You’ve got it!
Every writer does.
My online dictionary describes style as “a manner of doing something.” Beneath that description are these, which relate directly to writers: “a way of using language” and “a way of writing, characteristic of a particular person.”
You have a distinctive style.
Your style is part of your Voice. Ye ol’ dictionary defines it as, “the distinction, tone, or style of a literary work or author.”
Do you know your style? Have you discovered your Voice?
Maybe you haven’t, but your CPs will be able to pick up on them.
Elements of Style
In the classic little volume, The Elements of Style, co–author E. B. White said, “As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from the other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing as well as it’s principal reward.” – Fourth edition, chapter five, page 70.
I’ve edited for several novelists and served as a judge in a number of contests. I’m amazed by how different and distinct each writer’s Voice is. Their use of language—their style—is one of the contributing factors.
And what comprises a writer’s style? Here are a few components:
- word choices
- sentence structure
- punctuation preferences
- approach to and amount of description
- adherence to or avoidance of certain “rules”
- POV matters – how “deep,” how the shifts are made
What’s My Style?
When I edit for another writer, I take note of how she handles style components, such as those above, because they affect what I will mark and what I won’t. Those who edit my work will become aware of style choices I make as well.
Let’s take the example of POV. I prefer to use deep POV much of the time so the reader feels as though she’s inside my character’s head, hearing her thoughts as she thinks them. One way I achieve this is by having my POV characters think of other characters by the names they use for them rather than their positions or roles. The hero in my work-in-progress, a historical, thinks of his mother as Mother, and the heroine thinks of her father as Pa. She begins by thinking of the hero as Mr. Rutledge. In the course of the story, as their relationship changes, she switches to his first name in her thoughts, which shows the deepening of her feelings for him.
In order for my CPs to best help me, I’ll tell them about my use of proper names in internal dialogue and explain that the switch from Mr. Rutledge to his Christian name in the heroine’s POV in a certain chapter is intentional. This way they’ll know to mark instances where I use the hero’s first name in her thoughts prior to the turning point and Mr. Rutledge after.
Another example is my use of commas in compound sentences. Today, writers often omit the comma before the conjunction in compound sentences, especially short sentences with closely related clauses. This has become an acceptable practice, one seen in many published books.
Because I write historicals, I tend to follow the more stringent, or traditional, rules of punctuation that would have been in use at the time my stories are set. I choose not to omit the comma in a compound sentence, except on rare occasions, such as when the young character in my story is excited and speaking rapidly. Because this is a matter of style, I’ll let my CPs know that I’d like them to mark missing commas in compound sentences.
Developing a Style Sheet
As I read for a novelist, I ask her to clarify matters of style as I encounter them. Does she prefer a comma before “too” at the end of a sentence? Does she capitalize certain nouns to emphasize their importance in the story, e.g. the Livery to show that the hero’s business is a prominent place? Does she like to use an occasional adverb in her dialogue tags?
So that I know how to mark such matters in the future, I create a Style Sheet for each writer for whom I edit. When I complete my story and send it to my CPs, I’ll provide them with the Keli Gwyn Style Sheet to acquaint them with some of my style choices.
I break a Style Sheet into sections so I can quickly locate items I may want to refer to as I edit. As I clarify style issues with a writer when I read her work, I add the items we discussed to the appropriate section in her Style Sheet. Here are the sections I use:
- Items to Mark: Dialogue-Related/Character References
- Items to Mark: Grammar-Related
- Items to Mark: Punctuation-Related
- Items to Mark: Repetitions/Possible Deletions
- Items to Leave As Is
- Items for Global Search/Replace
The last two sections remind me not to mark things the writer doesn’t plan to change because they are part of her style or things she will locate herself using the find function of Word.
Having a Style Sheet can help your CPs, so you might want to consider developing one for yourself that you can share with them. Once they see yours, you can explain how it would help you edit for them if they work with you in creating one for themselves.
A side benefit to having a Style Sheet is that you can share it with your editor when you sell. The editor will be able to tell you if there are house conventions you’ll need to change as part of your revisions. Your copyeditor might shout for joy when she receives a copy because she’ll have a set of guidelines to help her do her job. Another benefit is that if your editor approves of the items on your Style Sheet, the copyeditor won’t have reason to change them, which could help preserve your Voice.
• • • • •
This concludes Critique Week here at Romance Writers on the Journey. Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by to read the posts and leave comments, which are filled with wonderful ideas and suggestions.
Since I’m a micro editor who has a hard time removing my editor hat, I plan to make a few changes to this blog in upcoming weeks. I’ll still conduct interviews with as-yet-unpublished and debut romance novelists on Mondays, but beginning in August I will no longer post interviews on Thursdays.
I plan to shift my blogging days and begin a series of posts I call Wordsmithing on Wednesdays (WoW). In those posts, I’ll share tips and techniques for making our writing the best it can be, drawing upon my experience as an assistant editor at a small publishing company and my degree in Mass Communication. Some of my posts will address items that can be included on our Style Sheets.
Fridays will be devoted to fun. But more on that later . . .
• • • • •
I wanna know . . .
What do you think of the idea of using a Style Sheet?
Have you ever known a writer who used one?
What benefits can you see to having one?
Double the Fun Drawing!
In honor of my blog’s second birthday, I’m giving away two prizes a day during my Critique Week, one each to two winners. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post by midnight Pacific Time and leave your email address when prompted. (This way you don’t have to add it to your comment.)
I’ll hold the drawing the following day, post the winners’ names here, and contact them via email to get a mailing address (which I won’t share with anyone or add to any mailing lists.)
Congratulations to the winner of the apron, Lori Benton!
Congratulations to the winner of the DVD, Julie Robinson!
Note: Offer void where prohibited. Odds of winning vary depending on number of entries.
And here are today’s prizes: