Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Style Sheets, A Writer's Best Friend

My Actual Manuscript - Eeek!
When I was first writing, I heard from a fellow author about the Style Sheets that editors use when going over manuscripts. Editors use style sheets to maintain consistency. For example, spelling of names.  

What I've found though, is that a "Fiction Project Style Sheet" is very helpful in keeping track of things while I am writing. This is an especially helpful  tool for you "Pantsers" out there who rarely have extensive notes beforehand.

This can also be particularly useful to the science fiction or fantasy author who often use made up spellings for people and places. As a suspense author, I use them to keep track of red herrings and misdirection in my plots. Here is a simple one I made for 1st draft revisions.

The way a style sheet is usually set up is by dividing a few pieces of paper into 8 boxes. I like to do this on a word document, but drawing it out on notebook paper seems to work for my friend. Editors have a lot more on their style sheet, but I use an simplified version for writing.

You will label the boxes with things like: Characters, Dates, Time Spans, Places... That way there is consistency throughout your entire manuscript.  

A style sheet will help you catch things like starting a conversation in the morning and then describing the glorious night as your character walks home.  (Yes, I've done that.) 

Or for example, you say a certain person died two years ago (time span box) but then you write that its the first anniversary of her'll catch it.

Also, for anyone that writes military thrillers, details like rank, type of weapon, and specialized equipment can be hard to juggle so make a box for those types of things.

I like to have a miscellaneous box for things like character quirks. Not only do I keep them straight, but while revising, I realize that they may have stopped with a distinctive trait halfway through. Because the style sheet helped me catch it, I know to add it in.

I include a box for romantic interaction so that I can list how the hero and heroine begin to get closer and if I am escalating the tension, physical proximity, etc.

For thriller writers, a box for the ways your killer is devolving may be helpful in pointing your protagonist to clues.

Punctuation is a very important one here. Decide if you will use ellipses or an em dash, whether or not you use Ms. or Miss, that sort of thing.  Do you spell out your chapter numbers or use a numeral?

Style sheets can be a really helpful reference guide when revising your own work or to give to a critique partner when asking for edits. They're fairly easy to make.

What are your revising tricks? If you have tip or method that makes your life easier, then let me know.  Until next time...Go Write!

Photographs by: Laurel RusswurmrestlessglobetrotterMild Mannered Photographer.


Christine Tyler said...

Purple Knot arrived in my mailbox today :D

Raquel Byrnes said...

Awesomesauce, Christine! Can't wait to hear what you think. :)

April W Gardner said...

Good stuff, Raquel. I laughed out loud at your veeeery long conversation. Good thing you caught it. lol! I've never used style sheets but might have to give it a shot. Thanks!

Rogue Mutt said...

Dates are usually what I have trouble remembering, so sometimes I have to write down a timeline for the characters.

Linda Glaz said...

Am just finishing a story that got all kinds of rave reviews, but these inconsitencies were throughout it. At one point, we hear about a man who never wrote to his cousin they were so estranged, and on the next page hear about what the cousin told him in their letters. HUH? Do they think readers don't notice stuff like that? Help! Good stuff, Raquel.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks, I'll check that out!

Raquel Byrnes said...

April - Yeah, the whole 12 hour talk was definitely edited out. :)

Rogue - Dates...very good. You and I struggle with the same thing.

Linda - Thanks! I do my best to be consistent.

Alex - So glad to see you stop by. :)

L'Aussie said...

Hi Raquel, I'm slowly getting around the blogosphere to say hi after my trip away and my Battle of the Vicious Virus ever since.

Thank you for this timely post. A great way of keeping track. It's often easy to pick up other's mistakes and not see ours.


Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Good idea, Raquel. I've tried to do something like this, but then got lost in the writing and forget to keep track. Maybe I'll give your idea a try.

David Powers King said...

I was about to write a column about Synopsiphobia, but you beat me to it. Kudos for that!

You have excellent insight in several of your posts I've read just now. I'm glad to have found your blog. :)

Donna Hole said...

That was awesome Racquel. I have a word document that is full of relevant facts about each of my characters. And some notes in a paper notebook.

I know what you mean about us pantsters; but I do keep track of some facts. Of course, I didn't start that while writing; I found myself being confused and getting lost in the story during editing; and that's a bad thing when the author doesn't follow . .

Happy writing :)


Ricardo Miñana said...

Es un placer pasar por tu casa Raquel, te dejo mis saludos
feliz fin de semana.
un abrazo.

Raquel Byrnes said...

L'Aussie - So glad you found it helpful.

Cheryl - Let me know how you like it. :)

David - So glad to call you a blog buddy! And thank you!

Donna - I don't know how you crazy pantsers do it, but it seems to work!

Ricardo - Estou tão feliz que você gostou do artigo! Tenha um maravilhoso fim de semana também.

elizabethreinhardt said...

My big secret is my super mean sister. She's a voracious reader who gripes about anything she finds in a book that is inconsistent, so she's like every writer's dream beta reader! (She's a decently cool sister, too! Haha!)

Lauri said...

This is a great idea! I can see where it would really help me out! Thank you!

Rachel Morgan said...

Sounds very useful. I have something I've labeled a "Fact File" that is very similar (and been VERY helpful!), though doesn't have all the things you've mentioned. I think I should add the extras in. Thanks :-)

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

Excellent advice :D I especially like the character quirks box - I'm a big fan of quirks in fiction. I may pilfer this idea from you :)