If 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.
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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