E39 – What Is A Style Guide?

Show Notes

In this episode, we discuss what to do to prepare for your editor, and what to expect from your editor.

The Revision Wizards are at https://www.revisionwizards.com
V.E. Griffith’s website: https://www.vegriffith.com
Miss Catherine M.H.’s website: https://www.scribes-pen.com

Transcript at: https://revisionwizards.com/?p=2409

Transcript

[V.E. Griffith]
Welcome to the Revision Wizards podcast. I’m V.E. Griffith, and I’m joined by the villainous witch, Ms. Catherine M.H. We’ll be going over what a style guide is.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
This is episode 39, and we’re going to run this a little bit differently. I’m going to be interviewing V.E. about style guides, since he knows so much more about them than I do. So, let’s start with the hardest question first.

What is your name? No, I’m just kidding. The look you gave me, guys.

It was great. So, the hardest question is also, like, the easiest question to ask, and what is a style guide?

[V.E. Griffith]
A style guide is a document that is intended to help your editor. It is different than your story bible, which is a document that is intended to help the author. A style guide describes basic information about your manuscript and about your characters, so that somebody going through your manuscript can make sure that everything is consistent.

You might include things like your characters and their basic physical descriptions, so that your editor might catch when your blue-eyed character suddenly has brown eyes. Or, for example, what do italics in your manuscript mean? Are they words of emphasis?

Are they thoughts? Are they thoughts that are projected into someone else’s head? Are they something else?

What do italics mean? What does bold text mean? How should weird made-up words be spelled?

Anything that’s not standard English is going to go into your style guide, but it is not all of your character’s backstory. It is not about character motivation. It is not about all of the things that the author needs to know.

It’s what the editor needs to know.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Gotcha. So, when should I start making a style guide? I mean, like, I’m writing a book.

I’ve finished at least the first draft. Should I have already been making a style guide, or do I just do it right before I hand it in?

[V.E. Griffith]
You can do it either way. I recommend, and the way I do mine, is I do mine at the end as I’m going over my manuscript for the last time before I send it to the editor. The reason is everything in the manuscript is in flux, especially during the first round of edits.

So, I don’t want to spend a lot of time creating a style guide that I’m then going to have to go back and change, or that are going to have errors in it that are going to create problems for my editor. Hey, you’ve changed this character in a way that is not consistent with your style guide. Which way is correct?

Don’t do that to your editor. The style guide can be sort of a subset of your Bible. So, if you’re creating a Bible as you go along, that’s the time to create a Bible.

You can look at your Bible and pull out just the relevant details to put into your style guide. So, that may be one approach that you could take.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Gotcha. All right. So, my series Bibles can be over 100 pages long.

How long should I make a style guide? I mean, I’m already sending a manuscript. What is the average length that you would recommend for a style guide?

[V.E. Griffith]
As short as you can make it.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Okay, but that could be like 100 pages for me.

[V.E. Griffith]
No, that is way too long. That’s a Bible. That’s not a style guide.

A style guide might be in the neighborhood of five pages at the most.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Okay. So, you’re thinking like three to five pages.

[V.E. Griffith]
Yes, and it’s going to be divided into sections so that your editor can refer to it easily. You might have a typography section. You might have a character section.

You might have a settings section that gives very, very basic skeletal details that you want checked for consistency. But it’s not going to be your character’s backstory. It’s not going to be their family tree.

It will not necessarily even include every character in the book. It’s only going to be the major characters. It’s only going to be the major details.

It is not going to be how pointed their shoes are. It’s going to be their basic details. Height, weight, eye color, hair color, build, those kinds of things.

So, include details sparingly in a style guide.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Got you. So, if I wanted to sit there, and for me, I personally have a glossary. For those who have a glossary, is that something you would add into a style guide for your editor?

[V.E. Griffith]
You can, or you can include it sort of as an addendum. If you have, for example, a made-up language like our previous guest Kim Lark has, you might include your glossary or an abridged version of your glossary there, or you might not. It just depends.

One of the things that you may want to do is not include the glossary to give your editor the opportunity to read your book the way a reader would, and figure out from context clues what the words mean.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Okay. So, what are some common mistakes you’ve seen when people have given you a style guide?

[V.E. Griffith]
There are two common mistakes. The first one is not doing a style guide at all. The second one is including too much in the style guide.

Those are the big issues that I run into. If I can’t read it in five to ten minutes or less, it’s too long, because I am, again, as with anything, I have to spend time reading your style guide. I have to spend time digesting it.

That is time that I cannot then spend on your manuscript, and if you’re paying me by the word, that means that I’m getting paid less per word, because I have to deal with this other document. So, make it useful. Make it necessary.

Make it indispensable to me. Also, if you create one at all, usually that’s going to be a surprise to your editor, because most people don’t create one. If you have questions about what your editor might like included in it, ask them before you send the manuscript, and that way you can cut it down or add stuff specifically tailored to them.

The other thing that people do is they don’t create one at all, because they don’t know how to do it. They don’t know to do it, and so sometimes, not always, but sometimes editors will create one for you. This is particularly done in the traditional publishing world, where you send your manuscript off to your editor, and they send it back with corrections, and somebody has put together a style guide for you, and then you can cross-check the style guide against the manuscript and against your intentions.

That’s unusual in the indie world. So, as with anything else in the indie world, you get to do it yourself.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
That is true, yes. Most of those things are. So, let’s say your editor requires a style guide.

They’re like, yes, please send me a style guide before your manuscript, so I can read it over, blah, blah, blah. How long does it usually take to build one?

[V.E. Griffith]
If you’re the sort of author that keeps a story bible, it shouldn’t take you long, because most of the stuff is going to wind up being in the story bible. If you’re the sort of author that does not keep a story bible, it might take you longer, but it’s still going to be the kinds of things that an author would know pretty much off the top of their head, or be able to look up in the manuscript very easily. You are intimately familiar with your manuscript.

You know in which chapter the character was introduced, so you should be able to go and find their physical description pretty easily if you need it.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Got you. Okay, so me as a pantser, some of this makes sense, right? Not that none of it, all of it, but I can definitely pull things off the top of my head.

I know what my character looks like. I know what part of my glossary is like. I know what my setting is like.

What else would I…

[V.E. Griffith]
In your case, you would also have dialect.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Yes, so I would have dialect. What else would I, as a pantser, off the top of my head would need to know? I’ve got character.

I’ve got setting. Point of view, probably.

[V.E. Griffith]
Yeah, you’d want information on point of view, particularly if you have multiple points of view. If you have multiple points of view, you want to list who those points of view are, the basic details of what those points of view are about. For example, if you are doing an unreliable narrator, or if you are doing chapters that have your antagonist as points of view, you want to list that in the style guide.

You’re not hiding spoilers from your editor, so if your manuscript has those kinds of twists in them, the unreliable narrator, the point of view from the antagonist’s perspective, go ahead and make a note of that when you’re looking at the section on points of view. That will help your editor keep things consistent for you, and mark inconsistencies, places where you might need to change points of view.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
That makes a lot of sense. Now, if your editor makes you a style guide, let’s say you’ve never had one, you didn’t even think about it, you didn’t even know what it was, when you get it back, what should you be doing with that? Is that something you would read first?

What would you recommend to people?

[V.E. Griffith]
I would read it side by side with the changes that they make to the manuscript, particularly if you are looking at consistency. Sometimes editors can miss things that are inconsistent, eye colors that change, those kinds of things. So anytime you talk about your character’s blue eyes, make sure in the style guide that they’re blue, and your editor didn’t pick up that reference from the one time you mentioned that their eyes were brown.

Just make sure that what’s in the style guide is consistent with what you intend, because the style guide is what the editor went through to make everything consistent for you. For example, if you have italics in your manuscript, and you use them for three different things, and your editor is like me, one of those people who believes that italics should be used for exactly one thing in a manuscript, I will have put in the style guide what that one thing is, and I will have changed or noted in the manuscript where you have deviated from that thing. So that will give you a clue to your editor’s attitude about those kinds of things, and it will help you make an informed decision about whether you want to accept or reject your editor’s changes.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
So if I make a style guide, and it goes into my series bible, other things all put together, does every editor require it? Is that something I really have to worry about?

[V.E. Griffith]
Editors do not generally require them, but they can be helpful because they are a guide to the author’s intention. If I have a guide to what the author’s intention is, I can help make sure that the author’s intention matches the reader’s impression. So if you intend that your italic mean exactly one thing, but it always seems to mean something else, then I can flag that as your editor.

If I don’t know what your intention is, I’m just going to have to guess what your intention is, and maybe it turns out that what you’re doing in your manuscript is not what you intend to do. And if I don’t know that, I can’t flag that for you.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Gotcha. All right, another last question. If, and we’ve done episodes on all the different types of editors that are out there, do you have to make different style guides depending on the different editors you are using?

[V.E. Griffith]
I generally would not bother with a style guide with a developmental editor. A developmental editor is not looking in at the details in that way. A copy editor or a line editor is looking at those kinds of details, but a developmental editor is looking at things like story structure and larger sort of forest level issues, the 10,000 foot view.

So it doesn’t really matter to a developmental editor, did you get the details of the dress right? That’s not what the developmental editor is looking for. The developmental editor is looking for your inciting incident, your context shifting midpoint, your dark moment of the soul, your resolution, you know, those kinds of big issues.

They’re not looking at the little stuff. So most developmental editors, in my experience, are not going to want to bother with a style guide. You can send it to them if you want to.

If they don’t want it, they’ll just not look at it. As with anything, ask your editor what they want before you send them the stuff.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Makes sense. All right. Have I missed anything?

[V.E. Griffith]
I don’t think so. I think you got the big thing. The big takeaway here is prepare a document that’s short and to the point and ask your editor what they would like in it.

You will surprise most editors because most clients don’t prepare these things. They don’t know to do them. So now you have a leg up.

You look a little bit more professional. You’re a little bit more interesting to your editor and they may be more interested in taking your work if they were not before. It’s always to your advantage to be more prepared.

So that’s the big takeaway here.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
All right. Well, awesome. I’m sorry I didn’t have a style guide for you.

[V.E. Griffith]
That’s okay. I still love you.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Thanks. I mean, I did give you a huge chunk of a manuscript. That’s for sure.

[V.E. Griffith]
You certainly did. And it was enjoyable to read.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
I’m glad. That’s good. All righties.

Well, thank you so much for letting me interview you and learning about a style guide because like I said, I didn’t even know they existed until you were like, hey, did you ever write one? And I was like, oh, what? Now I know ahead of time kind of the things that make life a little easier for an editor will definitely, especially if you’re trying to get a top notch editor, someone who, you know, has edited huge, huge name books and you’re being like, hey, I want this person to edit my book so I can say they edited it.

Having the style guide might put you one step higher than somebody else who is just being like, well, you edit my book. I like your editing. You could be like, hey, I have a style guide.

Do you require or have any requirements? Recommendations? Sure.

Whichever one for what you need in a style guide so we can, you know, continue this process to get my book edited.

[V.E. Griffith]
That’s basically the way it should go. It simply makes you look more prepared and more professional.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Yep. And that’s a leg up in the industry.

[V.E. Griffith]
It certainly is.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
It’s okay. I’m pretty sure I just said indie industry very wrong beforehand. So we both got this.

[V.E. Griffith]
There we go. All right. Well, that’s all I got for today.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
All righties. So stay magical, everyone.

[V.E. Griffith]
Bye.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode. You can find every episode on your favorite podcast player and on YouTube. For transcripts, please visit our website at revisionwizards.com.

They go live the same day as our episodes.

[V.E. Griffith]
If you’d like to reach out to us separately, you can find me at vegriffith.com and Miss Catherine at scribes-pen.com.

[Miss Catherine M.H.]
Stay magical.

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