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The Moose House style guide

There are lots of ways to write a book. Some work better than others. At Moose House, we want to do everything we can to get your manuscript into the best shape possible to deliver what you want to say.

 

We draw on these guidelines regularly when moving through the editing process with a new manuscript and its author. This is an ever-expanding list. So now you know what to expect.

  • We avoid passive voice ("The work was done") in favour of active voice ("John and Mary did the work") whenever possible. Passive voice tends to fog up who is doing what, and to slow down the pace of the passage it appears in.

  • We strongly prefer "he said" over "said he", except when it is the last exchange in a scene and you want a note of finality.

  • You don't need to hunt around for "said" alternatives ('he interjected', 'he expostulated', 'she added'). Readers treat "she said" like a piece of punctuation and just carry on with the story. The alternatives, unless they are highly significant (we are in a library and "'Yoicks!' she screamed").

  • If two people are having a conversation, it is generally clear who is saying what. You don't have to add 'John said' after each thing he said. If there are more than two people in the conversation, you have to take greater care in helping the reader know who is saying what. Try reading the text out loud to  patient friend who can tell you at what points they become confused.

  • Three dots at the end of a speech indicate the speaker sort of trails off without finishing what they were saying. A dash indicates someone or something interrupted them.

  • We look for chapter breaks in the story every 2,000 words or so, to give the reader a good stopping place at regular intervals. This also means the author has to provide some sort of interesting hook at the end of each chapter so the reader will be sure to pick up the book again soon to see what happens next.

  • We like to provide titles for each chapter, drawn from the text of that chapter. We can work this out during the editing process. Having titles instead of just chapter numbers helps the reader of a digital edition navigate the book.

  • In real life we use a lot of fluff words like ‘well’, often while we formulate what we want to say. In writing, we try to use them less, and mainly when the hesitation means something significant to the story.

  • In real life, conversations and interactions can run on quite a while and cover ground already covered, while the guest stands in the open door, hat one, shifting from one foot to the other to get going. Unless that is the situation you want to depict in the story, you can end scenes in your novel much more abruptly, and just jump to the next scene. Ditto for phone calls.

Adjective order in English

 

There is a rule that all native English-speakers know, without really knowing they know it. Schools rarely teach it. But if you break it, the sentence sounds odd to the listener or reader.

The invariable order of adjectives is this:

opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose Noun.

 

You can have a "lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife" but if you start messing with the adjective order you sound like a visitor from another country. You can't have a "red Japanese old rickety car" in place of a "rickety old red Japanese car".

   The time to break this order is when you have a character speaking whose first language is not English. It's a quick way of demonstrating that they are not as comfortable in English as the other characters are.

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