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Spelling and Grammar Direct address
How to send a text to Bewildering Stories
Some of our contributors worry about the proper format for submissions. Please don’t worry. Our general gudeline is an invitation: “Please send us something. If we have questions or problems, we can talk about them.”
But we’re sometimes asked how to make things easy for our review readers and editors. Fair enough: here are three tips:
Don’t embed page numbers in the text. Page numbers are not needed; we never refer to them. If you want to keep page numbers in your manuscript, that’s perfectly okay; put them in a header or footer.
Include a title and byline (your real name or pen name). We need to know who wrote what.
We can work with most filetypes, but some are easier to work with than others, and a few we can’t work with at all or only with difficulty. Please see Contacts & Submissions, Preferred File Formats.
If you like, you can see a sample page with commentary.
Beyond that, some might like to take a “peek behind the scenes” to see what goes on in the editing process. Please remember that the following section — unlike the others — is not a set of guidelines; it’s more a “guided tour” of the production facility!
Here’s what the Editor does to your document:
Duplicates the original file by copy-pasting it into a relatively little-known but sleek word processor for the Mac: Mariner Write. It’s easy to use and has lots of handy macros built in.
Changes the font to Verdana 14-point for easy reading. Bewildering Stories prescribes fonts only in headers and footers and a few other places; otherwise the fonts and sizes are those of the readers’ browser preferences.
Removes all extraneous formatting such as headers, footers, page numbers, hard page breaks, linefeeds, tabs, and weird spacings. Don’t worry about them; this work is quite routine.
Makes the entire text flush left. The margins are made “flush left, ragged right.”
Removes any first-line indentation in all paragraphs. Paragraph indentations are useful for some purposes, but BwS’ format doesn’t need them. If your submission has paragraph indents, no worries; just leave them as they are.
Removes double spacing within paragraphs. Same procedure as for paragraph indents.
Adds double spacing between paragraphs. Ditto.
Next, the Editor simplifies the appearance of the text itself by:
Marking up boldface and italics. Boldface is normally used only for headers and subtitles; we do not use it for emphasis. The boldface in this page is not an exception because the page consists mostly of lists. Italics have to be marked up by use of the italics, emphasis and cite tags, each of which has a special purpose. The editor verifies the use of italics as a matter of routine.
Running a spell check. If English is not your first language, please tell us and we’ll make a special effort to help. The most frequent problems are homophone errors, which spellcheckers can’t catch, e.g. “there,” “their” and “they’re” or “to,” “too,” and “two.”
Proofreading the punctuation. A special note: Full dashes (—) should be two short dashes (--) with a space before and after. Anything else may be garbled in transmission. See the section on “em-dash,” below.
The most important thing in your submission is the words. Artwork may add to them, but anything else is liable to distract your readers. And that especially includes such things as punctuation. These guidelines are the result of editorial experience and are intended to help us avoid errors and to help you achieve a seamless visual presentation.
Punctuation is a copy editor’s nightmare. Some of the submissions we’ve received might have brought their contributors fame and fortune, but the punctuation was so sloppy that print publishers would have found it too expensive correct.
Our standard separator: To separate your text into “mini-chapters,” so to speak, simply type three spaced asterisks ( * * * ) as a separate paragraph. Please leave it flush left; the editor will center it.
Numbering: We won’t allow untitled sections to be numbered. In earlier years, two contributors doted on numbered sections. Both lost count and misnumbered them.
Long works may have chapters, and the chapters must have titles, of course. Chapters must also be numbered. You may use Roman numerals, if you like. However, Roman numerals are hard to read. If the number exceeds V (five), the editor will convert all the chapter numbers to Arabic (actually Hindu) numerals.
The horizontal rule may separate footnotes or bibliographies from the body of a text; it may appear in headers or lists on index pages; or it may separate texts by different authors within a single document. But that’s about all. If you feel you must use the horizontal rule, you may explain why, but we’ll probably insist on a less obtrusive solution.
Contributors may use either or British or North American style. However, we do make a few exceptions, because North American usage tends to be conservative with respect to British:
Capitalization in titles: British style appears to be moving toward that of Italian or Spanish. Bewildering Stories insists on North American style.
Example: (British) “The owl and the pussycat”; (BwStories) “The Owl and the Pussycat”
Rule: A title is the name of a work, not part of the work itself. We will not allow titles all in lower-case, even for poetry. In a title, capitalize the first word, any verb, name or pronoun, and any word of four letters or more.
Grammar: (British) “different to” —> (BwStories) “different from” Either one is allowed.
“Than” has become a preposition in British; in North American it is a conjunction only:
Example: (British) “She was taller than him” —> (BwStories) “She was taller than he was.” Better: use proper names; a sentence with more than one personal pronoun may be hard to understand at best or, at worst, ambiguous or unintelligible.
“Which” and “that”: North American English distinguishes systematically between the relative pronouns “that” (essential) and “which” (incidental). British appears to have lost the distinction in favor of “which” alone. Bewildering Stories insists on the North American usage.
Contractions: British style commonly forces the optional contraction of “is” after a noun, for example: “This sentence’s too long.” Bewildering Stories will accept the contraction in dialogue provided the rest of the text conforms to British style. Even so, we will not accept it in narration or other formal prose; the contraction creates visual confusion with the possessive form. Please see the article Contractions.
The following rules are ironclad and apply to all texts regardless of origin:
It’s = “it is”; its = the possessive of “it.” Honestly, you’d be amazed how many very talented writers don’t know that.
“Like” is a preposition only. “Like” is sometimes used as a conjunction — usually in place of “as” — in colloquial speech, e.g. “Like I said...” Bewildering Stories frowns severely upon such usage in formal prose, especially narration. Constructions using “like” + a subject pronoun, e..g “I,” “he,” “she,” “we,” “they,” will be corrected as a matter of course except in dialogue that depicts a character as semi-literate.
Either “gray” or “grey” is acceptable, but not both.
Either “okay” or “OK” is considered standard. Anything else will be changed to “okay.”
“United States” may be abbreviated as “U.S.” but not as “US”; it’s an abbreviation, not an acronym. However, “USA,” without punctuation, is okay. Likewise, “United Nations” may be abbreviated as “U.N.” but not as “UN,” for the same reasons.
Names used in direct address are set off by commas, for example:
- “Joe, is that you?” “Hello, Joe.”
- “Hello, darkness, my old friend.”
Most writers unconsciously follow a preference of English syntax that puts an adverb — especially a short one — before the verb (that sentence is an example of itself). But the position is optional, not a rule. “Only” is a special case, because it doesn’t necessarily modify the verb. Let’s add “only” in a simple sentence and see how the meaning changes: “I ate cookies.”
- Only I ate cookies. (Nobody else did. “Only” modifies “I”)
- I only ate cookies. (I didn’t do anything else. “Only” modifies the verb. )
- I ate only cookies. (I didn’t eat anything else. “Only” modifies “cookies.”)
- I ate cookies only. (Same as #3, but emphatic)
“I woke up, so I opened my eyes. So I got up but was cold walking around in pyjamas, so I put on some clothes.” — Do people actually write like that? Honestly, you would be amazed...
Some languages systematically emphasize links between cause and effect; English, not so much. Two reasons:
- The logic is obvious: “I woke up and opened my eyes.” (Upon waking, one can either open one’s eyes or not.)
- The logic isn’t obvious: “I was cold walking around in pyjamas; I put on some clothes.” (Or one might turn up the heat.)
“So” has many uses, but not as a substitute for “therefore,” or “and [therefore],” or a semicolon, or even nothing at all. Please don’t use pseudological “so”; it’s a style fault! (See also “Oral Punctuation,” below.)Verbs:
dragging, dragged, dragged
lying, lied, lied
lying, lay, lain
laying, laid, laid
sinking, sank, sunk
feeliking, feeliked, feeliked
(Both “to drag” and “to drug” are regular verbs.)
to tell a falsehood
to be in or assume a horizontal position
to place in a horizontal position
to submerge or become submerged in something
a 22nd-century substitute for “to feel”
All the remaining sections on this page fall into this category.
Bewildering Stories likes innovative writing. However, we draw the line at punctuation. It is a “common good” designed to enhance communication. Like traffic signs and signals on the highway, it can’t be used idiosyncratically. Bewildering Stories likes to dress up nicely and put on an attractive appearance.
A few contributors occasionally enjoy indulging in stylistic fads. In particular:
Some poets use no punctuation at all. A few have used the stylistic exercise successfully by making line breaks substitute for punctuation, but there is a risk of lapsing into visual and grammatical incoherence. Otherwise, punctuation is no place for innovation. Commas that merely indicate line breaks in a poem are cause for rejection or a rewrite.
Spelling without capital letters. We’ll consider it on one condition: all words except proper names and “I” must be lower-case. Capitalization rules punctuation: if a poem dispenses with capital letters, it must contain no punctuation at all.
Use of the ampersand (&) for “and.” We allow it only in special cases such as the names of companies and law firms and multiple authors in book review titles and in a few special department titles. Otherwise no, and poetry cannot claim special privilege.
Exceptions: We will allow unorthodox typography for embedded texts, such as a quotation written in text-messaging style. We’ll probably block quote it in a monospaced font. And we won’t accept anything written to an appreciable extent in text-messaging style.
Commas and other punctuation
Commas come in three flavors: required, optional and forbidden. The rules differ between languages and even within a language. The editor can explain particular usages on request. Bewildering Stories does not allow “British” or “California” commas.
The article “Comma Collisions” illustrates ways to avoid “punctuation storms.”
- The colon indicates emphasis forward. What follows explains what’s just been said.
- The semicolon indicates emphasis back. It may be short for “and,” “and then,” or “because.”
- The dash normally occurs — like this — in bracketed pairs. Dashes indicate an insertion with no particular emphasis. Some writers use the dash when some other punctuation — or even nothing at all — is needed. More information under “Em-dash.”
“Well” may serve as a function word marking a paragraph in speech. It may indicate a conclusion to what’s been said, or it may introduce a related or even unrelated topic.
- Pseudological “so” is another form of oral punctuation. In the spoken language, it marks a sequence of events and serves as an antonym of “as,” which some writers frequently overuse to indicate simultaneity.
Plain and “smart” quotes: We like to think that printer’s quotes and apostrophes help give Bewildering Stories the kind of professional appearance a literary webzine ought to strive for. True, such elegance takes work, but we consider it a courtesy and a favor to our contributors.
You do not have to supply the “smart” quotes yourself. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. The copy editor can change “straight” quotes to “curly” quotes with one pass of a Mariner Write macro.
Placing quotation marks:
Please put double quotation marks after periods and commas. The placing of quotation marks in computer programming and e-mail is special usage, not standard.
Single quotation marks go right after the words or punctuation. And we do not allow a single closing quote to combine with a double closing quote. For example: “Did he say ‘Help!’? I thought he said ‘Kelp’,” George mused, all at sea.
We will use British punctuation at the author’s request. British usage of quotation marks is the opposite of North American style.
A few contributors sometimes punctuate dialogue in French or Italian style, namely with leading em-dashes, no quotation marks, and no distinction between the dialogue and the speech tags. Bewildering Stories allows such punctuation only in languages other than English. We will make no exceptions.
Speech tags: A “speech tag” identifies the speaker and contains a speech verb. It precedes, follows, or is inserted within a direct quote. The placement of speech tags can keep the readers on the page with you or, if misused, throw them out of the story. In The Other World, Cyrano de Bergerac routinely uses initial and medial speech tags.
- Initial: Initial emphasis, esp. to emphasize a change of speaker, e.g. George piped up. “Let’s do it this way.”
- Medial: No emphasis, e.g. “No,” George said, “this way is much easier.”
- Final: To add a modifier, e.g. “Let’s do it this way,” George said impatiently.
Use lower case unless the attribution begins the sentence or begins with a proper name or the pronoun “I.” It is part of the same sentence as the quotation and is set off by a comma unless there is some other punctuation, such as a question mark or exclamation point. “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things...”
A speech verb is one like “to say, to ask, to tell, to reply, to shout, to whisper, to yell, to cry, to snort, to hiss, to mumble” and so on, far into the night.
- Paradoxically, the verb “to speak” is not a “reporting” or “speech verb” for the purposes of speech tags. It is an ordinary verb of action and has to be set off by a full stop or a colon, for example:
The prophet spoke: “If you’re planning to buy a new car, make sure it eats hay.”
- Attributions with ordinary action verbs such as “to laugh, to nod, to yawn,” etc. are considered implied speech tags because, like “to speak,” they do not indicate the manner of speaking. They are set off as a separate sentence from the direct quote, for example:
George laughed. “I’d cry if this weren’t so funny.”
A true ellipsis indicates an omission in a quotation from another author. BwS indicates the ellipsis by three points enclosed in brackets, in the French style — thus: [...] — with a space fore and aft.
When to use them: Suspension points are normally used to indicate a pause initiated by the speaker. Please use three points only, with no spacing between them or after the preceding word, e.g. “Wait...” Felix began and then thought better of it.
Since suspension points indicate a pause, they cannot be used at the beginning of a sentence; there’s nothing to pause. A hesitation can be indicated by other means.An interruption by another speaker requires an em-dash and a closing quote:
“No, I don’t.”
BwS will accept “floating” suspension points — i.e. those that are separated from the preceding word by a space — only if the text uses British spelling and punctuation throughout. Floating suspension points require a non-breaking space between them and the previous word, otherwise the results are liable to look very bad in an on-line text.
When not to use them: Suspension points are punctuation, not a substitute for it. Please do not use suspension points where a full stop, comma, semicolon, colon or even nothing at all is called for.
Some contributors like to use more than three periods in suspension points. We’ve even seen them take up entire lines, as though the writer had fallen asleep on the key. Please don’t do that! They’ll all be reduced to three. Or, if they’re superfluous, they’ll be deleted.
The en-dash (-) is used mostly as a linking hyphen to spell certain words, e.g. “en-dash,” “co-operate.” Full dashes or em-dash — like this — indicate an apposition or insertion with no particular emphasis.
Please do not use the em-dash in your text. Instead, use two en-dashes ( -- ) with a space before and after. If we see any, we’ll reformat all of them as full dashes.
Reminder: full dashes normally come in bracketed pairs. If only one full dash is used, some other punctuation is usually called for, such as a colon.
Bewildering Stories’ usage is quite standard. In fact, we do not allow non-standard usage.
Contributors sometimes use italics to show that sections of text are special in some way. The most common special usage indicates interior monologue, e.g. Oh no, Joe thought. But then again, maybe yes. Italics may be indicated simply by using italics in a word-processor file.
Italics are very hard to read on line. Readers will simply not go to the considerable trouble of deciphering more than about two lines of italicized text. We’ll find a workaround, such as blockquoted indentation or section subtitles. Please don’t ask us to make an exception; for the sake of your readers, we can’t agree to it.
As a general rule, italics are used to indicate:
- The names of containers, such as:
vessels (boats, ships, aircraft, trains, spaceships, and so forth), e.g. the Niña, the Titanic, etc. Such names take the <I> tag.
works that contain other works (e.g. newspapers, books, magazines) or are long, stand-alone works (novels, operas, and so forth). Such titles take the <CITE> tag.
Thus, Arthur Rimbaud’s Une Saison en enfer is italicized because it is the title of a collection, but the title of his poem “Le Bateau ivre” is enclosed in quotation marks and is not italicized.
Exception: Lists of stand-alone works, such as the titles of popular songs, may use italics instead of quotation marks for the sake of readability, to avoid a “punctuation storm.”
Foreign words and expressions that are not in common use in English take the <I> tag. Although English vocabulary is about 60 percent French in origin, we still italicize expressions such as pièce de résistance, namely ones that are widely understood but not in common use.
Proper names, such as those of people and places, are not italicized separately, of course, regardless of the language.
More information under “Emphasis,” below.
Our authors frequently like to show that certain words — especially in dialogue — carry special emphasis. That’s fine with us, but a caution: by “emphasis” we mean oral emphasis. Anything enclosed in the <em> and </em> tags puts the words in italics and affects speech software. Using italics to emphasize ideas rather than speech will look and sound funny, as though the speaker had sat on a thumbtack.
There are two ways to show emphasis:
The easy way. If you prefer, you may send italics or even boldface, but since we don’t use the “strong” emphasis tag, boldface will be changed to italics with the <EM> tag.
If you wish, you may put asterisks fore and aft, e.g. “What are you *doing*?!” It will appear as “What are you doing?!” Please feel free to use italics in your word processor file or in e-mail RTF, if you find it more convenient.
Contributors often use full caps for emphasis. We’ll make an exception and leave them as is provided there are no more than about three or four words in a row. After that, we’ll probably change them to lower-case emphasis; full caps quickly become very hard to read.
The hard way. Use HTML code, e.g. “What are you <em>doing</em>?!”
Please do not use HTML unless you’re adept at it. For example, the <EM> tag affects text vocalizing software for the visually impaired, and the tags themselves may be subject to special formatting in the style sheet.
We once received a story that used the angle brackets < and > as fancy quotation marks. The first occurrence of < turned the entire text into a giant HTML tag. It lower-cased all the capital letters.
We like to think our coding is pretty sleek. Please do not send files in HTML unless they contain fancy visual effects. Otherwise we’ll just display everything as plain text and convert it to our style.
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