Writing – different countries, different styles

August 31, 2015 at 10:54 am

When I wrote my debut novel I was surprised to discover how different the styling of Australian novels was from that used in other countries, such as America.writitngdifferentstyles

What do I mean by ‘styling’? I’m talking about things like spelling and punctuation, such as whether or not the full stop (period) goes before or after quotation marks, or whether there’s a space before and after an ellipsis (the three little dots), and whether double or single quotation marks are used for dialogue.

When I was doing journalism, I knew there was a particular style (usually leaning towards the American style) I was supposed to use. I’d assumed that styling for novels would be the same. It isn’t. Australian novels have their own specific style, which has most in common with the British style.

These differences can sometimes take the unsuspecting reader by surprise. I recently read a review of an Australian novel by someone who, I think, was American, who marked the novel down because it used ‘apostrophes’ for the dialogue, instead of quotation marks. It was clear that the reviewer had no idea that single quotation marks, rather than doubles, are used in both British and Australian styling, and it had obviously affected her enjoyment of the book.

These differences also pose challenges for professional editors, like me. I always try and find out where the author is planning to market their book so I can do it in the styling appropriate for that particular audience. I’ve learned a great deal about many different styles in the past few years. Of course, something that makes it even more tricky is the fact that sometimes certain publishers have their own take on what is appropriate styling, not to mention the many self-published books that have been written by authors who don’t know the differences between styles, which can create even more confusion.

Why can’t all books have the same style, I hear you ask? Good question. The answer is probably the same as the answer to why people spell words differently between countries – whose style do we use? Do we use the American style because America is such a big portion of the market? I used American styling for the Verindon trilogy. But then, some people favour elements of other styles. There are certainly aspects of the US style that I don’t agree with. Do we pick the British style? Who decides? Why should we let them decide?

Are you an author? Do you find it challenging to work out which style you’re supposed to use? Have you had to change to a different style because of your audience?

Are you a reader? Have you noticed differences between styles? Does it bother you? Let me know in the comments section below.

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