Monday, October 25, 2010

Head Spinning Punctuation News

Head spinning news. All these years I have been devoted to the em-dash. That little magically long dash that automatically appears whenever I type a double hyphen between two words and then hit the space bar.

Now, today, lo and behold! I stumble across an awesome blog that every single one of us should read and memorize or at least print out and place next to our word processors written by Anne Mimi, professional editor at a publishing house and what to my wondering eyes should appear?

The em-dash is anathema to professional editors.

In the words of every single George Lucas character at one point or another: Noooooooooo!

I am ashamed to my core to admit I have actually misinformed several other writers about this rule, preaching the em-dash to high heaven among them. I am SO ASHAMED.

Sigh. That wasn't the only surprise, either. Miss Mimi also expounded at length on the evils of a single space after a period, rather than a double space. WHAT THE -- ? But, but, but, but my publisher once upon a time told me just one space!

Now, here I sit, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, and gobsmacked.

Gobsmacked sounds a lot like Gobstopper

To most people out there, news of absolutely anything besides punctuation would be more interesting. However, I have long considered myself to be a grammar devotee, a punctuation sheriff, a heat-seeking missile for typos. To me, it's like I'm a little kid and someone just took away my popsicle or told me there was no Santa Claus. How wrong I've been! Such is the ego, the pride. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Now, admittedly, the rules of grammar the editor adheres to (and she even mentioned it in her blog) all emanate from my #1 favorite grammar tome (even though it's short, it's the BIGGEST by nature of its importance), Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.



Seriously. (Or at least check it out of the library.) Soak it all in! Incentive: it gives concise and complete rules for commas! (And everything else.) I keep it by my bedside. Honest. (And I ignore some of the rules when I'm blogging because, hey, it's a blog.)

Meanwhile, I'm just going to have to start making excuses for myself. The rules Anne Mimi insists upon as a professional reader/editor are for manuscript submissions, not writing in general. She reiterates several times that MS submissions should NOT look like printed books. Therefore, I am going to give myself a little pass on a couple of things. There. I feel better. Kinda.

Part of me is truly overwhelmed, frightened that there is a whole world of vital information out there I simply don't know about and that I'm going to make a fool of myself as a total amateur. Another part of me is really super glad I found this information BEFORE I meet with an agent to pitch my novel (assuming I ever actually do that.)

Crud. Now I'm heading back over to my manuscript. With a printout of this REALLY INFORMATIVE BLOG ABOUT FORMATTING in hand, I'm going to get to work. It may take me a week to implement all the great formatting rules I'm now privy to, but if I'm going to submit it to an agent, I want it to look professional -- and not drop directly into the garbage.

But before I do that, I think I'll pop some popcorn and sit down and watch some reruns of Roswell. Now there's some angsty stuff to lurrrrrve. Give me impossible teen love between earthling and aliens on TV any day. I think I need a Milky Way to go with it. Chocolate, caramel, whipped goo. It will soothe the troubled soul.


  1. I read that whole blog post and now I have a head-ache -- or is it headache??? And did I just use an em dash? If I did, did I do it right?
    *Thanks Jennifer*- sarcastic voice...
    Just kidding! It was interesting. Sounds like a formatting nightmare though. Good luck!

  2. The rule used to be two spaces, and since I've been in ANWA they changed it to one--I can't believe they're changing it back again already. Maybe it's just her preference???

  3. I am -- sure. you; will ____ get--- over! it., you are verrry talen'ted.!!,?--

  4. Ouch! My manuscript is full of --. Although I made a lot of "mistakes" and added two spaces instead of one. I guess the two "mistakes" will cancel each other out.

  5. Jennifer, don't listen to her! She's wrong! First of all, Strunk and White say to use Em-dashes, not hypens, for abrupt breaks. (see page nine of the fourth edition.) Hyphens are used for piddly stuff like joining some compound words or numbers like four-hundred twenty-seven. Also, you should only use ONE space after end punctuation (Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. 2.12). She also says to spell out numbers less than 100, but their are many exceptions and an alternate rule about single vs. double digits.

  6. Oops...I meant "there are"! How's that for good editing?


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