Tips, Writing

Write a Novel: The Big Four – Dedicate, Acknowledge, Style, and Glossary

The Big Four has a special meaning in Calgary. In 1912, meat packer Patrick Burns; ranchers George Lane and A. E. Cross; and brewery owner Archibald J. McLean founded what came to be called The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, The Calgary Stampede.

I have my own Big Four. Every book I write gets a dedication, acknowledgement page, and style sheet. Some of them get a glossary.

Dedication: Who inspired this book?
Most writers love doing this. It’s our chance to honor special people. Dedications aren’t hard. Some writers prefer the full-frontal approach: For Melissa Jones and Catherine Jones-Lockey, the best sisters a girl could have. Others prefer to be more cryptic: For MJ and CJL. You know why. Either way works.

Acknowledgment: Who contributed to this book?
The hard part here is making sure we don’t miss anyone. Keep in mind it may be a year or more from our initial research to the book going out into the world. Since most of my help comes through e-mails, I set up a folder for each book in my mail program. One of the sub-folders is Research.

When I exchange e-mails with people who are helping me with research, I move my sent message and their replies into this folder. If some of the research isn’t done on e-mail, I send myself an e-mail message, something like, “John Jones sent me photos I can definitely use for the house. His name goes in the acknowledgements.” Those e-mails go in the folder, too.

I set up one of these for each new work in progress.

I set up one of these for each new work in progress.

This folder serves two purposes. Every few months, I send the people in there a progress report. “Hi, John. You gave me photos of an old house. Just to let you know I’m deep into the book’s first draft. Your photos are so helpful in designing my protagonist house.” It’s a way to keep the buzz building while we write.

Months later, when the book is ready to go, I have a list of all the names to go into my acknowledgements. If I can, I also send anyone mentioned in the acknowledgements a signed copy of the book.

Style sheet : a guide to correctness
Editors and typesetters can’t read our mind. We must give them a guide that includes correct spelling of character and place names, abbreviations, special terms, correct spellings of foreign words, places where special font is used for a reason, and copyright information.

Rule #1: what the publisher says goes. Many publishers have a style sheet that covers how they want a manuscript to look. We might be allowed to argue for a special spelling for a special reason, but that’s it. The publisher says do it this way, we do it.

Rule #2: most of us write a book without knowing who our publisher will be. We stew over the right way to write. Books are often not helpful, especially if they were written as guidelines for non-fiction writers and/or journalists. Friends and other writers, bless them, have good intentions, but they may be stuck with grammar rules that were in vogue when they were in school, or they may have developed personal preferences, with the emphasis on personal.

Three ways to manage grammar

  • Find one or more reliable, on-line, current grammar references. In our style sheet, write the name of the reference(s) that we used in for this book.
  • If there are rules we’re not sure about, make a choice, write in our style sheet what that choice is, and be consistent in using it. “Final commas in a series. I think this is the Harvard comma. I choose to use the final comma.” At least this way, we know what choices we made.
  • Once we’ve sold the book, do a publisher’s format rewrite.

What belongs in our Style Sheet file?

All names used, characters or people mentioned, including any special use of names or nicknames. Minor characters may be mentioned just by first name.

  • Andrew Morrise
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Ash Morgan (also Ash Alexander, depending on if she is introducing herself using her maiden or married name)
  • Aunt Heddie
  • Dave

If there are non-English names, be very specific, about name order and spelling. (I did not use Vietnamese markings in person names.)

  • When Pat Teague refers to the baby, the name is spelled Ahn and then To Duc Ahn; when Pepper speaks of the baby it’s spelled Anne Duc To.(page 47)
  • Lam Trong Tri (he refers to himself as Mr. Lam)

Place Names

  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Fairview

Vietnamese Place Names (I did not use Vietnamese markings in place names.)

  • Ban Me Thuot
  • Cu Chi
  • Da Nang
  • Viet Nam

Real businesses and organizations

  • Air America
  • Brevard College
  • Frontier Nursing Service
  • Grove Park Inn
  • Madison County Jail

Businesses and organizations created for this book

  • American-Vietnamese Businessmen’s Association
  • Ocmulgee Hotel

Because the book I’m using as an example had both civilian and military characters, I chose to have separate categories for each.

Civilian spellings and abbreviations

  • APGAR (all capitals, no periods) (page 97)
  • Baby Lift (both words capitalized)
  • NIMBY (all capitals, no periods) (page 236)

Military spellings and abbreviations

  • AK-47 (page 136)
  • APO (no periods) (page 68)
  • Camp Zama, Japan
  • Green Berets should be capitalized: Berets should be capitalized when referring to members or former members of Special Forces; berets should not be capitalized when referring to the head covering.

Vietnamese Words (spelling and punctuation checked by Vietnamese speaker; I used Vietnamese punctuations for Vietnamese words. I work on a Macintosh and found the instructions for inserting Vietnamese punctuation at

  • Cám ơn (thank you)
  • Đại tá (Colonel)
  • Một, Hai, Ba (one, two, three)

Places where special font is used for a reason

  • The information Pepper reads from the check (page 68) should be done in a font to represent a formal bank font. I used Bank Gothic, but any font that achieves a similar look may be used.

Copyright Information

  • The poem on page 157 is © Janet P. March. Copy of e-mail from the author giving me permission to quote it is included in this package.

Sound complicated? Here’s the easy way to do it. Set up a file called Style Sheet. If you use a writing program, such as Scrivener, you can put this file into the program. Some people like to update that file as they start a writing session; others like to do it at the end. My personal preference is to do it at the end.

The last thing I do before I shut down is to go through what I’ve written and identify any names, instructions, etc. that belong in the Style Sheet. I copy-and-paste all of them into a list at the end of what I’ve just written, and then copy-and-paste or cut-and-paste (your choice) into the Style Sheet. At this point, I don’t to do anything like organize them alphabetically or put them into categories. This is raw data collection time.

When the writing isn’t going well, or I’m bored, I pop into the Style Sheet file and do a little rearranging.

When I finish the first draft, I make the Style Sheet neat and tidy and print a copy, which I keep near the computer as I write subsequent drafts. I can add additional information in longhand and update the sheet from time-to-time. I’ve tried starting the Style Sheet at the end of a draft, and collect as I go, is so, so much easier.

The optional Glossary: What special vocabulary needs to be shared with the reader?
Most fiction books don’t need a glossary. Readers are either able to figure out the occasional unfamiliar word from context, or they look it up.

A glossary is a good idea if

  • there are a lot of foreign words or the book takes place in a different culture
  • our characters have unique occupations or interests with specialized vocabulary
  • we’ve created our own language for an alternative history or fantasy world

Much of a glossary can be generated from the Style Sheet. We’d already be putting most of these words in there anyway because they would be either special spellings or special instructions. Once the book is finished, we duplicate the Style Sheet file and edit it so that it becomes a Glossary, which is placed at the back of the book.

Take home message

Start these files when we start a book. Our hair will be a lot less gray by the book’s end if we do. If we’re already deep in a book, start now. It’s never too soon.

2014 February 12

Update: here’s a link to an article about copy editor Susan Bradanini Betz. Her favorite tool? A style sheet.

Drop by January 16 for a Level Thinking musing.

January 21st’s Writing the Novel blog will be about the tricky question of Permissions. What can and can’t/should and shouldn’t we use that was produced by other people?