April 12, 2012 Leave a comment
I shit you not. Granted, I’m not talking about a rosy-cheeked matron with a magic wand who will appear from nowhere and make your story perfect the way Cinderella’s rags were transformed to designer silks. What she will do is give you the tools you need to improve your writing on your own. Where to find her? Barnes and Noble. Amazon. Pretty much anywhere that sells writing style guides.
What exactly is a style guide?
They’re not like your eight-grade grammar textbook. Simply put, it’s a book containing tips to make your writing better. They come in all shapes and sizes and vary in purpose. Guides like The University of Chicago Press Manual of Style and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage provide guidelines on formatting issues such as capitalization and when to spell out numbers. Which to use depends on personal preference; just be sure to use the same one consistently.
Some style guides enable the user to find quick answers to grammar questions. I’ll let you in on a little secret—I never write or beta without at least three of these within reach. My favorite is Theodore M. Bernstein’s The Careful Writer, an alphabetically organized handbook detailing over 2,000 common grammar and usage issues and thorough explanations of how to avoid them. It’s my go-to source when both writing and editing, and I strongly encourage authors for whom I beta to use it when proofreading.
Then there are guides which aim to help you improve your writing as a whole. These cover a variety of topics varying from novel structure to query letters. Again, personal preference and writing style will play a large part in which guides will work best for you. When I write columns about form, the topics and advice given is generally compiled from several such guides. Of these, the one I use most is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This text gives advice on everything from crafting effective dialogue to avoiding stylistic devices that make a writer seem insecure (e.g. italics and exclamation points).
So while you can’t expect some eccentric old chick in a funny dress to wave her magic wand and make your dangling participles vanish, with the right tools you can empower yourself to craft your own masterpiece. Now there’s something even a Disney heroine would envy!
sleepyvalentina is a style-guide devotee, an EBS beta, and a bit over-caffeinated.