What We Mean and What We Say

When we’re working, we keep our dictionaries close at hand when we edit, and we do this for several reasons.

First, our clients’ preferences determine what our go-to reference will be and which resource gets the final say in case of disagreement. In some cases, the authors’ preferences—especially in the case of nontraditional spellings or made-up words—can trump all other resources. (It doesn’t matter if the author spelled XXXXXX like that, even though the dictionary prefers XXXXX, especially when it’s a sequel to a previously published work!)

Second, and we’re not ashamed to admit it, we don’t know every single word in the English language, and in some cases, some terms are very specific to certain industries or fields where we don’t have the same expertise-level knowledge as the author. (If we had doctorates in biology, physics, astrophysics, economics, American history, world history, chemistry, medicine, law, and philosophy, we probably wouldn’t have time for editing.)

When we read and edit, we try to pay attention to an author’s intent and try to assist him or her in selecting the most appropriate words. Notice that when we say most appropriate, we don’t always mean correct; this is especially true of fiction. In nonfiction, using an incorrect or inappropriate word can call an author’s credibility into question. If fiction, however, the incorrect word can be used as characterization. What does it say about a character who consistently uses the wrong word? What if a character uses the same fifty-cent word repeatedly, whenever he’s given the chance? What if a character uses an outdated term or one now considered offensive?

Word choice can be powerful when applied correctly, even when the word is used incorrectly.

Shifting Perspectives

As we approach the end of May and the official start of summer, we were thinking back to weeks earlier, when we awoke on a late-April morning to rather heavy snowfall. We thought to ourselves, Typical Vermont weather.

But for people who may have just moved to Vermont from warmer climates, what might they think of this? Were their hopes dashed at seeing snow when, by the calendar, we were already more than a month into spring? And this brings up an interesting point for writers, because the event itself (snowfall in late April in Vermont) can evoke multiple perspectives. In both fiction and nonfiction, the perspective toward an event can tell a reader something about the subject. In fiction, particularly, a writer can hint at a character’s personality by how that character reacts to an event, and if that reaction is atypical or unexpected, it might signal a change in the character.

Using the April snowfall as an example, a character might be thrilled to see it because he is reminded of good times he’s had during snowy weather. A young girl might be hoping that school is canceled because of it, or she could be worried about a parent who’s unexpectedly late arriving home because of it. A lifelong resident might be frustrated by the fact that wintry weather goes on forever, but he doesn’t want to move away for some unspoken reason—perhaps fear of the unknown or something else that makes him feel like he can’t.

There are countless elements in our lives that affect us in both great and small ways. The next time you’re writing (or reading), think about how the characters’ motivations and personalities manifest in their thoughts, speech, and actions—particularly when looking at the same event.

May Milestone

Yesterday was a milestone day: one turns forty but once. Thanks to everyone for their warm wishes, and especially to my wonderful wife for making the day (and every day) truly wonderful. I love you!

A birthday also isn’t a birthday without cake, and boy, did we have a special cake, thanks to Danielle at BakeAria! BEST. CAKE. EVER.

(Click the thumbnails below for full-size images!)

cake_04 cake_02 cake_01

CMS says …

If you missed this tidbit from our Summer 2015 edition of Quill & Ink

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), sixteenth edition, is one of our go-to references when we edit. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a massive orange brick with over a thousand pages of guidelines on such topics as the roles and duties of editors and proofreaders to more esoteric topics like the placement of punctuation marks relative to others.

Here’s one example, as seen in CMS 6.80:

The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound or when both elements consist of hyphenated compounds.

  • the post–World War II years
  • Chuck Berry–style lyrics
  • country music–influenced lyrics

An en dash (–) is only slightly longer than a hyphen (-) and shorter than an em dash (—). Each of these has a different and specific use, like mentioned above. You might also recognize the en dash in numeric ranges (e.g., 1990–2000) or linking a campus location to the name of a university (e.g., the University of Wisconsin–Madison), as well.

While it’s easy to misread an en dash as a hyphen, you’ll probably be surprised by the number of them that you see in the next book, story, or article you read.

That is just one of the thousands of rules in CMS, and those thousands of rules—along with the fact that CMS is just one of a myriad of style guides editors and publishers use every day—are why we chuckle whenever someone asks us about our jobs, “Can’t you just run a spell check?”

Questions? Comments? Reach out to us!

Quill & Ink, Fall 2015

Fall has come, and so has the latest issue of Quill & Ink!

Quill & Ink, Fall 2015

(Click the image to view the Fall 2015 issue.)

In this issue, we talk about changes not only in the seasons but in events and how those events affect our lives. We hope that you enjoy the articles and photographs, and as always, let us know what you think!

Introducing Quill & Ink!

ScriptAcuity Studio has undergone a bit of a redesign.

We have freshened our website, our business-related materials have a new look, and we are excited to announce a new initiative—Quill & Ink, a seasonal publication!


(Click the image to view the premiere issue.)

Stay tuned for more issues of Quill & Ink as well as other upcoming materials—coming soon.

Enjoy! Let us know what you think!

The Conclusion Was Really Just the Beginning

If you have been following this little sustainable food series about a challenge we devised and undertook, you might be curious about what happened when our target goal date rolled around. And here it is:

Tomorrow is the first day after the challenge … and we will start our day with a cup of coffee. I will sink my teeth into the chocolate I’ve been fantasizing about for weeks. We’ll once again enjoy such delights as oatmeal and nuts and perhaps the occasional avocado or banana. We’re looking forward to once again using spices; even basic black pepper and cinnamon will seem to dramatically inspire our dishes. I just might crack into a bottle of wine bought on a recent trip to Virginia sometime soon.

But, to our surprise, the arrival of of this date does not feel like the saving grace we’d originally anticipated it to be, and we also don’t feel as though our time during the experiment was fraught with deprivation or that it was a miserable test of wills. This, too, has been a pleasant surprise. In fact, we plan to continue feeding ourselves very much in this same way indefinitely; while we will reincorporate some out-of-region offerings, we are committed to acquiring the majority of our food as we have done throughout this challenge. In fact, I already cannot imagine having to rely exclusively on grocery stores again, and I very much hope I never have to.

I have been so grateful for this experience and for everything I have learned.

Indeed, what resulted from the experiment was further commitment to the concept. While we will reincorporate a number of nutritional elements into our lives that were an impossibility during the challenge based on our geography, we have become ever more cognizant of the manner in which those reincorporated elements arrive to us. And indeed, we will continue to locally source as much of our food as we can, even through the winter at a biweekly (indoor) farmers’ market that primarily offers root vegetables lugged in from their storage places in barns and root cellars all over the region. We will continue to research and learn and experiment, and our interest in it has only grown. The challenge’s conclusion really wasn’t a conclusion at all … the conclusion was really just the beginning.

One might wonder why we chose to focus so much on food in our efforts to live more sustainably when there are a myriad of other avenues through which to explore sustainability—and the truth is that food is really only one aspect of it for us. Another area of considerable interest to us—and it certainly is not the only one—is that of small-space living, and luckily, there is growing interest in that very subject the world over, making the information about it all the more accessible.

We’ll save some of that for a future article.