Author: thewordczar

Do it with style (sheets)

Are you always looking up “affect and effect” to make sure you’re using the right word? Or are you the type that’s always checking for exceptions to the “i” before “e” rule? Perhaps it’s time to create a style sheet.

Style sheet example

Click on graphic to see a larger version

Publishers of books, newspapers and magazines started using style sheets as a means to document the use of type fonts, spacing and layout essentials to ensure a consistent look to a printed document. Its use spread to electronic media for similar reasons, and both writers and editors use them not just for the “look” of a document, but to help them remember issues they constantly trip over like certain word spellings, punctuation rules, when abbreviations are permitted and any other item that’s hard to remember when you’re writing or editing your own material.

If you type “style sheets for editing” into your browser, you’ll find many suggestions on how to make one, and even some
samples. You’ll also find that everyone has a little different way of doing it. Here are my suggestions on how to start.

The first time you come to an area of doubt, create a new document and call it “Style Sheet.” Start a list of tricky words and other prompts that will keep your story consistent. Use a dictionary, the Chicago Manual of Style or your browser for brief descriptions. Add characters’ birthdates to change their ages as they grow in later chapters. Keep your items in boldface and alphabetical order for easy reference. Keep your list growing as you progress through your document. You might start with something like what I’ve put together in the accompanying graphic.

When you start a new manuscript, you can start with your old style sheet and change it for new characters and situations.

Don’t Tab … Indent!

Most agents and publishers will request that you indent the first line of every new paragraph in your manuscript instead of using tabs. If you didn’t realize that there was a difference, read on!

Although using the tab key will make your work appear the same when you view your document, the tab stops can create problems when it gets reformatted for printing.

Paragraph window graphicTo apply the indent feature, first select all or part of the document that you want to indent. Then, right click anywhere in the document and choose the Paragraph option. A box should appear that looks like the graphic here. Make sure the Indents and Spacing tab is in view, and then go to the Indentation area and set the Special option to First Line. The measurement in the box to the right should default to 0.5″ for you.  Click OK and you should be all set.

Of course, if you need to remove tabs in an existing document, do that first. You will use the Find and Replace feature that you can call up by holding down the Control key and then clicking on the H key. In the Find area, insert a ^t in the box. I found the carat symbol over the 6 on my keyboard. Press Replace All and then apply the indents as instructed above. Click on either graphic to see it full size.

Find and Replace graphic

Affect vs. Effect

In a blog post by Oxford Dictionaries, there is included a handy infographic to help you sort out the differences between these two words. Print it out and stick it above your desk for quick reference. Another post gives you further examples and a more detailed look at affect versus effect.

Click on the image below to see a larger version or view a pdf here.

Oxford Dictionaies Affect vs Effect Graphic

Participle Precipitation

For your reading pleasure, enjoy this poem by friend, author and poet Lucy Giardino Cortese. Learn more about Lucy and her work by visiting the “Featured Author” page.


Nouns verbs trickle across the blank page
drip drip
Gentle raindrops without form or meaning
plop plop
Adjectives adverbs cascade on placid breezes
whirl whirl
Weather vane pen harnessing nature’s might
scratch scratch
Clauses subordinate — independents follow
plunk plunk
Thoughts pelting down dance spin explode
splish splish
Showering stories longing to be told
gurgle gurgle
Pages corralling the errant splashes
swoosh swoosh
Before cascading memories wash away
flutter flutter
Write them down flood them on paper
faster faster
Before the storm of creativity passes
hurry hurry
Writer’s block thunderbolt forecasting
drought drought

Only One Space After a Period

“JJJ space, KKK space.” This was the mantra in my first high school typing class. When we moved on to writing paragraphs, we were told to use two spaces at the end of a sentence and I have yet to break the habit. Are you in the same boat?

Linotype imageUsing extra space was critical when my grandfather’s crew used a linotype machine to set type for the Niagara Gazette. Without extra spacing, the type would not look justified. With the advent of typewriters, the practice continued due to the monospaced nature of the font. Equal spacing per character, whether it was an i or an m, meant better readability with two spaces at the end of a sentence.

Today’s computers and publishing’s modern offset printing process use proportional fonts meaning that the i is now thinner than the m and the extra space at the end of your sentences is not only no longer necessary, but frowned upon. If you use a double space after your sentences, some editor or printer needs to take them out. This slows down the production, looks amateurish and potentially becomes more costly to you.

Double spacing is hard to quit, but using a tool in Microsoft Word to eradicate the unnecessary is easy. When you are done with a piece, use the Find and Replace feature to seek out areas with two spaces and turn them into one. If you aren’t sure how to do this, watch this YouTube demonstration and modernize your text with only a few keystrokes.

Guidelines for Nonfiction Book Proposals

If you are a nonfiction writer, consider pitching your idea before you write the book. The way to do this is to write a business-like plan for your book and get it in front of a literary agent who will agree to contract you to write it.

To find agents who speciBook Proposal graphicalize in your subject area, check out publishing expert Jane Friedman’s site for links to databases for searching agents. Once you identify agents who are a good fit, visit their websites to find submission guidelines.

Many agents will require a query letter before they decide whether or not to request your proposal. Some guidance on writing query letters can be found on the site of Author William Cane (a.k.a. Michael Christian).  Also, Brian Klems provides a great example of a query letter in one of his Writer’s Digest blog posts.

Make sure your proposal and at least one chapter are written before you start contacting agents. Sister pages at the previous links in this post will provide background on how to organize a proposal, but I especially like the formatting tips suggested in this Huffington Post “Writer’s Relief” blog entry. Here you will find descriptions for a title page, summary, chapter outline, market, author information, specifications, table of contents and sample chapters.

Writing your proposal may take weeks or months, and, depending upon the number of sample chapters you provide, be up to 50 pages or longer. When you are invited to submit it, check the agent’s guidelines as you may need to tailor it each time you respond. Like your manuscript, your book proposal should be carefully edited and formatted. For a second set of eyes, contact The Word Czar for a thorough review to ensure that your submission makes the best impression possible.

Manuscript Submission Pointers

Ready to submit your manuscript to a publisher or agent? First of all, not all publishers accept manuscripts directly from authors. None of the “Big Four” will accept them, but some of their subsidiaries will. So, start by visiting a publisher’s website. If you aren’t instructed to submit through a literary agent, you are likely to find a link to instructions about formatting and how to submit. If you don’t, here are some guidelines.

Featured imageSet up the page with one-inch margins on all sides and align all text to the left. Use black 12-point, Times New Roman for the font. A title page should be single spaced and contain your name and contact information at the top. Double space and insert the word count of your story. After that, include the genre of your writing and sub-genre if applicable. Halfway down the page, center the full title of your story. Double space and center your pen name after “By.” If you have an agent, you should list his or her name and contact information near the bottom of the page.

After the title page, you should insert a page header, right justified, to include your last name, your manuscript title and the page number.

Double space the lines and don’t use extra spaces between paragraphs. Your paragraphs should start with a half-inch indent which is the default in MS Word. Begin chapters on new pages. Center the chapter title and put it in all caps (CHAPTER 1 – FORMATTING) one-third of the way down the page. Skip two spaces and begin your text.

If you have scenes within your chapters, center a “#” symbol on an otherwise blank line between scenes. At the end of your story, simply center and write “The End.” If you are submitting hard copy, use 20-lb. bond paper.

It may look boring to you, but you don’t want your idea rejected because it wasn’t neat and uniform. Save your creativity for your writing.

I before E except after C?

Don’t you believe it! There are are many exceptions to the rule we learned in grammar school, and there are more than “or as sounded as ‘ay’ as in neighbor and weigh.”  Here are some exceptions identified by Bob Cunningham at the site

  • Bob says the rule doesn’t apply to digraphs like in deity and science.  A digraph is a pair of letters representing a single speech sound like the “th” in path.  So, I would argue that these two words don’t contain digraphs at all.  I have always pronounced them as if the subject vowels represent two separate sounds.  I say that the rule doesn’t apply when the vowels make up separate syllables.  Therefore, it does apply to piece but not to conscience.
  • The rule doesn’t apply to recent foreign imports to the English language like gneiss, dreidel and enceinte.
  • The rule also doesn’t apply to the large number of plurals of words ending in “cy” (fallacies, frequencies, vacancies, etc.)
  • And these: codeine, eider, either, feisty, foreign, forfeit, heifer, heigh-ho, height, heinous, heir, heist, neither, seismic, seize, sheik, surfeit, weir and weird.

Can you think of others?

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