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As I hope to present a unique style to the world, as I am not especially tolerant of being told I'm doing things "wrong" when that's a subjective statement related to writing style, and as I've never been published, I'd like to understand what to expect from my first publisher-required editor cycle.

How much leeway are they going to allow for me to be an original author.. not just in the content of the ideas, but in how I structure the language in which it's presented?

Some example sentences attempting to illustrate my point (exhaustive listing not possible):

  • It was a cold night, frigidly so.
  • "That wasn't the issue at all," she said. Vehemently.
  • The wind threw itself down from the mountains at us; the howl was immense, deafening.

What I really care about is what readers thing, not a close-minded editor. Maybe I'm full of prejudice as well as vim and vigor. Am I off base that they will think they know best and ask me to bend to their will?

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I do think "they" (or at least a subset thereof) do think they know best (there are lots of horror stories of editorial meddling out there) and will not ask, but simply expect you to bend to their will. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 13 '10 at 23:53
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Honestly, so long as you use these kinds of constructions well and don't inundate the reader with them, they are more powerful than they are jarring. I rather like most of your examples, and it's important for a writer to have his own voice. That being said, I'm not a publisher and also have not been published, so I don't know the answer to your question. –  StrixVaria Dec 14 '10 at 0:16
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I'm not thrilled with the implicit assumption that all editors are closed-minded. There are editors on this site. I'd be downvoting if not for the fact that this is a rather good question. –  Neil Fein Dec 14 '10 at 6:49
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I would say that it depends on the context. If you are writing in the fantasy genre, theres a greater chance of something that is not regular not just being accepted but appreciated. Even in a contemporary setting, using the character's background and history to create this kind of language as a quirk of the character - i think it has a very good chance of being approved not just by editors but by readers in general –  InSane Dec 14 '10 at 7:19
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@neilfein: don't get huffy ;) –  John Smithers Dec 14 '10 at 22:35

8 Answers 8

up vote 10 down vote accepted

A lot of the time it comes down to one thing: consistency.

If your whole text is made of sentences like this, then it can be seen as your style. If you pepper your text with just a few of these, they will be more likely to become an editor's target, and reasonably so.

Make sure you differentiate between actual style and just doing something because, "you know, that sentence is so cool that way."

I am usually a fan of the former and see the latter as lame showing off.

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Staying out of coolness, or reinventing language just because, is a good pointer. And, I'm hoping consistency is enough. However, my pessimism/realism tells me, that in the instance of most editors, Dale may be right. –  QuickerSnarkerBacker Dec 15 '10 at 0:36
    
Consistency may not be enough all the time, very true. If it doesn't cut it, try a different publisher and/or editor, if possible. Still a problem? Time to ask for some specific feedback and reassess. –  pHneuma Dec 15 '10 at 23:21
    
Also, what can be very important is context. What I mean by that is your context as an author. Do you have a blog? How many regular readers? Published any stories online? Basically, try to find a way to show the publisher that there is an audience that reads you, thus there is a potential market for your work and your style. –  pHneuma Dec 15 '10 at 23:27

I work as an editor for three different houses and also have books published with two houses, so this question is right up my alley!

When it comes to an author's style, you have a lot of leeway. When an editor reads over the manuscript, they're going to make sure that what you've written is understandable and isn't going to throw your readers for a loop. If the editor has a hard time understanding what you're trying to say, they'll most likely ask you to change it. But if what you're saying is easily understandable and you just have a unique way you want to say it, then they'll most likely go with what you've got. Editors at publishing houses are also readers, they know what other reads are going to want to read and they know what sells. If they want you to change something, most likely it's because they believe the book and you will benefit from it.

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Thanks for taking the time to explain how this works, sir. –  QuickerSnarkerBacker Dec 15 '10 at 23:28
    
I like to think that an editor is looking at your work from the perspective of potential readers, so this is reassuring. If an editor suggests changes because he doesn't feel that your target audience is going to tolerate or appreciate your "uniqueness", then you need to be willing to make some adjustments! –  Steven Drennon Aug 4 '11 at 2:06

PLEASE, please; -Please- don't ever use the second example in writing:

"That wasn't the issue at all," she said. Vehemently.

Using adverbs to explain a character's actions is lazy, and to top it off, the period adds extra emphasis to the lack of effort by the writer.

The third example:

The wind threw itself down from the mountains at us; the howl was immense, deafening.

Is an interesting sentence, and could be viewed as style.

As an unpublished author don't expect any leeway unless your story is so great it begs to get published.

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The punctuation in all of your examples is defensible, and only the second is non-standard — you are using the full stop to mark a pause, but the stop has a semantic role that you don't want. Using an em dash would avoid this and emphasise the pause even more, although it would still be non-standard.

I think the first two examples have defects and can be improved:

  • It was a cold night, frigidly so. — I don't think "frigid" is effective here, and the sentence can be given more energy: 'The night was icy cold.'
  • "That wasn't the issue at all," she said. Vehemently. — Adverbs don't have the stand-alone force I think you attribute to "vehemently" here. How about '"That wasn't the issue at all." She was vehement.'

My claimed improvement has nothing to do with punctuation, but it gives simpler language, so eliminating the need for punctuation tricks.

The third example is good, effective English, and the punctuation makes use of a familiar and completely respectable device, the asyndeton, whose name is less well known than it should be, and which introduces a series of parallel parts of sentence without a conjunction. You need to watch that the parallelism between the parts is clear, if so, as it it is in this example, then it is perfectly readable. It allows images to build up one upon another, just as the two adjectives do in example three.

I entirely agree with JSBangs about what you should expect. Though deadline pressure can make publishers, and so their editors, cranky.

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I personally wouldn't call it a style because it goes against common rules. There's a reason why most writers write with standard punctuation and grammar. Because it works and is readable and digestible to the major population.

It was a cold night, frigidly so.

The problem with this is it doesn't really work. Frigidly means "extremely cold" so you're almost doubling up here. Not to mention you're essentially saying:

It was a cold night, coldly so.

Sense. This makes none.

"That wasn't the issue at all," she said. Vehemently.

There's no reason to put a period between the vehemently. It makes the reader pause when they shouldn't. You should be attaching the adverb to the verb "said".

"That wasn't the issue at all," she said vehemently.

Now you can clearly understand how she said the sentence, instead of reading "vehemently" and thinking, "wait, so she said it vehemently... okay."

The wind threw itself down from the mountains at us; the howl was immense, deafening.

Again, you're going against the grain for the hell of it which is never a good reason to break the rules.

The semi-colon should be a period. You are starting a new sentence. Also, the "deafening" is a little bit of a repeat.

The wind threw itself down from the mountains at us. The howl was immense, deafening almost.

Or alternatively:

The wind threw itself down from the mountains at us and the howl was immense, almost deafening.

I'm showing you the reason why you shouldn't use "your own style" when it actually works against the reader's immediate and natural understanding of written English.

Like I said, there's a reason why professional writers write by the "rules".

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-1 due to all those absolutes. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 14 '10 at 13:55
    
Thanks for the thorough analysis, Nick. I don't plan on explaining the examples; they were all off the cuff, and either stand on their own, or they don't. I will say that, yes, I could easily reconfigure the 10% of my writing that is what I'm calling "nonstandard" to what others would identify as "correct" -- that wasn't the point of the question. –  QuickerSnarkerBacker Dec 14 '10 at 17:01
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I had the same thought about all of the examples except "That wasn't the issue at all," she said. Vehemently. Occasionally using a full stop and then a single word with a full stop helps me to understand the emphasis I'm supposed to be reading with. Usually I prefer the words themselves to convey this, but occasionally I could see it working. –  justkt Dec 14 '10 at 20:57
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@Nick what I mean is the absolute "this is wrong". It isn't. This is writing, not maths. There is not "right". There is "might be hard to understand" and "might be offputting to (prospective) readers". But there's not right. Not even spelling is an absolute. IMQAO, of course. As to "flow better": ever heard of Joyce's Ulysses? Not that I want to say Snarker is Joyce (not w/o having seen his writing... and waited a couple dozen years ;-)), but... –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 14 '10 at 23:44
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@Nick - I don't agree with everything you're saying, but there is more good in your answer than bad. –  JMC Dec 19 '10 at 6:53

None of the examples you gave seem to be non-standard in a way that's likely to bother a fiction editor. Fiction depends on a strong narrative voice, and voice is conveyed by punctuation as much as word choice. A news editor at the NYT might squawk, because the stylistic constraints of journalism are much tighter--but the rules that are appropriate for journalism are not appropriate for fiction and vice-versa. I doubt there are any working fiction editors that don't understand this.

That said, you should be prepared to accept editorial feedback on any/all of these stylistic quirks, especially if it seems that they're distracting from the story rather than adding to it.

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Why stop there? Why not apply non-standard spelling? This is do much more interesting:

"That wasent tha isyou at al," she sard. Vearmentlee.

The purpose of writing is to make your meaning understood. The "rules" are a common understanding of how the language works. Anything that gets in the way of that dilutes your work. Just my humble opinion.

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Terry Pratchett, the Wee Free Men. Almost as hard (and in some spots, harder) to understand than the line you rewrote above. Did it work? Sure did. Did it break a "rule"? Seems so, going by your understanding of rules. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 14 '10 at 14:00
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What's with the downvotes for anyone who advocates the use of "rules"? –  Nick Bedford Dec 15 '10 at 2:34
    
@Nick, it's probably for sarcasm. It doesn't translate well in this format. I didn't downvote it though because he as a point. –  JMC Dec 16 '10 at 8:07

I don't think you'll get leeway. You'll get something either better or worse.

The editor's response will depend on how your punctuation style affects their reading experience. If it enhances the experience, they'll appreciate it. If it detracts, they'll dislike it, even if other elements of your writing compensate.

It's unlikely that nonstandard punctuation will have a neutral effect on their experience. They will notice it. So you're left with either enhancing or detracting.

That said, so what? They can ask you to bend to their will. Then you get to decide how to respond.

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