Do You Know the Secret Handshake?

Are you one of the cool kids?

Are you in?

Or do you show that you’re not “one of us” without even realizing it?

The above questions are said with a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek side-eye.  I HATE when people use stupid criteria to judge others as worthy or not.  Especially when those criteria are entirely arbitrary and not necessarily consistent.

(Side note: I was not popular in high school.  Or college.)

And when they’re a moving target, too.  That’s especially fun.  It’s like fashion, but not as obvious.  “Oh, you’re wearing blue?  Well, that was last year’s color.  Anyone who’s anyone knows that this year’s color is green.”

What am I on about?

Well, I recently saw a post by a spec fic magazine editor where he essentially said that only uninformed newbies who don’t know what they’re doing would underline italicized words in their submissions and that he might very well reject a story that was adequate if it had that fatal flaw.

Now, let’s stop for a second and think about this.

Because I grew up using italics for italicized text.  The only reason I started underlining words is because I did my homework and researched this thing called standard manuscript formatting and, lo and behold, the William Shunn gold standard linked to by SFWA and many short story markets says you should underline italicized text.

It’s not something I made up.

Trust me.  (I do see the value in it, though, because I’ve researched why it exists and if you’re not e-only from start to finish, it has a purpose.)

Despite that, it seems if I were to submit to this editor I’d be showing my incompetence because I followed a widely-publicized standard.

And then there was the post today that said a series of nasty things about people who use the Oxford comma.  And two spaces after a sentence. (I stopped following that blog as of…NOW.  If it was a joke, I didn’t see the humor.  I saw judging and belittling others by someone in a position to affect people negatively.)

It’s not the first time I’ve seen one writer call out others for “not doing it right.”  And I’m sure it isn’t the last.

Font is another one.  Times New Roman vs. Courier.  Oh the judgements that are made.  Sometimes by people who couldn’t even tell you why one is preferred over another.  Or that there’s a history of using anything other than TNR.

That kind of shit just annoys the hell out of me.

Yeah, I use Courier.  And I underline italics.  And my default is to put two spaces after a period.

But that’s not why I hate this kind of thing.

I hate it because there is no clear standard out there and yet people treat it like something written in stone by a divine power and make nasty remarks about others based upon something completely and totally arbitrary.

(If it’s in your submission guidelines, then fine.  But if not?  Come on.)

This is what I think:

You want to write?  Write.

You want to worry about things?  Worry about properly punctuating dialogue.  Worry about story and characterization.  Worry about frickin’ point of view for Chrissake.

Or how about proper use of tenses.

But formatting?  Honestly.

Five minutes in Word and I can transform almost any formatting I want into whatever standard someone tells me they need.  That’s window-dressing.

It’s lipstick on a pig.

The story is what counts.  Worry about that first.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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