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How a Style Guide Can Help You Create Your Perfect Fictional Universe

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Anyone who has ever written prose with various characters, timelines, and plot points has probably had to scroll through their previous pages to find exactly how they spelled a character’s last name or whether or not their chapter headings were aligned left or centre. No matter what you write—whether it’s the next YA best-seller or a white paper on the latest anti-virus software—you need a style guide.

I can go on and on about how a style guide can make an editor's job a great deal easier, too, but for the sake of clarity, this article will focus on how a style guide will help your work of fiction.

Readers Crave Consistency

A fictional style guide is an easy-to-access, easy-to-read cheat sheet that contains all the essential formatting and spelling rules you’ve chosen from the outset of your novel. Formatting is more than just margin length and page breaks. Formatting also includes rules about the use of italics, spelling choices, and naming conventions. It's especially important to keep your fictional place names and other proper nouns the same throughout the story. If you can’t even keep the name of the town in which your story is set consistent, your readers won’t bother investing in your YA universe.

Nothing is more distracting than a writer who doesn’t stick with the same spelling, format, or fictional element throughout their story. Lack of consistency in your novel is not only distracting, but it also undermines your writing in the worst way. It’s something that readers will remember (and possible sneer at) long after they’ve read it.

Some writers may think that style guides aren’t necessary for fiction, but those with even a simple writing style guide will discover how much less work they have to do to maintain constancy throughout their story. This is especially true if you’re writing the next fantasy epic that’s over 100,000 words long.

Confusion Kills Curiosity

Readers don’t want to have to work to be convinced by your storytelling. But by making them guess if your sudden spelling or formatting change is a literary device or simply an editorial oversight, you’re taking the reader out of your fictional world, which interrupts their reading and negatively impacts their experience. The goal is to make the reader hungry for every next sentence, but if they see that your main character’s name suddenly starts with a “C” instead of “K”, their enjoyment will come to a halt and be replaced by confusion.

Editors Prefer a Polished Piece

No editor is happy receiving a sloppy draft of fiction. Because there is so much competition in the publishing world, literary agents won’t bother reading past your first page unless it’s completely polished. Hiring an editor has become the first step in the writer’s journey to publishing. And because of this, editors are busy people who can afford to be selective with the work they take on. They will usually vet work that gives them the least amount of rewriting. A style guide gives both you and the editor much less proofreading to take on, which may even end up saving you money in editing fees.

Are you convinced that a style guide is right for you but don’t know where to begin? Get a FREE style guide to get you good and started. It's yours to tinker with once you get your writing project underway. And of course, feel free to contact me with any queries that come to mind.