Sunday, 6 August 2006

Rampaging commas and the like

I went to the RNA South East’s chapter meeting yesterday and it was very informative. Jay Dixon spoke to us about “What A Copy Editor Wants”. Now, I’m still fairly new to the biz, so this helped flesh out my knowledge of how the system works.

Checking through every word and punctuation mark when the proofs arrive is a bit tedious but, in the most part, I’m learning a tremendous amount from seeing the changes – especially to my punctuation.

I went to school at a time when teaching grammar was about as fashionable as nylon polyester is now. The bits I did learn, I remember well, but there are huge gaping holes in my knowledge. Thankfully, things have changed and my children are not going to have the same problems. My nine year old quite happily talks about ellipses and stuff like that, yet it was only in the last couple of years I discovered the proper name for those three little dots.

I’ve been reading lots of grammar books since I started writing seriously. I’m improving, but there’s still a way to go. If you could be jailed for punctuation mark misuse, I would be banged up for wilfully abusing commas. Hardly a page goes by in my proofs where, like the Lord on high, the copy editor gives commas and takes them away. At least I’m getting a feel for when they are in the right place now.

Secretly, I suspect my mss are populated by a pack of rogue commas. I swear they all jump up during the night and settle themselves back down in completely inappropriate places just for fun. That’s my defence, guvnor, and I’m sticking to it.


allyblake said...

I'm with you there Fiona!

So the ellipses are the ...? They are my current addiction. In my next to last book I had to delete about a dozen of them in my copy edis. The overuse was just ridiculous! And entirely my own doing ;).


Fiona Harper said...

I have to confess to being an ellipses junkie too. However, I was proud I managed to use a couple of semi-colons correctly, so things aren't as dire as I think they are on the punctuation front.

Anonymous said...

Oh, while we;re talking about punctuation can any one help with this? After 3 little dots, should there be a a small or capital letter?
eg And if the children jumped in to help...the result didn’t bear thinking about.

And is still it OK to have 2 spaces after a full stop at the end of a sentence?

And does an em dash have a space on either side of it?

Fiona Harper said...

Janet, as I said, I've learned alot from having my books copy-edited. Some things are a matter of the house style of the publisher.

I noticed in my copies of BDM that, where the phrase after the ellipses was a whole sentence, it started with a capital (I think I had just kept it lower case, not being sure what to do with it).

I always put two spaces after a full stop. Don't think I could stop myself if I tried.

For HM&B the em dash doesn't have spaces, but this is probably one of those things that is down to house style. I just try and do the same as I see in other M&Bs and hope it'll be fine.