Friday, October 31, 2014

Style Sheet, You Need One

If you’re a writer and you haven’t heard of a style sheet, it’s time. You need one. (It will help you make your book consistent, which is incredibly helpful if you self-publish. And it will be a HUGE blessing to any copy editor if you can give them something to start with.)

A style sheet is a listing of the elements that make up your book’s style so that it will be consistent through the entire manuscript. (Yeah, I know never define a word using that word.)

Here are a few of the things that a style sheet should include:


    1. British vs. English (there are grammar differences too).

    2. Names (Catherine vs. Katherine vs. Catherin vs. Katheryn). It also helps a copy editor (or your super helpful beta reader). That way if you’ve made a mistake somewhere and typed in the wrong spelling, the copy editor (or beta reader) can correct it.

    3.  Made-up terms or place names, etc.


    1.  Serial comma vs. no serial comma.

    2.  Comma after introductory word/clause (Some publishers no longer use a comma after a "short" introductory clause or word. Personally, as a reader and copy editor, I HATE that. Just sayin’.)

    3.  Hyphenated terms: anything that is specialized to your book.

    4.  Anything that breaks standard usage—that way the beta reader or copy editor knows that you haven’t made a grammar error. I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve wasted correcting the same grammar errors over and over while wondering if the error is intentional. (If you are weak in this area, beef up your skills by visiting the Grammar Girl site or Daily Writing Tips.)


    1.  Do you want your coined words capitalized?

    2.  Do you want nicknames capitalized if they are real words? (For example, a character is called “Bobcat.”)

Plot Details:

    1.  Jot down the characters’ names and relationships, i.e., Margaret, mother of Anna. (I once changed a character’s name midway through a novel—not on purpose. But my amazing beta reader caught it. Thanks, Misha!)

    2. To help with consistency, keep track of things of like characters' hair/eye color, the type of car they drive, brand of cigarette they smoke, their pets' names, etc. It's also wise to keep track of the chapter or page number when these bits of information are mentioned.  

Here's some more information about style sheets: Here. And Here.

Here's an example of real style sheet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Zombies Love Apostrophes

Okay, I have no idea whether zombies like apostrophes. But because everyone appreciated last week’s “Passive Voice and Zombies” so much, I thought I’d do another grammar-made-simple post.

This one is about apostrophes. They’re actually simple.

Ownership: We all know that apostrophes show ownership.

Singular Nouns: You take a singular noun and slap ’s on the end. (Even if the noun ends in an s.)
The zombie’s leg is broken.
The bass’s fin was torn. (Yeah, it looks dumb. But it’s correct.)

There are a few exceptions—most you will never run into unless, like me, you are a copy editor. And even if you do, most people don’t know the rule, so no worries.

However, one exception you might see is in traditional phrases.
For goodness’ sake
For Jesus’ sake

But, Jesus’s apostles. (Yep, looks weird. But it’s correct.)

However, if it looks too weird or you’re not sure, just reword it. (You don’t get extra points in life for knowing weird grammar rules.)
The apostles of Jesus… The fin of the bass…

Plural Nouns: With a plural noun ending in s, all you do is add an apostrophe.
Example: The zombies’ arms were missing.

With plural nouns not ending in s, just add ’s.
The children’s beds were not made. (Hmm. Sounds like our house.)

Once again there are some unusual exceptions. If you’re not sure or it looks weird, just reword it. The bottom line is while you may know the grammatical rule, if the word looks odd and draws the reader out of the text, you’ve failed. The point of style and grammar is readability. Period.

Use an apostrophe to show where letters have been omitted.

Don’t (do not). Simple.

It’s (it is). You never use an apostrophe with the possessive pronoun its. Possessive pronouns never take apostrophes. (Remember: you’d never write hi’s for his.)

The ’90s. The apostrophe goes before the 9 because there are numbers missing. It’s an abbreviation. Easy-peasy.

If you write, please note that the apostrophe always is open. It looks like this ’. When you’re typing in Word and a word starts with an apostrophe, Word will make it look like this ‘. But that is wrong—that’s a single quotation mark, not an apostrophe.  ’Tis a night for zombies. Not, ‘Tis a night…

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Passive Voice and Zombies

Yesterday, I was reading an article in a national writers’ magazine in which an author discussed his editing strategies. He recommended that writers do a global search for “was” because this would help find incidents of passive voice. Then, he gave this example, “He was taller than me.” The author said this needed to be edited because it was written in passive voice…

Now the sentence may need to be rewritten. But it’s NOT passive voice.

So here’s a quick tutorial on passive voice.

In passive voice, the object of an action is the subject of a sentence.
            For example: The ball was thrown.
(The ball did not do the throwing, so it’s passive voice.)

In the example the author gave, the verb is intransitive (which means there is no transfer of action), and it shows a state of being.

If you aren’t sure whether something is passive voice, just apply the “zombie test.”

Attach “by zombies” after the verb and if it makes sense, it’s passive voice. And you’ll need to rewrite the sentence. Here are some examples: 

The ball was thrown by zombies. (Makes sense. Passive voice.) Change the sentence to active voice. The zombies threw the ball.

He was taller by zombies. (Doesn’t make sense. Not passive voice.)


N.B. I don’t know who originally came up with the “zombie test,” but it helps kids remember.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


My blog posting has hit the skids this past summer and autumn. However, I'm hoping it's all for a good cause, i.e., my latest novel. Right now, I'm doing some last minute editing of the book (an upmarket women's fiction) before it goes to the first beta reader on Friday.

That is always a nervy time. It'll be the first time anyone besides me lays eyes on the novel. It really is like showing your baby off to the world and hoping they don't say, "Uh, well, yes, that is a baby."

I'd love to polish it more and even do a read aloud before my beta gets out her red pen. But that really wouldn't help the book. Just my pride.

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.
- William Faulkner

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blogging for Books, Bittersweet

I received a free copy of Bittersweet from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. I enjoyed the languid pacing, which matched the summer vacation setting, with just enough tension to keep me reading the book. I really appreciated use of Paradise Lost as a parallel text as the protagonist faced her own personal temptation as well as the inevitability of what she chooses to do. Though I was a bit disappointed by how neatly and positively the ending was tied up and I felt that the family’s money source at the time of the bankruptcy was a little underdeveloped.

Finally, there is a definite “ick” factor with several sex scenes and at the close of the novel when the reader discovers what characters knew and did/didn’t do.