When I began freelance editing for publishing companies I didn’t run myself (there has only been the one that I did run, in case you were wondering), I received a couple of pages of guidelines to house style: things like double or single quote marks, -ise or -ize endings, how to formulate abbreviations, that kind of small but consequential detail.
It wasn’t unfamiliar; in the company I did run myself, we brought in freelance editors a couple of times a year, and we issued a similar document. One of the perks of the job was that it allowed me to indulge some of my favourite editorial minutiae: things like on to, not onto; OK, not okay; jail, not gaol; all right, not alright; and while and among, not whilst and amongst.
Some of those details are so firmly lodged in the nerve path that joins my reading eyes to my editing hand that I have to make a conscious effort not to ‘edit’ them when all I’m supposed to be doing is reading a manuscript and offering some feedback. It’s the same with misplaced commas and apostrophes; in some cases correcting them is outside my brief, but I can’t guarantee I’ve never done it on autopilot. If I’ve done it to your work and you’re reading this – I’m sorry! Not for the apostrophes and commas, but if I’ve inadvertently changed a spelling or a phrase when copy-editing wasn’t what you needed from me, I apologize most sincerely.
But whatever form of editing I’m undertaking, the fact remains that some things are going to leap off the page at me, and distract my attention from the job I’m really supposed to be doing. Heck, they even distract my attention when all I’m doing is reading a book that’s been through all the editing processes, found a publisher and arrived in my to-read pile.
Here, for your entertainment and possibly enlightenment, are a few of them.
Coming down the stairs, she closed the front door is a physical impossibility, as is ‘This is good lemonade,’ she said, taking a drink from the glass. And don’t get me started on empty bottles of wine.
Characters with green eyes. Especially bright emerald green. I must have mentioned this before. Very few people outside Scandinavia have green eyes, black- brown- or sallow-skinned people hardly at all. It’s usually a variation of olive green: very rarely indeed anything brighter. Yet there is a character with green eyes in 99% of crime novels I read, and the green is often unnaturally bright without recourse to tinted contact lenses. I know characters have to be distinctive, but let’s make them real as well, shall we, guys?
Cars with blacked-out windows. What a cop-out. I know they exist, but as a plot device they’re about on a par with the victim’s stopped watch that indicates time of death. Especially if the watch is a Rolex.
Characters with names ending in S. Not a problem most of the time, but a nightmare when it comes to plurals and possessives, and worst of all both of them together. After more years in this business than I choose to count, I like to think I’m pretty well au fait with how to use apostrophes, but this one has been known to make my head spin. It’s even worse when there’s a vowel immediately before the S. Think about it. I once knew a guy called Menezes. And Mr Menezes’s wife. Which makes them the Menezeses. And they have a house, which is the Menezeses’s house... excuse me, I need to go and lie down in a darkened room for a few moments.
There, that’s better.
Please understand, all the above, and probably a few more which my memory is protecting me from at the moment, are purely personal preferences; given the number of times I encounter them in published books, it’s plain that plenty of other people don’t regard them as empirically wrong. Maybe I’m just picky.
But picky is what some publishers are. Go figure.