You Can't Account for Style
To professional writers—the ranks of which I have recently entered full-time—words matter. But myriad occupational hazards come with the territory.
For starters, there’s the waxing and waning income. And the omnipresent threat of writer’s block.
Don’t forget the pitchfork-toting gangs of vigilantes hell-bent on murdering unsuspecting freelance writers. (Maybe that last one is just a story I’m working on. Humor me.)
Another hazard for scribblers is the delicate dance required to navigate between style guides. The two biggies are AP Style, which journalists favor, and Chicago Style, which book publishers tend to follow.
These two handbooks agree on most issues. Hyphenate compound nouns. Use ellipses in place of missing words within quotes. Place periods inside quotation marks.
Unfortunately, the manuals differ on a few crucial elements of everyday writing. For example, there’s the use of that pesky comma—specifically, the “serial” comma.
Let me show you what I mean.
This series of David Amulet’s favorite words would be silky smooth with AP types: spleen, wombat, penultimate and kumquat. Windy City stylists, however, are doubled over in agony right now; their indoctrination has instilled in them the need for a comma before that conjunction.
The serial comma disagreement has sparked conflicts between editors that make the Second World War look like a playground scuffle.
I’ll be honest with you: I loves me the serial comma. Perceptive visitors here already know that I prefer using the little swipe of additional ink to make longer sentences easier on readers.
But let’s focus on what matters. As long as the material is good and the meaning is clear, style takes second place … which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from the Washington Post’s Sam Brown:
“Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance.”