I hate writing about grammar and punctuation and capitalization and formatting things because it not only makes me intensely paranoid, but because I make mistakes. And sometimes I break the rules on purpose because I like the sound or the look or the clarity, but the casual reader doesn’t know if I’m making a mistake or if I’m being adventurous. Sometimes I don’t know.
That said, I have been doing some volunteer proofreading and have rediscovered a lot of rules. From time to time, I’d like to share them with you and hear what your take on the topic is.
Today, I’m going to talk about empty space. You may be well aware that in typeset matter, there is only one space, not two, between two sentences. I think the computers adjust for it automatically, and they were teaching this in my journalism school a couple of decades ago. I believe it was in the Associated Press Stylebook. According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), the AP Stylebook still advocates that.
But for some reason, I never extrapolated that to colons. The Chicago Manual of Style* says, “(O)ne space, not two, should follow a colon.”
Spacing may not seem like a big deal, but apparently it is. Bloom County 2015 characters thought the issue was important enough to be a political platform. And 4,500 people took the time to comment on this strip. Maybe it shouldn’t be a big deal. But the fact of the matter is that if your future editor follows Chicago style, stripping out that extra space is going to be a hassle for someone.
Another problem I run into is the 2-em dash—that daring punctuation that is used to “set off an amplifying or explanatory element” (CMoS 6.82 Em dashes instead of commas, parentheses, or colons). I was trained with AP style, where there is a space before and after the em dash – like this. (To get this on your computer, you’d space-hyphen-hyphen-space.) I find em-dashes to be very useful in adding music and silence into my prose, and I use them a lot. I’m trying to train myself to get rid of the extra spaces, but I must admit, these new-to-me em dashes look crazy and crowded. I hope I can get used to them.
Space isn’t the last frontier, and you are allowed to go boldly (or to boldly go) where ever you want in matters of formatting. But it’s handy to know just which rules you are breaking so you can defend your artistic choices.
*The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 6.7 Punctuation and space—one space or two?)