Everyone knows how lies evolve in the telling. That tendency to elaborate and embellish is the eventual downfall of even the most believable of liars.
What the writer has going for them that the average liar doesn’t is paper. We write the falsehood down on paper the way we pretend it happened. Once the fabrication is complete we have the luxury to go back and forth over it, making sure we haven’t contradicted ourselves, and then we dare the reader to believe it.
I posted a blog to this effect on November 9, 2015: 3 steps for keeping the story straight. One step that I discussed is what editors refer to as the “stylesheet.”
When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a stylesheet.
The stylesheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and past every new word or name the first time they appear in the manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.
Many people use a program call Scrivener for this and they are happy with it, but I found it didn’t mesh well with the way MY mind works, so I went back to my one-page list and hand scribbled map.
Regardless of how you create your stylesheet, I suggest you include these elements:
- Page it first appears
This is especially crucial for fantasy authors because we invent entire worlds, creating names for people, places, and creatures.
Take my own work-in-progress: it is the final volume of the Tower of Bones trilogy, and has people with names that can be spelled several ways, and when I am in the throes of writing the first draft I fling them out any old way.
Thus, a character named Linette on page one can become Lynette by page six. Kalen can become Kalin. Place names become mushy, and any word that is important or invented can evolve over the course of a manuscript.
Now I am in the final stages of making the manuscript submission-ready. I have completed a global search for every possible variant of the words on my list, and replaced the incorrect instances with the version I like best.
Place names evolve too, so maps are essential tools when you are building a world. Places written on a map tend to be ‘engraved in stone’ so to speak. Readers will wonder where the town of Maudy is when the only town on the map at the front of the book that comes close to that name is listed as Maury.
To prevent that from happening, double check what you have written on the map, and then do a global search for every possible variant.
Just because you invented the world doesn’t mean you know it like the back of your hand. That world is constantly evolving in your mind. I have been writing in the world of Neveyah since 2009, and still I find that I frequently contradict myself, which is why the stylesheet is so important.