I recently posted on social media about my (possibly unhealthy) love for em dashes—that is, the dashes that are the width of the letter m, often used to set off examples, explanations, or descriptions, as I did in this sentence. (See how beautiful it is?)
An editor friend named Linda commented, “This is so me. I love the em-dash. Nothing aggravates me more when editing than when a writer incorrectly uses hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes as if they are interchangeable.”
I agree, it’s irritating. But I can think of some things that irritate me more. Like “I” used as an object (“Mary went to the mall with Brandon and I”). And “could of” instead of “could’ve.” And your instead of you’re. And they’re instead of there. Or their. Or confusing it’s and its. I know, I know, I’m petty. Irritable. Unreasonable. But so’s your old man.
Likewise, I have little patience (in general, but specifically) for those who try to make a word plural by using an apostrophe. Such as, “Deep-fried Oreo’s.” Nope. Or “Open Sunday’s.” No, just no. Or “Using Apostrophe’s Well.” Nopity, nope, nope. Repeat after me: An apostrophe never makes a word plural. Say it again: An apostrophe never makes a word plural. One more time: An apostrophe never makes a word plural.
Oh, and commas. Don’t get me started on commas. Too late! But look, I know standards have changed over the years and readers tend to like fewer commas these days. But fewer vs. more is seldom the issue; misplacement is. So, for example, when I see a sentence like “The biggest things that drive me crazy, are misplaced commas,” I can’t, even.
And, if I may be super-picky (like I haven’t been so already?), I get a tad annoyed by an S at the end of toward, backward, onward, forward, etc. Unless it’s done by an author or character in any part of the (current or former) British Empire, because using more letters than are necessary is a favourite characteristic (see what I did there?) of those folks.
But enough hate already. You know what I love? As an agent, editor, and reader? In addition to em dashes? Obviously, I love good spelling and grammar. I love proper punctuation. I love a clean, well-formatted manuscript.
I also love learning something new as I’m reading both fiction and nonfiction. I love sharp, expressive, evocative titles and irresistible hooks. I love seeing or hearing a book pitch that makes me think, Why has no one ever thought of that before?
I love subject-verb-object. I love crisp dialogue. I love uniquely quirky characters. I love self-deprecating humor. I love writing that makes me laugh, cry, or feel compelled to read it aloud to my wife.
I love words. Well-written sentences. And writing that leaves me wanting more.