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I Hate Chicago, Illinois Nazis

November 7, 2017

I have discovered a new curse of being a writer—the Style Nazi. This is a kind of editor you don’t run into as an independent author. As an independent author, you’re doing well if you find an editor who can do basic proofreading and notice discrepancies in the story. (Me, for instance.)

The Style Nazi is kind of like a Grammar Nazi, but more professional. He or she is usually a high-end editor who has committed the Chicago Manual of Style to memory. Coming from the world of journalism, I was raised on AP Style, so there’s obviously a certain potential for conflict. Now I’m okay with using the Oxford comma. I don’t mind not having spaces on either side of my em dashes—you’ll notice I left them out when writing this post. I refuse to do anything that might risk an ellipsis appearing at the beginning of a line, but that’s a small matter.

They also rely on the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which can lead to some odd outcomes:
“You just hyphenated ‘manchild.’ You’re probably right.”


“Okay, you just hyphenated ‘startup.’ I’ve never seen anybody do that before, but technically it seems to be correct.”
 

“Now you’ve hyphenated ‘face to face’ when it isn’t in front of the term it’s modifying. I know for a fact that that’s wrong.”
 

“Wait, since when is ‘friendly’ an adverb? What, just because it ends in ‘ly’ it’s automatically an adverb? What about ‘ally’ and ‘gully’—are they adverbs now?”

They have other rules as well. One of them is that if a word can be replaced with “said,” it mustbe replaced with “said,” no matter what nuance is sacrificed in the process. I kid you not—these are people who will replace “interrupted” with “said, interrupting” and never stop to think “Dear God, what am I doing with my life?”

Another rule is that all numbers in dialogue must be written out. A reasonable editor will make exceptions for things like years, very large numbers and the numbers in 9/11, 7-11 and 401(k). A Style Nazi will make no exceptions ever.

The worst thing about them is that they have preferences that they elevate to the status of rules. You know that one person in your writing group who really hates ellipses, em dashes, or the use of italics to denote interior monologue, and who complains every time you use them? Imagine having that person as your editor. 

In this case, it was parentheses. I admit, I overuse parentheses. I’m trying to cut back. But my editor removed all of them, cheerfully reducing sentences and paragraphs to meaningless jumbles of disconnected words and ideas. It reached the point of self-parody during the scene in Congress, when I introduced characters like Rep. Jared Chiang (D-CA) and they took the parentheses out of (D-CA). At this point I was like “I’ve been trying to figure something… in my head and maybe you can help me out, yeah? When a person is insane, as you clearly are… do you know that you’re insane? Maybe you’re just sitting around, reading Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary…

One good thing Style Nazis can do for you is show you what your own literary style looks like. Most of us know we must have a style, but we don’t necessarily realize what it is. The Style Nazi will show it to you by trying to destroy it. The only literary style these people understand is Chicago Style. (Deal with Style Nazis very long and you’re going to hate Chicago even more than Republicans do. You’ll find yourself hoping Mrs. O’Leary’s cow returns from the land of the dead and brings some napalm with her this time.)

If you’re prone to verbosity or purple prose, Style Nazis may actually improve your writing. Even if they don’t, you may improve it while repairing the damage they do. For example, when I said I overuse parentheses, what I really meant was that I make too many parenthetical remarks—which is to say, I get sidetracked a lot. I found ways to better work some of these remarks into the flow of the story.

There’s other things they inadvertently helped with:

 

“Holy shit!” her daughter suddenly blurted out.

This line, I confess, needs work—I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t fix it myself. Normally, a good editor would remove the word “suddenly.” As an adverb, “suddenly” shouldn’t be there unless it contributes something vital to the sentence, and it doesn’t. The phrase “blurted out” already implies all the suddenness I need to convey. An editor who believes that any word that can be replaced with “said” must be so replaced will do this differently, of course:

 

“Holy shit!” her daughter suddenly said.

While trying to decide what to do with this, I realized that I really only needed two words. “Holy shit!” already sounds like something blurted out, and we learn who’s doing the out-blurting in the very next sentence (“Thel!”)

So… Style Nazis are not all bad. They don’t deserve to be punched.

I just hope not all top-of-the-line editors are like this.

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Patrick Hodges’ Pawns, which I'll get around to reviewing one of these days, is free until Friday. Also, here’s a chance to get a lot of other really good indie novels free, although you have to join the Rafflecopter site.

* * *

For the first time in years, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. The way it’s set up, NaNoWriMo is a good thing to do if you have one work in progress that needs 50,000 words of work ASAP. What I have is a couple of works—Locksmith’s War, which was last year’s NaNoWriMo novel, and Altered Seasons: Age of Consequences, the predecessor of which has been my NaNoWriMo novel for two previous years. Plus my ghostwriting work. Plus learning to be a scopist. And I’d like to get some progress made on “The Dead Skunk.” And I have an idea for next year’s Short Attention Span Theatre. And, most of all, I have to get ready for the big launch of Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise. My plans for this month are to get five chapters of Locksmith’s War finished, along with 20,000 words of Age of Consequences.

Oh, and there’s a short play I want to get written before the end of the year, which I'm calling “Based On a Story I Found On the Internet.”

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