As some of you already know, I've written a series of blog posts on fiction style. Because as much as I love the Chicago Manual of Style, it's so full of stuff that's not applicable to fiction writing that it can seem overwhelming and impenetrable to many writers. (If you're not aware, cmosshoptalk.com has an excellent blog for writers and editors of fiction called Fiction+. And I hear they plan to be more inclusive of fiction in the next edition of CMOS.)
Well, I decided to compile these posts into a book/printable pdf for my own personal use—and then realized others might enjoy the convenience as well.
What's a style guide?
Well, despite the name, it's not something that helps you develop your creative writing style. Instead it's a guide through all the little decisions most people never think about until they write a book.
Which spelling should I use: leapt or leaped? Should I capitalize the names of invented creatures in my fantasy novel? How do I represent telepathic dialogue in my science fiction story? Do song titles go in italics or quotation marks? What's the convention for interrupting dialogue? Where the heck does the comma go in this sentence, and is it necessary or optional?
These are the kind of questions that copyeditors know the answers to—the reason they get paid the big bucks (I wish!). But the more you get right in your manuscript before submitting to an editor, the less work they'll have to do on mechanical issues and the more time they can spend on helping your writing shine. Plus, a thorough self-edit can save you money.
Who needs one?
Writers: There are a lot of excellent books on writing and self-editing fiction, and some contain sections on sentence level issues. But to my knowledge, there isn't an up-to-date style guide geared specifically for writers of fiction. (Probably because topics like capitalization and punctuating dialogue aren't as much fun as saving cats.)
A style guide won't make you a better storyteller, but it will certainly help you polish that story to professional standards.
Self-publishers wear many hats, and indie authors on a budget need to decide what they can reasonably manage themselves and what they should hire out to a professional. A style guide is a great tool for the DIYer who would rather allocate their funds to cover design, marketing, or a different level of editing.
Fiction copyeditors: Despite having written this guide, I referred to it three times yesterday when I was editing. When it comes to style, there's so much to remember, and I often find it quicker to use this focused guide than to go hunting though CMOS or Google.
When I first switched to editing fiction, I had to figure many things out through online research, studying traditionally published books, and polling more experienced editors in social media groups. CMOS sometimes confused me, since its recommendations didn't always align with what I observed in the novels I read. Thankfully, resources for freelance fiction editors are on the rise, but it can still be tricky for newer editors to figure out how to adapt non-fiction style guides to creative writing.
Articulate Editing's Fiction Style Guide contains everything in the blog posts (plus bonus chapters on parts of speech and conscious language), but is better organized and easier to use. The blog posts will still remain up as a free resource for authors and fellow fiction editors.
I personally like to print out reference material so it's handy when I'm editing—I've got a binder with formatting and editing checklists, one on styling numbers, and one devoted just to commas—but lots of people prefer to save digital resources on their computers (and save the trees). For easy navigation, I made sure to include hyperlinks for those using a pdf reader and a table of contents with page numbers for those who prefer a physical copy.
If you're interested in purchasing your own Fiction Style Guide, click here to head on over to the product page. Happy editing!