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.
ITEMS ON A STYLE SHEET
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?