Sunday, April 20, 2014

The War on ... Wait For It ... HYPHENS!

by Leann

English is one of the most difficult languages to learn for a myriad of
reasons. As a writer, I understand that far better than I once did. Perfecting a manuscript requires a lot of patience and a knowledge of grammar, but also requires knowing when to break the rules. After all, people in conversation, for the most part, do not always create perfect sentences.

But dialogue is a whole other animal. Dialogue is NOT actually how people talk. Dialogue needs to just sound like how people talk while removing all the extraneous ums and ahs and extra words we tend to use when talking to another person. If a dialogue-heavy book used all the words we actually speak, it would be an awfully long book.

Right now I am slogging through the final editing stage of the book that will come out in August. This is NOT a creative process. I do not like it one bit. It requires lots of concentration to make sure every word is there and spelled correctly. There are "rules" about words many of you many not know about. The copy editors and proof readers who "fix" our books must all use the same dictionary and a certain "style manual" that the publisher has chosen. (For me, my first edition of Strunk and White's Elements of Style is enough. I won't say which manual they use, but it's not that one!)

The trouble began with my book last year. You may not be aware there is a campaign to rid the world of that horrible, detestable hyphen. Here's the problem. I happen to LIKE hyphens. Why? Because I am old school. Rule of thumb was always this: compound words not in the dictionary but "created" by the author to liven things up followed two paths. If the new word created by merging two words not ordinarily found together was an
adjective, it was hyphenated. If it was noun, it was not hyphenated unless it was too long to be easily dissected by the reader.

Here's the example that absolutely threw me for a loop with the last book. In the very first paragraph on the very first page there is a word that I had to find by searching for it because I didn't know what this particular do-hickey was: anti-climbing spikes (and everywhere I found it, the hyphen was included). Those are the thingees on top of security fences. But the proofer took out the hyphen so it became anticlimbing. The last thing in the world a writer wants is for the reader to have to stop and figure out a word. I believe many people would have thought this was a typo even though this is what the newest style manual says is correct. I threw a mini-fit (see, I LOVE hyphens) and got my hyphen back. I do not want to stop the flow of a story over one silly word!

I went on to find quite a few other words in the book where hyphens had been removed. I didn't like it. Now, I am dealing with the same thing for the August release. Could we make English any more difficult to learn? Oh yes we can! And we did. Why, you may be asking? Personally I believe someone desperately wants more Scrabble words.