Tips for novel writers who choose to use Chicago Style that will make an editor happy!
by Megan Fleming
These tips are for all the fiction writers out there. As Lead Editor at Victory Vision Publishing, I come across a variety of writing levels—some people are brand new to the novel-writing process, and others are seasoned authors. Regardless of the level of experience, I run into common errors that indicate to me that many writers either don’t know how to write in Chicago Style, or know, but don’t bother to use it.
What is Chicago Style? The University of Chicago says:
The Chicago Manual of Style is an American English style and usage guide published continuously by the University of Chicago Press since 1906. Today, it is used widely in many academic disciplines and is considered the standard for US style in book publishing.
Why should you bother adhering to Chicago Style as you edit your drafts? Because it will save your editor time, and that means saving you money. Once you do your own editing per your chosen writing style and get your draft in the most polished form you can, you will still need another set of eyes on it: a great editor who knows all the styles.
Of course, you may want to hire a copyeditor to give developmental suggestions (such as ordering of paragraphs, expanding ideas, or cutting whole sections), and that costs more than a proofread. But you can still make your editor happy by eliminating most of the common proofreading errors before you submit it for any type of editing.
Here’s a list of a few common Chicago Style standards to look out for:
Example: I like bananas, apples, and oranges.
NOT: I like bananas, apples and oranges.
Example: My mom would always make a dish we called, “slop.”
NOT: . . . a dish we called, “slop”.
“Where are you going to get enough money for that?” he demanded.
“Well, I thought you might consider—”
“Well you thought wrong! Now get out!”
Notice that there is no need to indicate that the second line is a different speaker than the first, since it is its own paragraph.
NOT: “Where are you going to get enough money for that?” he demanded. “Well, I thought you might consider—” she started. “Well you thought wrong! Now get out!”
There are exceptions to this, depending if the dialog is really short and makes more sense in its own paragraph, like the above example; but your editor will help make that call.
Example: He continued, “. . . so, when I saw you open the door, I just knew something was wrong . . .”
NOT: (AP style) He continued, “ … so, when I saw you open the door, I just knew something was wrong … ”
NOR: (lazy typing) He continued, “...so, when I saw you open the door, I just knew something was wrong…”
Tip for Microsoft Word users (from MLA Style Center):
Note, however, that if you use Microsoft Word’s ellipsis character, the periods will not be spaced, and if you try to insert three periods with spaces, Word will change them to an ellipsis without spaces. To turn off that feature, go to File, then Options, then Proofing, then click the AutoCorrect Options button. Select the AutoCorrect tab. You can then uncheck the “Replace text as you type” box, or simply delete the ellipsis character from the list.
Use "option-shift" and then the dash key to make a proper em dash between lapsed dialog or a trailed thought—like this—instead of like - this - which is simpler, but not Chicago style. Also, avoid excessive use of em dashes and ellipses by varying the length of your sentences for more dynamic reading.
Numbers: generally written out for numbers one to one hundred (see Chicago Style Manual for a more extensive number guide)
Thank you for humoring this editor with the geek-out on Chicago Style! Happy writing! And remember—first drafts can have no style at all. Just get the content out, and worry about the grammar, style, and spelling later. Seriously—style is the icing on the cake; what you want to say needs to be worthy of that icing, without being inhibited in the initial process!
Yum . . . now I want to go find a piece of cake.
Ready to have a seasoned editor look over your manuscript? Send a sample of the beginning, middle, and end (about 4500 words) to email@example.com for a free evaluation and quote on how much editing will cost you.
Here are some more resources for you to consider, from a U.K. publisher:
Megan Fleming is Lead Editor at Victory Vision Publishing. She has a Painting degree with a TESOL minor, and has taught Art and English to both students and adults. Her love of literature and clean copy merged when she began editing full time in 2020, and she has since been able to use her experience in MLA, Chicago, AP, and APA styles. Megan and her husband, Adam Fleming, live in a small Midwest town and have four children. Megan enjoys making her own art, gardening, pursuing a master’s degree, and reading fiction in between the cracks.