Thursday, July 10, 2014

Feral style

What happens when a stylebook is raised without human contact? Here's the owner of the Blue Note, telling Collegetown's afternoon daily why he's selling:

“Six years ago, I seriously considered some of the offers,” including one from Gerding and Leslie, “but I just wasn’t ready. I haven’t always wanted to admit it, but after my” heart-valve “surgery” in 2012, “there was a serious change in how I looked at everything. So, honestly, the timing is great.”

Doesn't your head just bob up and down as the quote stops and starts and stops and starts again? That's because somebody followed the rule -- no parentheses to clarify a quote, ever! -- without considering its impact on people who are trying to read the thing.

It's easy to overdo the parenthetical clarification thing, but it's usually just as easy to write around the problem. You could, say, break the quote:

"I haven’t always wanted to admit it, but after my surgery" -- King had heart valve* surgery in 2012 -- "there was a serious change in how I looked at everything. So, honestly, the timing is great.”

Or, if you want to keep the comma after the adverb phrase, you can put the clarifying sentence after the quote:

"I haven’t always wanted to admit it, but after my surgery, there was a serious change in how I looked at everything. So, honestly, the timing is great.” King had heart valve surgery in 2012.

OK, what if you have to add something because style demands clarity? Well, it probably doesn't need as much help as you think. If your sporting readers can handle a lede like:

It isn’t the crackling, late-moving fastball that will earn Max Scherzer gobs of money this winter. It’s his brain.

... without being reminded that Scherzer is a pitcher, and he plays for the Tigers, who play baseball, your general audience probably doesn't need a clarification on the order of "(State) Sen. (Roscoe P.) Coltrane (R-Greenville) needs to talk directly to the people." If you don't see a place within a few sentences to log in the details, ur doin it wrong anyway.

* No, you don't need to hyphenate this compound.

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