The Importance of House Styles and Style Sheets

            You can find style guides aplenty if you but look. Some of the more popular ones include AP, the Chicago Manual, and APA. There are plenty of others though. A company or individual is ideally supposed to choose one style and follow its guidelines for all their written materials. But what do you do if you can’t follow every part exactly? What if the style diverges from what would be expected from an industry or genre? Today we are going to talk about the importance of house styles and style sheets.

            A lot of businesses create a house style for all their written communication. Many newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses all have house styles, as do private companies in every industry imaginable. Even government agencies will often have house styles for their publications and press releases. A house style is not a complete rewriting of a style guide or a personal dictionary. It explains where the company wishes to part from its standard writing style for the sake of the company’s voice or purpose.

            You may only be one writer and not a whole company. That doesn’t mean you have to follow a style guide to the letter. The answer for you is a style sheet. I’ve mentioned style sheets before as a valuable tool for writers to use when mapping out their novels. It can help you keep track of names, spellings, facts, grammar conventions, and even made-up languages for your writing. A style sheet is beneficial to writers of other genres for similar reasons. It assists you in keeping track of your variations and explaining them to your editor later on. It is truly an essential tool for any writer.

            There are many possibilities of additions for your house style or style sheet. The variations included can be an alternative spelling, like continuing to spell out “drive-through” even though AP has recognized “drive-thru,” or it can be capitalization that veers away from the style guide’s suggestions, which is something I see quite often in IT and government publications. It doesn’t matter so much what the variation is if it serves a purpose for you or your company and doesn’t break any basic grammar rules, causing it to become unreadable to others.

            How should you go about creating one? It can seem daunting at first. The best way I have found has been to do so gradually. As an issue comes up, you should decide what your standard will be. You may also want to revisit your style sheet every so often to make sure your style variations still make sense and are serving their purpose. Writing changes fast, so your style will end up changing too.

            So, for example, I use Chicago Manual as my standard writing style and Merriam-Webster’s 11th Edition Collegiate as my dictionary when I write, but I have a style sheet with some variations that I follow. I like having spaces around my em dashes because I believe the space adds to the text’s readability, but Chicago does not add spaces. I also tend to use the British variations “afterwards, towards, backwards” that have the added “s” on the end. It is pretty prevalent in both speech and writing for American English and it doesn’t break any grammar rules, so I don’t see any reason to object to it. I also use “ok” or “OK” instead of “okay” when I write because I don’t see a reason to move away from the original spelling and add extra letters.

            What you decide to do is really all about what works for you or your company. The only points you should be certain of are your reason for the change (no changing for the sake of change) and that you stick with it once you adopt it. If you are ever asked about why you are diverging from the style, you want to have a reason to back up your decision. Pure opinion isn’t going to stand up well in a grammatical argument. It is also easier to uphold that decision if you use it consistently. Readers are pretty adaptable to different writing styles, but you shouldn’t try their patience. Consistency is important when you are trying to keep your readers’ attention.

Do you have a house style or style sheet already? What are some variations you’ve put on your style sheet? Share them in the comments!

How to Use Commas Effectively

The words you choose to write are not the whole manuscript. They need the right punctuation in order to convey your message clearly to your readers. One of the most common punctuation marks is the comma. Just because it is common does not mean that using the comma is easy. There are many functions and rules associated with the comma. Knowing the rules can help you not only use commas correctly but also to your advantage.

As far as punctuation goes, the comma is very versatile and fulfills many different functions. I could probably create an entire series on comma usage alone. The following uses are only a few of the ways commas help your writing. It’s a good idea to read about commas in your preferred style guide to learn all the different usages and their associated rules.

The first way you can use commas is in combination with a coordinating conjunction to separate two independent clauses. The comma precedes the conjunction, which is commonly and, but, or, etc. The conjunction separates the two clauses, but the comma adds an extra pause that assists the conjunction in creating a true separation. This usage occurs a lot, but it is not always so simple. Sometimes I’ll see a sentence that is technically one clause treated as if it is two because of a compound object or some other ending phrase. There needs to be at least a separate subject and verb on each side of the conjunction in order for it to qualify as two independent clauses that need a comma.

You can also use commas to create lists of words, phrases, and clauses. The one sticking point about using commas in a list is the Oxford comma or the comma that precedes the conjunction in the list. Some writing styles use it while others omit it. It is, in fact, a contentious point amongst grammarians, editors, and writers. As you can see from my lists in this paragraph, I use the Oxford comma. Occasionally, there does come a time when it creates more confusion than it solves, but I feel like that happens less often than when the comma is omitted.

Similar to its function in separating independent clauses, commas can also separate phrases and dependent clauses from the rest of the sentence, much like the phrases in this sentence. This comma function can be tricky because you must balance clarity with meaning. The pause from the comma (or lack thereof) will affect your meaning, but the comma’s placement will also affect how well your readers will understand the sentence. Dangling modifiers and other misplaced phrases happen partially because of poor wording but also because of comma placement.

A final usage for commas is signaling when something is nonessential information. Some parts of this usage really aren’t as necessary anymore as others. In the case of nonessential phrases and clauses, commas are still used regularly to separate them from the sentence. It is normally easy to identify nonessential information because the sentence will still make sense without that clause or phrase.

When it comes to nonessential words, usage is much more spotty. I don’t think many authors are worried anymore about following this part of the usage because the average reader doesn’t recognize the difference. For instance, let’s say someone is talking about their brother. If they say, “My brother David is coming for dinner,” the absence of any commas suggests that the brother’s name is essential, either because he’s not the only brother or because it is important information to the speaker. However, if the same person says, “My brother, David, is coming for dinner,” the commas now make the name nonessential, meaning it doesn’t add value to the main sentence. It’s merely been tacked on as something extra. I don’t think many authors are worried anymore about following this part of the usage because the average reader doesn’t recognize the difference. It is really a matter of how grammatically correct you want to be.

Knowing how to use commas is one thing, but it is entirely another to use these rules to your benefit. The comma can be a powerful tool, and you don’t want to waste it in your writing. You can use a comma to create different meanings or tones based on where you place it in a sentence. It is also useful for clarity and making sure your readers will understand points that might be vague or possibly confusing. Commas are essentially your way of signaling to readers so that they read your words in the way you intended.

The comma might seem like a small and unimportant punctuation mark, but it can be a powerful friend to a writer. You can use these three comma functions, and plenty of other ones, to improve the meaning and clarity of your writing.

Why You Should Use Readability Scores

            Concise language. Plain language. Readability. You have probably heard all of these terms concerning writing at some point. Even though these words are used to the point of becoming trite, they do bring up good points. Your writing does need to be clear so that you can effectively communicate with your readers. One way to make sure you are on the right track is by using readability scores.

What Are They?

            Readability scores are essentially different systems to measure how easy it is to read and understand a text. There are many ways to measure readability. One popular system is the Flesch Kincaid Readability Grade Level score, which is the one that I prefer. It’s measuring system is based on the expected reading ability of each school system grade level. It makes it easier to understand the score when you have something familiar like grade levels to compare your writing to. Knowing how your work compares can tell you how well you are conveying your ideas to your audience.

Why Should You Use Them?

            One benefit of using readability scores is to identify and remove jargon. Technical terms and buzzwords will make the readability score go up and alert you to wording that you don’t want. Long, complex words will send your work up toward a college reading level. You don’t want that if you don’t intend it for academic purposes. Readers seek out writing that is several grade levels below what they know. People prefer to save energy when they read. Even if they understand complex language, they don’t always seek it out. If your reader can’t easily read your work, they most likely won’t read it at all.

            Another benefit of readability scores is that they will help you remove fluff. All those filler words will affect your score because they muddle your meaning and distract readers. If you use the scores to help you edit, you can identify what is simply filling space and not conveying any meaning. Because readability scores can help you get an objective view of your work, they can help you point your writing in the right direction. You’ll have cleaner copy that gets to the point and keeps your reader’s attention.

            Something that I like specifically about the Flesch Kincaid grade level score is that it is easy to access. If you use either Microsoft Word or Grammarly, you can find your readability score. Microsoft Word has a special section for readability information in its Editor section. You can set it to show you your readability scores along with your word count. For instance, a quick check says that this post is at an 8th grade reading level. In everyday writing, the average person prefers about an 8th or 9th grade level of language. It makes it so that people can communicate faster and easier, without wasting time processing higher levels of language.

            Sometimes it is hard, as the writer, to know if you are clearly communicating your point to others because you are so close to your subject. Readability scores act as a gauge to help you know how concise and clear your writing is. You can use the readability score to help you play with wording and find the best way to say what you want. Both you and your readers can benefit from your using readability scores such as the Flesch Kincaid grade level score because it alerts you to what works and what doesn’t, and it makes your content more enjoyable and understandable for your readers.

How to Fix a Dead-End Plot

You’ve either made detailed plans or decided to let inspiration take you wherever it wants to go. Your novel is becoming a reality as you write your draft – until the crash. Suddenly, you discover a problem with your plans; inspiration takes you down a dead-end. What do you do next? Here are some tips to help you find a way out of your literary dead-end.

If you have hit a dead-end in your plot, you should first consider the bigger picture. Take stock of where you are and what you have at present. With this information, you can begin to assess the damage and create a new plan. The first decision you’ll want to make is whether you want to salvage what you have or brainstorm something new. Even if your dead-end is causing you trouble, it can inspire a better plotline than you originally had.

If you decide to backtrack out of your problem, your next step will be to find where you veered off in your writing. Whatever follows that point will need to be rewritten to bring you back to the right path. It will take extra time, but the work will get you back where you belong so that you can continue making progress.

There are many possibilities for you if you decide to take your troubled scenes and create something new. What you have might not work now, but you can rewrite it so that it fits within your novel better. Brainstorm and consider multiple ways the plot can unfold. For example, when I first wrote my draft, the two main characters were supposed to meet in a serendipitous moment. It sounded perfect, until I wrote it out. It felt a little too much like stalking the way it played out. So, I took the problem scene and rewrote it with a different back story. The characters now meet earlier in the plot in a much more everyday situation, and I changed the cause of their conflict so that the situation is still interesting.

It can take some time to revise what you have to become a new plot. It is helpful to use an outline in this instance because you can easily compare what you have with whatever your brainstorming creates. You can see where scenes are going and how they fit together.

Sometimes, the big picture is not the cause of your dead-end. Your trouble is in the details. Hundreds of details go into creating an engaging novel that readers will enjoy. Each detail plays a part, even if it seems insignificant by itself.

One detail to think about if you reach a dead-end is writing style. I know this sounds like an editor’s job, but it does matter during the drafting stage as well. The language you use creates the setting, determines the tone, and even decides your characters’ personalities. If your writing style is at odds with your plot, something will eventually go wrong. If your novel isn’t feeling right, but you can’t pinpoint one exact problem, it might be the language you’re using. You should consider the tone and meaning of the words you are using to see if it’s taking your plot in a direction you didn’t intend.

Another consideration is word count. It isn’t a big concern at the drafting stage, but you should keep in mind that your word count acts as a constraint on your plot. Are you allowing enough time for your plot to naturally unfold, or are you rushing it to fit the word count? Or maybe you are at a dead-end because part of the plot has dragged on for too long? The space each scene takes up can help you decide what might need to change. Maybe you should allot more space for setting up the plot, or a scene might need to be cut because it isn’t worth the space it’s taking.

If you hit a dead-end in your plot, don’t despair! By assessing your situation and creating a new plan, you can dig yourself out and create an even better plot than what you started with. By considering both the big picture and the details, you can pinpoint your problem and get your novel back on track.

New Year, New Projects

We have nearly finished the first month of a new year, and I hope everyone is having a promising start to 2021. I am excited to say that I have several changes for Kali Tedrow Editing and a couple new projects to announce that are coming this year.

Changes in 2021

First, Kali Tedrow Editing has a couple of changes in place for 2021. You can now find me on MeWe, as well as LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ll be posting plenty of new content about writing and editing and updates on whatever projects I have in the works.

You can expect new blog posts about writing and editing as well. There will be fewer posts this year because more of my schedule is dedicated to actual editing. I believe that quality is more important than quantity, which is why I decided to change to monthly blog posts instead of weekly. If you have a topic you would like for me to write about, mention it in the comments! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so that you will know when a new post is published.

In other news, I do have openings for new editing projects in February and March. If you have a manuscript that you need edited or proofread soon, please contact me. I offer free sample edits and can give you a quote for your project. I’m open to many different types of projects, but I especially like to work with indie authors. If necessary, I am open to negotiating on price because I understand how hard it can be getting started.

Current Writing Project

Aside from my editing, I also have a couple of writing projects. I’m an editor at heart, but I’ve dabbled in writing since middle school. That hobby has, more recently, turned into a novel. I didn’t intend to publish my work when I started it, but I have changed my mind since then. It has taken a lot of editing to change a story written for fun to a manuscript worth publishing, but I am happy with the progress. The original plan was to self-publish the novel right before the holidays, but unforeseen circumstances prevented that. The new plan is to have the novel out sometime this spring. This novel is a Christian historical romance/mystery titled The Lady in Red. When I have a more exact date, I will let everyone know more about it.

New Writing Project

I also have a new writing project in the works for 2021. My first novel has been such an adventure, that I have decided to write a sequel. Now that I have characters and a setting already developed, I hope that this manuscript will be a little simpler to write. It will also help that I’m starting out with publication in mind. As of now, this next book consists of an outline and a couple drafted scenes. You will definitely be seeing updates about progress throughout the year.

New Year, Many Possibilities

This year is filled with many possibilities and projects. I hope that 2021 proves to be a better year for you and that you are as excited about it as I am. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and find me on social media! And if you have a manuscript in need of editing or proofreading, send me a message. Here’s to a new year!

An Introduction to Eggcorns and Malapropisms

            Both native English-speakers and those who learn the language later can agree on one thing: English is hard! There are many complexities in English, including odd spellings and long lists of exceptions to grammar rules. A new set of problems form when you try to write what you usually say or vice versa. Today, we are going to focus on two mistakes—eggcorns and malapropisms—and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1 – Eggcorns

            The first type of mistake has, admittedly, a fun name. Eggcorns are words and phrases that people mishear, and therefore, write down incorrectly. The name is one example. Some writers mistakenly write “eggcorn” instead of “acorn.” Another eggcorn is writing “all intensive purposes” instead of “all intents and purposes.” I saw that mistake several days ago while reading the news online.

            If you try pronouncing some of these eggcorns out loud, you will quickly see how they’ve come into being. It is easy to misunderstand someone with the way English-speakers often smash sounds together or cut off the ends of words. It also doesn’t help that English words aren’t always spelled the way they sound (i.e. cough, though, and slough). If you want to see more of these eggcorns, you can visit the Eggcorn Database[1] or watch the video series about eggcorns on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s website.

Mistake #2 – Malapropisms

            The second type of mistake is a malapropism. This mistake is common, especially when someone is learning new vocabulary. Malapropisms are words that sound similar, which causes the writer or speaker to switch the words. The switched words can create a lot of confusion because their meanings are nothing alike. I get my favorite malapropism from a novel. The heroine says “indigestion” when she means “indignation.”

            Malapropisms are named after the character from an 18th century play. In The Rivals, Mrs. Malaprop regularly mixes up words that sound alike but don’t have the same meaning. If you are curious about it like I was, you can find a transcript of the play on Project Gutenberg’s website[2].

Precaution #1 – Be Vigilant

            Knowing what the mistakes are is a good start, but there are several things you can do to avoid eggcorns and malapropisms in your writing. One action is learning to be cautious in using what you read or hear. Don’t automatically believe that everything is correct. Treat phrases and new words as wrong until proven accurate. Do some research to make sure it’s correct before you start using it in your writing. Assuming is a good way to fall into these mistakes. Question them and be willing to fact-check.

Precaution #2 – Look It Up

            Fact-checking in dictionaries and usage manuals is an excellent habit to form. It is one of your greatest safeguards against mistakes. I would suggest depending more on usage manuals than dictionaries because the latter only tells you how words are used, not what is correct standard usage. To save yourself time, you should write down or bookmark any mistakes that you find yourself susceptible to so that you don’t have to waste time looking it up every time you run into it.

Precaution #3 – Avoid Figures of Speech

            A final thing you can do is clean up your writing. Don’t use a lot of expressions and figures of speech. Try to use word choice to express your style instead of waxing poetic. If you stay true to your meaning and use plain English, you’re less likely to run into trouble. I know that is easier said than done (see what I did there), but with practice, you can write concisely and clearly without losing any of your meaning.

Conclusion

            Eggcorns and malapropisms are mistakes that can trip up writers because of pronunciations and spellings. Words that sound alike or are spelled similarly are easy to mistake for each other. By not trusting what you hear, looking things up, and removing unnecessary phrasing, you can create copy that is free of these two mistakes and easy for your readers to understand. Do you know of any good eggcorns or malapropisms? Share them in the comments!


[1] https://eggcorns.lascribe.net/

[2] http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24761

How to Develop Characters and Setting with Word Usage

Writers have many tools available to them for developing their characters and setting. These tools give readers clues of where and when something happened. Writers use descriptions, culture references, and many other things to develop their story. Another, more subtle, way of developing both characters and setting is by the words you use. If you carefully choose your story’s tone and wording, you can make your characters and setting come alive for your readers.

Tone

One way you can use words to develop your characters and setting is through tone. In a novel, tone works quietly in the background, suggesting certain assumptions to your readers that give them a more accurate picture of your novel’s world. You can achieve better descriptions through tone for your setting in several ways. Both the tone of the narrator and of the characters around your protagonist will shape your setting. How the narrator chooses to describe the scene and the behavior of minor characters will give your readers an overall impression. It’s similar to the first impression you get when you walk into a building.

For an example, let’s say you have a scene at a courthouse. You can achieve different pictures based on tone. If you use the formal speech that the judges and lawyers are familiar with and grand words to describe the courthouse, it will give the lofty feeling associated with law. You can also go in the opposite direction. You can choose fast, clipped dialogue and words that suggest a busy, chaotic environment that helps readers experience the same confusion or uncertainty your protagonist is experiencing.

You can also use tone to develop your characters. Once again, you can achieve this several ways. How the narrator describes the character, how other characters perceive him, and the personality of the character all work together to give the reader an impression without you telling the reader the facts about this character. By using tone, you are leaving behind enough clues that readers will come to the conclusion on their own.

Word Choice

Tone is useful, but it only works in combination with word usage. Meaning and connotation are factors in choosing the right words, but you also need to think about language development. Don’t make assumptions about words: they are not as old or new as you might think. Because we use our vocabulary every day, we can forget that those phrases and meanings did not always exist.

For example, I noticed the word “paranoid” in my book manuscript while proofreading. It stood out, which led to my looking it up. My manuscript’s plot is placed in the 1890s. The word “paranoid” showed up in scientific texts in the early 1900s. Words are usually used in speech before they show up in text, but that didn’t matter in this case because I wasn’t using the scientific sense. To be certain of accuracy, I replaced the word with “cynical,” which has been in use since the 1500s. It got my meaning across while staying true to my chosen period.

The word change might sound like nit-picking, but the point is that words can create a place and time because of their history. Popular meanings and phrases change with the times. Just listen to a teenager talk. The words are familiar, but the meaning is not. You should use the changes in language to recreate the world your plot is placed in. You can even assign new meanings to words as you create your world. You don’t have to be as exact as I have been, but you should be intentional about the words you use.

Conclusion

The tone and words you use will create a detailed setting for your novel and suggest certain assumptions to your readers about the characters. By choosing your manuscript’s tone and wording carefully, you can better develop your story without needing to tell your readers the facts right out. Words are powerful, and you can use them for your story’s benefit.

How to Choose a Topic That Interests Your Audience

            Several weeks ago, I wrote on my old blog site about how to balance your writer’s voice with your audience’s interests[1]. You know you need to capture the attention of your readers so that they will read your writing and understand your point. Now, you need to determine what interests them. Everyone has their process for coming up with a topic for their articles or posts. I’ll be sharing three ways you can use to choose a topic that your audience will love.

            The first way is the simplest. Your publication will likely have parameters for you to follow. Those guidelines will narrow your choices for topics a great deal. Even if you are writing as a freelancer or business owner, you should already have a target audience in mind. Parameters give you a general idea of what your audience, including your publication, expects. You can take those expectations and incorporate them into your work through both topic choice and writing style.

            A second way you can determine what will interest your audience is by considering demographical information. Think about what qualities your target audience has. Their location, their age, and any other demographical details can give you clues of what your target audience cares about. The industry your writing for will give you a general idea of what to expect. There is also plenty of research online that you can use for statistics that will give you a gist of what topics your audience cares about. My only warning is to be careful of stereotypes. You want to base your writing on facts, not false perceptions. Make sure that the sources you use are credible and don’t let demographical information be the only basis for your topics.

            A final way you can determine what topics will interest your audience is by asking questions that put you in their position. If you were the audience, what would you want to read? What kind of problems might you have that need to be solved? For example, let’s say you are writing an article for first-time owners of chihuahua puppies. What would you want to know if you were a first-time owner? You would want to know all the basics about a puppy’s care, of course, but you would also need to know breed-specific information. I wish I knew how much a short-haired chihuahua sheds before I got one! By including this information in your article, you will be supplying your audience with important answers to problems they have right now and ones they don’t even know they have yet.

            As the author, you need your writing to appeal to your audience. The best way to do that is to choose topics that offer them useful information and answers to their questions. By following publication guidelines, completing thorough research about your audience, and placing yourself in their position; you can identify what will capture your audience’s attention.


[1] You can find the first article here: https://kalitedrow.blogspot.com/2020/06/how-to-balance-your-intentions-with.html