“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.
—Trying to be Stylish, Los Angeles
What is “style”?
“Style” is the way writers express thought in a written work; this includes text and documentation and any tables and illustrations. “Style” is often used to mean the consistent use of capitalization, spelling, hyphenation, abbreviations, punctuation, ellipsis points, parentheses, quotation marks, the way numbers are treated, grammar, syntax, usage, and much more.
Where can someone learn about style?
The Chicago Manual of Style is large, detail-oriented, and applicable for both fiction and nonfiction writers.
This reference source is divided into three sections:
1) “The Publishing Process” covers the parts of a book (essential if you’re writing nonfiction or self-publishing), manuscript preparation guidelines for authors, and rights, permissions, and copyright administration.
2) “Style and Usage” includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, names, numbers, abbreviations, quotations, and so forth.
3) “Source Citations and Indexes”
The AP (Associated Press) Stylebook’s site calls its guide “the definitive resource for journalists.” This stylebook has a new edition each spring.
The Chicago Manual of Style issued a new edition on September 5th, setting the writing and editing world abuzz. As the first revision in seven years, significant changes were included. Two major changes: internet is no longer capitalized, and email is no longer hyphenated.
Something of interest to children’s writers:
Folktales, fables, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and the like are usually treated in the manner of shorter poems and set in roman type and enclosed in quotation marks. Italics should be used to refer to fairy tales published as books, plays, and the like.
- “Aladdin” is arguably the most well-known tale in A Thousand and One Nights.
- “Rumpelstiltskin” originally appeared in the Grimm brothers’ Children’s and Household Tales.
- Everybody knows at least one verse of “Jack and Jill.”
- Ella Enchanted is a retelling by Gail Carson Levine of “Cinderella.”
- The opera Hansel and Gretel (Hänsel und Gretel) is based on the fairy tale of the same name.
A few other changes can be found here, including clarifications to the pronoun “they” when used with a person who does not identify with a gender-specific pronoun.
Do writers need to worry about style?
Think of querying agents (for traditional publication) or self-publishing as a job interview. First impressions are important. As a writer, your document speaks for you. The technical elements should be clean enough to be unnoticeable. Only then can the reader lose themselves in your story.
Should a writer redo what’s already written to conform with new changes?
If you’ve already queried your manuscript, leave it as submitted. For the manuscripts still under revision, incorporate style updates. Our language evolves; we evolve with it.
Why doesn’t something in a book match what’s in the style guide?
“E-mail” has officially changed to “email,” yet, we’ve been seeing “email” in writing for years. Self-publishers and those writing informal online content sometimes disregard the industry’s rules. In traditional publication, publishers supplement style rules with their house style.
In summary: Even after you’ve mastered spelling, you need to consult a dictionary periodically. In the same manner, a style guidebook should be used on occasion to ensure your writing is technically accurate for today’s standards.
The takeaway: While great style does not equal great content, a query with sloppy or incorrect style may be immediately relegated to the slush pile; a self-published book with obvious errors generates negative reviews and low sales figures.
Do your best to consistently follow style rules while writing an engaging story that the world wants to hear.
The Chicago Manual of Style’s site often offers a free trial period which gives you access to the their ten-page article, “What’s New in the 17th Edition.”
Stylish, I hope this helps clarify what style means and gives you an overview on the recent changes.
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