Styling Decisions — word choice and punctuation

Some people argue that using American spelling will open up a whole new market for their book. I don’t know if anyone but an editor will notice the differences. It feels like grasping at straws. But it is your choice.

I am ready to accept Webster’s spelling as an international norm, if that is way the wind blows. (He set out to make a distinctly American vocabulary.) After all, maintaining Canadian distinctions may be hopeless since no one is maintaining a Canadian dictionary anymore. Word’s Canadian spellchecker won’t be enough to maintain the distinction between meanings of (pointless) spelling variations like practice vs. practise.

[pullquote align=”center” textalign=”left” width=”50%”]Surely none of those differences trip readers up as much as sticklers would have us believe.[/pullquote]

And I don’t see a benefit in maintaining national preferences regarding serial commas, single or double quotation marks, or where punctuation goes in relation to them. Somebody pick one and I’ll follow along. Surely none of those differences trip readers up as much as sticklers would have us believe. I truly hope readers are better than that. Judging from the editing work I do, most avid readers (aka writers) haven’t even noticed the conventions. Be consistent, and those elements won’t upstage your message.

Word choices can be important — like chips vs. fries. In England, those are the same thing. Not so in North America. If you read “pants”, you don’t want to be wondering if the character is standing there in his underwear (the British meaning). The story should make the meaning clear. The syntax, colloquialisms, and settings of a story have similar impact. Sometimes foreign uses of words, or ways of using words can trip up a reader. I always pause when my UK colleagues call me a freelance. “Where’s the -er?” I think. Or when they say something is “fit for purpose.” It takes a minute to figure out the intent, but I do get there.

[pullquote align=”center” textalign=”left” width=”50%”]Another purpose for reading is to expand one’s horizons.[/pullquote]

Sometimes word choices are integral to the story — if Potter’s tale hadn’t contained the many British terms for things (such as boots and torches) or if they suddenly attended “grade 10” or got “mail” instead of post, the setting would not have been as vivid. But I did occasionally wonder if the torches were electric or fire. Could have gone either way. And the boot might as easily have been footwear on the back of the car as it might have been the trunk, I guess.

In non-fiction we often adapt case studies, etc. to reflect a Canadian context. But Canadianizing a story’s setting would be — wrong.

Another purpose for reading is to expand one’s horizons. Don’t be afraid to introduce readers to your own way of speaking, to words and turns of phrase as you know them. Don’t underestimate your audience’s ability to adapt.