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Writing: style?

RFI; can anyone recommend a style guide for prose writing? I know I'm doing a few things wrong (punctuation in speech, for example), and I'd like to have a reference for how to do it correctly.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 18th, 2007 04:02 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that, somewhere in our apartment, we have a style guide floating around.
Dec. 18th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
If so, we'll find it when we do the book sort of doooom. :)
Dec. 18th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
You can't go wrong with Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.
Dec. 18th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
I'm not entirely inclined to agree. It's a classic, sure, but it's not very comprehensive, and it's terrible for looking up specific problems.

I really like Don LePan's newer Broadview Guide to Writing and Broadview Book of Common Errors in English. People have praised On Writing Well; too, but I haven't read it.

Also, Anne Stilman's Grammatically Corret is pretty good.
Dec. 18th, 2007 05:59 pm (UTC)
The Elements of Style is certainly not comprehensive, but my understanding is that it wasn't meant to be. The original book was only 43 pages long. I'm rereading it at the moment, so I will admit to being biased towards it. As a guide for how to write clearly and concisely, it's invaluable.

If what Matt is looking for is a guide to troubleshooting common grammatical problems, then I agree that Strunk and White is not the ideal guide.

When I was in my first year of university, I bought a guide to writing and grammar that was wonderful. It was simple, easy to understand and full of examples. It was written by a faculty member at my university and thus had a limited print run. I lent it to someone many years later and never saw it again. :(
Dec. 18th, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, for what it was meant to be Strunk&White is lovely. I've just found it frustrating whenever I've needed to look up a specific problem, so I tend to recommend it for reading but not for reference, if you know what I mean.

Phooey on people who steal reference books!

As a comprehensive reference, I adore the New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage, but it's a vast, weighty tome, and might be overkill for curgoth's purposes.

We used Margot Northey's Making Sense in high school, and I found it really handy, but I haven't seen it since then.
Dec. 18th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)
Damn, I wish I could answer this. I had a fantastic reference text for a course at university, but sold it when I was short on cash. All I can remember is that it was blue. :(

As for other sources, I've used the Chicago and Strunk & White, but neither strike me as ideal for everyday writing.

I'm not sure how instructional it is, but you might want to check out Eats, Shoots & Leaves -- I remember hearing raves about it.
Dec. 18th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure how instructional it is, but you might want to check out Eats, Shoots & Leaves -- I remember hearing raves about it.

Now *that* I'm almost certain we have a copy of.
Dec. 18th, 2007 04:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, we do. :)
Dec. 19th, 2007 01:33 am (UTC)
Eats, Shoots & Leaves is fun, but probably doesn't have the level of detail that you're looking for.
Dec. 18th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
If you're looking for a general guide to grammar and punctuation, I can bring you one of mine next time I'm down. I have a couple of 'em that will do the trick. Think I have the Little Brown Handbook and a McGraw or Harcourt one kicking around. They're both easy to follow and cover the basics nicely. Zingerella has a greater depth of knowledge on these matters, though. I'll be back down on Friday night, so let me know and I'll bring you one of my spares.

For an actual style guide, it depends on the purpose of your writing. If it's book stuff, there's Chicago, if it's media, there's CP or Globe in Canada or AP in the States. The Economist has a decent online style guide that you can use for free (http://www.economist.com/research/StyleGuide/). Such style guides will set out more than just basic grammar and spelling usually. They'll set out the publication's rules for setting up things like footnotes or citations, which dictionary to use, and rules for variables within grammar and punctuation, and thus tend to be created for a specific publication or company.

Dec. 18th, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
For the short term, I'm mostly looking to clean up the style on the microfiction I've been writing on here. In the long term, I'm mostly idly wondering about formatting a manuscript for submission to fiction publishers and agents. Maybe. Some day.
Dec. 18th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
Formatting a ms for submission is easy: you go to the publisher's submission page, on the publisher's website, and follow their instructions to the letter.

Usually this means that you either send a query and wait for the publisher to ask you to send a partial ms, or you send a partial (three chapters, usually) formatted double-spaced with 1-inch margins, usually in 12-pt. courier (some publishers will accept Times). As far as spelling and grammar go, you want them to be clean, but if they're not impeccable and you have a saleable ms, the publisher will buy the ms—they're going to fix your spelling and grammar anyway, and they're selling story, not spelling and grammar (this is not to say that you should send something in with atrocious grammar and spelling, but if you submit a ms, and you have one or two little errors, but a ripping good yarn that fits the publisher's list, no acquisitions editor is going to say "Pity about the typo on page 13."
Dec. 18th, 2007 07:08 pm (UTC)
The thing that's driving me nuts right now is trying to use programmer's quotes; my brain wants anything that starts inside quotes to end there, so I am having a hard time writing speech properly, since I want sentences to end at the closing quote. I know, from paying attention to the books I read, that that's not the correct way to look at it, but I don't know what the right way *is*. I figure if I start writing more often, I'm going to run into more of these things.
Dec. 18th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
Okay, in North America, it's actually pretty straightforward:

If the speaker's speech ends with a period, comma, question mark, or exclamation point, the punctuation marks go inside the double quotes:

"Blast!" said Lord Vrul, "Does anyone have a spare battery?"

His subordinates shook their cephalod appendages, until the most junior member of his squad extended a pseudopod.

"Mine has a charge, your Worship," he said.

When the sentence of which the quotation is a part ends in a period, or when the phrase or clause ends in a comma, these marks go inside the quotes, even if they're not part of the quote. This is a North American thing; they do it differently in the U.K.

Lady Wrathley inhaled deeply, "Good gentles," she began, "I would be most obliged if you would follow me to the solarium." She extended her hand to her Consort and spoke softly into that lady's ear, "My dear," she whispered, "Stand straight and show no weakness," and together, backs straight, they walked from the room.

Another example:

"Halloo! Halloo the ship!" called the lieutenant, broadcasting over all channels. He turned off his broadcaster. "If we go in, expect surprises," he said to his unit.

In the last sentence there, the sentence ends after unit; so the quote terminates with a comma, inside the quotation marks, to signal to the reader that there's more to the sentence. If I turn things around, I can end the quote with a period:

... He turned off his broadcaster, and addressed his unit, "If we go in, expect surprises."

Does this make sense?
Dec. 18th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
"Blast!" said Lord Vrul, "Does anyone have a spare battery?"

The way my instincts would have written that is;

"Blast!" Said Lord Vrul, "does anyone have a spare battery?"

which I know is wrong.

If that's a whole sentence ending after "battery?", though, why does the "Does" get capitalized?
Dec. 18th, 2007 07:49 pm (UTC)
Well, you could replace the comma after Lord Vrul with a period, and you'd be correct. In fact, I'm not sure that my comma there is correct, now that I look at it again.

"Blast! Does anyone have a spare battery?" is the complete quote. So even when it's interrupted by extraneous information, it retains its "original" punctuation and capitalization within the quotation marks. said Lord Vrul is parenthetical information that interrupts the entire quote. It can't stand on its own as a sentence, so it's not capitalized.

"Blast!" said Lord Vrul. can stand as a complete sentence, so if you want to end it with a period, that's fine. Then "Does anyone ..." is clearly its own sentence, and therefore takes a capital.

Good questions.
Dec. 18th, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
Oops. I suck at closing tags.
Dec. 18th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)
I really have to keep reminding myself that there are very good reasons why computer programs aren't written in English. :)
Dec. 20th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
Never forget the good ol' "Interjections" song from Schoolhouse Rocks:

"An interjection's set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point,
Or by a comma when the feeling's not so strong."

Damn. Gonna have to run and watch that DVD now.
Dec. 18th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC)
i'm fond of strunk & white too but in the long run, you might be best off with something academic like the chicago manual of style. i know these are meant more for formatting non-fiction but they tend to have serious grammar sections.
Dec. 19th, 2007 03:05 am (UTC)
For ease of looking things up (quick reference) I use Merriam-Webster's Guide to Punctuation and Style. That has a lot to do with the fact that I also use the MW 11th College edition as my standard dictionary.

For something *slightly* more readable (to study up a bit) you might want to try A Grammar Book for You and I.... oops, Me. It's by C. Edward Good. And it's pretty good. :)

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