I had to laugh this week when I got a spam email with the title, “Loose 8 Ponds Quickly!” Wow, did this spammer need a copy editor.
A copy editor finds all the pesky little errors of grammar and spelling. Many publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style as their style guide. Because here’s a secret they don’t teach in high school: grammar and to an extent spelling, is a matter of convention. Grammar is an agreed-upon set of rules for how we punctuation, conjugate and parse our language. There are different style guides and each has slightly different rules. And the language is evolving.
For example, I heard recently that quotation marks as a way to indicate speech are being disregarded in some new publications. That doesn’t make sense to me! I’m conventional. But for an edgy YA novel, maybe it would draw in a few new readers, which is language in the service of the story.
Do you need to study the Chicago Manual of Style? It wouldn’t hurt; but it’s unlikely that most writers need to do that intensive study. You do need a solid grounding of grammar, though. Unless your character is uneducated, speaks in a dialect, or is sick, s/he should speak in standard English. If you can’t manage that, then you should take a class somewhere.
I recently read a story that started, “Because him and his whole family were going out to do some camping.”
Wow. Embarrassing. Here’s how to keep from being embarrassed.
Spell Check. I’ve been lax lately about running a spell check on everything that goes out. But I was recently embarrassed by an obvious spelling error and it jerked me back to reality. Everyone can make mistakes, so you should use the tools available to write as cleanly as possible. Use your word processor’s spell check! Then run over it again to catch things like he/eh, for/four/fore, their/there, etc.
Grammar Check. Likewise, run your word processor’s grammar check. Always.
Study E.B. White’s Elements of Style. If you constantly find yourself mixing up things like for/four/fore or loose/lose, then you need to brush up on your skills. White’s book has a long list of easily confused words and is a handy reference. Or try the variations on this classic, Elements of Style: Illustrated, or The Elements of Style: Updated for Present-Day Use.
Use the online Chicago Manual of Style. Not sure what word usage is correct or how to punctuate something? Use the online Chicago Manual of Style to answer all questions.
Want to go farther and test the limits? OK. Once you know the standards, feel free to play. Here are some helpful books.
- Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
- It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences
- The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English
- Spunk and Bite
What are your favorite grammar and style books?
And what standard grammar rules are being challenged by contemporary publishing?