grammar into our heads than all the uncomfortable years standing at a chalkboard diagramming sentences ever could.

For those of you who did not grow up with this outstanding series of animated shorts (music videos, long before the phrase was coined), Schoolhouse Rock! was a series of animated musical educational films. They aired in between the usual Saturday morning children’s programming and taught us math, grammar, American History and basic science. Grammar Rock! aired between September 1973 and April 1976, with two more episodes airing in September 1993. (Earth Rock! and Money Rock! were late, direct-to-video entries that I never saw.)

Each episode was approximately three minutes long and featured simple, sometimes snappy, tunes with memorable lyrics. They were designed to help kids learn a part of speech and to recognize it within the structure of a sentence. They were fun, catchy, did not “talk down” to kids and they worked!

(This one Leads me to believe that adverbs weren’t always considered a writing bugaboo to be avoided when possible.)

Of course, the lessons taught by Grammar Rock! are the basics, the foundation on which advanced rules will build. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of the classroom or Strunk & White’s grammar bible, “The Elements of Style.” I cannot stress enough the value for a writer of learning (all) the rules of grammar. And, as we three here at Stilettos, Stoli, and Scribbles have discovered, the process never ends.

A lot of us start out writing the way we speak, and that’s not always a good thing. No matter how grammatically correct we intend our speech to be, it’s more colloquial. On the page that can become problematic, appear disjointed and confusing to read. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort, reading books, taking webinars and watching tutorials. Once we’ve figured out what we don’t know, we can hone our craft and improve with every scene we write.

We’ve discovered some great online tools in Hemingway and Grammarly. We have vowed that from now on, nothing would see the light of day without first passing through both. There are countless articles and blogs designed to get us over any hurdle we face in our current works-in-progress. A lot of these are useful, but a lot of are contradictory. And a few of them designed only to point out how much better they are at all this stuff than you. There are how-to books for every genre and sub-genre. Many of these claim to deliver the secret formula, the exact set of rules needed to create the perfect book.


The sheer amount of information at our disposal is mind-boggling. And as K R pointed out, there are no jingles to help us with character arcs or the three-act structure. Lord, I wish there were. Every time I pick up a book or come across an article, I’m sure that it will contain the one clue I’m still missing. As soon as I absorb its contents, the light will dawn on marble head. Would that I absorbed the important stuff as I do the trivial.

As an adult, even one who calls herself a writer, I’m rarely called upon to pick out the conjunction in a sentence. But I can, thanks at least in part to Grammar Rock! What I can’t do is read the word conjunction without “Conjunction Junction” running through my head (and then getting stuck there.)

How about you? Do you remember “Schoolhouse Rock!” and if so, do you have a favorite?