Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Style Sheets for Consistency

Style sheets. Do you know what they are?

For writers, style sheets refer to a list of specific words, grammar conventions, or styles used in a manuscript. They are handy things! If done correctly, they can help you maintain spelling and usage consistency within your manuscript.

The Official Style Sheet
You may use your own style sheet to help you with your writing, but when you sign with a publisher, the publishing house's copyeditor will compile a style sheet. He/she will check against this list as he/she reads through your manuscript. The purpose is to make sure you've stayed consistent throughout your book. This style sheet is shared with the publisher's proofreader.

Should you share your personal style sheet with your publisher or copyeditor? You could offer, but it may not be helpful to him/her. It can often make more work if a copyeditor has to double-check your lists and usages--especially if you haven't been 100% consistent throughout the manuscript.

Book Series and World-Building
Style sheets are especially important when you're writing a series, to help maintain consistency from book to book. It's a great place to record the myriad of details you must keep track of. They are especially crucial for writers of fantasy and science fiction, because the names, places, and world-building are often more complex or extensive.

These things below can be listed on a style sheet if you wish to make one. Putting items in alphabetical order for each of these lists is important for easy lookup! You can also put the page number next to characters or words where they are first introduced in the story.

1. Names of characters. Shows how names are spelled: first/middle/last names, nicknames, and any titles (Miss, Ms., Dr., Mayor).
2. Character details. Age, hair/eye color, and clubs/alliances (for instance, the novel DIVERGENT categorizes people into groups: Dauntless, Candor, etc.). Can include quantity and ages of siblings for tracking purposes, even if they aren't "onscreen" characters.
3. Names of places. List any cities, areas, or locations cited in the manuscript with their correct spellings and capitalization. Add info like population and climate if pertinent.
4. Details of pets. Include names, breeds, colors, size, and whether male/female.
5. Vehicles involved. Their make, color, condition, smell, etc.
6. Hyphenation usage. Especially important for words that can be written different ways, such as good-bye or goodbye.
7. Invented or coined words. Crucial when writing fantasy and sci-fi, since these are part of the world-building. Like: mellyflower, taxibot, nerve-gun, etc.
8. Abbreviated or slang words. Words shortened or slang used, such as: meds, 'cuz/'cos, uber, fanfreakingtastic, etc.
9. Capitalized words. Words not normally capped, like Games, War, Outsiders, Party, etc. Be careful not to overdo these; they can make your manuscript seem cluttered or even pretentious (words trying too hard to look important).
10. Alternate spellings or usages. British/Australian/Canadian spellings: colour, neighbour, grey, storey, dialled, theatre. Word usages like backward/backwards, toward/towards (hint: the "s" is usually the British usage). Also, if you're writing historical pieces and staying true to the time period, put those words on your style sheet and share them with your editor.
11. Poor grammar--on purpose. Especially in dialogue, characters don't always speak proper English. They split infinitives: to secretly admire, to never go. They say snuck instead of sneaked for the past tense of sneak. They mess up when using who or whom. ("Who are you going with?" she asked.) Admittedly, some of these are so common it's not necessary to include, but do include lazy expressions like gonna, hafta, gotta, and outta--anything that helps you keep your characters' dialogue uniform. One character may talk more formally, whereas another's lines are peppered with hafta and gotta.

The goal in keeping a style sheet is to produce CONSISTENCY within your manuscript. This can't help but cause your story to come across as more professional. Give it a try!

Have/had you ever heard of style sheets before?
Do you use style sheets to help keep your characters, spellings, and words straight?
If you're published, have you seen the official style sheets from your copyeditor?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writing FEAR

Pre-Post Note: My bloggy friend Liz Davis (yep, that's her photo) has released her new romance novel, CHOCOLATE AFTERTASTE. Click HERE to celebrate with her and enter her ebook giveaway going on until April 13th. Or buy it HERE for only $1.99!

Writing Fear
Another big emotion besides sadness and happiness that writers usually include in their manuscripts is FEAR. This comes naturally with the obstacles, tough problems, and major life changes that accompany a challenging plot. And if you're writing in the paranormal and horror genres, there are even more opportunities to explore this emotion. It can add a powerful sense of realism to your work.

So how do we show this fear?

Ways to Show Fear or Terror
Screams, shivers, and racing heartbeats are solid, traditional ways to display fear, but can end up feeling melodramatic or cliché. A few instances go a long way. You can unintentionally create a disconnect if your reader doesn't relate to the degree of fear your character is feeling.

1. BODY LANGUAGE. Along with screams and increased heartbeats, you can include things like wide eyes, trembling hands or bodies, and shallow or ragged breathing. An inability to think straight. A paralysis, being frozen in one place, or loss of other bodily functions. White or paling faces. A hand covering one's mouth. White knuckles. Jumping, flinching, and fleeing. Sweat. Nausea. Shivers running up and down the spine. Dry throats. All these things are great ways of showing fear without writing the words fear, terror, or frightened.

Key concept: SHOW not TELL your characters' emotions.

2. INTERACTIONS. How your characters react to the world when they are fearful is very revealing. They may shout or rant--displaying their terror by deflecting it to anger. They may cling tightly to someone else's arm, jabber incoherently, or be unable to stop shrieking. On the flip side, they may be the kind who freezes up and cannot act or hide. As with other strong emotions, often judgment is skewed, and your characters can make (plot-interesting) mistakes while in the throes of terror. Stay true to your characters' personalities, and how they would react to fearful events.

Especially if you're writing in a genre that involves a lot of terrifying situations, you'll find yourself pushed to go beyond descriptions of what your character's body is experiencing. Writing (and reading) about trembling limbs, spine-tingling shivers, and fast-beating hearts can get old really fast. The best strategy is to spread out these physical reactions over the manuscript, as well as explore different ways to describe the emotion.

Get creative! Turn cliché descriptions on their head, infuse them with a shot of originality. Don't try too hard, though; your writing will sound overwrought and awkward.

Yawners: His heart raced./His heart pounded.
Better: His heart hammered against his ribs./His heart jack-hammered under his ribs.
Fresher yet: His heart skidded into hyperspeed. (Although this focuses more on speed, whereas the jackhammer sounds more intense or forceful. It depends on your intent.)

Another way to make your character (and reader) feel fear is to amp up the tension, tautness, and suspense of your scenes. This can be accomplished by shorter sentences, smaller paragraphs, and even sentence fragments. Don't include details your frightened character wouldn't notice; this is NOT the place for a tour, or a flashback or memory. Keep a sense of mystery--a sense of the shadowy unknown. Have unexpected things fall, jump out, or make noises.

Make sure something is at stake, and that the reader knows what the consequences are. Include shortened timeframes to accomplish a task, or the threat of ruination, injury, or death if your character fails. And make sure your plot has enough twists and nasty surprises to elicit shock and fear from your readers. They will experience it along with your main character.

Do you read or write in the horror genre?
Do you write stories where your character is fearful? How does he/she show it?
Are you weary of writing about pounding heartbeats and shallow breathing--and do you think you can go beyond those clichés?

Good luck, and have fun!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Happiness

On the flip side of last week's post about sadness, now I'm exploring happiness.

In between the hurdles we put our characters through, we often have bright scenes where they enjoy themselves or begin to achieve something they've always wanted--even if that moment is brief. Having these high points often make the sad events seem more profound by contrast. We can later take our characters' bliss away from them for maximum impact. (YES! we are cruel and brutal, mwuah-haha.)

Writing these scenes of happiness can be more difficult than writing sadness or grief. How do we describe this happiness, so that it comes across as believable?

Ways to Express Happiness
1. LAUGHTER. The traditional way: laughing, giggling, chuckling, tears streaming down the face from laughing too hard. Be careful overdoing this; it can set up an emotional disconnect if your reader isn't feeling it to the degree your character is. As far as style of writing, definitely don't go all flowery and syrupy in your prose when your character is joyful; usually simpler is better.

2. BODY LANGUAGE. A bounce in the step, humming or singing, whistling a merry tune. Taking the stairs two at a time. Skipping. Dancing. Feeling floaty, light, and alive. Being breathless. Unable to get a coherent sentence out, with words tumbling over the tongue. Cracking jokes and smiles. All these things are great ways of showing happiness without writing the words happiness or joy.

Key concept: SHOW not TELL your characters' emotions.

3. INTERACTIONS. How your characters react to the world when they are happy will vary. They may shout and whoop, or even weep tears of joy. They may go quiet and dreamy in bliss, staring off into the distance. They may be giddy and not able to think coherently. They may party with their friends, drive a car or ride a bike too fast--or keep it under wraps if it's a forbidden romance. Often judgment is skewed, and they can make (plot-interesting) mistakes while bouncing around in the ether.

Staying True to Your Character
How you show joy in your stories depends on your character's personality. Is your character emotionally expressive and not afraid to emote in front of others? Is he or she more subdued or shy? Is she or he the kind who walks around with a quiet smile--or runs around bouncing and whooping? Be sure to stay consistent.

What things do you relate to in a book, that cause you to smile or be happy?
Do you find writing happiness harder or easier to write than sadness?
How does YOUR character show happiness or joy?