Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The S-Apostrophe Conundrum

First, a million (maybe more) thank-yous to my publisher and editor for changing all my cringey titles. I do think up some terrible ones, and we needn't speak of those any further. As far as character names go, I don't think I've ever had to change one in a book I shared with anybody. (I do have a terrible manuscript with a slinky fallen angel named Asahel, which friends have said is a terrible name, but it doesn't really matter because no one will ever read this book. I will Office Space my computer with a hatchet before I share that pile.)  

However, I got a funny story about a character whose name-change has forever altered the way I write and critique.

My high school senior English teacher was kind of a badass. Not only was she stern and no-shits-given and made everybody read the Mahabharata in the days before non-Western canon was cool ("If you can read Dante and Milton, you can read this, too, because the entire world is not Christian," bless her), she was also the most feared teacher on campus: she would fail your ass and made all her AP students work for that extra grade point. She was also a published mystery author on the sly. 

Now, this was in the days when manuscripts were typed out on typewriters (those things with keys that predated the keyboard) and submitted on paper (that stuff you continue to get in the mail and dutifully recycle). If you think of an average manuscript comprising 300-odd pieces of paper, that's a crapton of typing. It makes my fingers hurt just thinking of it. And yet, writers back then did the thing. 

Some time before I had her for English, my teacher completed a manuscript, revised it, retyped it, and submitted it to her editor. Now, having done that a few times myself, I can imagine how that went down, passing along a little slice of your soul and hoping the person likes it even a little. Her editor took a while to get back to her, but when she did, the news was both elating and horrifying. The book was good, said the editor. She liked it overall, had a lot of nice things to say about the plot, and only had one minor, teeny little change. 

See, the main character in this mystery was named Rhys. Which ends in an S. (Those of you who've tried to name a character anything that ends in an S, you know what's coming and are cringing already.)

My teacher had punctuated her book correctly. She taught the stuff, ffs, so she knew how to make the possessive of a singular noun ending in S. You add apostrophe+S. Yes, yes, you do. (Fight me.) You only add the lone apostrophe if the noun is plural. That is, technically, the correct way to do it. 

However, so many people are convinced that the wrong way is correct (much like you folks who insist on putting two spaces between sentences because a typing teacher--it always comes back to the typing teacher--once told you to do it that way), the editor of this book feared that roughly half of all readers would be convinced that Rhys's was an error. Worse, if she changed it to Rhys' throughout, the other half of (better informed) readers would be convinced of same. 

There was no win here. She had to change his name. The main character's name. Which appeared roughly every page. 

My teacher, god bless her poor fingers, had to retype that entire bleepin' manuscript.

She also made sure her students knew of this torment so we would never have to endure a similar circle of hell. 

And that, dear critique-group friends, is why I continue to gently suggest you change your Marcus, Iris, Nikos, James, Chris, Alexis, and Frances character names to something that does not end in S. Do it for your readers. Do it for your own sanity. Do it in memory of my poor teacher's fingers.