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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-05-15 05:31
Subject: [process] Copy edits and manuals of style
Security: Public
Tags:books, kalimpura, process, work, writing
I am currently more than halfway through the copy edits of Kalimpura, recently received back from Tor. The manuscript is actually pretty clean, and the copy editor's queries are both minimal and very much to the point. I'm going to assume this is a good thing, though as [info]calendula_witch recently said to me in a related context, she feels like she's cheating when she receives a clean manuscript to work on.

However, one thing that has always baffled me is why fiction publishers use manuals of style for copy editing manuscripts. In my case, per the abbreviated notation in the style sheet that accompanied my copy edit, M-W 11th, Chicago 15th, Words into Type, and Garner’s Modern American Usage.

I do understand why some aspects of house style are important, such as getting the ellipses and em dashes correct. That's a book design and typesetting thing. For example, the style sheet says the following:
“Use this form—” When an action. “—interrupts the speech.”
“Use this form”—when an action occurs simultaneous to speech—“without interrupting it.”

Okay. Fine with me. This is how Tor wants their books to look. Hooray! I'm not a book designer, and I certainly didn't embed any punctuation geekery in the manuscript I turned into them.

But on usage and spelling...? Fiction is in one important sense all about voice. And there's a lot of changes that get made in the copy edit that I have to stet. There are certain archaic or non-standard spellings I favor. "Storey" for "story" when describing buildings. "Dreamt" instead of "dreamed". "Til" instead of "till". All of which get carefully amended to the current standard written usage, and all of which I just as carefully stet back to my original.

Don't even get me started on the that/which distinction. The rule about restrictive and non-restrictive clauses is a piece of prescriptivism demonstrably at odds with the way people actually use those words, and I personally will deliberately stray from the rule for the sake of smoothness of the reading. (i.e., not creating a clunky string of serial uses of "that" or "which")

Likewise "who" and "whom". I know the difference perfectly well, thank you. But almost no one uses "whom" in casual speech, so in dialog my characters don't, unless they're the sort of personality who would be either that formal or that persnickety. Also, "they/their" for third person gender indeterminate is a very common usage dating back hundreds of years in English, and really doesn't need to be corrected.

Oh, and comma splices, I loves me some comma splices when I'm writing fiction. So what? It's my voice.

Fiction isn't formally correct, and it shouldn't be. It should reflect the author's voice. I can write very formally when I need to. I do it all the time for business writing in the Day Jobbe (though that has its own usages and quirks). I also do some legal writing in the Day Jobbe (disclaimer: I am not an attorney and I do not practice law, I do, however, routinely draft certain contract provisions for our Legal department to review), as well as some technical writing that is distinct from my business writing. I even occasionally do marketing writing there, though less often than I used to. Each of those forms has their distinct speech register, expected norms of usage, and formalisms.

The really great thing about fiction is that you get to craft your own speech registers, your own norms of usage, and your own formalisms. While I definitely need to be internally consistent in style and usage within the text (though I can readily imagine exceptions even to that statement), I don't need to be consistent to formal usage, so long as I remain clear and comprehensible.

So I'm always puzzled about why publishers instruct copy editors to round off all the interesting bits.

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The Green Knight: Words
User: green_knight
Date: 2012-05-15 14:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a copy editor myself, these choices surprise me. Chicago is meant to be a guideline for nonfiction (most houses have house styles anyway), not a bible for fiction.

In fiction a copy editor should strive to preserve the author's voice and style while giving the readers clarity. What is and isn't going to be a hindrance to readers is a judgement call, and you need to read the genre you edit so you know what reader expectations are, what they *can* deal with. The more literary a work, the lighter the hand that wields the pen must be, because when the author strives for rhythm and the perfect wordchoice with plenty of rhethorical resonances, an editor aiming for 'clarity' is not going to be helpful. SF readers *want* "The door diluted" in their fiction even though it 'makes no sense' and 'could be rephrased to be clearer'.

At the same time, editors spot stumbling blocks that writers might not bu it's the old quandary - for the writer to trust their copy editor, it helps if the copy editor proves trustworthy, and rewriting parts of the text that are not in need of clarification is not the way forward.

Signed, a writer who uses 'alright'.
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User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-05-15 15:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"The door diluted and Emma swam out into the garden."
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2012-05-15 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Some of it is actually a dictionary thing, rather than a style guide thing. The CE (or at least my CE) is correcting to match both.

I suspect they do it because it's a lot simpler to match a set standard than to be constantly making judgment calls about what changes to make or not make. Especially since an author can be inconsistent: if it's "dreamed" the first three times, and then "dreamt" for two, and then it keeps varying throughout the text . . . what do you do? If you have a standard, then you either change "dreamed" to "dreamt" the first three times, or change "dreamt" to "dreamed" when it shows up, and you're fine. If you don't have a standard, you have to ask yourself which one gets used more often (and then backtrack throughout the entire manuscript to change the others to match), or assume the author intended the variation for reasons of style (which might not actually be true).

I wholeheartedly agree that the CE should try to preserve the author's voice. Doing things like enforcing the that/which distinction is completely unnecessary. Or deleting uses of singular "they." I've had a CE crusade against my semicolons; GET YER PENCIL OFF MY STYLE, sez I. (Especially when that crusade led her to replace the semicolons with ungrammatical and flow-destroying em-dashes -- or, in one memorable instance, a comma splice.) But some issues, variant spellings most particularly, aren't as easy to make judgment calls on.
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The Green Knight: Honeysuckle
User: green_knight
Date: 2012-05-15 17:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
re dictionary/style guide: yes, the copyeditor is 'correcting' things... but the question is, whose 'correct'? In the end, it comes back to the house style whether an author is allowed to use unusual terms, Britishisms, words-not-in-dictionary etc. This depends on whether you are prescriptist or not - is the dictionary the ultimate arbitrator, or does it merely record usage?

if it's "dreamed" the first three times, and then "dreamt" for two, and then it keeps varying throughout the text . . . what do you do?

This is why I refuse to do paper edits: I can change my mind. But what I would do, in all seriousness, is fire off an e-mail to the editor: Dear editor,:the author uses both dreamed and dreamt: please query which form I should be using so I can add it to the stylesheet.

And if the author isn't available, I'd pick one form and add it to the stylesheet, adding a note to the manuscript: AU: as both dreamed and dreamt were used in the manuscript, I have changed them to [whatever}. Please confirm.

I've eaten crow a couple of times, merrily making changes to find that the author had used something deliberately - but with tracked changes, I can simply undo the edit and nobody will ever know that the copy editor was stupid, and global search means I can ensure consisency.

What authors can do to make everybody's job easier is to create their own stylesheets. That eliminates much of the confusion: if I can see that both grey and gray are used in the text, I know to leave well alone. It's also useful for the spelling of unusual names (because that's something a copy editor simply cannot resolve. (Copy editors will do this anyway, but they might miss things.)
I find that as a writer, I need to keep those notes anyway - how do I spell those names, what are the characteristics of this character, which verbs do I use for 'operate the magic gizmo' (is it empowered? charged? And does it mean something if I use different terms?)
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2012-05-15 17:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm definitely not a prescriptivist. :-) But some CEs differ.

I should do the stylesheet thing, and if my next CEM weren't showing up in three days I'd do it for this book. Because yeah, I like dreamt and leapt and a few others like that, and if I could get away with James' instead of James's I would, etc. It would be easier to handle those things if I accepted an electronic copy-edit, but since I don't write in Word -- not to mention I catch errors better off the screen -- I still ask for paper.
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User: skellington1
Date: 2012-05-15 15:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm going to do a little dance of glee. It is the little dance of glee I do whenever someone else rags on the that/which distinction. Ha.

I do occasionally need my comma splices reined in, though. Or perhaps 'severed' is the proper correction for a splice...
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Matt Ruff
User: matt_ruff
Date: 2012-05-15 16:05 (UTC)
Subject: Been there
To avoid excessive stetting, I create my own style sheet to forward to the copy editor along with the ms.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-05-15 17:12 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Been there
I actually have done this on the SUNSPIN books. First time I've tried that. We'll see how it works out...
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User: deborahjross
Date: 2012-05-15 16:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My pet peeve is the current mania for possessives of proper names ending in "s." I cling to James's not James' and have gone so far as to never use a character name that ends in "s" or else always find some way around that construction.

I made it through writing Hastur Lord with exactly one instance in which I could not gracefully avoid Regis's. And of course, it got changed to Regis'. But I pick my editorial battles carefully and let it go.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2012-05-15 16:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Heh. Whereas I'm the reverse. :-) Get your superfluous "s" off my possessive!

Our CE's must be using different dictionaries/style guides; they keep adding the s to my manuscripts, rather than taking it off.
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The Green Knight: Interesting Characters
User: green_knight
Date: 2012-05-15 16:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Interesting Characters
The common rule is that you write James's but Moses'

It's often explained as 'posessive s for common names, simple apostrophe for foreign languages.

And now you can see the copy editor wondering how to treat names in a fantasy novel...

(My solution: go with the author. I'm lazy that way.)
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User: deborahjross
Date: 2012-05-15 17:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
swan_tower - I wonder if this is a generational thing. I went through school in the era when the only names that took possessives with just the apostrophe were Jesus (and occasionally Moses). Some sort of religious exemption, I guess. What we grow up reading/seeing colors what looks "right" to us.
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Kate Schaefer
User: kate_schaefer
Date: 2012-05-15 23:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Whereas I believe that Jesus's and Moses's are the correct forms for both of those. Jesus' and Moses' look wrong to me; if I have to read them out loud, I'll add the missing S.
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2012-05-15 18:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Likewise "who" and "whom".

Raising hand. Guess I am persnickety after all.. grin.
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