EDITING 101: 25 – Style Guides for Fiction…

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!

Next week we’ll discuss ‘POV Head Hopping’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE


This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.





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27 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 25 – Style Guides for Fiction…

  1. Reblogged this on TINA FRISCO and commented:
    Susan Uttendorfsky is a guest on The Story Reading Ape, bringing us Part 25 of her Editing 101 series: Style Guides for Fiction. Even though The Gregg Reference Manual is typically for business, I’ve used it for decades and find it an invaluable resource. Susan lists several other editing guides that you might find helpful. Bottom line: If self-editing, a style manual is a necessity!

    Liked by 2 people

    • There are a lot, Tess! Many newspapers and magazines (The Guardian and National Geographic, for instance) have their own style manuals. Individual scientific communities have specific, official manuals: biology, chemistry… Even NASA has their own style manual, which has come in handy for me many times when editing science fiction! Do you capitalize a spaceship’s name? What about a shuttlecraft? 😉

      These are just some of the notes I have in a style sheet I created recently for a complicated science fiction book:

      Ship names or initialisms (Galaxy Quest, GQ) are always italicized in narrative. In dialogue, if the character is speaking TO the ship (“Come in, GQ/Galaxy Quest”), then no italics. If they’re speaking OF the ship (“I really want to get a post on the GQ/Galaxy Quest”), then italics.

      Per NASA’s style sheet: “Italics: All orbiter names should be capitalized (e.g. Atlantis, Columbia, Discovery). We also italicize lunar module and command module names (e.g. Eagle, Columbia, Odyssey, Aquarius). We do not italicize mission names (STS-44, Apollo 11). All ships should be italicized (e.g. the Hornet, the Enterprise). We do not italicize the names of probes and robotic spacecraft (e.g. Voyager, Cassini).”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, a lot of writers prefer Strunk & White. It is certainly a lot simpler than Chicago! Some of Strunk & White’s style decisions, though, are not correct per Chicago. So if you hire a professional editor, they may change some things that you thought were correct. Just a heads-up. 🙂 But if you’re consistent with Strunk & White, a reader will be satisfied.

      Liked by 2 people


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