Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Refracted Reference

Confession time. Could be everyone already knows this (I know for sure my critique partners are savvy) but my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style is in pretty pristine condition. It's true I take care of my books, but this one requires regular dusting.

CMS is a wealth of information for every novelist. It's probably one of the most expensive reference books I own. Filled with treasures I don't know how to mine.

I understand how it's laid out, and it's very cleverly done. Kudos to the developers of this tool.

What I can't understand is how to determine the question I need to know before I go in search of the answer.

For example, 5.187 deals with something called Subordinating Conjunctions. If I didn't know what a subordinating conjunction was (and I didn't) how would I know I needed to know?

Maybe I'll have to wait for an editor to tell me what my questions should be. Like maybe someday mine will say, "Peg, you've really got to get a handle on your illative conjunctions." Then I would either look for it in my CMS, or make a doctor's appointment.

I've decided that editors are the engineers of the writing world.

"Why use a modifier to set straight a not-quite-right noun when the right noun is available?"

CR: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke.

It's all better with friends.


  1. You mean you didn't read The Chicago Manual of Style from cover to cover? (blink, blink)

  2. One of my more humiliating memories from high school is of the girls who called me "Indo" in 9th grade AP English because I never could figure out the difference between a direct object and an indirect one.

    Don't you love high school? I mean, way to make fun of the struggling one.

    Since I have gone on to write a novel, which one of these days may even see the light of day, I'd say it didn't matter a whole heck of a lot.

    But try telling that to a fifteen year old.

  3. I have many humiliating memories from high school. Shoot, I have humiliating memories from last week.

    Some of us are just lucky, I suppose.

  4. Jenny, meet Susan. The blinking Engineer-Editor responsible for the first comment.

    Susan is one of the best editors I know, and the gentlest—even when she puts her finger on some of my current-day humiliating moments. (Mental image of either a thumb in the Dyke of Humiliation, or squishing a bug.)