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Thursday, August 25, 2016

More about False Grammar Rules

Continuing yesterday's post, keep in mind two things:
  1. The 16CMS grammar rules may seem rigid at first glance (especially without knowing all the ins and outs of the ~8,400 rules therein), yet a beautiful hierarchy emerges overall as well as a separate interdependence involving some of the rules that allows for a bit of wiggle room. Remember too that, yes, the discipline of grammar can gain you freedom within your writing (an interesting dichotomy, for sure, but valid nonetheless); and
  2. Presenting any false grammar rule to a newbie author or to a grammatically impaired pro author does not give them enough basic data to make an informed choice here. They should know what 16CMS requires in its basic rule on any matter. Always give the basic 16CMS rule. Misrepresenting a false grammar rule as the basic rule does a great injustice to Indie authors.
ITEM #1:

Let's take these one at a time. For item 1 above, I'll give you some examples. Yesterday we talked about how 16CMS 13.48 and 13.51 show the proper way to use an ellipsis (consisting of seven "characters"): one regular space + one period + one nonbreaking space + one period + one nonbreaking space + one period + one regular space. The two nonbreaking spaces in the middle keep the three periods together, acting as one unit, no matter where they are placed within a sentence, albeit on a computer screen or on your cell phone screen.

Of course you won't see the nonbreaking spaces here, but let me show you an ellipsis or two in action:
CORRECT USAGE: Her phone rang, and she grabbed it, glancing at the screen first. "It's about time you called. . . . But I can't sit here for . . . When will you get here?"   
And there is a very good reason why these three nonbreaking periods are bookended by regular spaces. Those regular spaces are very important. Want to know why?

Because, as also found within rule 16CMS 13.51 (but not discussed yesterday), whenever you need to add other punctuation marks around the ellipsis, the regular spaces set apart those added punctuation marks from the ellipsis itself. This is especially important when adding a period before your ellipsis. Like I did above. See "It's about time you called." That's a complete sentence. It deserves a period. The period comes before the ellipsis, at the end of the sentence as normal. Then comes the ellipsis. Both are separated by that first regular space that precedes the ellipsis itself.

And on my Preview screen, the example above breaks at the perfect spot. (Hope you get to see it in email version too.) The line breaks after "called." Putting the ellipsis itself first on the next line. This shows how the sentence-ending period, separated by a regular space, allows for a line to break immediately before the ellipsis.

Now look at the next part of our conversation above. "But I can't sit here for . . . When will you get here?" Note these six words that start it off are not a complete thought but an incomplete clause, so no sentence-defining period is needed at the end (and I put none here for that reason).  Yet the final five words are a complete question, so the first word (when) is initial capped, and you'll see a question mark at the end. Just as it would be found elsewhere in a novel when presenting a question.

See? The 16CMS rules are interwoven; some are dependent on others. Then there are exceptions to the main rules. But you should know that main rule regardless. And there are even exceptions to the exceptions. The US English language is a mess of contradictions, like how the ellipsis has spaces on each end, while the M-dash and N-dash don't. Which, IMHO, is something I hope that 17CMS addresses by adding in spaces around those two noted punctuation marks also. As they currently stand, they can make for godawful word breaks. In this electronic age, we have to consider our words being read on a 17" computer monitor or on a 2.5"-wide cell phone screen.

Okay, so knowing the main ellipsis rule (the seven "characters" that make up an ellipsis) and knowing the related dependent rule (periods go before the ellipsis, separated by the initial regular space that makes up said ellipsis), I hope you can see the importance of retaining those bookend spaces as separators around the ellipsis. Going further, note that the three periods are unbroken, acting as one unit.

Therefore, I feel I can make a good argument for using the ellipsis keystroke as long as it has those separating spaces before and aft. First, the keystroke periods are still one unit (just minus the two nonbreaking spaces). Second, in the ebook world, we Indie authors (after rounds to a DE, a CE, a proofreader, etc.) then send our MSs to a formatter, who adds HTML codes as needed to our docs. I've heard from a formatter that the ellipsis keystroke acts as a valid HTML code. So seems using this keystroke would help make your formatter's job a bit easier.

Here's the above example repeated below but using the ellipsis keystroke instead:
KEYSTROKE USAGE: Her phone rang, and she grabbed it, glancing at the screen first. "It's about time you called. … But I can't sit here for  When will you get here?"   
Now, just to round out my topic here, imagine what havoc can be wreaked with an M-dash which has no spaces around it (per rules 16CMS 6.826.89). [Note the N-dash used within the range of rule numbers. It has no spaces on each side either, like the M-dash.] I'll give you an example below of one of the rare M-dash constructions that deal with dialogue yet are outside the quote marks, per 16CMS 6.84. The M-dashes come into play when there is no dialogue tag, just a quiet (nonverbal) action breaking up one line of dialogue.
"John, I'm leaving"—Mary scooped up her keys, cocking her head—"to run to the store. Did you want anything?"
Now look closer at the first M-dash. Since it has no separator spaces (per 16CMS), then the opening M-dash is connected with both "leaving" and "Mary." That's like stringing together fourteen characters (if you count the M-dash as the equivalent of two regular dashes/hyphens). Just picture this line on your cell phone screen and how it could be broken up to fit the 2.5" space. Yeah. Could be messy. That's why I'm hoping the next version, the 17CMS, is more accommodating for such things by adding in separator spaces for both the M-dash and the N-dash.


What I find so heinous about these fake grammar rules being touted as "the rule" is that these falsehoods aren't presented to the newbie or pro author as an alternative (and maybe not even a good alternative either) but as the basic "everyone knows this" kind of rule. How deceptive. When I copyedit a doc, if the author's predominant style is to go with "okay" versus "OK," I note within a Track Changes comment that Web11's preferred spelling is "OK." I happen to use the second preferred spelling, "okay," in my own writings, whether an email or a blog post or a novel. But the point here is that I inform my authors of the preferred spelling and let them decide if they want to change all the "okay" references to "OK." They can then make a more informed decision.

Same thing with the serial comma. I check to see if the author prefers using it or not, and then I inform each how 16CMS 6.18 advocates the serial comma. I do not use the main part of the serial comma rule myself, as in "the red, white, and blue flag" (per 16CMS 6.18) would appear in my writings as "the red, white and blue flag." My reasoning is that I do employ the other part of the serial comma rule, what I call the "clarity comma" rule. If a passage needs a comma to define what was meant, I add in a "clarity comma." Here's an example:
CLARITY COMMA IN USE: For me I ordered biscuits and gravy, and an egg and sausage biscuit and a side of pancakes to go for my son.
WITHOUT CLARITY COMMA: For me I ordered biscuits and gravy and an egg and sausage biscuit and a side of pancakes to go for my son. 
Anytime you see multiple "and" occurrences in a sentence, always look to see if you can clarify the meaning for the reader. A well-placed comma (hence, the "clarity comma" moniker I use) can help the reader's comprehension, on the first reading, as to how to interpret the sentence. Note that "biscuits and gravy" may be listed as two items, but they act as one item, also as one order in the above context. Same thing with the "egg and sausage biscuit" but adding a side of pancakes to that order. So we have two orders here, one for the mother and one for the son. Don't you think the sentence with the clarity comma added is easier to understand without having to read it twice? I do.

I also don't think a true serial comma is needed where the comma could be replaced with "and." Remember, "the red, white, and blue flag" would easily be written as "the red and white and blue flag" or as this version of "the red, white, blue flag." Because sometimes a comma replaces "and." Therefore, using the serial comma along with "and" becomes a repetition. Just my particular viewpoint. And I hope someday the CMS will see it my way too.


I hope I've successfully argued my points here. I'm an Indie author myself and feel we get judged too harshly, especially when I see plenty of typos and grammar errors in trad-published books too. I'm a copy editor by trade, yet I can't turn off that mind-set, even when pleasure-reading. So I find plenty of errors in the books published by various US houses, big and small. I even make a point of sending a list of said errors to the appropriate publishers so that they can correct the book and upload a better version at the next reprinting.

Regardless we Indies should exceed trad-pub expectations (even though trad-pubbed books aren't faultless, as noted above). That's why I think more is required from us Indie authors. We should be closer to the perfection mark with each book we upload.

And the 16CMS grammar rules help us by giving us generally accepted writing practices in the States. And the Web11 spelling rules provide us with the preferred spellings of words. All this adds clarity for the reader. You never want your reader rereading a line or a paragraph, trying to make sense of what's before him. Once you break your reader's trance within your book, you may not be able to lure him/her back in. So avoid this by watching your grammar and your spelling.

Other matters come into play too, like syntax, context, cause-and-effect logic, yada, yada, yada. For now though, your lesson for today ends. Have a good one!

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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