Style and Formatting

Since we had lots of questions in our last class about style guides, I’m going talk about them for a bit.

Style guides help you keep your own writing consistent, grammatically and format-wise. There are various guides out there. Some, like the AP Stylebook, are for journalists. The MLA Handbook is one often used in colleges for writing research papers.

But we write fiction, I hear you say, what should we use? Ah. Well. A good jumping off point is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. It gives easy-to-understand rules and information.

If you need something more in-depth, you might choose The Chicago Manual of Style. This, I am told, is the guide most major publishing houses choose.

However, if that’s not enough headaches for you, many publishers have their own in-house style guides as well, where they give their preferences. If you are going to submit a book or short story to a publisher and you don’t find any a guide on their site, just use CMOS. But if they do have a guide, you’d do well to adhere to it where it varies from CMOS.

As an example, I will list the style guide we use at Ray Gun Revival, which reflects not only grammatical and spelling preferences but also a few preferences based on the fact we are a science fiction magazine:

Clarifications and Style Preferences:

* ‘all right’ not ‘alright’
* ‘okay’ not ‘OK’
* serial comma: a, b, and c (CMOS 6.19)
* no semicolons in dialogue
* one space between sentences (CMOS 6.11)
* italics for emphasis, not ALL CAPS or underlining
* three-space ellipse – without spaces between the periods, and not Word’s one-space ellipse
* straight quotes not Word’s “curly” quotes
* em dash without a space before or after (Alt+0151)
* the title not CAPITALIZED or underlined or (heaven forbid!) BOTH
* the ‘by’ in byline not capitalized and on same line as author’s name: by Johne Cook

Scientific and SF Terminology:

* 3D
* sci-fi
* A.I., A.I.s
* G-force, Gs, three-Gs

Had enough? Too bad, I’m not done. On top of the actual style guide, you also need to follow formatting guidelines. Some publishers are more forgiving than others, but it’s best not to irritate them and give them a reason to reject your story. I’ve written a few articles about this, and they might help clarify what you’re up against in submitting a story:

Don’t Annoy Your Editor

Behind the Scenes

Formatting Submissions

Okay – I’m through torturing you now. I’m sure our next class will be filled with “OMG! I can’t do all this! I’m quitting!” Guess what? You’ve all told me you’re (corrected – thanks, Tink) writers, so you can’t quit. Writers write, it’s what we do. We’ll have a little pity party – with chocolate, that can soothe anything – then wade through all this and answer questions.

See you Saturday, 4 September, at 6 p.m. eastern at the UOT Classroom Annex in Twinity.


6 thoughts on “Style and Formatting

  1. “You’ve all told me your writers…” Let me thank you for some very useful info…before I knee-jerk to “you’re vs your”…and offer up my TinkianMotion blog entries for shredding purposes in your classes.


  2. Ha! Thanks for pointing out the faux pas, Tink. Nice thing about WordPress, though, I can go back and edit when I find I make goofs, unlike having a book in print. 😛

    Thanks for letting me know about your blog, too – sweet!


  3. Good stuff. What you say in “Don’t Annoy Your Editor” reminds me of what broadcasting/media students get hammered into them: “Know your audience”. This is something that becomes more difficult with recent changes in media forms and formats. Despite those changes it is still a keystone concept.


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