So today I’ve been doing probably the second least fun part* of creating a novel – the final, hardcore grammar and style proofcheck.
Now I like to think of myself as someone who’s good at English and fairly knowledgeable about grammar. I also liked to think that my novel was already pretty much fine in terms of its grammar. Every book and website about self-publishing seems to suggest you should hire a professional proofreader. I was certainly happy to pay for a professional cover designer (thanks Scarlett!) as I have no artistic skills at all, but editing sounded like something I could do myself.
Roughly eighteen hours later, I think I was right. I’m confident that the book is 99% grammatically correct, but my goodness it was a painful process.
When it comes to something simple like the difference between “there” and “their,” or putting apostrophes in the right place or treating speech in the right way, I’m all over it, and the manuscript didn’t contain any errors of this sort. Then however, I started hitting a comma wall. I’ve never really thought consciously about where commas should go. On the whole, they’re something I use naturally. As I went through the book however, (all 300 pages of it), I found myself pouring over grammar guides and becoming quite paranoid.
The Grammar Book list no fewer than 21 rules of comma use – if you want to give yourself a headache, check out http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp.
It starts off simply enough, with things like:
“Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the word and can be inserted between them.”
But as it goes on, it all get more and more confusing:
“A comma splice is an error caused by joining two strong clauses with only a comma instead of separating the clauses with a conjunction, a semicolon, or a period. A run-on sentence, which is incorrect, is created by joining two strong clauses without any punctuation.”
“When starting a sentence with a weak clause, use a comma after it. Conversely, do not use a comma when the sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.”
It turns out I was breaking some of those rules! All the time that I’ve been sneering inside at people who use apostrophes incorrectly, I’ve secretly been making grammatical errors myself. The horror.
Nobody notices this sort of thing, I thought angrily, and I took a break for a bit to read someone else’s book. It was bizarre – I couldn’t focus on the story at all. All I could see was semi-colons and weak clauses.
Anyway, it’s all sorted now and as an added bonus I feel I learnt more than in thirteen years of English classes. I’m not looking forward to doing this again with books two and three though.
*In case you’re wondering, the worst part is removing or heavily cutting down scenes I love, either in response to constructive criticism or because I realise they don’t quite work. Oh pre-Oxford party at Adelaide’s house, how I miss you.
PS – I was terribly self-conscious whilst writing this post. I’m looking forward to someone pointing out all the errors in it!
PPS – For those who don’t know, the title of this post comes from the Vampire Weekend song Oxford Comma. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you have a listen. They are one of my favourite bands and in my head, their albums are basically the soundtrack to The Cavaliers series. Few bands sing about being young, rich and preppy quite so well.