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Home / Self-Publishing / Crash Course: How To Edit Your Novel

Crash Course: How To Edit Your Novel

Lesson 10: How To Create A Style Guide

A style guide is a document that determines the spellings and editorial styles that a manuscript must follow.

A style guide can be broken down into sections that cover the following elements of a novel:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation and style
  • Speech/Dialogue/Internal thoughts

For example, let’s take a look at what might be under some of these subheadings…

Spelling

The guide will specify preferred location spellings (US or UK).

It would also specify the chosen spelling where there is more than one correct way of spelling a word, for instance, ‘focussed’ or focused’.

In the instance where a character’s name is unusual, completely made up, or has more than one way of spelling, this will also be specified – e.g. Shaun or Sean, Kirstin or Kirsten, Hermione, Celaena Sardothien, etc.

Punctuation and style

This part of the style guide includes things like the following:

  • Minimise the use of semi-colons.
  • Don’t add an additional ‘s’ after an apostrophe with a word that already ends in ‘s’. E.g. Tess’ scarf not Tess’s scarf.

Speech/Dialogue/Internal thoughts

Choose between double quote marks or single quote marks for dialogue.

Use curly quotes around speech (not straight quotes) and include punctuation within the quote marks.

For internal thoughts, use italics.

 

A style guide can be as basic or as extensive as you want, but having one helps create consistency throughout the entire manuscript.

Task:

1. Create a style guide.

Having completed a copyedit on your first three chapters, you may have come across inconsistencies in terms of style.

Use this opportunity to create your own style guide for the rest of your edit. Note down any preferred spellings, grammatical styles, and preferred dialogue styles.

2. Let’s look at the list you wrote while you copyedited the first three chapters.

Using the Control + Find function of your word processor, search your whole manuscript for the mistakes you’ve identified, one by one.

Correct them as you go. Do NOT ‘Find and Replace All’ or you risk making more mistakes along the way.

Treat each error individually.

3. Have your style guide handy for the next lesson.

Getting paid on time as a freelancer 4
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Lesson 11: How To Ensure Continuity

 

So you’ve copyedited the first three chapters of your novel, and have your style guide handy.

Previously, we’ve spoken about the importance of consistency in your novel. While it’s relatively easy to establish consistency in things like spelling and word usage, there are other elements of your novel that need to be consistent, too – elements that can’t really be identified with a simple Find + Replace.

For clarity’s sake, we’ll refer to this type of consistency as continuity.

Continuity refers to the maintenance (or continuation) of certain details in your novel. Your characters, plot details, and setting all need to maintain the same details throughout the story (or else any changes made must be explained).

To use a simple example, if your character Wendy has blue eyes in Chapter 1, you must not suddenly describe ‘the depth of Wendy’s chocolate-brown eyes’ in Chapter 12. Similarly, if it’s established that Wendy is an only child, she can’t make an offhand mention of a sibling later on.

Continuity issues can become a particular problem in speculative fiction, where you’re building whole worlds from scratch without a real-world reference to ground you. The rules of the world and the magical/sci-fi elements within it must remain consistent – otherwise the world won’t feel authentic to the reader.

For example, if your story is set in a world with low or no gravity, nothing must ever be allowed to fall to the ground the way it would on regular Earth.

As you may have guessed, editing for continuity is more difficult than editing for things like spelling and grammar. However, there are a few ways to make it easier for yourself.

It’s a good idea to make up some simple reference sheets to keep with you while you’re editing. These can be things such as:

  • Character profiles that list characters’ appearances and distinguishing details.
  • Lists of rules about your world.
  • A timeline of the basic events of your novel.

Having these on hand when you’re editing can make it easier to check small details and ensure there are no discrepancies of detail.

Finally, remember that some continuity issues might still slip through the cracks – and that’s okay. This happens to everyone!

Any remaining issues can be identified by beta readers and/or editors and fixed later on.

As long as you’ve got as many as possible out of the way yourself, you’ll be fine.

Task:

1. If you don’t already have them, make up a suite of reference sheets about characters, settings, timelines, and other details. Use these to take one more run through your novel, keeping an eye out for continuity errors and fixing them as you go.

2. Having copyedited the first three chapters of your book, and fixed up recurring errors, it’s now time to go back to the beginning of chapter four and continue to copyedit your manuscript to the end.

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Lesson 12: Complete Your Copyedit

By now, you’ve done a massive amount of work on your manuscript. You should be able to see it really starting to improve and take a shape that’ll be closer to its final form.

So far, you have…

  • Structurally edited your novel
  • Read through your work as a reader
  • Ironed out any continuity issues
  • Copyedited your entire manuscript

It’s important that you don’t move onto the next lesson until these tasks have been completed.

Once these have been done, we can move on to using beta readers.

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