If Strunk and White impossibly yet miraculously had a love child with Mark Twain’s rapier wit, it would be named Dreyer’s English. To take a book on grammar and make it a page-turner is no simple feat, yet Benjamin Dreyer, the vice president and copy chief for Random House, did exactly that. My hardcover copy (with plenty of tabs and bookmarked pages) will now stand proudly between The Chicago Manual of Style and The Emotion Thesaurus—the two books I use every day of my life as an editor and author. Welcome to your new home, Dreyer’s English! I hope it’s cozy.
My Favorite Novel Tips:
Write an entire story as Dreyer did with Shirley’s Jackson’s The Renegade to catch the cadence and beautiful structure of a story. I’ve annotated stories before to do this, but I’ve never written one from beginning to end. This will be a delightful project!
Watch out for accidental rhymes (e.g., “I don’t know how long he hummed that song”). You can find these by reading your content out loud, which you should always do as a writer.
In novels, a character might hiss something. Remember: No sibilants = no hissing.
Real world details must be honored. For example, not all trees and flowers grow all over God’s lovely planet. Do your research! When I wrote The Suicide Tree, my talented content editor (Sarah Liu) was quick to catch that a ten-hour flight to Italy wouldn’t do; it needed to be at least fourteen hours.
My Favorite Punctuation Tips:
Dreyer still has difficulty remembering how to handle the comma with “too”:
“Will you go to London too?”
“Will you go to London, too?”
“So to blazes with it,” he says. “If you can hear a comma before the ‘too,’ feel free to use it. If you can’t, feel free to not.” I always remove that comma, but I know some authors prefer to have it there. To each her own.
The “only” comma has fascinated me since I entered (crashed, rather) into the editing world. Dreyer explains that “‘only’ commas (except at the very ends of sentences, they travel in pairs) are used to set off nouns that are, indeed, the only one of their kind in the vicinity.” Example:
“He traveled to Pompeii with his daughter Clara.”
Only daughter? If so, add a comma.
Dreyer explains when to use this in detail on pages 32–33, which I now have bookmarked.
“Such as” versus “like” will always be difficult for me. Because of the way I speak, I rarely say “such as.” Thus, I have to be on guard when “like” shows up in manuscripts. Example:
“Managers with little clinical knowledge can follow metrics of production such as patient wait times, minutes per patient, or cost per patient . . .”
Sentences beginning with “I wonder” are not questions, so they don’t need question marks (e.g., “I wonder who’s kissing her now”).
For time, use five a.m. and 4:32 p.m. (small caps needed, which this blasted blog post font won’t let me do).
Dialogue formatting isn’t that hard. Please note:
Wrong: “Hello,” he smiled.
Right: “Hello.” He smiled.
Also right: “Hello,” he said with a smile.
Right again: “Hello,” he said, smiling.
If I had a nickel for every time I saw incorrect dialogue formatting in new writers’ stories, I’d have enough money to buy them all copies of your book, Benjamin.
My Favorite Grammar Tips:
Using the word whom can be such a head-scratcher that I pored over pages 86–88 to get it into my thick skull. And yet . . . will it ever make sense to me? Maybe. Dreyer offers examples:
“The man whom Shirley met for lunch was wearing a green carnation in his lapel.”
(So far so good.)
“To whom did you give the shirt off your back?”
(Right. Simple. Got it.)
“I gave the candy to whoever wanted it most.”
(Curses! That “wanted” is why we need a “whoever.” Oh, when will I ever learn?)
“Not only x but y” constructions hurt my little editor brain. Don’t I need an “also” in there? Apparently not, and thank Jesus for that. Dreyer calls it a “waste of a good also.” Example:
Incorrect: “She achieved success not only through native intelligence but perseverance.”
Correct: “She achieved success not only through native intelligence but through perseverance.”
My Favorite Chapter:
It has to be Chapter 8: Notes on, Amid a List of, Frequently and/or Easily Misspelled Words. I cringed a few times while reading this, thinking, Surely I haven’t been misspelling that my whole life . . . right? Here are a few words to watch out for:
Buoy, not bouy
Bureaucracy, not bureaucrasy
Ecstasy, not ecstacy
Glamour, not glamor
Indispensable, not indispensible
Pastime, not pasttime
Raccoon, not racoon
Straitjacket, not straightjacket
Whoa, not woah
Y’all, not ya’ll
Words & Phrases to Cut:
The angry flaring of nostrils
The thoughtful pursing of lips
The quizzical cocking of the head
The letting out of the breath you didn’t know you were holding
Moments (“in a moment” or “after a moment” or “she paused a long moment”)
Chapter 12: The Trimmables is dedicated to cutting redundancies, and let me tell you, it is a thing of beauty. Here are some to watch out for:
Fiction novel (please stop doing this to me)
Past history (I can’t even look at myself in the mirror when I miss this one in manuscripts)
The Only “Meh” I Could Find:
You hate Trump. I get it. No need to flog a dead horse.
Dreyer’s English is everything I have ever wanted in a stylebook. I promise you will be so glad you invested into this one-of-a-kind guide on grammar, spelling, style, and more.
An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and The Suicide Tree. In her not-so-free time, she acts as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society, volunteers at the Oklahoma County Jail, and obsesses over squirrels. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel, Wednesday, and Baker.