Mastodon The Writing Desk: Tips for new writers Part Four - Consistency, by Wendy Janes #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #writing

16 September 2017

Tips for new writers Part Four - Consistency, by Wendy Janes #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #writing

 As a proofreader I come across the same types of errors over and over again and thought it would be helpful to group some by theme and share them. The themes are repetition, dialogue, rules and consistency, and although they’re not intended to be comprehensive guides, I hope they’ll help you improve elements of your writing.

These suggestions are things you can do when you’ve finished pouring the first draft of your story onto the page/screen and you’re revising, editing or proofreading prior to sending your work to an editor or proofreader. The more polished your work is before it goes to the professionals, the better job they can do.

Here’s the fourth post in the series: Consistency

In this post we’re venturing into nitty-gritty proofreading territory. Your work will have been edited to ensure consistency of all your characters’ descriptions, their hair and eye colour, their ages and the spelling of their names. And you’ll have ensured there are no anachronisms and that your timeline works.

I’m focusing here on the final checks I recommend authors run prior to sending their manuscript to a proofreader. They’re all things I do myself as part of a professional proofread. Using the ‘find’ facility on a Word document can help you carry out these types of checks.

Make sure you’re using the right length of dash. Unspaced en dashes are correct for number ranges. In UK English spaced en dashes should be used parenthetically (i.e. instead of brackets), and in US English, the unspaced em dash is correct. I strongly advise not using spaced hyphens.

You should either choose straight quote marks or curly ones, not both. Also, you need to decide whether you’re using single or double quotes for quotations and speech. If you’re using single quotes for speech, then you should use double quotes if there’s quoted material inside the speech. If you’re using double quotes, then you should use single inside double.

Both of these are correct:

“Marianne’s story, ‘The Visitor’, is one of my favourites,” said the teacher.
‘Marianne’s story, “The Visitor”, is one of my favourites,’ said the teacher.

There is a perfectly acceptable style where quotations and speech are presented in double quotes, but words picked out for emphasis are set in single. Some authors also put thoughts, texts and emails in quote marks. It helps to decide whether you’re going to show them in the same way as speech or choose an alternative way to differentiate them, for example, single if speech is in double, or perhaps in italics. You just need to be consistent.

I suggest you look through your manuscript to check your font. Ideally your manuscript will be in one font, but if you have than one font, make sure there’s a reason. For example, some authors put prelims (the pages before the start of the story) and end matter (the information put after the end of the story) in a different font. Others will put things like telegrams or flashbacks in a different font.

Clarify whether you’re using US or UK English. Or if you’ve chosen a mix, for example, US spelling, but UK punctuation, then use them consistently.

I’m guessing you’re probably relieved we’re now going to move on to look in more detail at words.

Some words have alternative spellings – different but both correct. The following is far from exhaustive, but I hope you’ll find it useful to begin searching your document for the following: among/amongst; learned/learnt; realise/realize; while/whilst; toward/towards.

I also recommend using a dictionary (I usually refer to the Oxford English Dictionary for UK English and Merriam-Webster for US English) to double-check words when you’re not 100% sure if they should be one word or two words or hyphenated, and then make sure you’ve been consistent. Words beginning ‘long’, ‘mid’, ‘out’, ‘over’, ‘under’ can catch you out. For example, the following are from the OED:

longhand (noun)
long shot (noun)
long-standing (adjective)

Run a check for easily confused words such as: through, though, thought; woman, women; them and then, and those that have different spellings depending on meaning, such as; there, their, they’re; to, too, two.

I find searching for repeated words is very handy too. It’s amazing how many times a word can be repeated by mistake. Here’s my quick list: the, he, him, his, she, her, that, than, an, as, at, in, is, it, of, on, no, to, up.

Focusing on this level of detail and running these types of checks might seem a little lacking in creativity for some, but your readers will really appreciate it.

Wendy Janes 
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About the Author

Wendy Janes is a freelance proofreader for a number of publishers and many individual authors. She is also a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service. Author of the novel, What Jennifer Knows and a collection of short stories, What Tim Knows, and other stories, she loves to take real life and turn it into fiction. She lives in London with her husband and youngest son. You can connect with Wendy online and discover more about her via her Facebook author page, her website, Amazon author pages (UK/US) and Twitter @wendyproof.

Do you have some great writing tips you would like to share?
Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.


  1. Tony, thank you for giving me space on your blog to share this series of tips for new writers.

  2. These are great reminders! Thanks, Wendy and Tony! I forgot what anachronism meant and had to go look it up. :)

    1. You're very welcome, Raimey. I often find I'm scurrying to my dictionary to look up words I've forgotten. :)

  3. Useful tips, especially searching for repeated words (although I find I'm more likely to miss words--which I suspect is a symptom of my brain moving faster than my fingers). Any tips for finding missing words?

    1. Ah, good question, Iola. Tips for finding missing words. Hmmm, let me think. Reading your work out loud is usually a good way to discover you've missed out a word. I hope this helps. I'll keep thinking and pop back here if something else springs to mind.

  4. Great tips. My biggest problem is being consistent between Canadian and American spelling. I grew up using both, so my eye doesn't see the difference. I use Grammarly online to help with this. It usually tells me if I've done something like spell both grey and gray within a manuscript. Not a typo, but definitely breaking the consistency rules.

    1. Thanks, Kristina. Gosh, yes, I imagine that's quite a challenge. I have a Canadian dictionary, but I'm wondering, is there a standard Canadian style guide?

  5. I have my very own grammar nazi and this saves me so much worry. And many many index cards to keep my facts straight. Consistency rules. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    1. Anna, that's great to hear you use index cards to keep your facts straight. Absolutely - consistency rules. :)

  6. Agh, it drives me crazy when people do some of these! It's a good idea to Crtl-F for doubles of those words, too; just make sure to search "to to" rather than just "to" or you'll end up spending hours on it! (I bet you know that, just saying it for the other readers.)

    Free Writing Events Blog:

  7. Oh dear, I guess I didn't make it clear enough. I did mean that authors should search for the doubles (eg, the the) not the single word. :)

  8. Ah, how I dislike spaced hyphens!

    1. Julia, I'm reading (not proofreading) a beautifully written novel right now, but it has spaced hyphens throughout. I keep having to remind myself to stop getting my knickers in a twist about them and just enjoy the story!

  9. I found this series of posts helpful! Thanks!

    1. Lovely to hear you found the series helpful, Lisa.


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