How The Web Can Kill
Writers or Anyone Who Writes
I recently read a grammar and editing column
in my local newspaper, the Glendale News-Press. In June
Casagrande’s “A Word Please,” she groused
about the problems so many writers having with hyphens.
She noted the sad (or not so sad) influence of the Web
on our grammar, punctuation, and style choices and there
are enough of them to give the average author who pulled
down As in English a big headache!
June mentioned the disappearing hyphen as one of the things
we authors must contend with. but that is just the beginning.
The Net also encourages us to push all kinds of words
together. Let’s call that the "domain name
influence" or, perhaps the domainnameinfluence. Do
we write “book” or “bookcover?”
“Bookfair” or “book fair?” “Backmatter”
or “back matter?” “Hard copy”
or “hardcopy?” You’ll never know because
generally the trusted Chicago
Style Guide doesn’t weigh in on these trends
and dictionaries haven’t caught up with the quickly
changing domainnameinfluence either. And the spell checker
in Word? Well, it doesn’t put a red squiggle under
either “Hard copy” or “hardcopy.”
That leaves the writer—whether she’s writing
fiction or a resume in a style-choice pickle.
Frugal Editor, I suggest the zero-tolerance approach
to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers
(and therefore make it more likely they'll get published).
Still, I admit I love to stick words together. It isn’t
really a new thing. I mean, word-bonding is a time-honored
tradition in English. The word therefore is an example.
We’ve been using words like that for eons. Word-gluing
goes back to the English language’s Germanic roots
German is a creative language. The Deutsch do things like
push the words for finger and hat together to make the
word for thimble (fingerhut).
Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So, except
when I am trying to get something like a pitch or a query
or a book proposal past a gatekeeper, I make combined-word
style choices for myself and let the so-called rules be
damned. We authors can have it our way—we just need
to be careful where we choose to exercise our independence!
Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress
a literary agent or prospective boss, please don't put
hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only one
way. If you think your contact believes it's nonfiction,
not non-fiction, there is no point flaunting your style
choice You won’t get a red squiggle with either
version from your Word spell checker (or spellchecker),
but that doesn’t mean your run-of-the-mill agent
or future employer won’t be more judgmental.
I could go on and on about the way the Web has mislead
us. It practically coaxes us to overuse ampersands and
most don’t haven’t the faintest idea we’re
being mislead. We see question marks and exclamation points
and caps and titles overused. What if we emulate those
affectations because they start to become so familiar
we think they’re being used correctly? Agents and
publishers will hate it, that’s what. And that can
be disastrous for our careers.
Then there is improperly punctuated dialogue. We see it
on the Web and even in books. There’ are many other
grammar idiosyncrasies that your English teacher never
told you but that are sure to annoy the feature editor
at The New York Times or the powerful agent you want to
The list is endless. Lucky that writers have June Casagrande's
grammar books like Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies
(Penguin), and my multi award-winning book, The Frugal
Editor, to help them through the grammar and syntax
swamps, isn’t it.
Tips and Tidbits
(Each month in this box, Carolyn
lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote
better. She will also include a Tip to help readers
find a treasure among long-neglected books or a
sapphire among the newly-published.)
this box, I list a Tidbit that will help
authors write or promote better on the months
my “Back To Literature” columns
appear and includes a Tip to help readers
find a treasure among long-neglected books
or a sapphire among the newly-published.
This week, however (because everyone is
a writer), I want you to improve your style
choice sense so I’m suggesting these
books on editing taken directly from my
multi award-winning The
Frugal Editor .
READING FOR THOSE WHO WRITE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING
Into a Coma: A Curmudgeon’s
Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong
in Print—And How to Avoid Them by
Bill Walsh ().
is a text-analyzing computer program that
makes indexes and wordlists, counts word
frequency, compares uses of a word, analyzes
keywords, finds phrases and idioms, and
publishes to the Web.
Help is a collection of computer programs
by Roger Carlson, including highlighters
for passive words, prepositions, and adverbs
as well as an “Adverb Eliminator,”
“Word Frequency Counter,”
and “Count Lines.” You need
some computer expertise to set your computer’s
security settings to accept macros, reboot
your computer so the new settings will
take effect, and install the programs.
McNichol, editor and writer, was introduced
earlier in this book. Nonfiction only.
• For an editor with a UK sensibility
(though he edits for Yanks, too, including
this one), check Dr.
Perry, owner of Writers in the Sky,
is a developmental editor for fiction
and nonfiction. She also has team members
Quinn provides all aspects of editing
from developmental consulting and manuscript
evaluations, to proofreading services.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stylebook by Associated Press, Especially
good for those who write for newspapers
and some magazines.
Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A
Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right
by Bill Bryson
Manual of Style by the University
of Chicago Press Staff .
Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance
Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.
Especially good (and fun) for those writing
for the UK market.
From the Madding Gerund by Geoffrey
K. Pullum et al.
Modern American Usage by Bryan A.
Garner is excellent for Americans. For
our purposes—that is not to rile
an agent or publisher—choose the
more formal of possibilities it offers.
If the suggestion feels stilted, rearrange
the construction of your sentence.
Snobs Are Big Meanies: Guide to Language
for Fun & Spite by June Casagrande,
published by Penguin. Use this book when
you want to be informed and confident
enough to edit on your own or to judge
the expertise of the editor you hire.
It is an excellent source (and a fun one)
to learn more about style choice vs. grammar
rules. A more formal tome that helps with
basics but isn’t as fun is The
New Fowler’s Modern English Usage
by Fowler and Burchfield.
Syntax: 101 Language Choices That
Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar
Snobs—Even If You’re Right
by June Casagrande. The more you know
about choices, the better writer you’ll
be. You will not always need to cater
Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the
Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s
Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by
June Casagrande. This is the best single
book to review before you begin to edit
any major writing project.
for Chicago Manual of Style by Kate
A Manual for Writers of Research Papers,
Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition:
Chicago Style for Students and Researchers
by Kate L. Turabian is an excellent resource
• Perrin and Smith Handbook of Current
English has been around a long time. When
you have read it, you will know the difference
between temerity and timidity—or
at least know to look them up. “Half
knowing a word may be more dangerous than
not knowing it at all” is the kind
of truth you will find within its pages.
Trouble is, you may need to search for
it in a bookstore that sells used books
or watch for it at garage sales.
Elements of Style, Fourth Edition,
by William Strunk Jr., E. B. White, Roger
Angell. See my cautionary notes in this
book about using Elements as if it were
The Ten Commandments.
Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury
of Terms & Literary Quotations by
David Grambs. One of my favorite references
for creative writing.
Words Collide: A Media Writer’s
Guide to Grammar and Style (Wadsworth
Series in Mass Communication and Journalism)
by Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald.
Perfect for freelance writers, copywriters,
journalists, and media writers.
Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella
is a must-read because poor dialogue technique
is a glaring tipoff to editors and publishers
that a manuscript is written by a beginner
who has not taken the time to learn his
or her craft. It is one of those books
I wish I had written myself. No need.
Chiarella did it.
for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic
Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate
the Reader from Beginning to End by Karl
Iglesias. Fiction writers can learn a
lot from screenwriters and playwrights
and vice versa.
for Story by Lisa Cron. I recommend
this book to all my editing clients.
to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and
Promote Your Work One Post at a Time by
Nina Amir. A Writer’s Digest book
that encourages and inspires—and
makes the writing of your book a little
professional organizations share their print
conventions with authors. Just ask. I list
a few so you will see there might be an
appropriate one for you even if your topic
is . . . well . . . esoteric.
Howard-Johnson is a multi award-winning novelist, poet
and author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of
how-to books. She occasionally teaches classes for the
renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program.
Website - My
Review Blog - Email