Style guides. Some writers use them, some don’t. For the longest time there was a part of my brain that didn’t pay any heed to them. It reminded me when I was in high school and college and using the dreaded MLA guides to create my term and final papers. I wasn’t writing academia anymore, why should I use a style guide? However, after some time working on trying to get my first work published, I discovered this was actually a fundamental flaw in my thinking.
Style guides are an awesome tool to help create a polished and professional piece rather than generally organized word vomit on the screen. It’s more than how to use punctuation, grammar, or set the layout for your latest passion project. Style guides are a comprehensive and detailed plan on how to give your work consistency and structure it craves. Not to mention the polished appearance it deserves.
Now, one can go out to obtain and utilize one of a great number of books regarding style so that work is mechanically consistent, such as The Chicago Manual of Style (but unless you get your hands on a used copy, be prepared to drop $80 and up for this book), or The AP Stylebook on Briefing on Media Law (excellent for those looking to get into blogging, magazines, or other media branches and much more budget friendly for a new copy at about $25), or The Elements of Style (a personal favorite and a better deal at $18 for a new copy) for most creative writing projects. It’s also wholly possible to create your own specialized style guide for your work.
For example, if you have a character with an accent or a distinct way of speaking and your want to capture that on paper, you might create a style guide so that way you have a ready and hard set of rules to follow to ensure consistency throughout the work. Also, your editor and readers will appreciate it. Your personal style guide doesn’t have to be strictly about dialogue patterns it can also be about any great number of things that you want to personalize and use through out the body of your work. It could include terminology, systems of measurement, tone and voice, words to avoid, and whatever else you might think of.
While a style guide can be an incredibly helpful tool, also keep in mind, it is a tool. Refer to it when you’re stuck or just to be sure you’re being consistent. Don’t spend too long creating it. Don’t make it too long, it doesn’t need to be a book, typically a page or two is good enough. It’s also never too late to create a style guide. I find mine most effective when I’m in editing mode. Remember, it’s your style guide and you can change it any time as the story develops.
Style on, my friends!