Stylebook Violations

In writing this book, I did a number of things stylistically that I probably wouldn’t do in a novel or a short story. For example, I used ellipses in an abnormal way, violated standard guidelines for numbering, and collapsed the dialogue from the trial’s transcripts. Part of the explanation below is taken directly from the book.

When I used quotes from the trial, I kept the spelling and punctuation they used in the trial transcripts, but I didn’t keep the transcript’s format. This is a large book, so I collapsed the transcripts’ dialogue to save space. Here’s a short excerpt from the first trial to show you why. Henry Ross, the prosecutor, was questioning Hanna. In transcript form, it looked like this:

ROSS: Had you told anyone about this?
ROSS: So, what happened the next time? You say it was about a week or two later; is that right?
HANNA: Yes, sir.
ROSS: And where did this happen?
HANNA: I don’t remember.
ROSS: Well, at what residence?
HANNA: 75 to 80 percent of the time it was always at his house.

Here’s that same passage the way it will appear in the book (in collapsed form):

Ross asked her if she had told anyone about this. Hanna answered, “No.” He verified that the next time was about a week later, and asked her where it had happened. She said, “I don’t remember.” He asked her, then, at which house it happened. She said, “75 to 80 percent of the time it was always at his house.”

Those words were compressed into half the space of the transcript. I would never do that in a novel, but doing it in this book made it hundreds of pages shorter. I have done my best to ensure that none of the meaning in any passage was altered by collapsing the paragraphs that way, and I have always used the full quote from the witness.

I used numerals like “75 to 80” often, as they did in the trials, instead of spelling it “seventy-five to eighty” as a stylebook would recommend. They did that consistently in the transcripts, possibly for clarity, so I followed that example in the book much of the time. If you’re a stickler for grammatical rules and sentence structure, I apologize. Some of it may take a little getting used to, but I hope it won’t be bothersome. The content is what’s most important.

I often used ellipses in the book (in front of a word) to indicate an interrupted thought in a sentence, like, “She met …she (my mom) met Greg through them.”

The way a person says something can sometimes be just as important as what they said, so I also used ellipses like this: “She …had a short temper,” to indicate a brief pause, as if the speaker had taken a beat to think before continuing. I got in the habit of doing that when I was transcribing Tom Swearingen’s interviews, as an effective way to show a hesitation on the part of the speaker, so I retained that to some degree for the book,

One other change I made was to remove many simple interjections, like “mmh, hm,” from the interview transcriptions. In his interviews, Tom often slipped the phrase, “Mmh, hm” (or Okay” or “Right”) in between pauses in the interviewee’s dialogue. He used it as a mechanism to keep the person talking without having to interrupt with a sentence or a phrase. It could easily be interpreted as a simple “yes,” but it encouraged the other person to keep going.

As an example, here’s a bit from an interview with Angie Womack (not her real name), as it appeared in the original transcript.

ANGIE: Yeah, we were talking about guys. [Tom laughed, a few words were lost] …she got really sad about something…
TOM: Mmh, hm.
ANGIE: …and so we thought that she was sick or something.
TOM: Mmh, hm.
ANGIE: We had just been playing, dancing…
TOM: Right.
ANGIE: …jump-roping, and hula-hooping…
TOM: Mmh, hm.
ANGIE: …and stuff like that, and then we ate cake…
TOM: Yeah.
ANGIE: …so I figured she was ralphing in my friend’s toilet.
TOM: Mmh, hm.
ANGIE: Suzanna went in there to go talk to her, and I …went in there afterwards…
TOM: Mmh, hm.
ANGIE: …and she just broke down and told us.

Transcribed like that, it’s harder to follow and annoying after a while, but Tom usually used it to great effect. He got Hanna to talk for two-and-a-half hours in her interview. Here’s the collapsed version of the dialogue with Angie, with the “mmh, hm’s” removed, so you can compare the two versions. You can see that it’s essentially just Angie giving one long speech.

Angie said, “Yeah, we were talking about guys. [Tom kept laughing, and a few of Angie’s words were lost] …got really sad about something, and so we thought that she was sick or something. We had just been playing, dancing, jump-roping, and hula-hooping, and stuff like that, and then we ate cake, so I figured she [Hanna] was ralphing in my friend’s toilet. Suzanna went in there to go talk to her, and I went in there afterwards, and she just broke down and told us.”

Hopefully, you can see that I didn’t change the meaning at all, but made it easier to understand (while also saving space).

The next post continues the theme of this one with an expanded version of some information from the book. It’s called Stylistic Differences in Aggravated.

How do you feel about authors violating grammatical rules?

Michael Sirois

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