Last week, we finally got the 2012 AP Stylebooks in the newsroom where I work. Those of you who don’t work at a newspaper may not realize what a momentous occasion this was — the stylebook is the bible of the newsroom, setting the rules for everything from capitalization and punctuation to whether cellphone is one word (it is, for newspapers). We’d been working with old out of date ones, and there have been a lot of changes over the past few years. It was like Christmas. Having the new books made us, or at least me, positively giddy.
The strict rules newspaper reporters and editors are supposed to follow — the AP Style rules — have a purpose. They are there for clarity, because the most important thing in newspaper writing it being sure that your readers understand what you’re saying.
I’ve often thought how much that is true for fiction writing as well. While there is a lot more leeway for a fiction writer, if the writer doesn’t follow some basic rules of grammar, punctuation and style, the message gets muddied, the writing is weaker and the reader may just not get it.
I’ve always felt my journalism training was a great foundation for my fiction writing “career.” While it took me some time to realize I could break out a little — for instance, make up quotes because the people did not exist — the overall effect was to try to make sure what I was writing was what I meant to write. That the reader got what I was trying to say.
It all comes down to one thing, whether it’s a newspaper story or a mystery novel — tell the truth and tell it well and you’ve done your job.
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