Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Manifesto of a former grammarista

Folk who know me best also know I used to be a copy editor at a book publisher. I mean, for like a decade. And then I managed copy editors. And then I wrote style guides. That sort of work history will scar a girl, and even to this day, despite my best efforts at self-improvement, parts of my brain remain a bit proscriptive. If you could make Strunk & White's Elements of Style into a verb, that would be my brain ("Oh, don't mind me, I'm just over here StrunkNWhiting").

So, even though I'd never harp on these abominations to your face (we don't do this! we never do this!), here is what those brain-parts are screaming as I read your manuscript:

1. Dangling or misplaced modifiers help no one, ever. Unfortunately, I see a bunch of these, even in published books. Educate yourself on these things and avoid them. Please, please, please.

2. Yes, character names ending in S are fun (I love me a Rhys, an Alexis, a Lucius, maybe a...Salacious?). However! Be aware that there are two legit ways of making possessives of a singular noun ending in S: one way has you add an apostrophe+S, and with the other you add just the apostrophe. It's important that you know going in that whichever method you choose, half of your readers will be completely and totally convinced you're doing it wrong. So, just stick with boring non-ending-in-S names, yeah? Also, don't harangue people who are choosing the other method. They're okay, too.

3. There can be only after a period. If you are putting two spaces, congratulations for passing typing in high school all those years ago. Also, welcome to variable-width fonts and the twenty-first century. (Aside: This is the topic at SFF Seven this week. We are seriously discussing whether there should be one space or two. I love this blog so much!)

4. I know you really want to use a semicolon, but restrain yourself. Don't do it. Even if you think you know how to use a semicolon, sadly, you're probably doing it wrong.

Oh, now that you've got me rolling, I can think of SO MANY peeves, things that just make me crazy: sentence fragments with no subjects and a whole buncha -ing phrases, homonym misuses, pronouns that refer to the wrong thing or nothing at all, word repeats, run-on sentences... yikes!PANIC!JUDGMENT!

*in through your nose, then out through pursed lips*

You know what, though? Don't mind me and my ridiculous, proscriptive (adj, StrunkNWhiteous?) brain. Tell your story. Tell the hell out of it. If you tell me a good enough story, I won't even pick nits.


  1. I did not know you are a recovering copy editor! On behalf of those who adore the semicolon, name characters purely for the joy of the "s's" and are bedeviled homonyms...thank you. 😊

  2. I get so many laughs (and brain cramps) from dangling modifiers/participles! Getting to look up at a crit partner with a perfectly straight face and say, "I don't think this says what you think this says." Priceless. :D