The Importance of a Style Guide and Log

Here’s a comment my copyeditor, Jade Z. Scibilia, made about my last manuscript: “I laughed when you had Lynch mention the number of Johns in the police force (I recall we had to work on that in Idyll Threats). Buuuuut, we have duplicate names again.”

I am terrible with naming characters. I’ll name four or five characters the same first name and think nothing of it. I blame my small town where I had at least six Johns in my elementary class. Johns and Michaels abounded. However, that’s not easy on a reader or a copyeditor. (I’m sorry, Jade).

Jade had given me a tool I should’ve been using more often, to keep this problem from recurring. (I owe her candy. So much candy.) After she’d copyedited my first mystery, Idyll Threats, she sent me a Style Guide and Log.

It looks like this:

My style log lists the names of characters and places of import to the book, as well as style choices we made regarding how to number things and how to treat police ten codes. This ensures consistency throughout the series books.

If you treat it right, a style guide/log can be your best friend.

How?

When I can’t recall how old Thomas’s nephew, Gabe, is in 1998, I refer to my style guide. Gabe Lynch. 12 years old, as of Idyll Fears (second series book). Awesome. Searching this involved doing a “find” for “nephew” because I couldn’t recall either of Thomas’s nephews’ names off the top of my head.

Searching your style log is a lot faster than searching your 80,000+ words manuscript.

The guide/log will show you that you have five characters named John, assuming you’re noting them down.

It keeps you from accidentally renaming the street where your main character lives.

It reminds you of the style conventions you and your editors agreed upon, so you don’t violate them in future books.

An unexpected bonus of the style log is that updating it is a “low hanging fruit” writer activity. On those days when fixing chapter three (again) is daunting you can say, “I’m just going to scan Chapters One and Two and update my style log.” So, you flip through the pages, adding any locations or characters to the style log (remember if you cut those sites or people to remove them from the style log at a later date.)

A final bonus to having a style guide and log? It makes you look 2 Legit 2 Quit. MC Hammer has nothing on you. Look at your fancy style guide and log with all its entries proving that you wrote a book! That is terrific and worthy of celebration.

Don’t forget to use it! Having it is no good if you don’t update and refer to it. Now get to work creating your own. If you’ll excuse me, I have some characters to rename.

2 comments

  1. Keith Hummel MD, MFA

    Enjoy your posts. This one reffered to me by author Ann Garvin, my mentor in the fantastic 5th Semester Writers Workshop. Check it out.

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