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.