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Storyboarding character development #amwriting

Every year, I participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This happens in November and is thirty days of dedicated writing. Authors with an idea for a novel sit down and daily write at least 1,667 words of a first draft.

depth-of-characterThis month of concentrated writing time is meant to help authors get the entire story down while the inspiration and ideas are flowing. At the end of the thirty days, you should have a novel-length story, hopefully with a complete story arc (beginning, middle, and end).

To succeed at completing a project with such an ambitious goal, you should spend some time planning your novel. To that end, I create a stylesheet for each project, a place to storyboard all my ideas.

I have mentioned before that I use a spreadsheet program to outline my projects, but you can use a notebook or anything that works for you. You can do this by drawing columns on paper by hand or using post-it notes on a whiteboard or the wall.

Some people use a dedicated writer’s program like Scrivener.

Everyone thinks differently, so there is no perfect way to create that fits everyone. I just happen to like working with Excel or Google Sheets.

I make this effort when the idea is first in my head. If I become lost or find myself floundering in the writing process, I can remind myself of the original concept of the story. The stylesheet is where I brainstorm ideas.

New authors spend a lot of time plotting the events of a novel, but sometimes neglect to flesh out their characters. Attention must be given to character development. The characters are the story, and the circumstances of the piece exist only to force growth upon them.

The character arcFirst, we want to get to know who we’re writing about.

Who are these people, and why should I care about them? I have a fairly good idea of how my characters look. However, that image can drift as the first draft evolves, and brown eyes are suddenly green (yes, this did happen in one of my current works in progress).

But don’t get too detailed. Readers have their own image of beauty, so don’t force your idea of loveliness on them. General description and the reactions of other characters should convey how they look.

Once I know the basic plot, I make a page in my workbook with a bio of each character, a personnel file. Sometimes I include images of RPG characters or actors who most physically resemble them and who could play them well.

Professor Reina Jacobs

  • Physical description: 5’8′, perceived-time age 55, real-time age 168. Works out daily. Has brown eyes, iron-gray hair worn in a short cut, not military short, but for ease of keeping it neat. Is a cyborg—left leg is a grafted prosthesis.
  • Personality: Competitive, highly organized, ambitious, impatient, highly focused.
  • Occupation:  Colonel, Retired. Experienced 33 years as a Warbird Pilot in the Mirandan Space Corps. Forced into early retirement from the Corps due to prosthetic leg. Leading researcher in the field of biosomes – breeding and adapting plants able to thrive in alien environments. Not too keen on promoting plants that require radical adaptations, but a strong proponent of plants that can easily adapt without destroying the ecosystem. 
  • Hobbies:  hopping up an anti-grav speedster in her garage. Loves flying low and too fast over dangerous ground.

Colonel Brandon Ladeaux, Ret.:

  • Physical Description: Dark hair turning gray, brown eyes, 6’2, works out daily. Lean and muscular. Perceived-time age 57, real-time age 198.
  • Personality: competitive, organized, slightly laid-back approach to life.
  • Occupation: Shuttle pilot. Experienced 40 years as a Warbird Pilot in the Mirandan Space Corps.
  • Hobbies: cooking, hanging around watching Reina work on her speedster. Also enjoys flying low and too fast over dangerous ground.

The personnel file is laid out this way:

Column A: Character Names. I list the important characters by name and the point where they enter the story.

Column B: About: What their role is, a note about that person or place, a brief description of who and what they are.

Column C: The Problem: What is the core conflict?

Column D: What do they want? What does each character desire?

Column E: What will they do to get it? How far will they go to achieve their desire?

storyboard_LIRF_10_31_17Names say a lot about characters. If you give a character a name that begins with a hard consonant, the reader will subconsciously see them as stronger than one whose name begins with a soft sound. It’s a little thing but is something to consider when trying to convey personalities.

Also, I’ve said this before, but with the growing popularity of audiobooks, my suggestion is to write names that are easy to pronounce. I learned that lesson when I was having a novella of three short stories, Tales from the Dreamtime, made into an audiobook. My reader was brilliant, and worked with my difficult fantasy names, but since that experience, I only write names my readers can easily pronounce.

A great story evolves when the antagonist and protagonist are powerful but not omnipotent. Both the antagonist and protagonist must have character arcs that show personal growth or inability to grow. For the antagonist to be realistic, this must be clearly shown, so they also get a personnel file.

When you begin writing the first chapters, the characters aren’t fully formed. They will evolve as a result of the experiences you write for them. Note these changes in your personnel file so that descriptions remain consistent.

I like stories featuring characters who are human. They make mistakes, cause themselves more trouble because they are untried and don’t know what they are doing.

The evolution of each character’s personal arc should parallel the events that form the story arc.

How do they handle setbacks? How do they handle success? How do they see their future when we meet them on page one? Has their view of the future changed by the time we arrive at the final page?

The characters must be changed by the events they experience. How you show their emotional state is critical because emotions engage readers. If you want your readers to feel the crisis, your characters must feel it and show their reactions to the reader.

emotion-thesaurus-et-alIf you need ideas for showing a variety of emotions, I highly recommend the Writers Helping Writers Series of textbooks written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

But do us all a favor—show it briefly and move on. Don’t swamp us with detailed shoulder sagging, lips turning down, and face dropping all in one sentence.

We must contrast the relative security of the characters’ lives as they were in the opening paragraphs with the hazards of where they are now. Each person experiences uncertainty, fear, anger, and sense of loss differently. Those differences make them unique characters.

In a good story, bad things have happened, and the protagonists have to get creative and work hard to acquire or accomplish their desired goals.

How they overcome their doubts and make themselves stronger is what makes each character interesting. That internal and emotional journey is the real story.

The events, mighty as they may be, are only the catalysts of personal growth. Next in this series, Character development: Motivations.

 

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Worldbuilding part two: maps, place names, and consistency #amwriting

My first novels were complete messes to edit. I didn’t have a clue about how to structure a plot and what to avoid. Surviving those editing experiences taught me many ways to smooth the path to a finished novel.

When a manuscript is first accepted, editors at all the large publishing houses begin creating a list of names, places, and created words. This document also contains a glossary and other information that pertains only to that manuscript. My editor refers to this as a stylesheet. Other editors refer to this as a “bible.”

WritingCraft_mapsSome people use a program called Scrivener, which is not too expensive, but which I found quite frustrating. Nevertheless, I understand that it works well for many people, so it may be an investment to consider.

For myself, I don’t need a fancy word-processing program. I use Microsoft Office 360 because I have used Microsoft software since 1993, and I’ve adapted to each upgrade they have made. I use Word for writing and editing and Excel to make stylesheets for each novel or tale I write. I make stylesheets for every book I edit.

If you prefer, you can use a pencil and paper and keep these lists in a ring binder. Or you can use Google Docs/Sheets or OpenOffice, both of which are free.

The stylesheet can take several forms, but it is a visual guide to print out or keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and paste every invented 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 contradict myself later inadvertently.

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

  1. Names and invented words, all spelled the way you want them.
  2. The page or chapter where the word first appears.
  3. The meaning of each invented word.
  4. Maps, something rudimentary to show the layout of the world.
  5. Calendar.

This list is especially crucial for fantasy authors because we invent entire worlds, religions, and magic systems.

sample-of-rough-sketched-mapMaps are essential tools when you are building the world. Your map doesn’t have to be fancy. You need to know north, south, east, west, where rivers and forests are relative to towns, and locations of mountains.

You also need some idea of distances and how long it takes to travel using the common mode of transportation.

All you need is a pencil-drawn map, lines and scribbles telling you all the essential things. Use a pencil, so you can easily update it if something changes during revisions.

If you aren’t artistic and want a nice map later, this little map will enable them to provide you with a beautiful and accurate product. You will have a map that contains the information needed for readers to enjoy your book.

I also keep a calendar of events for each novel, and believe me, that calendar has saved me several times.

Map of Eynier Valley for HTB copy copy

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 village 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 manuscript.

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 contradict myself, which is why the stylesheet is so important.

Every story I write that is set in that world must have the right sights, sounds, and smells. When it comes to worldbuilding, the stylesheet is crucial.

What is the name of the world in which the story opens? The file name you give this document should contain it. My oldest stylesheet is labeled Neveyah_stylesheet.xls and has been evolving with each book in that series.

What did you name the town/village where the protagonists are living? Place names can give the reader an idea of the kind of world your town or village is set in.

I live in an area where the indigenous people were pushed aside and their land taken over and settled by a mixture of Scots, Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians. Our place names reflect all those cultures.

Forty miles west of my house is a coastal city named Aberdeen, and next to it is a city named Hoquiam, a city whose name has its origin in Native Culture.

This is how the countries of Canada and the US are from coast to coast; signs of European ancestry mingled with traditional names reflecting the tribes who were there first.

Are there forests? Mountains? Rivers? My part of the world has large tracts of forests, many wide rivers, and is mountainous, with numerous volcanos.

Each of these areas will affect how your communities live, what resources they have for building, and how long it takes to go from one place to another.

You can’t travel in a straight line over mountains or forests. Sometimes you must travel parallel to a river for a long way until you come to a place shallow enough to cross.

Stowe_River_Basin_Midwest_Neveyah_2020And we’ll just toss this out there – while you can drop a tall tree across a narrow creek, building bridges over rivers requires a certain amount of engineering. Cultures from the Stone Age on to modern times have had the skills needed to make bridges.

Archeology and history both tell us that humans, as a species, are tribal by nature. We band together for protection, shelter, better access to resources, and companionship.

We are creative, and archaeology shows us that our ancestors were capable of far more than we have traditionally believed.

Humans have always created communities where resources are plentiful, but climate changes.

History and geology tell us that what was once a good place may become a desert over time. Your maps should take all the terrain your characters must deal with into consideration.

We based our societies on our oral histories and family connections. How our ancestors lived in their chosen area and what their traditions became were shaped by the climate and the lay of the land. The resources available to them were the reasons they stayed and built communities.

Those aspects of worldbuilding will form the backdrop of your story. If you make a stylesheet, your invented world will be consistent and contain all the elements that make it feel solid to a reader.

Neveya_Map_Nov_2020

 


Credits and Attributions:

Map of Mearth, © 2015 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.  

Map of the Eynier Valley for Huw the Bard, © 2015 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

Map of the Stowe River Basin, World of Neveyah, © 2021 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

Map of Neveyah, World of Neveyah, © 2021 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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Self-editing: ensuring consistency #amwriting

Today I’m continuing a series on self-editing that I began on February 12, Revisions: Self-Editing.

The revision process is where some of the worst errors that can mess up a manuscript are committed. This is because making changes on a large scale within your manuscript is a tricky job at best. Ensuring consistency requires focus, the ability to be meticulous, and an eye for detail.

Good editors have these qualities, but if the services of a good editor are out of your financial reach, you must find a way to self-edit and still come out with a literate manuscript that flows well and engages the reader.

A tool I have mentioned before in this series is the style sheet.

In 2012, after reading the first chapter of my raw manuscript, my editor asked me for a style sheet. She was disappointed but not surprised to find I didn’t know what she meant.

My work was so uneven that it was clear I had never listed my made-up names. Things evolved as I went along. I forgot how I spelled that one minor character’s name in the one scene where it was mentioned. However, at the midpoint of the novel, the character had an important role and a slightly different spelling.

This happens because fundamental things sometimes change as we are going along in our first draft:

  • Character names evolve.
  • Place names evolve.
  • A different character becomes the protagonist—it may be someone you initially thought was a sidekick.

These adjustments happen because we realize something isn’t logical, make the changes, and move on.

Unfortunately, we’re only human and don’t always catch all the places we needed to change.

Once my editor pointed this out to me, I put together a comprehensive list of how I wanted to spell the names of every person, place, and creature in my novel.

Even though I spent several days doing this, the editing process was slow and agonizing because I didn’t catch half the words.

What the style sheet should cover:

All names, created or not: Aeos, Aeolyn, Beryl, Carl, Edwin, etc.

Real and created animal names: alligator, stinkbear, thunder-cow, waterdemon

Created words that are hyphenated: fire-mage, thunder-cow

All place names, real or created: Seattle, Chicago, Ragat, Wister, Sevya, Arlen, Neveyah

Some authors use a program called Scrivener, which apparently assembles all that information for them and does magic tricks to boot.

I’m happy for those who have figured it out, but be warned, there is a large learning curve if you go that route.

Frankly, Scrivener was a waste of money for me because my mind doesn’t work the way Scrivener does, and I became quite frustrated with it.

For me, it’s simpler to copy and paste my words into a spreadsheet or document labeled with the book or series title and the words style sheet, such as Bleakbourne_style_sheet.xls.

You don’t have to be fancy unless you want to. Google docs, Open Office, and MS Office all offer perfectly good word processing programs with both documents and spreadsheets, and all you need is to keep a simple list of people, places, and things.

I keep this document open while I am writing a first draft and try to be scrupulous about listing every name, place, animal, and hyphenated word.

In cases where your characters are traveling, you might need a simple map. I get fancy because I’m a wannabe artist, but you don’t have to. All you need are lines with north and south listed, and the names of towns and other places that have parts in the story.

But how do we make these corrections in our manuscript? We do what is called a global search.

I open MS Word, which is my word processing program, and do it this way: With your mouse or stylus, highlight the word you want to find every occurrence of. On the far right of the home tab, click ‘find.’ This will open the navigation pane.

Or, on your keyboard, press the ‘ctrl’ key and the ‘f’ key at the same time. This is the keyboard shortcut to the navigation pane.

With that word automatically highlighted, you have a choice to make: is it a word you want to delete or replace?

First, you must understand that you are about to embark on a boring, time-consuming task.

If you get hasty and choose to “Replace All,” you can inadvertently ruin your entire manuscript. I’ve used the following example before, but it bears repeating:

Your writing group tells you that you overuse the word “very.” You decide to simply eliminate every instance of the word “very” because that seems like the most logical way to resolve the problem quickly.

So, you open the navigation pane and  the advanced search dialog box. In the “replace with” box, you don’t key anything, thinking this will eliminate the problem. You then hit “replace all.”

Don’t do it.

Please.

Every, everyone, everything—you get the idea.

Every word in the English language is made up of a selection of letters chosen from only 26 letters. These letters are used in many combinations, with different meanings. Before you click “replace all” consider how many common words have the letters h-a-s in their makeup:

  • hasty
  • chase
  • chastity

Trying to cut corners in the editing process can easily mess things up on an incredibly large scale. Looking for weak words and phrasing is a time-consuming task.

Things to look for and possibly delete or change:

  • Any kind of qualifier or quantifier: just, a little, a bit, somewhat—these are words that show indecision. Active prose should not be indecisive.
  • Action-stopping words: started to, began to— these are word combinations that slow and stall the action. They are passive, so if you want to write active prose, go lightly with them. Your characters shouldn’t begin to move. Have them move and be done with it.
  • words that end in the letters ly: probably, actually, sympathetically, magically … etc. These are weak, telling words. It takes thought and intention to show what you mean rather than telling it.

Examine the eight forms of the word be. Decide if they are useful or not in the context you are using them.

  1. be
  2. was
  3. were
  4. been
  5. being
  6. am
  7. are
  8. is

Weak combinations using forms of be that you should look twice at:

  1. was being,
  2. has been,
  3. had been,
  4. is being,
  5. am being

Why do we look at each instance of weak word combinations? Sometimes the words and combinations I’ve noted in this post have a purpose, which is why they remain currently in use.

We may need them to make a certain point in conversations, but in the narrative, your prose is often stronger without them. That and very can easily become crutch words, bloating and fluffing word count.

Once you see the magnitude of what the editing process involves, you realize that most editors don’t charge enough money for the amount of work involved in doing the job right. However, while the process of self-editing is time-consuming and requires diligence, it is doable.

Don’t underestimate how savvy and smart your readers are. You can’t cut corners, and you can’t let small things slide.

Passionate readers care about the quality of what they purchase. We should take pride in the quality of what we publish.

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Hyphens #amwriting

When creating my world of Neveyah for the Tower of Bones series, I discovered that hyphens are the gateway  to writer’s hell. I put together compound words, hyphenated to make them specific to that world.

I did this, not realizing I would be stuck writing these words consistently hyphenated for years… and years….

Take my advice and do not use a hyphen in your invented words unless the universe will dissolve without it.

In the real world, if a compound adjective cannot be misread or its meaning is firmly established, a hyphen is not necessary.

Words that are single words and don’t need a hyphen:

  • backstabbing
  • backstabber
  • (a) breakup as in (a) divorce, break up as in taking apart
  • breathtaking
  • comeback as in succeeding again, come back as in return to me
  • counterintuitive
  • counterproductive
  • downright
  • herself
  • himself
  • hobnob
  • latchkey
  • mainstream
  • midweek
  • myself
  • nevertheles
  • newfound
  • nighttime
  • nonetheless
  • nonstop
  • overdo
  • overexpose
  • overpriced
  • overrated
  • oversized
  • roundup as in a rodeo, round up as in a review or the next highest round number
  • secondhand
  • selfish
  • sidekick
  • sightseeing
  • straightforward
  • woebegone
  • yourself

A few words do require a hyphen to ensure their meaning is what you intended:

Wikipedia says: Compound modifiers are groups of two or more words that jointly modify the meaning of another word. When a compound modifier other than an adverb–adjective combination appears before a term, the compound modifier is often hyphenated to prevent misunderstandings, such as in American-football player or little-celebrated paintings. Without the hyphen, there is potential confusion about whether the writer means a “player of American football” or an “American player of football” and whether the writer means paintings that are “little celebrated” or “celebrated paintings” that are little.

Compound modifiers can extend to three or more words, as in ice-cream-flavored candy, and can be adverbial as well as adjectival (spine-tinglingly frightening). However, if the compound is a familiar one, it is usually unhyphenated. For example, at least one style guide prefers the construction high school students, to high-school students.

Words that DO need a hyphen:

  • An English-speaking country
  • A time-saving device
  • A thirty-floor building

Some compounds are improvised to fulfill a specific need (on-the-spot creations). Permanent compounds start out as improvised compounds but become so widely accepted that they are included in the dictionary as permanent compounds. Examples of temporary compounds that have made the transition to permanent compounds are words like

  • know-it-all
  • heart-stopping
  • free-for-all (as in a rumpus)
  • down-at-the-heels

Context determines whether to hyphenate or not.  Ask yourself, “How will the words be interpreted by the reader if I don’t hyphenate?” If your intended meaning is clear without the hyphen, leave it out.

Wikipedia offers the following examples:

  • Man-eating shark (as opposed to man eating shark, which could be interpreted as a man eating the meat of a shark)
  • Wild-goose chase (a hunt for resulting in nothing) as opposed to wild goose chase, which could be interpreted as a chasing a goose that is wild.
  • Long-term contract (as opposed to long term contract, which in legalese could be interpreted as a long contract about a term)
  • Zero-liability protection (as opposed to zero liability protection, which implies you have no liability protection).

A crucial task for you as an author is to make a stylesheet that pertains to your manuscript. Create a list detailing words that must be capitalized, which ones are hyphenated, and include the proper spellings of names for all people and places.

Some people use Scrivener for this and swear by it. For myself, I don’t need a fancy word-processing program with a difficult learning curve—my life is complicated enough as it is. You can make a simple list or go wild and make a spreadsheet. I use Excel to make storyboards that are my style guides for each novel or tale I write, and for every book I edit.

You can do this in Google Docs too, and that program is free–the perfect price for the starving author.

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

  • List invented Words and all Names spelled the way you intend them to be written forever, noting whether it is two words (De Mal), hyphenated (De-Mal), or two syllables connected with an apostrophe (D’Mal)
  • Note the page number on which the word first appears so you can check back for consistency.
  • If it is not a person’s name, list the meaning and how it is used, for example, if the word denotes a city, or an animal, or plant, etc.

Refer to this style sheet frequently and update it with every change you make to spelling in your manuscript.

I learned this the hard way. Making a stylesheet for a book after it has been written is a daunting task, and most editors will ask you for one when they accept your submission. Some editors refer to this as the ‘bible’ for that manuscript because all editorial decisions regarding consistency will be based on the spellings and style treatments you have established for your work.

I do suggest you go lightly when it comes to hyphens and apostrophes in your invented words. The reader likely won’t notice them too much, but they can become annoyances for you when you’re trying to ensure consistency in your narrative. Whether it is a handwritten list, an Excel spreadsheet, a WORD document, or in a program like Scrivener, a simple directory of compound words and phrases that are unique to the world you have created will be invaluable to you and your editor.

 


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Hyphen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hyphen&oldid=824118099 (accessed February 11, 2018).

 

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#amwriting: stylesheets

IBM_SelectricWriting a fictional novel is really the same as telling a whopping lie that you believe in with all your heart and keeping it straight for 80,000 words or more.

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.”

Bleakbourne Style SheetWhen 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:

  • Word/Name
  • Page it first appears
  • Meaning

Stylesheet_example_LIRF_cjjasp

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.

Valley of Mal Evol ©Connie J. Jasperson 2016Place 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.

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