Where to begin? There were so many great points made. Maybe numbering would help.
1. Re: grammar--I'm not an expert--that's for sure, but I learned a great deal of if when I went to the Defense Language Institute. Now when I teach ESL, I incorporate quite a bit of grammar into the lessons, even though I'm told that isn't the best approach. I don't agree and my students don't either. It's so much easier to teach and learn when we all know the vocabulary. We learn language intuitively as children, but when we become adults we have other tools available to help us learn. I consider the rules to be a tool.
That supports what you have said--either get it intuitively through a lifetime of reading great books, or learn by the numbers.
2. Re: Harlequins: When I was learning German, I was a voracious reader of the German version of the Harlequin Romance. I may not have a "high brow" vocabulary, but, boy, can I "dish" in German.
3. Re: person present tense. I recently read that this is best used when your mc is not an "over-the-top" character. What do you think?
This leads me to another question. When we read a story in first person, aren't we supposed to be looking for places where the mc is fooling himself? For example, in Melville's, "Bartleby, The Scrivener, the reader becomes aware that Bartleby is not self-aware, and what he is relating is truly flawed.
So when I write in first person, I inject points where a careful reader would see that the narrator's ideas are flawed. I did that in my Kingdom of God entry.
And my Africa entry.
In the first one the mc talks about "her restrictive world" and "forfeiting freedom," when in reality, her world offers all the choices and freedom.
In the Africa story, the mc says this is her brother's journey, but the title I gave it suggests otherwise.
I guess my point is that a first person narrative should be harder to trust, being more subjective. It's a great opportunity for the writer to inject subtle messages.
If the writer wants a more "reliable" voice, wouldn't third person, past (omniscient) be the best?
4. Re: the passive voice. Since I have been writing more in the first person, I've been using passive voice more also. It helps me keep the "I"s down. How bad is this practice?
5. There may be more roaming around in my head, but I'll stop there.