There is so much to consider when it comes to formatting a manuscript, and it can be quite confusing. While these are by no means comprehensive, here are some of the more important “House Rules” that you should incorporate into your manuscript.
Afterward/Backward/Forward/Toward – None of these have an “s” at the end.
Blond/Blonde – Use blonde as a feminine noun only: She was a blonde. Use blond as a male noun: Men are blonds. Both men and women have blond hair, however.
Bold – Do not bold words anywhere in the manuscript.
Character descriptions – Avoid using identifying phrases such as “the older man,” “the raven-haired woman,” “the tall woman,” and so on to refer to any of your characters. They are often depersonalizing or objectify the character’s gender or physical characteristics and are almost always unnecessary. Instead, use the character’s name or the appropriate pronoun. Occasionally “the other woman or man” or “lover” can be substituted. Please note that in romances, once characters establish a physically or emotionally intimate bond, they are no longer “friends.”
Commas – We tend to use serial commas. In other words: “Pat grabbed the coat, briefcase, and subway pass.” Not: “Pat grabbed the coat, briefcase and subway pass.”
Dangling participles – A participle "dangles" when it is not grammatically related to whatever you intend it to modify. This is most common in but not limited to opening adjective participial phrases.
Incorrect: Running in the marathon, Michele's fans cheered her on. (Who's running in the marathon? Michele? Or her friends?)
Correct: As Michele ran in the marathon, her fans cheered her on
As she ran in the marathon, Michele's fans cheered her on.
Incorrect: Getting out of the car, he took the groceries up the stairs. (How can he get out of the car AND mount stairs?)
Correct: After getting out of the car, he took the groceries up the stairs
He got out of the car and took the groceries up the stairs.
Effect/Affect – Effect, as a noun, means result. (The medication caused a painful side effect for Morgan.) Effect, as a verb, means “to cause.” (The publisher’s decision effected a change in the way Morgan felt about the book.) Affect means to influence. (The publisher’s decision will definitely affect the author.)
Ellipses – We try to minimize the usage of ellipses. They should be used only to indicate a noteworthy pause in speech or thought or when the thinker/speaker is trailing off. Otherwise, simply use a period.
Farther/Further – Farther always indicates physical distance. Further indicates time or abstract distance.
Italics – Should be used sparingly in order to indicate emphasis. (See Quotations v. Italics below as well.)
Flashbacks/Dreams/Letters – You may choose to use italics to indicate dreams or flashbacks or to set off letters/notes that a character may read.
Foreign words – Those commonly used in English (café, hari kari, etc.) do not need italics. Only italicize foreign words that are not commonly used in English. (Refer to the dictionary if necessary).
Numbers – Spell out numbers from zero to one hundred and solid numbers like five thousand, thirty million, twenty-one billion, etc. If it can be spelled out and still look okay, spell it out. (Writing “There are 5,280 feet in a mile” is better, however, than spelling out five thousand two hundred eight.) Always spell out numbers in dialogue unless they’re very large or have decimals. (“I’ve told you twenty times to get that fixed” or “She has sixty-five copies for the seminar.”)
Okay – We spell it out and do not use “OK” or “ok.”
Onto – Onto indicates motion on top of something: She climbed onto the sled. You hold on to (two words) something: She held on to the edge of the sled.
Possessives – The general rule in the Chicago Manual of Style is that possessives of most singular nouns are formed by adding an apostrophe and an s (a cow’s milk), and the possessive of plural nouns are created by adding an apostrophe only (cows’ milk), but there are exceptions to the rule. In addition, the possessive forms of words ending in a sibilant S are tricky: Dickens’ England (does not require an additional s at the end) or Mr. Rogers’ TV show.
Quotation Marks v. Italics – Use quotation marks for: names of magazine articles, individual episodes of television and radio shows, short poems, essays, and song titles.
Use italics for: books, periodicals, newspapers, long poems, plays, movies, TV and radio shows, operas and long musical pieces, record albums, and works of art.
Semicolons – Use periods instead if at all possible.
Uppercase – Uppercase words are rarely—almost never—used. An occasional exception might be with an interjection meant for extreme emphasis: "DON'T DO IT!" or "STOP HIM!" But we are talking about using this only occasionally—perhaps once in an entire manuscript and only if the character is all-out screaming.
Who/Whom – Who and whom refer to people and animals with names. “That” refers to inanimate objects and animals without names. Use who when it is the subject of a sentence, clause, or phrase. For example: Sally is the reader who liked the manuscript. Use whom when it is the object of a verb or preposition. For example: Sally is the editor whom the writer complimented.