Fiction Style Guide

Fiction Style Guide

AJC House Style Guide

For Fiction and Narrative Non-Fiction Works

Style Manual: online Australian Style Manual (ASM) –  deferring to online Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and APA for fiction and narrative non-fiction elements where ASM is silent or contradicts standard book publishing conventions.

Dictionary: online Macquarie Dictionary – defaulting to online Premium Oxford Dictionary where Macquarie is silent.


Acronyms & Abbreviations

  • No full stops unless part of an official organisation’s name – USA, UK, but U.S. Consulate
  • Full stops with abbreviations not ending in last letter – Sgt., tbsp, Vic., but Cwlth
  • No full stops in qualifications – PhD, MD, Dr


Descriptive (attributive) phrases

  •  Descriptive phrases about time: no apostrophe – 4 weeks wages, 2 days time but a day’s work (to show singularity)
  •  Descriptive nouns – ladies toilets, visitors centre, directors meeting


  • Singular noun: add an apostrophe and s – the clown’s car, the manager’s office, the tree’s leaves
  • Plural nouns ending in s: add an apostrophe only – both bunkbeds’ coverings, all the teams’ performances, the Smiths’ boat
  • Plural nouns ending with es: the Joneses’ house, the bosses’ offices
  • Individual possession: Jones’s and Smith’s careers
  • Joint possession: Ahmed and Sasha’s garden


  • Ensure all apostrophes faces backwards on words with missing first letters in colloquial speech – ’cause, ‘scuse me, I told ‘im not to. 

Capitalisation - General

*Defer to APA style
Title case:

  • Capitalise first word and all major words: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns and all words four letters or more.
  • Lowercase minor words: conjunctions, prepositions and articles (unless four letters or more). Includes words linked by hyphens.

Sentence case
: Capitalise only the first word and any proper nouns.

Titles of works

(Defer to CMOS)

  • Books, poems, articles, works of art: title case, italics – Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Periodicals/newspapers: title case, italics – Woman’s Weekly
  • Song titles: title case, roman, double quotes – “The Road to Gundagai”
  • Film, videos, radio, TV programs: title case, italics – The Brady Bunch Revisited
  • Episodes: title case, roman, double quotes – “The Heroin Wars”
  • Band names: title case, roman (unless trademarked otherwise)

Personal names and titles

  • Common civic titles: Miss, Mrs, Mr JW Smith (no full stops or spaces between or after initials)
  • Honorifics: Sir James, Lady Swanson but Yes, sir. Of course, ma’am. Excuse me, my lord/my lady
  • Ranks/roles/titles 1: capitalise when used as full title or when addressing – Captain Smith, King Richard, Sergeant Baker, Yes, Captain
  • Ranks/roles/titles 2: lowercase when used generically – the captain, the king, the guard, the teacher, Get a move on, soldier
  • Nicknames / epithets: capitalise – Susie “Sugar” Brown,  Catherine the Great. Where are you, Poppet? I’ll give Lucky a ride
  • Kinship: lowercase unless used in place of a name – My father loves pie. My uncle died. but Let’s go, Mother. Father will be late today
  • Terms of affection: lowercase unless the term is always used in place of a name – Thanks, honey.  Get in the car, son

Capitalisation - Fantasy and Science Fiction

Species and race or civilisations

Definition: Species is generally determined by biology. A race is a category of beings within a species, which share common characteristics, whether physical, geographical or cultural.

  • Species (biology): lowercase – humans, dogs, flowers
  • Classification: (common characteristics): Danish (race), bull terrier (Caninae), rose (Rosa)

Fantasy: generally takes place in one world so capitalisation isn’t too complex.

  • Species: humans, werewolves, dwarves, dragons, orcs, gnomes, elves, witches etc.
  • Race/civilisations: Watchmen, Eastward Witches, Glass Dragons, White Dwarves, Cave Orcs

Sci-fi: often features several worlds with made-up names of places and beings. Complexity increases and often style choices come into play.

  • Species: humans/humanoids, raptorwhiles, sandworms, slugs, stareaters, lightstrikers.
  • Race/civilisations: Earthlings, Martians, Hothians, Wookies, Vulcans, Hutts.


Ultimately what matters is consistency for ease of understanding. A style sheet indicating capitalisation (and italics if applicable) is essential to keep track of style decisions.

Captions and Labels

Roman, min caps. Place below figures / above tables


Quick guide to most common comma uses

  • Inside quote mark for dialogue with attribution/dialogue tag – “Thank you,” he said.
  • Comma before introducing a name – “Hey, Jerry.” “Come on, Sally.”
  • Comma after an interjection or phrase – “Oh, really?” “Well, I guess not.” “Okay, honey.” “Oh my god, no.”
  • Comma before “then” when used as a conjunctive adverb – He closed the door, then removed his hat.
  • Comma before conjunction followed by introductory adverbial phrase/clause  – They beat him, and though it hurt, he refused to cry.
  • Comma after conjunction when used parenthetically – She bent and, nerves jittering, picked up the child.
  • No comma between two dependent clauses linked to conjunction – I wanted to dance, but my ankle was broken and I had a cold.
  • Optional comma before short adverbs at end of sentence – He decided he would come too / He decided he would come, too.
  • No Oxford (serial) commas unless needed for clarity

Refer to Arts Law and Copyright

Refer to Arts Law and Australian Copyright Council

Lyrics: to use any amount of someone else’s lyrics in your writing – even a single line – you need to obtain copyright permission. 

Song titles: are not copyright, and may be referred to in your writing.

Poetry: to use any amount of someone else’s poetry in your writing – even a single line – you need to obtain copyright permission. 


  • Australian date format – Tuesday 25 April 1990
  • Centuries: spell out – twentieth century
  • Decades – eighties, 1980s or 80s (no apostrophe – descriptive not possessive)
  • Eras: roman, capitals, no full stops – 55 BCE (before common era), CE (common era) BC and AD are no longer used 


Insert a space before an ellipsis, and after unless it ends a sentence.

  • To signal a mid-sentence pause: “I’m not … really sure.”
  • To signal a trailing off: “If he hadn’t done it, well, I don’t know if I …” 
  • To signal trailing off, then starting a new sentence: “I’m not really sure … Oh, do you mean Poppy? I saw her leave.”
  • To signal an unheard start of sentence: “… and then we’ll take them by surprise.”
  • To signal missing words in a quote: The minster wrote, “The industry has reached a crisis … change would be implemented.”

Hyphens and Dashes

Defer to CMOS for hyphenation and numbers.


Ages and measurements

  • Five-year-old child
  • Twenty-six-year-old man (or 26-year-old man)
  • One-hundred-metre race (or 100-metre race)
  • Two-and-a-half-year period but we did it for two and a half years
  • Six-foot-high fence but the fence is six foot high
  • Thirty- to forty-foot-high hills (hanging hyphens joins thirty to the compound adjective)
  • Two and half minutes went past (no hyphen when used as a noun)

Compass points

  • north-west
  • south-easterly wind
  • east-north-east


  • Spaced en dashes for parenthetical (or unspaced em dashes if client prefers – but note em dashes can cause accessibility issues)
  • En dashes for ranges – Thirty–forty trees, june–july


  • Dialogue: use sparingly and only for emphasis, else use roman with double quote marks
  • Foreign or unfamiliar words (first use only if repeated throughout, and only if not in dictionary)
  • Interiority/thoughts: only use italics if thought is present tense and unclear the prose is interiority
  • Interiority/thoughts: use either italics or quotes marks, not both
  • Interiority/thoughts: do not use italics if thought tag is used: He would never do it, I thought.
  • Onomatopoeia (unless word appears in dictionary)
  • Text messages: italics and indented


Use comma delineator.

Words or numerals

  • Narrative: spell out numbers 1–100, or any numbers that can be written in three words or less – five, two hundred, seven thousand, two hundred thousand, twenty-two thousand
  • Dialogue: use words if more natural – he paid me one hundred and fifty thousand
  • Numerals when accompanied by abbrev. units or symbols – 8 km 55 ˚C
  • Ordinal numbers: suffixes not superscript 
  • Numerals and words: if a number over 100 is used in the same sentence as a number lower than 100, use numerals for both – Paul ran 9 km, while Therese ran 105 km


  • Spell out 1–100 and simple rounded amounts – three cents, fifty dollars, two hundred dollars, million-dollar loan
  • Numerals above 100 and specific or uneven amounts – $1.15, $250, $75.56, $30,000, $1.4 million
  • Numerals to avoid large, hyphenated numbers as adjectives – a $100,000 loan (not one-hundred-thousand-dollar loan)

Measurements and Symbols

  • Metric unless US or imperial style requested or used figuratively – It felt like miles from home
  • Numerals for quantities accompanied by abbrev. units or symbols – 10 km, 25 ºC, 49˚ (angle), 30%
  • Words when used discursively, especially dialogue – one hundred per cent

Quote Marks

  • Use double quotes to assist accessibility.
  • While some Australian publishers still use single quotes, there is a movement towards double quotes due to issues with text to talk software.
  • Always use smart (curly) quotes.

Block quotes

  • Block quotes: use for 30 words or more, no quote marks

Coined expressions, scare quotes, quoted speech

  • Double for scare quotes, coined expressions, irony, colloquial use: They call him “Digger”. That was “interesting”.


For full explanation and further examples, see blog: How to punctuate dialogue

  • Double quotes (unless client/publisher prefers single)
  • Ellipses with space before and after for mid-sentence pause: “I’m not … really sure.”
  • Ellipses with space before for trailing off dialogue: “If he hadn’t done it, well …”
  • Unspaced em dash for interrupted speech: “But you said you would—”
  • Unspaced em dashes for dialogue interrupted by action: “If we’re going to make this last”—he pointed at the money—”we should invest it carefully.”

Thought - direct and indirect (interiority)

Defer to CMOS 13.43

  • No quote marks used for indirect or direct thoughts
  • Italics for direct thought only if unclear it is interiority (present tense) – Is he serious?
  • Roman for indirect thought (past tense) – This was going to hurt.
  • Roman, no quotes with attribution – Can I do this? she wondered. There’s no way I can do this, he thought.

Quoted (reported) speech

ASM page 113

  • As soon as he’d yelled “take it all”, I grabbed the box and ran.
  • “I couldn’t find it”. That’s what I recall him saying.
  • “Don’t get under my feet”, my father always said.

CMOS: When using whether, that or if

  • Was it Stevenson who said that “the cruellest lies are often told in silence”?
  • He wondered whether “to think is to live”.

Quotes within quotes

(Australian Handbook for Writers & Editors, M McKenzie pp181-183)

  • Single for quotes within quotes
  • Terminal punctuation inside: “I wasn’t going to go, but he said, ‘I really need you there.’”
  • Direct speech, attribution comma inside: “I heard her. ‘Don’t go,’ she said. So I didn’t.”
  • Indirect speech, no attribution, comma outside: “He told me his name was ‘Thor’, but I doubted it.”


  • Cross-referencing – p. 22,  pp. 22–23 (en dash)
  • Reference lists and in-text references: Author–date system



  • Roman, colon, double quotes – The sign read: “One Way Only”.
  • Small caps, no quotes –  The notice said: ONE WAY ONLY.


CMOS style punctuation used for reader accessibility

  • Use words where possible within narrative –  three o’clock, four in the afternoon, quarter to seven, five thirty
  • Numerals where specific time is needed – 5:35 a.m. 6:17 p.m.
  • In dialogue: spell out – eight forty-five in the morning, five thirty in the afternoon

Words and letters as terms

  • Words as words, letters as letters: What does “incandescent” mean? It’s “a” not “an”

Manuscript formatting

Based on submission requirements for trade publishers

  • The following standard 9 ribbon styles are standard for formatting novel and narrative non-fiction manuscripts.
  • Some publishers require 1 inch (2.54 cm) margins.



Font: Times New roman

Paragraph Styling


Style Name





Space before/after

Line spacing

Space between paragraphs with same style



(indent first line)



First line .8 cm




Left / FirstPara

(opening para)







(dinkus breaks)



24pt before

24pt after



Three asterisks

Chapter Title

At least




60pt before

24pt after





At least 14

Bold or italics


24 before

36 after




Front Matter






Block Quote



1.6 cm right

1.6 cm left

12 before

12 after








120 before

48 after




Text Msg


Italics optional


1.2 cm

12 after



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