I have a confession to make. I wrote this last night with a plan to post it first thing this morning. And I completely forgot. So here’s the slightly late Saturday Slot. I thought I’d start by posting a lovely picture of some Pimms. The Pimms I’m currently consuming. Why? Do I need a reason? (either to post it or consume it?!) I just thought it was an apt pic cos it’s a gorgeous sunny day, it’s Wimbledon season and it looks (and tastes) divine. Yum yum!
But onto the actual posting …
A week gone Wednesday, something odd happened. Something very odd indeed. I became embroiled in a debate on Facebook over something I had absolutely no idea, until that point, that I cared about. Yet I discovered that, not only did I care about it but I was completely and utterly passionate about it. And a little Google searching revealed that I’m not the only one.
The even stranger thing is that it was a debate that came completely out of the blue.
That evening, I’d posted some pictures on Facebook of my little girl at her school sports day. One of these was of a bouncy hopper race which led to a bit of an online “discussion” between my friend Jackie (based down south), my friend Catryn (based in The Midlands) and me (oop north). Catryn’s a former work colleague and we both met Jackie 15 years ago when we learned to dive in Turkey … but that’s another story and no relevance to the debate.
After various comments about how much fun the bouncy hopper looked and how we’d love to have a go, Jackie randomly posted the fatal words, “Oh Julie, I need to ask you something. What are your views on the number of spaces following a full-stop before the start of the next sentence?”
*pauses for sharp intake of breath while recalling the debate that ensued*
Now, as writers I’m sure we all know that the correct answer is a resounding ONE!!!!! But my friends were of the opinion it was TWO.
Let’s examine the evidence as to why I am completely and utterly correct 😉
Exhibit 1 – My education and typewriters v PCs. I was the very first intake that sat GCSEs and I came from a big school so we had quite a good range of subjects on offer. I decided to take some GCSEs that I thought may be useful in later life including typewriting and commerce. The decision to take typewriting was the best I’ve ever made because, whilst the lessons themselves were terrifying (I was the only one from any of the top sets who’d taken the subject and was therefore bullied mercilessly throughout each lesson and feared for my life if the teacher ever left the room), I learned how to properly touch type and it’s been an amazing skill to have. I learned to type on a proper old manual typewriter and we studied the RSA rules which, I admit, were all about TWO SPACES after a full stop. However, there’s a reason for this. Here’s the boring bit so feel free to skip over this … it’s because all characters on a typewriter are formed by pressing down on a key which releases a standard-sized block. Spaces between certain letters within a word would appear larger or smaller depending on the letter e.g. an ‘i’ wouldn’t take up as much space as a ‘w’ etc. so natural gaps appeared within words. In order to properly distinguish between these gaps, gaps between words and ends of sentences, two spaces were inserted after a full stop. However, PCs work on a process called kerning where the computer knows that it needs to spread words out more evenly and that an ‘i’ doesn’t take up the same space as a ‘w’. It therefore doesn’t need more than one space after a full stop because it’s very clear where a sentence has ended due to the words being more snug than on a typewriter.
Exhibit 2 – It’s the rules! My husband is a professional typesetter so knows the rules. And he says it’s ONE so ner! 😉
Exhibit 3 – Because others say so. There’s an absolutely enormous quantity of articles online explaining this and discussing the debate. So I very childishly tracked them down and posted them on my FB feed as evidence until Jackie agreed to disagree whilst sulking that I was wrong and Catryn had to walk away because she was getting annoyed. (All done in good humour, of course, and we still love each other lots!)
I’d planned an evening of editing. I got no work on my novel done that evening. Hubby thought it was very wrong that a cute picture of our little girl ended up as a huge debate about spaces after full stops. But he did support my debate!
A week and a half on, I’m now calm about it and the subject has not been raised again. Although remain a little surprised – and perhaps mildly alarmed – that it got me quite so riled in the first place. Especially as I’m actually a very placid person with (normally) very few strong opinions.
But this got me thinking … Are there any other “rules” out there that other people feel really strongly about whether this be a layout issue or something grammatical? Or perhaps it’s dos and don’ts of how to write?
Perhaps you can’t bear it when the protagonist in a book has their thoughts conveyed in italics (in which case you’ll hate mine because I use that). Maybe you want to throw a book out the window when your heroine’s appearance is described when she brushes her hair in a mirror? Or possibly you cringe when you read something in present tense rather than past? I have to put my hands up and say that present tense is one I’m funny about. I’m not the greatest fan of reading books in the present tense and tend to avoid them but I think I’ve just discovered why … it’s not that I dislike present tense; it’s just that some people are brilliant at writing in it and others are, well, not quite so talented. Sophie Kinsella is one who springs to mind and she’s one of my all-time favourite writers. Her books are very much about the here and now with lots of dialogue and inner monologue and present tense just works. But I’ve recently read a book where it was mainly story telling with limited dialogue which felt a bit clunky in present tense.
Ah, that’s better. Got those things off my chest.
So, go on then, tell us what you hate, what you really, really hate …