Crossing the International Punctuation Line - Could the Wrong Punctuation Put a Full Stop to Your Dreams?
Last week, I entered the introduction of a short story into a writing competition on an American blog (didn't win but got 4 stars/'crawfish'!) I received a mini-crit which was very useful and generally positive but one thing jumped out and slapped me: punctuation.
I made it through a secretarial qualification and BA Hons degree with my current distribution of spaces and marks but I admit that I had a moment of worry. The person who graded my entry is incredibly knowledgeable and a publishing professional. She knows her stuff. Maybe I was wrong. Double spaces after full stops = bad. Double inverted commas around speech = good.
A Tale of Two Tales
I picked up the book I'm currently reading - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet sent to me from America - and gasped. It was tricky to make out the spacing after the stops but the speech marks were twin lines. I grabbed the book I read previously - an English book. The spaces after the full stops were clearly double and the marks around speech were loners.
'Aha!' I thought (or should that be "aha"?) 'It's a cultural thing.' A bit of research online confirmed my suspicions. To add further to the international flavour/flavor of this post, the single space after a full stop, now preferred by some in America, is apparently called 'French Spacing.' Double spacing after a full stop is actually called 'English Spacing' or, confusingly, 'American Typewriter Spacing.'
There are even separate British and American rules on where to put punctuation around speech marks. I find this even more confusing and seem to jump between American and English on a regular basis. I am not using a passport to do this teleportation so I may be in breech of any number of laws - linguistic and geographical.
Do you Feel Lucky Punk-tuation?
These rules seem to be in flux and there are exceptions on both sides of the pond. Doubtless, the internet is throwing a spanner in the proverbial grammar factory and it's anyone's guess where the goalposts are - or how they're spaced. I'm all for establishing a new set of transatlantic rules for publication. The question is: are publishers? If the words are good enough, will publishers overlook eccentric spaces or is the tolerance policy zero when the spacing is double?