How to Create a Style Sheet for Your Manuscript

TargetIf you’ve been writing books for long, you may have come across the challenge of keeping the details straight so that you can be consistent throughout the book. If the hero has blue eyes on page 1, he shouldn’t have green eyes on page 50. If your non-fiction book capitalizes “Servant Leadership” in the first half, it shouldn’t be lowercase in the second half. But how do you keep track of these things without having to rely on your memory?

You could create an Editorial Style Sheet. This is what editors do when they line-edit or copyedit your book. It’s ultimately their responsibility to see that everything is as correct and consistent as possible throughout your book, so as they’re editing, they write down details; names of people, places, businesses and all proper nouns; unusual spellings; and style rules that will apply to your manuscript.

Your style sheet doesn’t need to be formal or detailed, but a simple one that you create as you write or revise could help you define and keep track of the elements that are important to you.

When editors create style sheets, they usually include the following elements:

1) A list of important style rules that will be followed throughout the manuscript. Note which dictionary and style guide you’re using (usually CMS or AP). The important thing is consistency and a pleasant reading experience, so this section will address things like whether or not the serial comma is used; under what circumstances kinship or pet names (“mama” or “sweetheart”) are capitalized or lowercased; whether inner thoughts are set in italics or roman type; rules for whether to spell out numbers or use numerals; and countless other issues that come up in editing.

2) The book’s setting (if it’s a novel)—time frame and location on the map.

3) A list of all the places and street names, to insure consistency in spelling and capitalization. For instance, is it Babies ‘R’ Us… or Babies R Us? Is it Wal-Mart? WalMart? Walmart?

4) A list of all the people in the book with the correct spellings of their names. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, you’d be amazed how often a writer spells the same name three different ways throughout a book. If personal details about the person are included, you may want to note those also, such as age, relationship to another person (i.e. “wife of John”), hair color, eye color, height and any other available information.

5) A long list of words whose spellings could be easily mistaken or challenged. For example, “blonde” and “blond” are typically confused and the rules for usage have evolved over the years. A nicely edited manuscript requires a rule so the word is spelled consistently, i.e. blonde for female and blond for male; or blonde for noun and blond for adjective. Sometimes a word is only used once, but is included in the style sheet to show that an intentional decision has been made to go with a certain spelling; or to show that the spelling has been verified through an external source (i.e. “Walmart” is verified by the company’s website.)

If you’re self-publishing, it’s pretty important to keep a style sheet, so you can communicate your choices to the editor you hire. But even in traditional publishing,  it’s a good idea because it helps you stay consistent, and it will also help your publisher see that you’ve made intentional style decisions that they shouldn’t change.

Even if you never use a formal style sheet, hopefully this opens your eyes to the detailed scrutiny your manuscript may someday undergo.

Do you have any system for keeping track of details in your manuscript?

 

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How do you keep track of the details in your manuscript? Create a Style Sheet! Click to Tweet.

With a Style Sheet, your blue-eyed hero won’t mysteriously acquire green eyes.  Click to Tweet.

Self-pubbing or traditional – create a Style Sheet to keep track of MS details.  Click to Tweet.

 

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  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Sure…my memory. I usually write first drafts in one fast pass, typically less than 30 days, and the momentum generally keeps things straight.

    For rewrites and line edits, I use a notebook. I tried using a spreadsheet but going between windows was far too cumbersome.

    It does help that I ‘live’ my novels while walking dogs, etc, The characters and settings are so real during that time that their details stay consistent. It also helps that there are relatively few major characters. I don’t know how those who write epics can possibly cope!

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    If I may add a PS –

    I’m working on line edits for a Christian motivational book, and one of the peskiest details is the capitalized ‘He’ for God or Jesus.

    That’s one thing spell-check won’t catch!

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Yes, whether to capitalize deity pronouns is always a style choice, and it’s important (but not easy) to be consistent!

    • Michael Seese

      Yup. You can do a “Find and Replace” of “he ” for “He ” (including the space; otherwise you’ll get LOTS of false positives) checking the “match case” box. It will be tedious, since you’ll have to go one-by-one, rather than a global replace.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        Michael, thank you! I will try it tonight.

        • Michael Seese

          To state the obvious, save a copy before you start. Then if it really messes up — even after you’ve saved — you still have a “golden copy.”

          • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

            I do – and I always email myself the last version I had. That keeps a ‘history’ of the MS in my inbox.

  • Michael Seese

    I just finished a manuscript that used a lot of French. So accent marks, etc. So as an example, I just got in the habit of typing the (then-)President’s name as Grevy (minus the accent over the “e”). Then when I had finished, I did a search and replace on all of them,

  • sue

    I create a style sheet for each of my books, Rachelle. It begins as a jumble of Post-It notes and gradually morphs into something more presentable.

    A question for you: would it help an agent or an editor if her/his clients included a style sheet with their manuscript submissions?

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Sue, it’s helpful to include the style sheet when you deliver the contracted manuscript to your publisher, so the editor doesn’t try to re-do work you’ve already done. Also, I forgot to mention this in the post but if you’ve created a timeline for your book, send that to your editor as well.

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    I’ve never been one for making lists or outlines. I’ve written my books linearly and without accompanying lists. However, I discovered a couple of very minor factual errors between book 1 and book 2 of my series. I will sit down and reread me first two books and make sure book 3 is in line in all ways. That will mean writing a few lists.

  • JeanneTakenaka

    This is so helpful. I’ve kept an informal style sheet regarding character’s names and cars they drive. I can see how being more detailed will be easier for me and for a one-day editor. Thanks so much for sharing this, Rachelle.

  • David Todd

    I haven’t done a style sheet, per se. For my first two novels I did keep running lists of character names. Both novels had a fair number of characters, and I wanted to keep them straight. Also, in the baseball novel, I created a timeline. This included a full season schedule for the Chicago Cubs, so that I would have the protagonist pitching on correct days, games at home and away, the right mix of cities visited, etc. This included the post-season.

    I don’t tend to do a lot of character description, so I haven’t needed a style sheet for that.

  • Heather C Button

    Oh! I’m totally going to do this! Great Idea. I’m changing a number of things from my first draft and this will be a great tool!

  • Renita Mongo

    WOW!! I was just thinking about how I needed to do this. My mc travels to a number of different places and meets many people on the way to finding a suspected killer. What a treat :) Thank you soooo much!!!

  • Richard Mabry

    Rachelle, Good advice. On your recommendation, I fleshed out the “cast of characters” sheet I was creating for each book, added more material, and now call it my style sheet. I send this on to the person editing my books, and although I haven’t received any feedback from them, I suspect it’s appreciated. Oh, and I now do a timeline, which helps me as much as it helps the editor.
    As always, thanks for good information.

  • IreneW

    Great advice! Thank you so much!

    I thought I was a proofreading freak and my book was selling for over a year with 39 positive reviews on Amazon when finally a reviewer kindly mentioned that I spelled a character’s name in three different ways! :-)))

  • Michelle DennisEvans

    Great tips. Thank you xx

  • Jo Murphey

    While I do not use a style sheet per se I do an indepth character study and outline for each book I write. It includes all the things you mentioned and more.

  • Leslie Miller

    I’m writing my first novel, a fantasy with unique names of people, places and other things. I don’t even know how to spell them, lol. So yes, I am keeping a style sheet. I also work as a professional editor and I wish more of my clients did as well.

  • Mesu Andrews

    I was half-way through my fourth novel before I heard of a style sheet. ;) It’s been a great way to communicate with my editor AND helpful for me to keep things consistent as I write. Thanks for the specific “5 elements” to include. Great advice–as usual! Thanks oodles! ;)

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  • Brittany R

    Great advice!

  • AnneMartinFletcher

    Many of the real people names in my manuscript are spelled unusually, so I entered them into the “local dictionary.” Now when I misspell them, the name is highlighted and the correct name appears in my spellchecker.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1133647724 Dawn Marlena Hopper

    Worked on a memoir- set in ITALY. I put my characters on a poster board, even dressed them (use magazines), left pictures in the backdrop, post-it’s to remind me of their nuances, shifts, conflicts because it is so easy to forget. Anyway, it is inspirational. Now I will put the style sheet next to this- I di dmake the Wal-mart Walmart mistake. Thanks!

  • Marg

    Rachel, useful info… thanks! I’ve tweeted it, which leads me to another question: how do you do the ‘tweetables’ at the bottom of your post?

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  • Rinelle Grey

    Great idea! I’ve just been keeping track of these in my head, but writing them down is probably a good idea!

  • http://garridon.wordpress.com/ Linda Adams

    I’ve been putting them in a steno pad. Nothing fancy, and nothing I’m working hard at doing, or organizing. I’m bad with details, in noticing them and providing enough, so I end up only adding details for a character if I reuse them.

  • http://www.thomasumstattd.com Thomas Umstattd

    This is great stuff!

  • Gwyn Curby Godwin

    Thanks Rachelle. I am signed up to get your blogs via email and I find them so helpful. God bless.

  • Katy Mann

    I have a separate page I use for my stories and novel. It lists character names, ages, places. I hadn’t thought that I would send it to my editor. Great idea. I also have a chapter listing.
    Love your newsletters and blogs, signed up for both.

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