#amwriting: ensuring consistency: the stylesheet

Book- onstruction-sign copyWhen 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. Some editors refer to this as a “bible.”

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 onto my list,  doing this the first time they appear in the manuscript. If I am conscientious about this, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.

Some people use a program called Scrivener which is not too expensive, but which seems to have a tricky learning curve. I downloaded the free version but couldn’t make heads or tails of it and found it quite frustrating. Nevertheless, I understand that it works well for many people, and to them, I say, “Good for you.”

For myself, I don’t want a fancy word-processing program. I just use MS Office, because I have been using the programs that come with that software since 1993, and I’ve been able to adapt to each upgrade they have made. It’s affordable, so I use Word to write and edit in, and occasionally use Excel to make small charts that are my style guides for each novel or tale I write, and also for every book I edit.

You can do this in Google Docs too, and that is free.

Regardless of how you create your stylesheet, I suggest you include these elements:

  • Word/Name
  • Page it first appears
  • Meaning

Bleakbourne Style Sheet

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 has characters 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 Claire on page one can become Clair by page six. Dominick can become Dominic. Place names become mushy, and any word that is important or invented can evolve over the course of a manuscript.

I first learned about creating a stylesheet years ago when Huw the Bard was being edited. As she was editing my manuscript, my editor made a global search for every possible variant of the words I had created. She alerted me to these discrepancies, and I replaced the incorrect instances with the version I like best.

I have kept a Stylesheet for every work in progress since then, for short stories as well as novels.

map of Waldeyn 2015 with lettering cooper black copyPlace names evolve too, so maps are essential tools when you are building the world. Places written on a map tend to be ‘engraved in stone’ so to speak. Readers will wonder where the town of Maldon is when the only town on the map at the front of the book that comes close to that name is listed as Malton.

To prevent that from happening, double check what you have written on the map, and then do a global search for every possible variant of that name in your rough draft.

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 I still frequently contradict myself, which is why the stylesheet is so important.


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9 responses to “#amwriting: ensuring consistency: the stylesheet

  1. Stephen Swartz

    While I certainly admire the thoroughness with which you plan and execute such intricate novels, I don’t believe that would work well for me. I tend to keep everything floating in my head quite well and, because I’ve developed literary schizophrenia, I can act out each character and remember all the details of that character. Keeping to a style sheet, for me, would distract from the rough drafting. Only in revision do I pay more attention to consistency but I find few errors in that regard. Just the way it is, thank the muses.
    In my current Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, I only needed to make a list of the common dragon types and later, as it mounted, a list of the cast members, just so I could keep everyone straight in my head – as I switched from persona to persona. This is what keeps us mad – mad, I tell you! Utterly mad! Ha ha ha!

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  2. David P. Cantrell

    I’ve come to use Scrivner more and more. I agree that there is a learning curve, although the tutorial helps quite a bit. At first, I thought it was best used for long pieces, but I’ve changed my mind and now use for short stories as well. One of the reasons I like it is that keeps things like style sheets, character descriptions, images like maps, and even research links in one computer file.

    I don’t think of Scrivner as a word processor, though it includes that function. I see it more as a document manager designed for writers. I’m not as organized as you are, Connie, nor as cerebral as Mr. Swartz. I need a crutch to hold me up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never used a style sheet but can really see the value. Great suggestion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Scott–my invented place names, and even character names evolve as I am writing the first, rough draft. Thus when I begin the second draft I can make a global search for each possible variant, and hope to heck I catch them all!


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