Friday, October 23, 2009

Why a Style Sheet? Or, How to Pretend to be a Professional Writer

I have a 382 page document sitting on my desk. It has 107,096 words in it.

Some of those words are 'gray'. Some are 'grey'. I didn't really think about it until I checked out a book on copy-editing. Some people actually pay attention to this stuff. Who knew?

They care, for instance, if you use:



Chapter One/Chapter 1/Ch. 1

Geroth (What is that? Only I know how to spell it, because I made it up.)

So, I read the book and started a style sheet. Now I can hyphenate consistently, use the same capitalizations, know which numbers to spell out and which to numerate, and generally look like a pro.

And when a real copyeditor gets my manuscript, I can give them the style sheet and avoid a few marks of the dreaded Red Pen. They'll know that 'geroth' is a real fake word, that Sleep is so important it's capitalized, and that I wear makeup, not make-up, when I want to feel la-ti-da. Or is it 'la ti da'? (I need a style sheet for the blog.)

But, you ask, how does one make a style sheet?

It's so easy.

On a legal pad, I made three columns and three rows. Nine boxes. Top left box is A-C, top middle is D-F, top right is G-I, etc. Under the G-I, I have written geroth. Then grey. Then Home. (I just started it. I haven't come across any A-C or D-F words yet.)

Then I have a space at the bottom labeled Miscallaneous where I demonstrated my chapter heading (I made a heading format on Microsoft Office, too, but sometimes things happen and I don't want to have to scroll to another chapter to see how I did it before.) And whenever I wonder, "Should it be 600, or six hundred, or six-hundred?" I can check in two seconds instead of 'finding' on the screen or flipping through pages if I'm working on a paper edit. The style sheet lets me pretend I'm organized, and that's a good feeling.

Another nice thing about the book 'Copyediting' is the inside covers give the copyediting symbols, so when I get my marked up manuscript back, I'll know what they mean. (It's not exactly what I learned in ninth grade english class.) Like making an 's' curve over and under words or letters means to transpose them. Or if you run a delete line through something, then change your mind, you put dots underneath it, meaning stet, or let it stand. (Stet will also over-ride the copyeditor's suggestion, but I'm just using this for my own edits right now. As a writer, I'd think carefully before ignoring their edits)

I learned the most doing the practice exercises. You, too, can develop your inner copyeditor. Then you'll get this joke:
Q. Does anal retentive have a hyphen?

A. Only when used in adjective form. Ha ha ha. That was a good one. Hey, why aren't you laughing?

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