What is an author style guide? How about a style sheet?

In putting together a pronunciation guide post and video for my science fiction series (aliens make everything complicated, including language) I realized I’ve never talked about what a style guide actually is (for us fiction writers, I mean). I started to amend that post with an end note on this subject, and then realized I was writing a whole new post. Because most of the stuff out there is about style guides for academic/non-fic authors and this… isn’t.

So here, Gentle Reader, is a guide to style guides for fiction authors!

What is a Style Guide aka Style Sheet?

Style guides/sheets are something copy editors give to authors, and/or authors give to editors (and their publishing houses) indicating preferential sentence structure, made up words, names, and unique language.

Why do we do this?

So that the copy editor (CE) knows what words NOT to correct or change (what to ignore) but also how those non-standard words are meant to be spelled – since authors can (and often do) misspell their own words. Also so the CE will not attempt to change those intentional choices an author makes around grammar that is part of the author/narrator voice.

Author Platform Grammar oxford comma

Fiction Author Style Guides

This is usually a universal guide to how the author uses language (unless the author changes their voice substantially between books – see Tanya Huff). It has to do with how an author writes and how they like to structure their sentences and grammar.

It will be included in the style sheet for each individual book/series, but is pretty much linked to an author’s specific voice (narrative style), so carries throughout their work (although it can and does change and evolve over time).

Author style guide example (Gail Carriger)

My own personal style guide is something you may or may not have noticed as you read my books, it includes things like:

Punctuation General

  • use serial comma (aka Oxford comma)
  • italics or roman according to main surrounding text
  • possessives of s-terminal names unless already plural/plural-appearing: James’s
  • ellipses: unspaced, three, space after if terminal replaces terminal punctuation
  • parenthetical use permitted (for interjection of narrator voice)
  • conversational language & grammar permitted in dialogue

Punctuation Author Preferences

  • no semicolons if possible in general (space en dash space instead in narration, comma splices standard in dialogue) NEVER use ; in dialogue
  • space en dash space in place of just em dash, save for cut-off speech AKA opt for the en dash (–) with two spaces either side when using for grammar purposes (so in place of the : or the ;)*
  • em dash** only for interrupted dialogue with spaces only on outside AKA use un-spaced em dashes (—) only for interrupted speech like th—
  • cutoff speech indicated by em dash is not followed by sentence-terminal punctuation
  • comma use (or lack thereof) driven primarily by comprehensibility, so rules may be bent or ignored entirely if necessary
  • restrict colon use, opt for the en dash if possible
  •  do NOT correct to cliche (e.g. it is meant to read “all pompadour and no circumstance”)
  • fragment sentences permitted at all times
  • choice to use contraction is intentional, especially in dialogue, and used to indicate speech pattern, class, linguistic register, or narrator voice – please do not standardize contraction use
  • leapt instead of leaped
  • Mr Mrs Miss without “.” ***
  • leave space before paragraph return

Typefaces & Capitalization

  • italics for: emphasis, words as words, words as sounds, implied/recalled dialogue, direct thoughts, long displayed/written text
  • Roman for emphasis within italicized passages
  • Small caps for signs, and displayed/written text messages
  • Titles like Lord and Priest, familial titles like Mother, and noble addresses like Your Majesty and His Majesty capped when used in place of name (direct address)


  • ago/before, that/which distinctions maintained where feasible
  • like is acceptable substitute for as if
  • composed words that begin with mid or half are hyphenated if not specified in Webster’s (e.g., mid-roll)
  • comma before terminal either/neither/too if it refers to proximate item (e.g., “I don’t like this, and I don’t like that, either” vs. “I don’t like this, and she doesn’t like it either”)
  • times are to be written in American format (e.g., 12:40, not 12.40); AM/PM uppercased with no periods
  • -ward, not –wards (except in dialogue and first-person narration when consistent with prior usage)

* En & em dash issues: I have a complex reason for this that mostly has to do with being a digital reader, you can ask me about it sometime if you are really interested.

** The em dash is the REALLY long one.

*** Mr (with no .) This is something my American publisher (Orbit) did from the start with Soulless, it’s part of their style guide, so I adopted it for constancy throughout all my books

Team Oxford Comma T-Shirt Gail Carriger

3 Other Style Guides

1. Publishing houses also have style guides.

Publishing houses have their own style guides that their editors operate under. This will include things like whether or not to use the oxford comma, how dialogue is type set, whether the spelling is British or American, which dictionary (Webster, Oxford, etc…) and which style guide (usually Chicago), and so forth. Sometimes this conflicts with the author’s preferences. This can result in… negotiation.

In my experience the author wins about 50% of the time.

I should note that things like whether a book is anglicized (USA or UK English spelling, but also use of words like forwards versus forward) is not always up to the author. I talk about this in this blog post: The Ladybird Problem

2. Copy editors have preferences

Also copy editors can have their own tics. Things they really don’t like and always want to change. (Ask me about “that banning” sometime over drinks.) Sometimes us authors have to adjust our style sheets to compensate.

Technically, however, a copy editor should adjust themselves to the author’s voice and never try to correct for aspects that are intrinsic to their writer DNA. But if that writer quirk is technically an error in the English language a copy editor will likely have a very difficult time of it. (Like an intentional miss-use or misspelling of a specific word.)

To be fair, so might the readers.

3. Book or Series Specific Style Sheets

The specific style sheet as handed off to a copy editor (or the reverse depending on your relationship with that editor) will include your style guide (if you have not worked with that editor before) and then a style sheet for this exact book in play.

Because this is language (and to make matters confusing) the terms style guide and style sheet are conflated constantly, don’t worry about it.

Anyway, in addition to all of the above elements a style sheet will include all the made up words, names, and concepts related to that specific book/series. Also all iterations of those names (like both Dyesi and Dyesid Prime).

These are the things readers will notice and ask you about. Mostly “how do you pronounce x?”

I have a blog post about names and pronunciation here. But when I dove entirely into sci-fi for the Tinkered Starsong series I realized I need to do a whole video on how to pronounce all my made up stuff.

Not just for you, but also for my poor audiobook narrator!

Good Evil Oxford Comma Gail Carriger Quote

Book Style Sheet – Example Tinkered Starsong Series

Characters/groups, titles

  • acolytes (divinity)
  • armiger (Wheel)
  • Asterism (pantheon)
  • Berril (Shawalee) (light grace, winged)
  • Bob (cyborg) (Missit’s bodyguard)
  • calator (rank of acolyte) (organize events)
  • cantors (pantheon position)
  • carborgs (organic implants for modification)
  • Cassin (Sapien) (cantor) (from Attacon Prime)
  • Chalamee (Dyesi) (acolyte sacerdote)
  • Chaymay (Sapien) (Orrow high cantor)
  • chiropterans (winged humanoids)
  • countervails (Kill’ki position)
  • crudrats (Wheel outcasts)
  • Deducts (Agatay faction)
  • Del (Phex’s boss)
  • diarchs (leaders on Agatay)
  • diefthyn acolytes (focus on the artistic side of the divinity)
  • Dimsum (murmel)
  • divinity, the (Dyesi)
  • Elder K (bodyguard for Zil)
  • Endants (Agatay faction)
  • Errata (pantheon)
  • Fandina (Dyesi) (purpled blue skin) (sifter)
  • fixed, the
  • Fortew (Sapien) (Tillam low cantor)
  • Gemma (Sapien) (Attacon 7) (cantor)
  • graces (dark graces: bold and interrupting, formulate pauses, break sound patterns with stillness, shade colors) (light graces: create rhythm/motion, enhance sound, brighten skinsift)
  • heart sister
  • Heshoyi (Dyesi) (calator)
  • imagoes (final Dyesi instar) (variants: 1 protector type, 2 breeders) (females very large) (m/f/n/pl)
  • Itrio (Sapien) (bodyguard for Fortew) (from high-gravity planet)
  • Jinyesun (Dyesi) (iridescent teal skin)
  • Jutte (grace)
  • Kagee Setset-Four (Agatay) (Sapien) (grey, silver hair) (high cantor)
  • Kallow (Sapien) (low cantor)
  • Kill’ki Coalition, the (territory, political allegiance)
  • Korpuna (Cotylan) (chef)
  • Kumaimi (Dyesi matriarch)
  • Lenqihe (Dyesi sifter)
  • Levin Retmor-Nine (first Endant, Diarch of Agatay)
  • Lhar
  • Liera Conmor-One (Agatay)
  • matriarch (breeder imago Dyesi)
  • Melalan (Tillam) (sifter)
  • Miramo Conmet-One (first Modal, Diarch of Agatay)
  • Missit (Sapien) (Tillam high cantor)
  • Modals (Agatay faction)
  • monitor (Attacon government overseer)
  • Monji (grace)
  • nymphs (Dyesi) (genderless: it)
  • Ohongshe (Dyesi precatio) (purple eyes, pink-tinged skin)
  • Orlol (Errata)
  • Orrow (newer pantheon)
  • Phex (m) (barista) (blue hair from crud)
  • Pommey (light grace)
  • potentials (godhood candidates)
  • precatio (rank of acolyte) (manages the pantheon)
  • progenetor (Wheel)
  • Protans (infertile Agatay)
  • protectors (imago variant)
  • Quasilun (Dyesi bodyguard) (imago) (nb: they/them per au)
  • sacerdotes (acolytes in charge of worshiper management/interaction)
  • Seryloh (Dyesi) (low, raspy voice)
  • Sharm (nb) (Dorien)
  • Shawalee (species) (s/pl invariable)
  • skinless (Dyesi)
  • skinsifters, sifters (Dyesi)
  • softskin, softskins (sensitive to sound alone)
  • Tarloun (god)
  • Tern (Sapien) (Cotylan, from Cotilax) (Tillam light grace) (fold-theory physicist)
  • Tillam (pantheon) (Missit, Fortew, Zil, Tern, Yorunlee, Melalan)
  • Tyve (Jakaa Nova) (dark grace) (Zil’s sister) (skin dark magenta)
  • Villi (Sapien)
  • Wyn (Orrow dark grace)
  • Xillon (pantheon)
  • Yislofei (sifter)
  • Yorunlee (Dyesi) (Tillam sifter)
  • Zalihan (Dyesi who recruited Phex) (cousin to Ohongshe)
  • Zil (Jakaa Nova) ((Tillam dark grace) (Tyve’s brother)

Places, Planets, Species

  • Agatay (also adj) (planet, pop < 1 billion)
  • Apex Dome (near Dyesid Prime) (on Divinity 12)
  • Attacon 7 (moon)
  • Attacon Prime (planet)
  • Cotilax (planet)
  • Cotyla (adj Cotylan)
  • Cotylan (species)
  • Cotylan Mainspace (territory)
  • Divine Three, the (satellite moons Divinity 12, 24, 36) (pop approx 30 million Dyesi acolytes) (connected to each other by tubes and bridge through space) (orbiting ring around Dyesid Prime)
  • Divinity 12 (moon of Dyesid Prime)
  • Divinity 24 (moon of Dyesid Prime)
  • Divinity 36 (moon of Dyesid Prime)
  • Dome 6 (Agatay)
  • Dome Precept (Syrunid Prime)
  • Dorien (species) (s/pl)
  • Dyesid Prime (Dyesi homeworld) (ringed) (covered with storm clouds, purple)
  • Dyesi, the (s/pl) (taller than humans, skin blue range and shimmering, huge eyes, six-fingered hands, pointed ears with fin-like crests) (language: Dyesi) (nb: it, itself)
  • Earth 10 (planet)
  • Galoi (species)
  • Hominins (HS or H species classification) extensive genetic tinkering renders them distinct from original homo Sapiens.
  • Hu-core (territory)
  • Hydrab (species)
  • Jakaa Nova (species) (in Kill’ki Coalition)
  • Kill’ki (species)
  • S-class (genius)
  • Sapien, Sapiens (S1-5 species classification, AKA Homo sapiens, where S2=heavy gravity, or S3=extensive environmental pressure evolution)
  • Syrunid Prime (adj/demonym Syruni) (relatively close to Dyesid Prime)
  • Suryni (species)
  • Wheel, the (xenophobic, Sapiens)


  • affiliative
  • aestheticists
  • beam (light transferred trans-space information/communication)
  • Best New Pantheon award
  • “Blue Mirror” (Asterism song)
  • body mods
  • cafe (au pref)
  • cagy (au pref)
  • crud (dark matter?) (“flush”) (DMP)
  • crud lung (non-baryonic bronchopulmonary attrition)
  • cyborg
  • “Day Gone”
  • delineation (removal from political/inheritance obligations on Agatay)
  • Divine Awards, the (at Apex Dome)
  • dracohors
  • frozen register
  • FTL (faster than light)
  • Galactic Common (language)
  • Galactic Formal (diplomat’s language)
  • god drop / fall from grace (drain after a major dome)
  • godfix
  • godsdamn
  • godsong
  • goodbye (au pref)
  • grace name (one syllable)
  • gracework
  • heartsound
  • hiccough (au pref)
  • home space (modeled on home world)
  • home world (au pref)
  • hu-core
  • ident ring, ident band, ident cuff, idents, wrist ident, finger ident, ident chip
  • Immortal Achievement Award, the
  • infonet
  • instar
  • interface statue (of a god, personality insert)
  • Intergalactic Antislavery Act, the
  • godfix, godfixed
  • godsong, godsongs
  • keyskins
  • koel (songbird)
  • koriemin (spice)
  • leapt (au pref)
  • medi-bed
  • megafauna
  • microscale
  • mods
  • “Moon Made” Asterism song
  • murmel, murmels (small blue space-born creatures) (monkey-cats)
  • naivety (au pref)
  • nerve-racking (au pref)
  • Neuro Blue (neurodegenerative disorder, slang)
  • Nusplunder (new tourship) (former dome-construction vessel)
  • off-planet/off-world (au pref)
  • planetfall
  • planetless
  • planetside
  • Post-Darwinism
  • putt-putts (Dyesi vehicles) (round, soft, globular, seat 3 nymphs)
  • refuse (slang for refugee)
  • regs
  • “Riverrun” (Errata)
  • saposi juice (Dyesi drink)
  • Scholar Emeritus Award
  • screwpine
  • scythers (blades that harvest dark matter)
  • sentients
  • silkhorn (powdered Dyesi mushrooms) (bluish)
  • skinless register
  • skinsift, skinsifts, skinsifted (skin patterns formed to music)
  • sodorium lorithite (soporific)
  • somaform, somaformed (when human genetics are terraformed to accommodate the planet)
  • songbruise, songbruised, songbruising
  • songburn, songburned, songburning
  • songsift
  • soulsift
  • star shine (au pref)
  • stardust-striation
  • “Starshine” (Tillam song)
  • sync (au pref)
  • synth stickers (imitate skinsift)
  • themself themselves (for Quasilun)
  • “Tillam’s Lament” (“Five”)
  • tourship (au pref)
  • triggered (genetically optimized)
  • unsifted
  • verity (Dyesi drug)
  • wearables
  • wergild (au pref)
  • wrist beamer

10 More Installments of Gail talking about publishing?

  1. 10 Things About Publishing This Author Wishes Everyone Knew
  2. 30+ Blogs & Podcasts for Authors
  3. 7 Tips for Getting Over Writer’s Block
  4. How to Write (and Not to Write) an Author Bio
  5. The Pros & Cons of Cons
  6. 7 Side Effects of Being a Full Time Author
  7. Pen Names, Cover Art & Reader Betrayal
  8. Plot Versus Pace (Why That Book Sucks)
  9. Learn to Let Go of the 10%
  10. Writing Humor

Yours (destined to be killed arguing over semi-colons),

Miss Gail 

Find my books 

Direct | Amazon | KoboBookshop.org | B&N | Apple | FoylesMcnally Robinson | Angus Robertson

Here’s a printable Downloadable Checklist of ALL my books!

  • Did you miss my latest release? Want more sneak peeks, free goodies, gossip, behind the scenes info? This goes to my Chirrup members, because I love them bestest. Sign up here.


Divinity 36: Tinkered Starsong Book 1


Direct from Gail

The aliens are coming for us and they want our voices.

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger brings you a gloriously warm and unique scifi about the power of art, celebrity, and found family.

Gail’s Daily Tea Party

Tisane of Nifty 

lilliput cat rolling sun beam

Writerly Tincture 

Book Nibble 

All Gail Carriger Sci Fi books free

All Gail Carriger Sci-Fi books (as of June 2023)

Quote to Sip 

Quote Author Kill Characters Gail Carriger

Tags: , , ,

Posted by Gail Carriger

 Comments are closed

Comments are closed.

© 2024 Gail Carriger
Site built by Todd Jackson