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?


  1. I've heard of these sheets, but I think they had a different name - which I cannot recall at the moment.

    I do keep a small journal with each book. I do write some of the things about my characters and words that I've used.

    It's good practice and a great idea.

  2. I currently have some of this stuff on sticky notes on my wall! So this is a good reminder that I need to type all that info up and keep it one place so I don't lose it!

  3. Great post, Carol. I was taught of the importance of keeping a record of these types of details, but I did not know the term - "style sheet." Thanks!

  4. I have heard of them but never used them:( Maybe I should as often I lose track of some of my character's information.

  5. I am always amazed at the work of copyeditors and proofreaders. They have eagle eyes. Style sheets really are important, although mine are never as organized as I would like them to be.

  6. I have heard of them but not used them. I will have to try this out..Looks like it can be very handy.

  7. I've started to use them in the past few years and find them so helpful. I like being able to look something up quickly. :)

  8. I had not heard of this, but I am fascinated! Thank you so much for sharing :D I will be back to check out your other insightful posts~!

  9. This post has come just at the right time, as I've just started editing my through my first draft. I've not heard of the style sheet, but I will be using one now.

    Thanks Carol.

  10. I do keep style sheets. The problem is, I'm terrible at refering back to them ;)

  11. Yep - I use one. After one of my characters changed names in the middle of my story, I started putting one together. The one I use has the page divided into boxes labeled with the alphabet.

  12. Nope; never heard of it. Put it seems a neat way to tidy up a mss.


  13. I keep up with things like this in my OneNote book, but I never heard them referred to as a style sheet! I know it comes in handy when I forget what kind of car a persons drives! LOL

  14. This is such a good point. Especially for fantasy! OneNote is such a brilliant tool. The other way to do this is to make notes as you do your own beta read -- I do these in my eReader and I can mark anything as I go. That lets me find typos or pacing issues, but also check any little consistency issues.


  15. I've heard of them before, but I've also heard them called by other names . . . which is interesting. I need my world building and character files . . .they are extremely important for keeping track of details.

  16. I've heard style sheets called by different names. I need to keep them so I can keep track of things. I have to do ctrl F to find details that I've forgotten.

  17. Thanks for the tip - going to make one up for my series.

  18. I had never heard of them or what they were called, but I do that sort of thing in a very rough manner to keep myself from making big "oopsies". (I had made a characfter blonde and brunette once)
    I like the list you gave and may make something a little more formal in the future.

  19. I haven't heard them called style sheets before, but I do keep a file with important facts about my manuscript. My current one is called "Fast Facts." I can't imagine writing a book without it - I'd never be able to keep all the characters, settings, cars, etc. straight!

  20. I never heard the term "style sheet". I have heard of setting up info for fantasy world building to keep track, but it had a different name. I never though about doing it for a non high fantasy/dystopian manuscript. And I had no idea editors did it.

  21. Yes! I think I need to start one for me! Recently I noticed I wrote okay in one wip and ok in another... Then I got confused which way to spell it in which wip... Style sheets makes sense ... I'm forever rolling back the pages to check on eye colour height etc.

  22. Great post! I have heard of style sheets, though I've never used them. I make lists of character names and characteristics sometimes, though. Very good idea for fantasy writers!

  23. Thanks for the encouragement to continue adding to what's already begun, and then keep it handy.

    Your helpful posts are much appreciated!!


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