Every writer and editor has their own working process. When I first started editing, I would open a new Notepad file before I began working on a new manuscript. As I would progress through the edit, I made note of every character name and location I came across, as well as any significant details that were important about each one. For example, in a military story, I might write, “John Smith – corporal, brown hair.” It was nothing fancy, but it was helpful when I came across the character name again. If the writer referred to the character as Sergeant Smith with no mention of a promotion, I could assume that this was a mistake in rank. Later on, I learned that what I had been doing in Notepad was creating a rudimentary style sheet.
A style sheet is a useful tool for writers and editors alike. It essentially outlines the formatting, layout, spellings, and preferences for a specific manuscript. Examples of what can be listed in a style sheet include:
There is no right or wrong way to create a style sheet, and the information contained within one is up to the user. It can be done with pen and paper or electronically. If you’d like to see what one looks like, click on the graphic at the end of this post to download a free template I created in Microsoft Word. Feel free to customize it to fit your needs.
Writers have different methods of keeping track of information relevant to their manuscripts. Some meticulously sort every detail into a spreadsheet. Some jot down only the major plot points to keep them on track. And others may keep everything in their head. Whatever your method, it may be helpful to create a style sheet as a reference for yourself and for your editor. Here are some ways in which a style sheet can be beneficial.
If I don’t receive a style sheet from a writer, I create one based on the manuscript and share it with them. Not only does this provide them with a valuable tool, it also explains why I made the changes I made. If I add a serial comma where it’s missing, I don’t have to explain why I did so if the style sheet says that serial commas are used.
Whether you use a style sheet is up to you. If you haven’t been using one, I encourage you to try it out!
Header photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash.