Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A matter of style

Crime fiction, historical fiction, and other fiction that has characters reading newspaper articles as part of the story's plot run a high risk of making stylistic errors that can bounce a knowledgeable reader out of the story, much like a affixing a silencer to a revolver bounces out readers familiar with firearms.

Newspaper articles are typically written to conform to the dictates of the Associated Press Stylebook. Therefore, the author and the copyeditor should put down their copy of The Chicago Manual of Style when writing and editing sections of a story purported to be newspaper articles.

For example, a novel I am currently reading quotes a fictitious newspaper article from 2004 using the phrase "near Conroe, TX," immediately signaling to an astute reader that no real newspaper article is being quoted.

Texas is one of eight state names never abbreviated in a newspaper article, and no properly written newspaper article uses the two-letter USPS state postal code to refer to a state unless it is part of a complete mailing address that includes a ZIP code.

A writer who has never been a journalist might not know this, but no good copyeditor should be excused for allowing this error to pass into print. A good copyeditor knows which stylebook to follow and when.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, Michael. I never thought of this. I must admit I'm guilty of using a fake newspaper article in my fiction. Now I must go back and see if I did it right.

Pat Marinelli

Kaye George said...

What good advice! I do have both on my shelf, but would never have thought to pull out AP for a quoted news article.

OK, I wonder what the rationale is behind not abbreviating eight of the states and only those eight.

Michael Bracken said...

Pat, there are more potential stylistic errors than the one that caught me in today's reading, so it's always a good idea to double-check everything.

Though it is the fake newspapers articles that catch my attention, I suspect it would be a good idea to check style for any fake documents used in one's fiction to ensure that they follow the format and style appropriate to that type of writing. A legal document, for example, will have a different style than a newspaper article.

Kaye, while I don't know the reason, and can't honestly say I ever knew, the states that aren't abbreviated are the two non-continguous states (Alaska and Hawaii) and the ones with five or few letters in their name (Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah).