I went to a shiva yesterday for a friend’s mother. It was in the evening. A bit uncertain about dress, I wore a conservative suit and a tie. When I arrived, I realized most of the people were more casually dressed. A bit embarrassed, I mentioned to a friend that I felt overdressed. He said, “Don’t worry about it. You’re never overdressed in a suit.”
And yes, this does relate to writing. Modern punctuation trends seem to be minimalist to the point that one is occasionally confused (as in “Let’s eat Grandma.”). My tepid response to this trend has been to drop the series comma before ‘and.’ The editor says No … stick with the Oxford comma (red, white, and blue). The publisher can always take it out. But one is never overdressed in the Oxford comma.
I’m in rewrite on my second novel. I occasionally run into the problem of how to show the reader a character’s thoughts as distinguished from what the character says. There are no precise rules to follow, and that somehow makes it easier to get away with bad writing. In doubt? Put the thought in quotes. Wait … the characters have just been talking, so there are quote marks all over the place. Okay, throw in some italics.
In frustration, I went to the Chicago Manual of Style Forum. Not normally a place for writing advice, but great on so much else …
the original sentence was: Ross took his cue, thinking Enough of this love fest. Time to send this country boy back where he belongs.
I got a great discussion and finally made a very small change, but one which to my ear makes the sentence better: Ross took his cue. Enough of this love fest, he thought. Time to send this country boy back where he belongs.
AND it allowed me to get rid of the italics.
As they say, it’s the writing, stupid.
I have an exasperating problem. Here I am writing (rewriting, actually) an exciting novel, capturing great thoughts, basting it in the oral tradition, riding high. Except the quote marks keep coming out wrong.
There are two kinds of quote marks: straight up and down (like a typewriter) and curly. As the Chicago Manual of Style notes, straight up and down quote marks are ONLY for legal documents and philosophical treatises. I learned the difference right quick when my first edited piece came back marked up because my much-loved Scrivener software seemed to have salted my Times New Roman with straight quotes.
I won’t bore you with the details, but after about four hours and several pounds of expletives later, I know the source of the problem, and I think I know the solution. The reason is I found a wonderful site covering many aspects of the appearance of a printed work. The site is Butterick’s Practical Typography.
When your protagonist’s voice is clear and consistent, when the metaphors and similes draw gasps of appreciation from your writing group, when you have taken out the grammatical gaffes and turgid prose, then you need to resort to Butterick’s. Before you get shredded by your editor.
My friend Sam Westreich, a fine writer, asked about a rule for punctuation, says, “Put in a comma when your brain runs out of breath.” Now, if we had been given rules like that in fifth grade, we’d all be grammarians!