Continuity and Errors

Typically I revise a published chapter on AO3 three times within half a week of it going up. I’ll revise at least once more within the week after that.

Regarding the Nine and my aforementioned comments on continuity, the biggest thing I caught was a counting error. Specifically, the number of rings in the cashmere bag didn’t always work out right, and sometimes more or fewer rings existed in the world. It should be fixed now.

Other revisions are grammar based and most of them are errors that spellcheck won’t catch. It’s/Its, to/too, and capitalization errors are the bulk of these problems. This is one of the reasons I find paid copyediting so useful, and while it is expensive, it’s mandatory for true published works (anything on Amazon). When I write something I know what I mean. Furthermore, that meaning is baked into the words. That’s the point of writing, and hopefully what comes through to the reader, that sense of being pulled along by language. But readers not yet fully hooked won’t get pulled along, and even the most hooked reader may be shocked out of immersion by an unexpected typo. For this reason a paid copyeditor, someone who isn’t going to get pulled along, is invaluable because they catch all the errors the readers will, but also hopefully those the average reader won’t.

Expect anything that’s put up on AO3 to have errors on publishing day, have less a few days later, and continue to have a smaller nonzero number until it hits Amazon if that’s my intent. That’s harder than expected though, hence the low production numbers.

English composition is more art than science, so there are some issues of preference or style. These issues tend to have adherents who think their interpretation is right and other interpretations are wrong. I can’t write to their interpretations all the time, so I don’t.

Let me give an example of opinion treated as fact in grammar.

Suppose Bleys and Caine are talking (1).

Bleys said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Caine interrupted between ‘think’ and ‘that’ with, “That’s your problem, you never think.”

The above is unnecessarily wordy but highly specific. It is most certainly ‘right’ though cumbersome.

Also (2):

Bleys said, “I don’t think…”

And Caine interrupted, “That’s your problem, you never think!”

There are a couple of issues here. First, the ellipsis (…) indicates something left out. That’s what that bit of punctuation means. So the ellipsis draws attention to that which is left out, in this case the ‘that’s a good idea’ bit. Secondly, the second dialogue tag begins with an And which great writers do all the time and English teachers complain about.

Compare with (3):

Bleys said, “I don’t think–”

Caine interrupted, “That’s your problem, you never think.”

The em dash is replaced with two hyphens due to formatting issues in WordPress. But it indicates interruption or breaking. Furthermore the second dialogue tag doesn’t begin with an And.

So which is right, 1, 2, or 3?

Bluntly, it’s a matter of style and adherents to each style will tell you their style is right and other styles are wrong.

Zelazny tended towards 2. He and another of my favorite authors, Poe, never found themselves bound by grammar if it got in their way, and both broke rules whenever they felt like it. In both cases this willingness to defy grammar allowed them to create magnificence, and things like starting sentences with an And created deeply personal styles. Corwin talks throughout Amber and you get the feel of his presence through dialogue. Poe talks through his description, and you feel the fear and madness.

Further, noting the comma after problem, commonly commas are used to indicate a speaker pausing in dialogue. But I’ve heard debate over the ‘rightness’ of it.

Notice also the difference between ellipsis and em dash. The ellipsis draws attention to the fact that Bleys continued to talk but Caine spoke over him, and therefore his words are omitted from the text. The em dash draws attention to Caine breaking into Bleys’s words. They’re not synonymous even if the difference is subtle.

But that doesn’t mean 2 is right and 3 wrong. At least that dialogue tag isn’t right or wrong. It’s obviously stylistic, and outside of English class, one can embrace style at the expense of grammar.

If you, dear reader, want good, quick-and-dirty intros to dialogue punctuation, I have two recommendations. The first is September Fawkes: How to Punctuate Dialogue which is about as clear-cut a case of ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ as possible. I’ve got it bookmarked, and I tab back and forth every now and then. The other one is Strunk and White: Elements of Style which is probably the most useful book on grammar there is.

Style is subjective. It is not right or wrong; it is better or worse. Better is that which makes reading easier or harder as author desires and reader understands. Your writing doesn’t succeed by how many angry grammarians it mollifies. It succeeds by how many readers care and sometimes, whether or not you can pay rent.

Leave a Reply