I have just finished going through the copy-edited manuscript of my 2nd novel ‘Payback’. God, I hate this part of the process of creating a book!
First you realise how many stupid, unintentional punctuation errors you made and failed to spot (my favourite is failing to open or close speech marks when writing passages containing dialogue). How is it that no matter how many times you read your own work, these little devils remain invisible, until of course someone else reads it?
Then you come to the things which you thought were perfectly OK but the copy-editor doesn’t. You tend to assume the copy-editor is right, but then you check the grammar guides to find these things are optional, perhaps depending on how ‘traditional’ is your approach to grammar. Things which tend to exercise me are comma placement, capitalisation of certain words (like job titles), use of hyphens (table top, table-top, or tabletop?), and the ‘Oxford comma’ (the optional comma placed before ‘and’ at the end of a list – check the last few words before this bracketed section and you will see that I have used it there). My copy-editor hates the Oxford comma, but I think it sometimes avoids ambiguity so I stubbornly insist on using it all the time!
What all this reminds me is that language is a constantly evolving thing, and that yesterday’s firm grammatical rule is today’s optional guideline and tomorrow’s obsolete and discredited practice. This made me think about some of the grammatical abominations (my opinion!) which I hear every day, such as …
The use of ‘sat’ (he was sat there) and ‘stood’ instead of the gerund ‘sitting’ or ‘standing’.
The use of ‘there’s’ (there’s many reasons to be scared) instead of ‘there are’ when referring to more than one item.
This latter example is now in such common usage that even BBC news presenters regularly use it. Come to think of it, in Spanish (of which I can speak a little), ‘there is’ and ‘there are’ share a common translation, ‘hay’. Maybe it will be the same in English soon?
What about text-speak’ such as ‘ur’ instead of ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ – or even ‘4’ instead of ‘for’? It may seem absurd to contemplate the possibility of such things entering mainstream accepted grammar, but I wouldn’t be so sure. Just look back at acclaimed literary works written a few hundred years ago. See just how outdated and clumsy the language appears today.
I guess we are all products of the era in which we grew up and were educated. I am no exception, so when I am writing, I’ll stick to what I was taught and what I feel is right for me – even if future generations may consider it frumpy or old-fashioned.
Anyway, ‘Payback’ is done now (to be published Feb 2014), and it’s off for typesetting (or is that type-setting?) so soon I’ll be worrying about page layout style, font size etc. I’ll be glad when the thing is past the point where I can no longer keep tinkering with it and move on to the much more enjoyable task of mapping out the plot for the 3rd book in the series!