Hey friends, here’s another post that is for both the writer and the editor. If you haven’t heard of what a Style Guide is, or why it can help your novel, here’s a quick guide. This makes for a happy editing experience for everyone.
Basically, a style guide is a list made by an author or editor—whoever gets to it first—that keeps track of special items in the novel that both need to know about so the edits can be done in a consistent manner.
Reliable editors have a “rule book” of their own—The Chicago Manual of Style, and most publishing houses have their own style guides, too. Editors go to these references to help them remember all the very specific rules about grammar, stylization, and punctuation to make your manuscript look uniform and flawless.
Your book also has its own rules, so you can create a style just as well.
When you consider the standard 300 pages you might chug out, there’s a lot of details to keep track of. Making your own style guide helps you remember the decisions you’ve made that not only ensure that your story makes sense, but keeps everyone on the same page.
What Should Go in a Style Guide?
Every book is different, so there’s a few things I can suggest as definite needs, but know that some guides will be longer than others. To get the idea of what should go in and why, take a look at this list:
- Names: If possible, document all the names of the characters in your novel, including any nicknames or pet names that other characters give them. This helps keep the spelling consistent throughout the story. You don’t want a character’s name like “Johnathan” also take the appearance of “Jonathan” every once and a while. Same goes for nicknames. For extra detail, you could make a note of who uses these nicknames and who doesn’t. This is super helpful for weird names that will always show up as a misspelling in a Word document.
- Italics: I love using italics for emphasis in dialog, but I use it for other things that might not be found in The Chicago Manual of Style. For example, I like to put internal thoughts into italics. I even have a few sections of the book where characters are basically communicating telepathically. I use italics for that, too, just because I don’t want my readers to get that confused with actual spoken dialog. I would add this in a style guide so my editor doesn’t try to be nice and put them in regular font for me. Wasted efforts.
- Locations: In my story, an impenetrable wall splits two nations. The characters in the story call it the Wall. Again, when it’s capitalized, it’s a specific place. But I still want to use “the wall” for other generic walls. I keep a note that anytime someone talks about the specific wall that has divided them, it gets an uppercase W.
Putting it Together
So how do you keep this all together and keep it all straight? Keep in mind, the study guide will be of help to you once you’re finished or close to being finished with your project. At least, they are to me. Anyway, you can basically start with a blank Word document and skim through your novel. Go chapter by chapter and just make a running list of the various things mentioned in this article as well as any other “exceptions” that are unique to your story.
Then, once you think your list is complete, write the little rules with each item. You’ll find it’s like making a mini encyclopedia of sorts, but the rules should be brief and clear about what should happen with each instance the item comes up. Here’s an example:
Inward thoughts: Any time a character thinks to themselves and it appears as dialog, it should be italicized and no quotation marks should be added.
To make these things easier to find, put everything in alphabetical order. It’s an easy way to quickly go through and find an item again.
So that’s the quick-and-dirty on style guides! If you have any questions or thoughts, make sure to comment below. Making a style guide will probably be more handy for freelance or hired editors no matter the project. It keeps everything straight as you read through, and it helps avoid having to ask over and over again what the writer prefers.
Writers, this is just a fantastic way to keep it all straight. I would say that it would look pretty good to future publishing companies if you already have one ready to go. It definitely wouldn’t hurt at all.
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