Saturday, June 4, 2016


John M. Daniel’s Blog
June 4, 2016

Welcome to June. May it bust out all over. Welcome to writers and storytellers. May they bust out all over, too. That is, may their first drafts be overwritten, haphazard, inconsistent, and sloppy on the screen. That’s the way a lot of us like to create art: without rules, without restraint. Messy. That’s what “joy” is all about, right?

But as we take the necessary steps of our second, maybe third, and at last final draft, we recognize that in order for the story to be worth reading as well as fun writing, neatness counts. Rules matter. Consistency is important. Control is necessary, not only for effective communication but also for the joy of doing things right.

In addition to being a writer and a small-press publisher, I am also a free-lance editor. I do developmental editing (help with structure), line editing (help with style), and copy editing, which is the mundane chore of imposing proper spelling, proper grammar, proper punctuation, hyphenation, capitalization, italics, and consistency.

For my job as a copy editor I have a style sheet that I share with my clients. It is an ongoing and on-growing list of common errors and how to fix them. Some of the rules I impose on my clients are generally accepted and endorsed by Mr. Strunk and Mr. White. Some of my rules are debatable, but I’m so fond of my choices that I impose them on my clients anyway. They can overrule me if they want.

So, with no further introduction:



Note: This list is an ongoing work in progress. It is compiled as a reference resource for our authors and our proofreaders. In most matters, we agree with Strunk & White and with the Chicago Manual of Style.

House style: gray (not grey), okay (not OK or O.K. and especially not Ok).

Our house style is to use a comma before the conjunction in series of three or more. Tom, Dick, and Harry. (not "I wish to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and Pope Francis.)

Our rule for ellipsis dots: When they follow a complete sentence, there are four dots, one of which is the period belonging to that sentence. The four dots are followed by a space. When the ellipses follow an incomplete sentence, there are only three dots.

When somebody’s speech is interrupted mid-sentence by another speaker, we use an em-dash (—), not ellipses.

On capitalization in story or poem titles: Some short words, like “it,” “is,” “to” (when part of an infinitive), “her,” “his,” etc. are capitalized (first letter). The general rule for lower-casing short words applies to articles, conjunctions, and prepositions of four letters or fewer.

“Mom” and “Mama” are capitalized when they work as names. They’re lower case as common nouns. Same rule applies for Father, Dad, etc.

We spell out numbers under 100; use numerals for 100 and over. (Always spell numbers out in quoted dialogue, or when the number is the first word of a sentence.)

“anymore” (one word) for adverb. “any more” (two words) for adjective. “Don’t give me any more cookies. I don’t eat cookies anymore.”

“awhile” (one word) for adverb, as in “stay awhile.” “a while” (two words) for the object of a preposition, as in “stay for a while.”

“all right” is always two words. “alright” is not a word.

“under way” is always two words. “underway” is not a word.

“farther” for distance; “further” for degree: “I had to travel farther from home to be further educated.”

“blonde” means a blond-headed woman. It is always a noun. The adjective (male or female) is “blond.”

as a general rule, compound adjectives are hyphenated if they precede the noun they modify. “This is a red-hot poker. This poker is red hot.”

The possessive of a singular noun ending in s is ’s: Tom Jones’s lady love, the princess’s slippers.

The only use for single quotes (‘,’) is to represent quotation marks with quotation marks.

As a rule emphasis should be shown by italics, not by boldface or ALL CAPS.

We don’t like gimmicky punctuation, including double bangs (!!) or interobangs (?!). If the words are forceful, standard punctuation will do.

I lie down today; I lay down yesterday, I have lain down every day this week.
I lay my pencil down today; I laid my pencil down yesterday; I have laid my pencil down all week.

The past tense of spit is spat. (A similar rule applies to a verb that rhymes with spit.)

The past tense of sneak is sneaked, (not snuck).

“Disinterested” does not mean uninterested or indifferent. It means appropriately impartial.

“Infer” does not mean imply. It means deduce from what is implied.

“Different than” should almost always be changed to “different from.” (Exception: “Mice and men are more different than apples and oranges.”)

I suggest to my clients, and I now suggest to you, that a personal style sheet is a handy thing to have. It will save you (and your editor, if you have one) a lot of trouble. Your style sheet will be different from (note: not “different than”) mine, of course, but you’re welcome to incorporate any of my preferences that you agree with.


Calling all authors—
I feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for July’s 99-word story submissions is July 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for July 9 and will stay posted for a week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by this sentiment: “Yes, I love you, but you’re going to have to choose between me and that animal.”


And now a word from our sponsor:

As I mentioned above, I am a professional free-lance editor. If you are looking for an editor, a mentor, a ghostwriter, or an editorial analysis of your work, please check out my website describing my services. The web page is
and there are hot links to the details.

Note: this information was written and posted about fifteen years ago, so some of it is out of date. But it will serve as an introduction to who I am, what I care about, and what I do for the joy of making a living with words.


That’ll do it for this week. Thanks for putting up with my strong opinions about this wonderful language we speak and write. I’ll ease up next week. In fact, next week’s post will be written mainly by an assortment of good writers who have submitted 99-word stories for your pleasure. Till then, write, read, and celebrate the joy of story.


  1. Great post, John. I agree with all of those. But I have not actually written a list down. So, I am going to take you at your word and copy down your list and paste it on the wall. Thanks.

  2. I love lists, Jim. I think half of my writing is made up of lists. Glad one of my lists will make it to your wall!

  3. Thanks for this, John. I follow all of your rules except for the comma before the conjunction, even though I learned that in Catholic grade and high schools and used it for many years. I, too, will copy down your list and keep it nearby.

    1. Actually, Eileen, rules are only suggestions and recommendations. The English language is always evolving. I just don't evolve so fast.

  4. Nifty. Thanks for your style sheet. I have copied it onto my computer and will add suggestions of my own.

  5. Thanks, Lesley. Yes, add to the list. That's part of the fun.