Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Writing 101: Manuals of Style

So I'm cruising around the Goodreads forums the other day when I saw a post where someone was asking about a specific book, wanted to know if anyone had read it. I read a lot of books, so I decided to check it out. And then I saw the book cover...and shuddered. Yes, I recognized that book. No, I didn't respond to the forum -- because frankly, there just wasn't enough time. 

You see, the poster in question was asking about The Chicago Manual of Style. And there's just no reason for me to discuss that book with indie authors...because indie authors don't need it. You don't need that manual of style, or really any other, and I'm going to tell you why.

How to Write the Right Way

The rules of writing don't begin and end with The Chicago Manual of Style. There is also AMA style, AP style, ASA style and MLA style. Here's the bad news: those are just the biggest manuals of style. Many other publications and websites, Wikipedia included, have create their own manuals of style that pull elements from all the other manuals of style they've decided that they like. 

And if you're writing books, there is no reason that you have to look at any of these at all. In fact, I suggest you don't. I've looked at all the major manuals of style quite extensively, and I can tell you it's all incredibly tedious. As a writer of books, you don't need to know all these picky little rules about writing -- most of which revolve around how to write your numbers properly and where the commas ought to go -- because learning this stuff could actually screw up your writing. 

Chicago, ASA, AMA, MLA -- all these style types are used in specific types of academic or scholarly writing. Most newspaper and online writing is done in AP style (which stands for Associated Press). And you don't need it, because prose is entirely different. In prose you are meant to always use your commas. You are meant to spell out all numbers, until they're specific to an address or a proper name. And if you start reading through all these manuals of style you may pick up a style of writing that book readers don't recognize. And if it looks different, people are going to assume it's wrong.

Read that again: they are going to assume it's wrong. So stick to writing in prose, ignore abbreviations and shortcuts wherever possible, and you'll stay on the right track. You have my permission to go burn all your manuals of style now.

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