Style Guides for Fiction
In order to make the English language (or any language) consistent, style guides and manuals have been developed to use certain consistent rules or standards. Most industries or professions have their own style manual, so that all materials written for that industry are of the same standard. This not only includes punctuation, but also capitalization and grammar.
For instance, all newspaper articles in the US are written using AP (Associated Press) style. For business, there’s The Gregg Reference Manual, and for web publishing, there’s the The Yahoo! Style Guide. Each of these style guides has different rules, and someone writing for those industries must follow those rules.
If you’re working for the United States government, it has its own style guide, the US Government Printing Office Style Manual. Australia, the European Union, Canada, and the UK have their own governmental style guides.
You may have heard of some typically used for fiction:
Chicago Manual of Style (US)
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (commonly called “Strunk and White”) (US)
New Hart’s Rules, now included in the New Oxford Style Manual (UK)
Fowler’s Modern English Usage (UK)
Why is this important to you, as a fiction writer?
You want to ensure that your story is written in an understandable manner so everyone can enjoy it. Confusion is not your friend! By adhering to one style guide or manual, you will learn to write properly and everyone will be able to read your books effortlessly. While whether or not to use the serial (Oxford) comma may seem like a trivial point to you, words and their usage are the tools you use to get your ideas across to your audience. Just as an artist needs different brushes and paints to achieve different results, so a writer needs to know how to use language effectively.
An editor will be happy to apply style rules consistently in your manuscript, but this series is about self-editing. Pick a style manual and learn to use it properly!
Many of the writers I know prefer Strunk and White because it’s not too complicated. Most editors I know use the Chicago Manual of Style, but we keep many different style guides on hand because we never know what guide our customers will want to use. I have six in my library, and more on my Amazon wishlist!
We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!
Owner, Adirondack Editing