I don’t like to dither over style choices. At the beginning of a sentence, it’s routine to start the next word with a capital letter. But when I type a colon within a sentence, I often have to stop and think about how to write the next word: whether to cap it isn’t always obvious.
From our own reading, most of us know that some paperback and hardcover novels have a table of contents page in the front and some don’t. Lurking online, I perceive a widespread notion that tables of contents are old-fashioned and pointless for fiction.
One of my favorite MS Word tricks allows a novelist (or any book writer) to view and organize their chapters in the Navigation pane (an option under the View tab). Using this feature, I can see all my chapter titles at a glance, and I can go instantly to the one I want by clicking on its title.
Narrators and characters in novels and other creative writing can talk about whatever they want. A character might read the Chicago Sun-Times; they might say they like to sing “Drivers License” while brushing their teeth. A narrator might mention a famous poem or novel or TV show: “The host didn’t mention that he’d heard the same joke on The Simpsons.”
Creative writers sometimes mangle grammar on purpose or get creative with punctuation. At the drafting stage, we keep a dictionary and style manual at hand. When slips are unintended, we count on our copyeditors to catch them.
Before a book is printed, while the text is still in manuscript form, editors at publishing houses speak in terms of word count, not page count. An appropriate word count for a project depends on the kind of book.
A piece of bossy advice often given to creative writers is to sweep through your manuscripts before you submit them and delete certain words. “Just,” “so,” “very,” and “really” vie for the top target, but the most popular prohibition of all might be of the word “that.”
Recently, a question that went something like this appeared in a Facebook group for writers seeking help from book editors: Help with this sentence please! “Some advice, for whoever/whomever is interested.”
Jack Hart has spent five decades helping writers succeed, working shoulder-to-shoulder with journalists in newsrooms both big and small and with students at five universities. Writers who’ve worked with him have written national best sellers and won prizes that include five Pulitzers and a slew of other national awards.
Recently, I was listening to the audiobook of James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, and at some point it struck me that we’d been in the middle of a sentence for quite a while. But it wasn’t just long—it was lyrical and purposeful. Pretty early on in the sentence, I began to realize it wasn’t primarily about an annual infestation of ants.