To help our editors and people who work with us better prepare manu-scripts for publication with us, we’ve created this style guide. We regularly update it, primarily by expanding the list of “specific cases of weird things that we’ve looked up and might as well add so we don’t have to look them up ad infinitum.” Feel free to contact us on Discord (unforth#6748) or via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions about this document!
Do not treat this Style Guide as a list of “universal publishing truths.” There are many style guides, and it’s common for publishers and presses to have their own internal guides. This document reflects Duck Prints Press’s preferred usages/styles/formatting/etc.; it will not necessarily be applicable in other contexts. Also, while we often include lists (for example, “words that should be hyphenated”) these lists should not be treated as exhaustive.
- Style Guide Basics
- Bare Essentials
- Atypical Pluralization and Conjugation
- Character Names, Place Names, McGuffin Names, etc., and Spelling
- Commonly Misspelled/Confused Words
- Dashes (Hyphens versus Em Dashes versus En Dashes)
- Dialect Differences
- Formatting Highlighting
- Free Fonts with Commercial Use Licenses that the Press Uses
- Gendered Words in English
- Hyphenated Words
- Informal Contractions and Word Combinations
- Italicizing Book Titles, Business Names, Mentioned Articles, Movie Titles, Etc.
- Italicizing Punctuation
- Mid-Sentence Quotation Marks and Punctuation
- Non-English Words
- One Word or Two Words?
- Opening a Sentence with an Ellipse or an Em Dash
- Oxford Comma
- Paragraph Breaks
- Period-Appropriate and Location-Appropriate Language Usage
- Plural vs. Possessive ‘s
- Press-Standard Preferred Manuscript Formatting Specifications
- Resource Link Masterlist
- Quotation Marks
- Scene Breaks
- Sound Effects
- Spaces after Periods
- Special Characters
- Text/Chat Messaging
- Types of Spaces
- Unicode for Common Characters and Punctuation
- Weasel Words
- Words that Don’t Exist
Style Guide Basics
In general, we follow grammar rules as given by the Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS).
This guide has three purposes:
- to clarify the grammar instances where more than one style is considered valid (often an older style versus a newer style);
- to clearly identify cases where we’ve decided not to follow CMoS; and
- to help editors and authors have a quick references for quirky cases that come up frequently.
This guide was last edited on 12/20/22 and reflects spelling and grammar matters we’ve addressed to date. It is a living document and is continually expanded as we encounter more quirky spelling and grammar that require that we make a decision on spelling/formatting/usage.
You can download a pdf copy of this Style Guide, up to date as of December 11th, 2022, here.
Note that some of these rules may vary if a work written in a dialect other than U.S. English.
We know the below is a lot to read. Here is the short list of things we care about most, because when they’re not done it makes extra work for us.
- Submit stories to us as a Google doc if possible, .docx if not, .rtf in a pinch. Please do not submit PDFs, as converting them causes a lot of formatting issues.
- Only use a single space after a period, please!
- Do not put extra paragraph breaks between paragraphs—there should only be one paragraph break after each paragraph.
- Do not use the tab button to indent.
- We don’t mandate that authors use a specific English dialect—they should feel free to use whichever they are most comfortable with and/or are most familiar with—but whichever is used (US English, Canadian English, UK English, AAVE, etc.) make sure it’s consistent throughout the document. Changing the language that spellchecker uses can help catch mistakes if the author and/or editor is working on a story in a dialect they’re less familiar with. Our editors at the moment are mostly native US English speakers, and may not always be familiar with vernacular usages in other dialects—so please be patient with us!
- Indicate scene breaks using a single line with a centered *.
- Check out our post Formatting Tweaks to Help Your Typesetter Have a Great Day and do those things.
- If a story requires unusual formatting not addressed in this style guide, we will discuss the formatting with the author to figure out logistics and ensure we’re able to print it as the author envisions.
- Abbreviations where each letter is the start of a word and all the letters are capitalized (EMT, PMS, PS, AWOL, TV, CD, etc.): all capitalized, no periods between each letter.
- Abbreviations of names/initials: capital letter followed by period, as in Harry S. Truman. Multiple initials get a space between each one, as in T. S. Eliot. In rare cases where an individual is frequently referred to by only their initials (e.g. FDR), no spaces or periods are needed.
- Abbreviations where the last letter is lowercase get a period after each part. (a.m., p.m., etc., Mr.)
- Units of measurement are often exceptions to these rules, as in kg, Kbps, mph, etc.
The apostrophe before a shortened word (for example “ ’cause,” “ ’kay,” or “ ’til”) is always ’ and is not ‘ (CMoS 6.117). This is also true of year abbreviations, such as ’79.
Atypical Pluralization and Conjugation
Some English words do not follow standard pluralization or conjugation rules. We’ve compiled a list of some we’ve encountered, to try to help our editors and authors keep track. This list should not be treated as exhaustive.
Pluralization of Nouns that End in F:
- calf -> calves
- knife -> knives
- leaf -> leaves
- life -> lives
- sheaf -> sheaves
- wife -> wives
This is not a hard-and-fast rule, however. For example, roof pluralizes to roofs.
Pluralization of Nouns that End in O:
- hero -> heroes
- potato -> potatoes
This is also not a hard-and-fast rule. Exceptions include piano, zero, and cello.
Words that have no Change when Pluralized:
- -craft (such as aircraft, spacecraft, fibercraft)
Weird Past-Tense Verb Forms:
Some verbs have alternate options for spelling their past tense form. In most cases, these alternate spellings can be used interchangeably.
- hang -> hung/hanged. This is a weird case; hung is the past tense of the verb “to hang” as in “the picture hangs on the wall.” “Hanged” is the past tense of the verb “to hang” as in “the criminal hangs as punishment for his crime.”
- kneel -> kneeled/knelt
- leap -> leaped/leapt
Categories of terms that may need capitalization:
Brand names: usually capitalized, but check the exact trademark to be sure and follow that.
Business names: capitalize every word, including The.
Directions: should be capitalized if being used to refer to a region, such as “the Pacific Northwest” or “Florida is in the South.” If used to refer to regions of a country, use lowercase, as in “the western United States” or “northern Italy.”
Familial relationships: if used indefinitely (“my father,” “the woman’s cousin,” “their aunts,” etc.) then lowercase. If used to refer to a specific person (“Dad,” “Cousin Jane,” “Aunt Marge,” etc.), it’s capitalized.
Food names: don’t need to be capitalized in most cases, unless they incorporate a word that would be capitalized anyway. Some examples that require capitalization: Bavarian cream, Danish pastry, Spanish tapas.
Given names for animals and plants: don’t need to be capitalized in most cases, unless they incorporate a word that would be capitalized anyway. Some examples that require capitalization: Douglas fir, Grevy’s zebra, Scotch pine, Spanish moss.
Hemispheres: the Press has opted for lowercase.
Honorifics: when referring to the person entirely by an honorific (“Your Majesty,” “His Excellency,” etc.) then the “your” or “his/her” forms should be capitalized (as in those two examples) and the “my” forms (such as “my liege,” “my lady,” etc.) should not be.
Pet names (as in cutesy names shared between people in a relationship, not as in “the names of pets”): not capitalized.
Planets: capitalize whenever referring to the planet/moon by it’s proper name (“the Earth is part of the solar system”; “Sun and Moon shine overhead”use ); lowercase if the term is being used generically ( “the moonlight made the dark, loamy earth look black.”) If “the” precedes “the moon” or “the sun,” then do not capitalize, but if they are used with out the “the,” then capitalize them.
Polite address: terms like “ma’am,” “sir,” “miss,” etc., are capitalized if they are in the “Dear…” line of a letter or if they refer to a specific person (Mrs. Brown, Sir White, Madam President); they’re lowercase if they’re being used as a general polite term (“excuse me, sir, are you done?” or “Yes, ma’am.”)
Species names: species, sub-species , and variety are not capitalized; genus, tribe, subfamily, family, class, order, division, phylum, and kingdom are all capitalized.
Titles: if a title is used as a general category (the king, the president, the general, etc.) it’s not capitalized. If used to refer to a specific person (King Philip, President Lincoln, General Armstrong, etc.), it’s capitalized.
- God/Goddess: depends on context. If referring to a singular deity in a monotheistic religion, especially a Christian deity that the speaker/narrator believes in, this should be capitalized. If used colloquially or as part of a polytheistic religion, lower case is more common.
- kindergarten: k is lowercase.
- medieval: lowercase. Related terms such as “The Middle Ages” do often require capitalization.
- Pride: capitalized when referring to public events/activities related to LGBTQIA+ identities. (NOT capitalized when referring to black pride.)
Character Names, Place Names, McGuffin Names, etc., and Spelling
When editing stories that usual unusual words/spellings for names such as locations, places, special objects, etc., it’s especially important to be careful that the words are spelled consistently. Since technically none of the names will be “words,” it can be easy for typos to elude observation. There are a few tricks that can be used to catch this kind of mistake (careful reading being the most obvious), but one handy methods we use is to find the standard spelling at set spell check to “ignore” that spelling. Then, any versions that aren’t spelled that way will still show as spelling errors.
Commonly Misspelled/Confused Words
In instances where we indicate that both variations are valid, we don’t care which an author uses as long as it is consistent within a given story.
- aisle versus isle: an “aisle” is a narrow space between two tall obstacles, such as between shelves in a supermarket; an “isle” is an island, usually used for small ones.
- allude versus elude: “allude” is when one thing suggests or implies another; “elude” is to escape or avoid pursuit/capture.
- allusion vs. illusion: to make an “allusion” is to say something that alludes to – references/implies – something else; an “illusion” is a false image.
- amid versus amidst: both variations are valid.
- among versus amongst: both variations are valid; “amongst” is generally considered more old fashioned.
- ax versus axe: “ax” and “axe” are both valid, and usage differences aren’t particularly regional; “axe” is a little more formally correct.
- backward versus backwards: “backward” is correct in US and Canadian English; “backwards” is correct in the UK, Australia, and most other English dialects.
- because versus since: “since” should only be used to refer to the passage of literal time; otherwise “because” is correct.
- blond versus blonde: “blond” is masculine, “blonde” is feminine. However, we allow authors to break this rule as long as they’re doing so knowingly/intentionally.
- breath versus breathe: “breath” is the noun; “breathe” is the verb.
- capital versus capitol: “capital” either refers to a location that serves as the seat of government or to a monetary investment; “capitol” is the literal, physical building where a legislative body meets.
- complement versus compliment: “complement” is anything that completes/goes well with another thing; “compliment” is to say something nice or flattering about another person.
- donut versus doughnut: both spellings are valid, but “doughnut” is more technically correct.
- due to: “due to” should not be used to mean “because of”; it literally means “caused by” and should only be used for that.
- farther versus further: “farther” is used to refer to literal distance, as in “she walked farther than I did today;” “further” is used for metaphorical/non-literal distance or duration of time, as in “she took her anger further than I did.”
- fiancé versus fiancée: “fiancé” is masculine, “fiancée” is feminine. However, we allow authors to break this rule as long as they’re doing so knowingly/intentionally.
- forward versus forwards: “forwards” is a more-old fashioned, less commonly used spell variant of “forward.” “Forwards” can also be a verb, as in “she forwards the e-mail to her colleagues.”
- goosebumps versus gooseflesh: both variations are valid.
- hiccough versus hiccup: they mean the same, and usage differences aren’t regional/dialect-based. The Press favors “hiccup.” In general, hiccough seems to be a more common spelling in the UK and Australia even thought the difference isn’t originally region-based, so if a user in those dialects has used hiccough, leave it.
- kneeled versus knelt: both variations are valid; as long as one is picked and used consistently within a work, it’s fine. Knelt is somewhat favored in British and Australian English.
- leaped versus leapt. both variations are valid.
- outward versus outwards: “outward” is an adjective and means “external” or “moving away”; “outwards” is an adverb that describes the movement of something away from a specific place or toward the outside.
- peak versus peek versus pique: “peak” is the pinnacle of a mountain or the capstone of success; “peek” is to covertly sneak a glance; “pique” is to catch one’s attention or interest.
- penciled versus pencilled: both variations are valid.
- rear end versus rear-end: “rear end” is a way to refer to the backside of something such as a vehicle, or a euphemism for buttocks; “rear-end” is a type of vehicular accident.
- sooth versus soothe: “sooth” is an archaic word for truth, as in “soothsay;” “soothe” is to comfort someone.
- that versus which: we have a blog post about this.
- toward versus towards: “toward” is correct in US and Canadian English; “towards” is correct in the UK, Australia, and most other English dialects.
- whereas versus while: “while” should only be used to refer to the passage of literal time; otherwise “but,” “although,” “whereas,” or other options may be more appropriate.
Dashes (Hyphens versus Em Dashes versus En Dashes)
Note that there are never spaces on either side of a hyphen, em dash or en dash. (6.75–6.94 of the CMoS)
- This is a hyphen: –
- this symbol is the same as a minus sign on a standard US computer keyboard.
- unicode: 002D
- used for compound words (such as father-in-law). In general, compound words are much more common than most writers think. When in doubt, google to check. We are compiling a list as we encounter examples.
- used for spelling out words in text (for example, “I spell my name N-i-n-a.”)
- used for stuttering in dialogue (“Wh-wh-wh-what do you mean?”)
- This is an en dash: –
- you can copy and paste the en dash from this document, or you can type one by holding “alt” and typing 0150.
- unicode: 2013
- used to substitute for the word “to,” such as 1993–2000, or 1:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m., or “the train from New York–Chicago.
- there are other usages, but they come up infrequently in fiction writing; see CMoS 6.80–6.84.
- This is an em dash: —
- you can copy and paste the em dash from this document, or you can type one by holding “alt” and typing 0151.
- unicode: 2014
- used when adding an interjection within a sentence, often interchangeable with commas or parentheses—or when the topic abruptly changes mid-sentence. For example, when you’re typing a sentence—then realize you should probably include a note that clarifies an aspect of that sentence—and then you return to your original thought.
- note that other punctuation can be included within an em dashes sentence clause, such as “the dog—could I even call it a dog?—was a strange hybrid.”
- used as a follow up/explanation of an introductory noun, for example, “The Truth—that was what she pursued with such determination.”
- used for sentence breaks and interruptions, including in dialogue. For example, “Wait— Did you mean— What should I say now?” or “But I thought—”
- when writing an action interrupting dialogue, the punctuation is: “dialogue”—action—“dialogue”
- when used for self-interruption where there’s repetition, or where the next piece of dialogue is a new thought, we put a full space after the em dash. Example: “I mean— I said I would— Why would you even think that?”
- when used for self-interruption where the thought continues or is related, there should be no space. Example: “There’s only one thing to do—retreat!” These are usually instances where an em dash would be correct in non-dialogue, as well.
- Here’s an em dash with hair spaces ( — )
- other usages are listed in CMoS from 6.85–6.92.
- 2 em dashes (——) or type and 3 em dashes (———) also have grammatical usages. They’re made by using a standard em dash more than once, but are only used rarely.
- the usage most likely to come up in fiction writing is a 2 em dash, which can be used to indicate a missing word or letters, for example in the convention of Regency novels, where they might say, “We were housed on —— Street, in London.”
- 3 em dashes are exclusively used in bibliographies.
DPP policy is that all dialects of English are welcome; we ask that whichever dialect is chosen, it is used consistently throughout a specific story.
Spellings: this table gives US English, Canadian English, British, and Australian. Other dialects will need to be looked up. This isn’t a thorough/complete list, merely a list of instances we’ve encountered so far. Which variant is more common in each region is based on web reference materials by Sapling.ai. If more than 2/3rds of the usages for a given region are a given spelling, we only list the one version. If the usage for a given region is more-or-less evenly split (for example, if variant1 is used 52% of the time and variant2 is used 48% of the time) we list both variants.
|US English||Canadian English||British English||Australian English||Notes||Link Listing More Dialects|
|airplane||airplane||airplane||airplane||Historically, “aeroplane” was used in some regions but it seems to be mostly out of fashion these days; even in the UK less than a third of sources use the “aeroplane” spelling.||[link]|
|artifact||artifact||artifact||artifact||The only region where “artefact” is favored is Ireland.||[link]|
|behavior||behavior or behaviour||behaviour||behaviour||[link]|
|check||cheque||cheque||cheque||As in, a bank draft, not as in the verb “to check”|
|color||color or colour||colour||colour||[link]|
|crystallize||crystallize||crystallize or crystallise||crystallize or crystallise||[link]|
|dialog||dialog||dialog||dialog||Used for computers||[link]|
|dialogue||dialogue||dialogue||dialogue||As in, “I like to write dialogue.”||[link]|
|disheveled||disheveled||disheveled or dishevelled||disheveled or dishevelled||[link]|
|favor||favor or favour||favor or favour||favor or favour||[link]|
|favorite||favorite or favourite||favourite||favourite||[link]|
|fiber||fiber or fibre||fibre||fibre||[link]|
|gray or grey||grey||grey||grey||“gray” is more standard in US English; “grey” is standard in most other dialects. A handy pnemonic for that is remembering that it’s “grAy” in America and “grEy” in England.||[link]|
|honor||honor||honor or honour||honor or honour||[link]|
|internalized||internalized||internalised||internalised or internalized||[link]|
|leveled||leveled or levelled||leveled or levelled||leveled or levelled||[link]|
|maneuver||maneuver or manoeuvre||maneuver or manoeuvre||manoeuvre||[link]|
|marveled||marveled or marvelled||marvelled||marvelled||[link]|
|mold||mold||mold or mould||mould||[link]|
|neighbor||neighbor or neighbour||neighbour||neighbour||[link]|
|realization||realisation or realization||realisation||realisation||[link]|
|savor||savor or savour||savour||savour||[link]|
|swiveling||swiveling or swivelling||swivelling||swivelling|
|traveling||traveling or travelling||travelling||travelling||[link]|
|woolen||woolen||woolen or woollen||woolen or woollen||[link]|
- US-standard grammar puts dialogue in double quotes ( “ ) and nested quotes in single quotes ( ‘ ); whereas UK-standard grammar and other dialects often put dialogue in single quotes ( ‘ ) and nested quotes in double quotes ( “ )
- US-standard grammar puts most punctuation within quotation marks (see below for specifics); UK-standard grammar has instances where punctuation does, correctly, go outside the punctuation marks. If going with the second, single quotes must be used for dialogue.
- Please be aware that, currently, most of our lead editors are native US English speakers. Editors, please be aware that you may be editing a document that includes a non-US-English dialect; authors, we beg your patience and understanding that we’re not intentionally trying to remove regional slang, spelling variations, grammar, or other differences—we don’t always know that something is regional! Let us know if we’ve edited something inappropriately for a given dialect, and we’ll remove the editing suggestion (and learn something to benefit our editing in the future).
This is an ellipse (…). Ellipses do not get spaces before or after them in most circumstances.
- unicode: 2026
- If the ellipse trails off and the thought picks up/resumes in a different place or repeats, use a hair space after the ellipse. (“Like this…I suppose.”)
- If the ellipse trails off, and the next sentence is a brand new thought, use a full space after the ellipse. (“Like this… Just forget about it, okay?”)
Italics, bold, and underlining are usually lost when transferring into publishing/formatting software. You can help us by using the following color coding when you write:
- italics: highlighted in yellow
- bold: highlighted in green
- italic AND bold: highlighted in purple
- strikethrough: highlighted in
- italic AND strikethrough: highlighted in
- bolded small capitals (within-story/chapter scene headers): highlighted in gray
We’ll assign more colors as needed.
Free Fonts with Commercial Use Licenses that the Press Uses
There are several websites with free fonts that have licenses for commercial use, and therefore can potentially be used in our publications. Note that it’s always essential to confirm the licensing, as we can get in trouble if we use a font that doesn’t grant the appropriate permissions for print and e-book publishing purposes! Also note that we don’t actually use that many different fonts right now, so this list isn’t very long yet. 😀
Sources for Fonts:
- dafont.com: lots and lots of fonts, some free, some not. However, some of the free fonts are stolen from other sources so it’s important to be aware and a little wary when using it. Licensing rights for all fonts need to be checked before usage, too, as not all are free, and not all that are free are free for commercial use.
- Google Fonts: all fonts on Google fonts are free to use. There are over a thousand.
Specific Fonts DPP Uses:
- Noto Emoji: an emoji font that mirrors a lot of the “standard” emojis found on social media and cell phones.
- Splash: a script font with a splash effect around the letters.
- Viaoda Libre: a formal-looking serif font with small embellishments on most letters.
Gendered Words in English
Generally speaking, we leave it up to an author where to use gendered words (such as blond vs. blonde). However, if an author chooses to do so, they must do so consistently. If, while editing, we notice that someone has used a word that would be spelled differently for a man or woman, and the “wrong one” is used, it’s worth checking if the author did so intentionally. As long as it is on purpose, we usually leave it alone. Note that usually, even if there is a gender neutral word, we’re also fine with either the male or the female version being used as a “gender neutral” word (for example, actress, waiter, etc.).
Some examples of gendered words in English:
- actor (male), actress (female)
- blond (male), blonde (female)
- boy (male), girl (female), child (gender neutral)
- brunet (male), brunette (female)
- fiancé (male), fiancée (female)
- waiter (male), waitress (female), waitstaff (gender neutral)
To reiterate for absolute clarity: we’re not at all saying “these words are ALWAYS gendered and using them un-gendered will ALWAYS BE WRONG.” Quite the contrary, we’re very flexible about gendered words and we’re fine with authors making choices to use gendered words in “incorrect” ways. As long as it’s intentionally, please by all means subvert expectations for gendered English word usage. We’d love you to do that.
Categories of Compounds:
- age terms as noun modifiers (example: a twenty-five-year-old man.)
- colors as noun modifiers (examples: a blue-green tie; a black-and-white cookie.)
- compass directions (example: east-northeast)
- fractions as noun modifiers (example: “I was there for a half hour” has no hyphen; “I had a half-hour session” does.)
- fractions written out (examples: one-half, one and three-quarters)
- money (complicated, see CMoS 7.89)
- numbers as noun modifiers (examples: a hundred-meter race, a three-inch-high statuette)
- (numbers+units) as noun modifiers (examples: the fifth-floor apartment; a forty-dollar hose.)
- (number+superlative) as noun modifiers (example: my second-best silverware.)
Compounds as Parts of Speech:
- (adjective+noun) as noun modifiers (example: the large-scale model)
- (adjective+participle) as noun modifiers (example: my brown-haired friend)
- (non-ly adverb+participle/adjective) as noun modifiers (example: the too-easy answer; the worst-paid job)
- combining forms (complicated, see CMoS 7.89)
- (noun + adjective) as noun modifiers (example: computer-literate workers)
- noun+noun, referencing two functions. (example: writer-direction, city-state)
- (…I’m not going to keep listing them all but the key is, usually if it’s multiple words modifying a noun, and they’re not -ly adverbs, they should be hyphenated if they go before that noun.)
- adjectival phrases (example: over-the-counter, up-to-date)
- noun phrases (example: stick-in-the-mud)
If you’re ever not sure, look it up.
Specific cases we’ve had to check:
When looking up an example not on this list, we use the Merriam-Webster dictionary as our standard for deciding whether to use a hyphen.
- (relative)-in-law: hyphenated.
- a-tremble (or other a-(word) usages that match this style such as “I’m all a-tingle.”): hyphenated.
- absent-minded: hyphenated. Also applies to variations (absent-mindedly, absent-mindedness); hyphenated usage on those is less common but we’re using it as Press standard for consistency.
- back-to-back: hyphenated.
- bone-deep: hyphenated.
- desk-mate: hyphenated.
- down-to-earth: hyphenated.
- ex-(relative/other type of relationship): hyphenated.
- face-to-face: hyphenated.
- fast-forward: hyphenated.
- G-string: hyphenated, and the G is capitalized.
- great-(relative): hyphenated.
- half-light: hyphenated.
- head-on: hyphenated.
- ill-(verb): such as “ill-accoutered,” “ill-omened,” etc. Hypenated.
- in-depth: hyphenated.
- matter-of-factly: hyphenated.
- neck-deep: hyphenated.
- re-dress versus redress: because “redress” is a word that doesn’t mean “to get dressed again,” re-dress needs a hyphen.
- red-faced: hyphenated.
- say-so: hyphenated.
- self-(word): usually hyphenated, for example self-confident, self-deprecating, self-employed, self-sufficient.
- side by side: only hyphenated if being used as an adjective phrase to modify a noun (“the houses were side by side” versus “side-by-side houses”).
- T-shirt: hyphenated, and the T is capitalized.
- well-dressed: hyphenated.
- well-known: hyphenated.
- wide-eyed: hyphenated.
Note that the other primary use of hyphens—as “line break” punctuation to maintain even line spacing when text is justified—should never be included in a document submitted to Duck Prints Press for editing. When we format manuscripts for print, we will add such hyphens to maintain text flow and keep the appearance of each line about consistent (so that one super long word can’t lead to words being spaced very far apart in a line) but we don’t add that until one of the last steps, and it’s not appropriate to have such hyphenated line breaks in place at any stage of document editing.
Informal Contractions and Word Combinations
By this, we mean words like “kinda,” “gimme,” “I’d’ve,” “whatcha,” “whaddaya,” and the like.
Allowable depending on context; generally more commonly permitted in dialogue. In general, these should be avoided in narrative text, unless the story is using a very strong voice where using them make sense/fits.
The Press prefers ?! but as long as the same variation is used consistently within a story we won’t change it.
Italicizing Book Titles, Business Names, Mentioning Articles, Movie Titles, etc.
Specifically—which types of titles are italicized and which are not?
- album names: italicized
- article names: in quotation marks, not italicized
- book titles: italicized
- brand names, business names, and company names: no italics, no quotation marks
- databases: italicized
- movie titles: italicized
- periodical (magazines and newspaper) names: italicized
- play titles: italicized
- poems: in quotation marks, not italicized
- radio show names: italicized
- radio show episode names: in quotation marks, not italicized
- song names: in quotation marks, not italicized
- TV show names: italicized
- TV show episode names: in quotation marks, not italicized
- webpage names: in quotation marks, not italicized
- website names: italicized
The rule of thumb is that the “overarching thing,” such as the book, compilation, play, album, etc., should be italicized, whereas the “sub thing,” such as chapter, scene, song, etc., should be in quotation marks and not italicized.
If a full sentence is italicized (for example, because it’s a thought, because it’s a text message, etc.) then the punctuation should be italicized too, unless it’s part of a paragraph that includes non-italicized text.
Example 1: This is it. After this, there’s no going back.
Example 2: This is it, she thought worriedly. After this, there’s no going back.
If part of a sentence is italicized but not the entire sentence, only punctuation within the italicized part should be italicized.
Example 1: “What do you mean she doesn’t know?”
Example 2: Sometimes when you know, you know.
Mid-Sentence Quotation Marks and Punctuation
If someone speaks in the middle of a sentence, how it’s punctuated depends on the phrasing.
Example 1: With a frustrated “if you say so guess,” she sighed.
Example 2: He said, “That’s enough,” and continued on his way.
Example 3: She whispered words like “yes” and “don’t stop” and “always loved you.”
- We encourage non-English words if they are the most appropriate way to express a concept or describe something.
- Non-English words do not have to be italicized.
- The meaning of the used non-English words should be more-or-less clear from context.
- If a non-English phrase is used and the meaning isn’t clear, we encourage finding a way to integrate the meaning or using a footnote or end-note to define the phrase.
- one to ten: write out unless it’s referring to a specific time or in a handful of other cases. (for example: the child was five years old; the event was at 5 p.m.). Exceptions we’ve made so far:
- Specific Times: 5 p.m., 2 a.m. (versus one o’clock, twelve o’clock).
- Scientific Measurements: 5 lbs, 2.134 kg.
- ten and over: use numerals except in a few specific contexts. (for example: her speed clocked in at 230 miles per hour; the story was from the sixteenth century). Exceptions we’ve made so far:
- Eras: sixteenth century, twenty-first century, in the far future during the one-hundredth-and-first century
- Non-exact numbers: a hundred pound weight, two-hundred some-odd apples
- Specific Times: one o’clock, eleven o’clock. (versus 1 p.m., 12 a.m.)
- While we do have rules for when to write out numbers, there’s wiggle room depending on context. For example, a story had “on the fourteenth day, x happened; on the thirteenth day, y happened”; when we reached “on the tenth day” we didn’t switch to using numerals because it would read weirdly.
One Word or Two Words?
As with hyphenation, when in doubt or when looking for an instance not on the list, follow Merriam-Webster.
alright or all right: “all right” is correct.
any more or anymore: “any more” refers specifically to quantities, for example “I don’t want any more porridge.” “Anymore” is an adverb that refers to time, for example “I don’t want porridge anymore.”
any way or anyway: “any way” means “whichever path one chooses” or “as done in any fashion”; “anyway” means “in any case.”
back stage or backstage: “backstage” is correct.
best friend or bestfriend: “best friend” is correct.
blow job or blowjob: “blow job” is Press standard.
break room or breakroom: “break room” is correct.
bunk mate or bunkmate: “bunkmate” is correct.
camp out or campout: “campout” is correct.
cell phone or cellphone: “cell phone” is Press standard.
chain mail or chainmail: “chain mail” is correct.
chit chat or chit-chat or chitchat: “chitchat” is correct.
coffee shop or coffeeshop: “coffee shop” is correct.
coffee table or coffeetable: “coffee table” is correct.
cup holder or cupholder: a “cup holder” is a slot or divot designed to hold a cup; a “cupcholder” is a winning sportsperson or team that has won a cup-style trophy.
dammit or damnit versus damn it: “damn it” is Press standard.
dare devil or daredevil: “daredevil” is correct.
dead end or dead-end or deadend: “dead end” or “dead-end” are correct depending on usage (“the road terminates at a dead end”; “the dead-end road”; “the road dead-ends at the cul de sac”).
dish towel or dishtowel: “dish towel” is correct.
e mail or e-mail or email: “e mail” is wrong. “e-mail” and “email” are both correct; the Press standard is email.
end game or end-game or endgame: “endgame” is correct.
every day or everyday: “every day” is an activity that is engaged in daily; “everyday” means ordinary or common.
eye roll or eyeroll: “eye roll” is Press standard.
finger tip or fingertip: “fingertip” is correct.
fire light or firelight: “firelight” is correct.
first time or first-time: “first time” is correct, unless the phrase is being used to modify a noun (“it was the first time they went camping” versus “they were first-time campers.”).
flash drive or flashdrive: “flash drive” is correct.
folk tale or folktale: “folktale” is correct.
fool proof or foolproof: “foolproof” is correct.
good bye or goodbye: “goodbye” is Press standard.
good night or goodnight: “goodnight” is Press standard.
hard drive or harddrive: “hard drive” is correct.
hand job or handjob: “hand job” is Press standard.
head first or headfirst: “headfirst” is correct.
head’s up or heads-up: “heads-up” is correct.
heart beat or heartbeat: “heart beat” is part of a sentence, where heart is a noun and beat is a verb, as in “their heart beat rapidly”; “heartbeat” is a noun which means “the noise made by a heart,” as in “their heartbeat was loud.”
high school or high-school or highschool: “high school” is correct; in US English, using “high school” as a noun modifier would be understandable, but not technically correct, instead using “high-school” (for example, “high-school student,” “high-school building” would be better. The hyphenated version in that usage is Press standard. “Highschool” is never correct.
in so far or insofar: “insofar” is correct.
in to or into: “in to” is a shortened version of “in order to”; “into” indicates a movement, action, placement, etc.
key ring or keyring: “key ring” is correct.
lip gloss or lipgloss: “lip gloss” is correct.
long johns or longjohns: “long johns” is correct.
make shift or makeshift: “makeshit” is correct.
make up or makeup: “make up” is a verb phrase with several meanings, such as “to become friendly again after an argument”; “makeup” is a noun that means either “the composition of a substance” or “cosmetics.” The noun form is historically hyphenated, but Press standard is to not use a hyphen.
mid afternoon or mid-afternoon or midafternoon: “midafternoon” is correct.
mini skirt or miniskirt: “miniskirt” is correct.
never mind or nevermind: “never mind” is correct most of the time; the only instance where “nevermind” is correct is in colloquial phrases such as “don’t pay that no nevermind.”
non-chalant or nonchalant: “nonchalant” is correct.
off chance or off-chance or offchance: “off chance” is correct, unless it’s being used to modify a noun ( “on the off chance their plan worked” versus “he made an off-chance bet”).
ok or okay: “okay” is more technically correct and is Press standard.
on board or onboard: “on board” is correct most of the time; “onboard” should be use when the phrase is being used to modify a noun, such as “onboard radio.”
on stage or onstage: “onstage” is an adverbial location description, used similarly to “inside” or “outside”; other phrasings, such as those using stage non-specifically (“she made her living on stage”) should use “on stage” or “on the stage.”
on to or onto: “on to” is a phrasal verb and is appropriate for usages such as “I logged on to my laptop”; “onto” indicates directional movement, and is often interchangeable with “toward.” If movement of one item toward another is being described, “onto” is correct, such as “I got onto the bus.”
over heated or over-heated or overheated: “overheated” is correct.
over think or over-think or overthink: “overthink” is correct.
party goers or party-goers or partygoers: “partygoers” is correct.
pony tail or ponytail: “ponytail” is correct.
razor burn or razorburn: “razor burn” is correct.
red-headed or redheaded: “redheaded” is correct.
run down or run-down or rundown: “run down” means to catch up with someone by moving rapidly or to hit someone with a car; run-down means worn out, shabby, or weary; rundown means to give an item-by-item list of things that need to be done, and is a type of baseball play.
semi circle or semi-circle or semicircle: “semicircle” is correct.
shoulder blade or shoulderblade: “shoulder blade” is correct.
single file or single-file or singlefile: “single file” is correct, unless it’s being used to modify a noun (“they walked in a single-file line” versus “they walked single file”).
sky-diving or skydiving: “skydiving” is correct – no hyphen, one word.
slip up or slip-up or slipup: “slip-up” is Press standard.
small talk or small-talk or smalltalk: “small talk” is correct.
street light or streetlight: “streelight” is correct; also applies to streetlamp.
sun hat or sunhat: “sun hat” is correct.
tea light or tealight: “tealight” is correct.
to and fro or to-and-fro: “to and fro” is the Press standard, unless the phrase usage would require hyphens for another reason.
tree line or treeline: “tree line” is correct.
work table or worktable: “worktable” is correct.
Opening a Sentence with an Ellipse or an Em Dash
If a sentence opens with an ellipse or em dash (for example, someone “trailing in” to a dialogue line or an interrupted action being resumed), the first letter is lowercase unless it’d be uppercase regardless (as in, “I” would be uppercase regardless of where in the sentence it appeared). There is no hair space after an ellipse in this situation.
Example 1: “…well, if you say so.”
Example 2: He went to open the door—
—and had to stop because it was locked.
Always use an Oxford comma. (6.19 of the Chicago MoS)
Our standard is to not put space between paragraphs; our publications use neither extra paragraph breaks nor the “space after…”/“space before…” paragraph features. If, while doing their own draft, an author wants such breaks there, please use either “space after” or “space before”; full extra paragraph breaks are more challenging for us to remove.
Period-Appropriate and Location-Appropriate Language Usage
When writing stories set in times other than the present/locations outside the one the author is most familiar with, please research if terms are period- and/or location appropriate.
Etymonline is a great resource for this. We’ve included some common ones/ones we’ve had to look up below.
- antisocial: as in, averse to social intercourse, dates to 1797.
- okay: originated 1839 as a noun (all right, correct), spelled okeh until the 1920s. Originated 1880s as a verb (approved, endorsed). Okey-doke/okey-dokie originated 1930s.
- shit: dates to the 1580s as slang for defecation. Other variations and slang phrases are more recent.
A lot of idioms have modern or relatively modern origins in English and it’s often worth checking. Here are some resources we’ve previously used for checking Idiom origins. Sites in bold have been especially helpful.
- The Free Dictionary: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/
- *The Grammarist: https://grammarist.com/
- Know Your Phrase: https://knowyourphrase.com/
- Merriam-Webster “Words at Play” Blog: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play
- *The Phrase Finder: https://www.phrases.org.uk/index.html
- Word Histories: https://wordhistories.net/
Slang can often vary wildly even within a culture (for example, consider all the US regionalisms like “soda” versus “pop” versus “cola”). We will work to provide some resources to help authors with this and develop a list of common examples.
- Wikipedia list of American English regional slang
- Wikipedia list of Australian slang
- Wikipedia list of British slang
Units of measurement:
Vary widely across time and culture. It’s always worth finding resources with accurate measurements to the location and/or time period in which a story is set, or at minimum checking if, for example, when an author writes “to within an inch of their life,” did they mean to say that the Imperial system exists in their setting?
Plural vs. Possessive ’s
Or, s’ versus ’s. (7.16–7.22 of the CMoS)
If the word is already plural and ends with an s, it should be s’ with no s after. For example: the puppies’ paws.
If the word ends in an s but is singular, it gets ’s. For example: a bass’s stripes.
The same holds true for proper nouns, for example: Chicago’s lakefront; the Lincolns’ marriage; Los Angelos’s airport.
Basically: if a word is singular, even if it ends in an s, the possessive form would be: (noun)’s. However, if the word is plural and it ends in s, then it gets s’.
Not all plurals end in s—e.g., children—and in such instances, it’s also ’s, as in, children’s literature.)
Possession by multiple people, for example “Alex and James’s house”: If the possession is joint (as in the example) and both/all people in the list own the same thing, then only the last gets the ‘s. So, in the example, Alex and James own the house together. If, on the other hand, each person has their own (“Alex’s and James’s shirts”) of whatever is possessed, then both get the ‘s. For another example: “Lisa and Tony’s cats” are “the group of cats that Lisa and Tony own together”; “Lisa’s and Tony’s cats” are “the group of cats, some of which belong to Lisa and some of which belong to Tony.”
Press-Standard Preferred Manuscript Formatting Specifications
Main Text Font Size: 11
Alignment: Left aligned
Margins: Microsoft standard.
Paragraph Indentations: “First Line” should be set to 0.25”. All other indentation options should be zero.
- Before should be set to 0 pt
- After should be set to 0 pt
- In cases where there are single- and double-quotation marks (for example, “when I say, ‘this is what I say.’ ”) we use a space between the single and double quotation marks to aid readability. This should be a non-breaking space (NBSP), not a “regular” space; you can make an nbsp by typing ctrl+shift+space. (this only works in Word!) (CMoS 6.11)
- In-narrative quotes: if, for whatever reason, something in-text is in quotation marks (for example, Her mouth made an “O” of surprise.) then double quotes should be used unless it’s either nested within other quotation marks or if the story is written in a a dialect that uses single quotation marks as the standard dialogue marker. This includes “scare quotes.”
- Opening/Ending quotation marks and punctuation:
- Periods always go inside quotation marks. (“Like this.”)
- Commas always go inside quotation marks. (“Like this,” she said.)
- Em dashes may go inside or outside quotation marks, depending on context. (“Like this—” She broke off, startled.) (“You do it”—she took my hand and demonstrated—“like this.”)
- Semi-colons always go outside the quotation marks. (when writing “like this”; not like this.)
- Colons always go outside the quotation marks. (when writing “like this”: do it this way.)
Resource Link Masterlist
- The Free Dictionary: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/
- The Grammarist: https://grammarist.com/
- Know Your Phrase: https://knowyourphrase.com/
- Merriam-Webster “Words at Play” Blog: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play
- The Phrase Finder: https://www.phrases.org.uk/index.html
- Word Histories: https://wordhistories.net/
Language Reference Materials:
- Amazon.com/Kindle Direct Publishing Style Guide
- National Geographic Style Guide
- Smashwords.com Style Guide
- always use only one character for a scene break to avoid issues with screen readers. This character should be centered, and no extra spaces/paragraph breaks should be used around it.
- acceptable symbols are:
- when formatting for print, please use a centered asterisk (*) so it’s uniform across everyone’s first drafts and we can easily find and replace them with whatever custom image we’ve chosen to use for scene breaks in that work.
Usually italicized, though there are exceptions that depend on how the sentence is phrased.
Example 1: The candle made a hssss sound as it went out.
Example 2: There was a click as the door shut.
Example 3: The door clicked as it shut.
Example 4: “Shh,” she said.
Spaces after Periods
Standard usage is one space after a period.
In general, words that have the option for a special character should be written with that special character:
- coup de grâce
- pas de bourrée
Using special characters is especially important if there’s a chance that a word’s meaning could be confusing without the characters. For example, “she resumed writing her resume” or “the rose was the same color as a rose.” The second especially becomes unintelligible unless there’s an accent to indicate that the first “rose” refers to “rosé,” as in wine.
If a word is in a foreign language, follow the original language’s spelling rules/special character usage.
We are currently handling text messages in stories on a case-by-case basis. Our tentative standard for anthologies is:
POV Texting Name in Bold
What the text reads
Name of Person They Are Texting
What the text reads
A second short text
A third short text.
- This uses right and left justification with no indentation on either side.
- Multiple short texts can be separated onto multiple lines.
- Texts should be separated from the main text with a full blank line/paragraph break, and same for separating texts from different people involved in the conversation.
- If multiple people are involved, all characters except the point of view character should be on the same side. (If the story is omniscient point of view, we’ll figure that out when it happens.)
- We have an emoji font and emojis can be used.
- The name being used can be a pseudonym, joke, etc., reflecting how the characters have entered each other into their phones/chat programs/etc.
- Authors should only use dates and/or timestamps if they’re relevant to the story; once used, they must be used throughout the story, even if for some conversations the timestamps aren’t relevant.
Types of Spaces
- Hair space, the smallest: U200A in unicode. ( ) ← that’s a hair space
- Thin space: U2009 in unicode. ( ) ← that’s a thin space
- Non-breaking space (NBSP): U00a0. ( ) ← that’s an nbsp
- Regular space: space bar. ( ) ← that’s a regular space
Note that there are no hair spaces in Garamond (which we use as the Press-standard e-book font). In order to enter a hair space, you’ll need to enter it as Times New Roman instead, and reduce the font size 1 pt (from Press-standard 11 pt to 10 pt) because Times New Roman characters are slightly bigger at 11 pt and will mess up the line spacing unless they’re made smaller.
In general, it’s best to avoid underlining as a formatting choice in e-books. There are several reasons for this. First, many e-readers use underlining for other purposes—for example, to mark highlighting or to show readers which passages are especially popular. Second, because underlining is supposed to be beneath the text, but the text in ePubs especially is reflowable, there can be alignment issues. Third, since many e-readers have internet connectivity, it’s common for links to be underlined, so a reader may think that underlined texts includes a link.
When in doubt, change to a different type of formatting. If underlining is, for whatever reason, considered absolutely essential, it can be retained.
Unicode for Common Characters and Punctuation
Unicode is the standard system by which all text characters are identified. Every letter, character, punctuation, etc., has a unique code number that identifies it and can be used to look it up; generally, these numbers can be used in “insert character” option menus in Word and elsewhere to be sure that the precisely character character is being used. Note that sometimes, using certain characters requires using specific fonts—not every font has a character that matches every Unicode.
In word, you enter Unicode by going to Insert -> Symbol -> More Symbols, which opens this box, and you can enter the Unicode in the area circled.
Common Unicodes/Codes We Frequently Use:
|Code||Character||What it is (if it’s not obvious)|
|00A0||Non-Breaking Space (NBSP)|
Weasel words, also called filler words, are words that “take up space” in your writing without adding any meaning. meaning. For example, if you’re writing in a rigid first or third person PoV, there’s rarely any need to write, “He saw that the light was on.” You can just write, “The light was on.” You lose zero meaning by cutting out the “he saw that.” The reader already know who is looking at the light because we know whose head we are observing events from. Another common form of weasel word is an interjection in the midst of a sentence – the friend who first introduced me to the concept explained it as, “our brains don’t know exactly what comes next so it just puts a word in as the mental equivalent of a pause or ‘um.’” And that explanation contained (at least) two such words – “exactly” and “just,” both of which could be cut from that sentence without impacting the meaning. Time words are also often filler words – there are few times where you actually need to say “in a moment;” context usually communicates the sequence of events clearly.
Note that a word that is weasely in one context will be essential in another; no list of weasel words should ever be treated as an absolute “do not use these words!” list. Instead, a list like this suggests some words to “look out for” when editing. You can read way more about weasel words in this blog post.
Some general guidelines that can help when trying to determine if something is a weasel word in a given context:
- Avoid constructions like, “it seemed like” in favor of constructions like “it was.”
- Be wary of adverbs. Generally speaking, an adverb is worth using if you’re indicating that you’re subverting the meaning of the word being modified, and unnecessary if you’re reinforcing the meaning of the word being modified. “She smiled maliciously” is a good adverb use, because saying someone smiled in no way implies they’re being malicious; “she smiled kindly” is not a great adverb use, because smiling is generally kind – this kind of usage could still be appropriate but only depending on context and character. For example, if you’ve established that your character is rarely kind, it might be important to specify that this particular smile is atypical for this character. But in most contexts, “she smiled kindly” is redundant and kindly is a weasel word that should be cut.
- Interjections such as “wow” and “like” and “sure” in dialogue are often weasel words, especially if they are repetitious with what comes after. For example, if one characters says, “Would you like to go to the mall?” and another replies, “yeah, that’d be awesome” you can cut the word “yeah” without impacting the meaning at all. Also, if you have a character nod or shake their head, there’s literally zero reason to also have them say “yes” or “no.” Pick either the word or the gesture. Yes, casual repetition like that is how people actually speak but it doesn’t make for strong writing.
- When writing fictional dialogue, try to do the same – you don’t need to put every nuance of real-life conversation in, just enough to establish tone, and then focus on what the characters are trying to communicate. Even if your character hems and haws a lot, putting in “uh” every sentence or two is incredibly tiresome to read. Remember how quickly a reader will consume your work and give readers credit for their memory. Put in enough to convey the idea of a normal conversation without slavishly reproducing how people really talk. (this honestly could be its own entire post, but this is at least a start on the topic with a focus on how it relates to cutting out unnecessary words…). Basically: if you’re writing a conversation and having the characters say “hello” will a. be assumed and b. add nothing, don’t write it.
- Passive voice introduces more unnecessary words than active voice. Compare: “I fed the cat” vs “the cat was fed by me.” Words are added, the sentence is clunky, and would anyone actually…say the second? Like ever? This is not to say “don’t use passive voice.” Passive voice has functions, and occasionally using the clunkier construction will also help with varying up your sentences and keeping your writing interesting. But use it thoughtfully and wisely.
- Often, what should be considered a weasel word will be different in narrative versus dialogue. When deciding what counts, always keep in mind the tone, education, world view, and attitudes of your Point of View character or that of the person speaking. One character’s weasel word is another character’s voice.
- Redundant usage can turn a word that wouldn’t usually be a weasel word into a weasel word. This is especially true of adverbs ( “she slammed the door loudly” is redundant, and many other adverbs in place of “loudly” would be equally redundant, given everything implied by the word “slammed”). For another example, “The powerful man lifted the heavy stone with an impressive show of strength” has multiple levels of redundancy; which you choose to keep is up to you, but you don’t need to specify that it was heavy and that lifting it was impressive and that it was a show of strength. All three suggest the same thing, so only one is needed. “The man lifted the stone with a show of strength” conveys the same meaning, or you can find other ways to add the nuance without being repetitious, such as, “Muscles bulging with effort, the man lifted the heavy stone.” Same idea, less redundant, giving an idea how the man reacts, and thus more subtly communicates that the stone is heavy instead of beating the reader over the head with “HAVE I MENTIONED THE ROCK IS HEAVY?”
- Specificity is your best friend. Don’t be vague if you can be specific. Don’t generalize when you can be specific. Don’t hedge your bets (“it was kind of like…”) when you can be specific. If you want the reader to understand and believe the thing…just say it.
Here is an alphabetized list of some common weasel words and weasel phrases. The ones in Bold, we offer more information on why (and, often, when) it’s a weasel word below.
- A: “a moment later”; about; absolutely; accordingly; actually; additionally; again; all; already; also; always; and; “as a matter of fact”; “as far as I’m concerned”; at least; at most; “at the end of the day”; “at the present time”; audible
- B: back; basically; “to be ~ing”; to begin; “being ~”; to believe; both; briefly; but
- C: certainly; clearly; closely; completely; “cut down on”
- D: definitely; down
- E: each; either; entirety; even; exactly; extremely
- F: fact; fairly; to feel; finally; “for all intents and purposes”; “for the most part”
- G: “going to do ~”
- H: to hear; hence; herself/himself/themselves/myself; his/her/their/my own
- I: ignored; “in a moment/second”; “in addition”; increasingly
- J: just
- K: kind of; to know
- L: like; literally; to look
- M: maybe; momentarily; mostly; much
- N: nearly; next; no; “not long after”; now
- O: obvious; of; often; once more; only
- P: pretty; probably
- Q: quite
- R: rather; to realize; really; right
- S: to see; seriously; silently; slightly; so; some; somehow; somewhat; “soon after”; sort of; to start; still; suddenly; surely
- T: that; “the fact that“; then; to think; though; thus; together; totally; to try
- U: to understand; up
- V: very; virtually
- W: to wonder
- Y: yes
audible: eg, “The door closed with an audible click” versus “The door closed with a click.” if your character heard the noise, it’s already audible. Using both is redundant.
“to be ~ing“: eg, “I’ll be going to prom” versus “I’m going to prom.”
to begin: eg, “They began to sing” versus “They sang.”
“being ~”: eg, “They were being active” versus “They were active.”
to believe: eg, “I believed I’d found the perfect dress” versus “I’d found the perfect dress.”
to feel: eg, “She felt the pain as the needle pricked her” versus “The prick of the needle was painful.”
“going to do ~”: eg, “We’re going to try to go to the park” versus “We plan to go to the park” versus “We’re going to the park”
to hear: eg, “He heard her say his name” versus “She said his name.”
herself/himself/themselves/myself: can often be cut if it’s clear that the action being done applies to the PoV character.
ignored: eg, “He was annoying, so I ignored him.” “To ignore” means “refuse to notice or acknowledge.” Having a character say they ignore something is to have them explicitly notice or acknowledge the thing in question. While it can work contextually, it often reads weirdly.
to know: eg, “I know we talked about this” versus “We talked about this.”
to look: eg, “They looked and saw the sunrise” versus “They watched the sunrise.”
no: see “yes,” below.
of: eg, “I jumped off of the ledge” versus “I jumped off the ledge.”
once more: that an action or behavior is repeated is usually obvious from context, and language explicitly indicating a repeat is best used to lampshade that the repeat was intentional by the author instead of accidental
pretty: eg, in the sense of “the sky was pretty clear,” not in the sense of “she was pretty.”
to realize: eg, “I realized there was no solution” versus “There was no solution.”
said nothing: there are a lot of similar constructions to this (eg, “didn’t reply,” “couldn’t answer”) and they’re almost all unnecessary. Unless you’re aiming to lampshade the silence, it’s better to indicate that someone said nothing…by simply not having them say something.
to see: eg, “I saw the man jump over the fence” versus “The man jumped over the fence.”
silently: eg, “she padded silently across the room” versus “the padded across the room.” If something is silent, it’s best communicated by simply not having the thing make a sound.
to start: see “to begin,” above.
that: in many contexts “that” adds no meaning. For example, “She wanted to know that he cared” versus “She wanted to know he cared.”
the fact that: this construction is rarely needed, and is often applied to things that aren’t facts at all. It’s clunky, and the certainty it implies can usually be made with more concise, more accurate, more descriptive word choices.
to think: eg, “She thought he looked cool” versus “He looked cool.”
to understand: eg, “He understood the water was wet” versus “The water was wet.”
very: there are some excellent lists of synonyms for “very + ~word,” single words you can use, eg, “very big” versus “enormous.” Here’s one such list.
to wonder: see “to think,” above.
yes: this is a strange one, but frequently in dialogue it’s not necessary to have a character explicitly say yes or no – it’s often clear from context – and including the yes/no reply and then giving an explanation that reiterates that is often clunky and unnecessary
Words that Don’t Exist
If an author invents/creates a word, and it’s meaning is clear in context, it’s generally fine to use. Note that some dictionaries DO list these words but others don’t; we use Merriam-Webster as the Press-standard dictionary so that’s our reference point for “existing.” Here are some examples of non-words that we’ve allowed authors to use:
- behalves: the plural of “behalf.” Supposedly, this usage is obsolete outside of legal writing and shouldn’t be used, but there are times we feel it adds significant meaning. “He asked permission on both our behalves.”
- to iris (verb): to open or close in a way similar to how eyelids open and close. (as in, “The doors on the spaceship irised open.”)
- to rabbit (verb): to go at a very rapid patter. (as in, “My heartbeat rabbited in my chest.”)
- scavengeable (adjective): can possibly be scavenged. (as in, “The materials I needed were scavengeable from a dumpster.”)
- to snowflake (verb): one way that a distressed glass surface can cause light to scatter. (as in, “The glass snowflaked the light.”)
- to swan (verb): to go somewhere in a carefree, casual way. (as in, “She swanned out to meet a friend.”)
Is what you’re looking for not here? It’s possible we haven’t addressed it yet, are only using CMoS standard, or that we meant to include it! Feel free to contact us on Discord if you’re already involved with the Press, or via e-mail or Tumblr ask box.