In the not too distant past of this year’s Speedbo, Tina and I were in the #1k1hr Facebook group writing away toward our Speedbo goals, and when I mentioned that I was working on a Style Sheet for my editor, Tina’s cute little ears perked up. A Style Sheet? Seekerville folks would love to hear more about that topic! She promptly invited me to guest post at Seekerville about the ins and outs of Style Sheets for authors, and I gladly accepted!
So, what is a Style Sheet?
A Style Sheet is a list, really. A list of people, places, and details of which you must keep track while writing a novel. If you’ve ever tried to write a novel, you know there are hundreds, if not thousands of details and decisions to oversee, and it’s easy to forget or change some fact between chapter one and chapter twenty. But you can bet your readers will notice and call it to your attention. And while you can’t guarantee that a manuscript is error free, you can sure minimize those mistakes with a handy little Style Sheet. (Some houses call this document a Story Bible, but I don’t like that term, so I don’t use it, but if you come across it, it means Style Sheet.)
For some writers, their Style Sheet is simple. Character’s name, age, hair color, eye color. Bam, done.
For some writers, their Style Sheet includes back-story, timelines, setting descriptions, character photographs, story synopsis, story turning points, and more!
I suppose, much like the plotting/pantsing debate, the depth and breadth of your Style Sheet reflects your process and preferences as a writer. There’s no wrong way to do it.
For me, my Style Sheet varies based on the project I’m currently working on. The briefest Style Sheet I’ve done is two pages, a list of names and descriptions and a handful of small photographs to illustrate the main characters in the story. This was for my novella The Trail Boss’s Bride. When my editor saw it, she was super happy, and she said she might start asking all her authors to keep and turn in a Style Sheet with their stories.
|The Trail Boss's Bride|
|Seven Brides for Seven Texans|
1. The order the stories appear in the collection, along with author, title, and contact info for each author.
2. A brief overview of the collection (something like back-cover copy.)
3. A back story timeline of the Hart family leading up to the collection prologue.
4. A timeline of 1874, the setting of the story, and where each novella fits, along with dates of important events like marriages, cattle drives, community events, etc.
5. A quick-reference chart of main characters along with birth order, age, hair color, eye color, physical traits, personality traits, etc.
6. A calendar of 1874.
7. Character sketches from each of the authors (a couple paragraphs at most) of the heroes, along with photographs of hero and heroine for each novella.
8. A 1-2 page story synopsis of each novella.
9. A list of extra characters with a brief description. From the town lawyer to the undertaker to the gossipy dressmaker, these characters make appearances in most all the novellas, so they must remain consistent from one to another. (The list currently stands at 46 different characters.)
10. A list of businesses and buildings used in the story. Hotels, restaurants, mercantiles, etc.
11. Photographs of the main ranch house, and the main rooms of the house, so that descriptions can be consistent from one story to the next, as well as a floor plan of the house.
12. A map of the town.
13. A map of the ranch with each son’s portion labeled.
As you can see, a Style Sheet/Master Document is essential when writing a continuity series where characters overlap so heavily, but you don’t need to be working on something of this scope to utilize and benefit from a Style Sheet.
How do I make one?
• Use the method that works for you.
There are lots of ways to create a Style Sheet. Some authors use a spreadsheet. Columns and rows make their organized little hearts sing. Other authors use a word document, writing in paragraphs and lists. Some authors start with the Style Sheet first, and others fill it out after they write the story. You choose the method that makes the most sense to you.
• Include pertinent details
At the very least, character descriptions should be included, but you feel free to get as detailed as you need to in order to keep track of information throughout your story. Include a list of places used in the story. If your story involves a great deal of research, be sure to include your sources. You never know when your editor might query whether your heroine should be using a sewing machine in 1850 or if your hero really would own a blue pickup truck in 1917. Photographs are helpful, too!
• I recommend updating as you go rather than waiting until the end
Creating a Style Sheet is much easier if you do some of the work up front and then add as you go. When plotting a story, I start with a Style Sheet, listing my hero and heroine and the setting, as many details as I know in the beginning. As I write, sub-characters pop up all the time, a shopkeeper, a deputy, a neighbor, and it is easiest to add them to the Style Sheet at that time. Also, character quirks tend to develop as I write, and halfway through the book I discover that my hero is allergic to strawberries or my heroine is afraid of dogs. Stick those kinds of details into the Style Sheet so you can refer to them later.
What do I do with it when it’s complete?
When you’ve gotten your Style Sheet created and you’ve completed your first draft, print out a copy of the Style Sheet and have it by you as you revise. Use it to make sure that your blue-eyed hero doesn’t have brown eyes by chapter six, or that your heroine who is orphaned in chapter three doesn’t mail a letter off to her mama in Poughkeepsie by chapter ten.
Once you’ve edited, revised, and cleaned up your manuscript, ready for submission, make sure you’re Style Sheet is all spit-shined, too, as up to date as possible.
And when you turn in that beautiful novel, include a copy of your Style Sheet. This bit of story-shorthand will be invaluable to your content and copy editors! They might even fall upon your with kisses and chocolate! Your editors, who won’t be as familiar with the story as you are, can keep track of unfamiliar details and edit for consistency and continuity without having to scroll back or riffle through screeds of pages to check on a detail.
They will thank you!
So what do you think of the Style Sheet? Are you already creating something similar? Do you have any suggestions?
Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves history and romance, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical romances. Whenever she’s not immersed in fictional worlds, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two, wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul-mate, and avid museum patron.
|His Prairie Sweetheart|
After being jilted at the altar, Southern belle Savannah Cox seeks a fresh start out West and accepts a teaching position in Minnesota. But between her students' lack of English, the rough surroundings and sheriff Elias Parker's doubts and distrust, Savannah's unprepared for both the job and the climate. However, she's determined to prove she can handle anything her new town throws her way.
Elias gives it a week—or less—before the pretty schoolteacher packs her dainty dresses and hightails it back home. But no matter how many mishaps he has to rescue her from, Savannah doesn't give up. Yet the real test is to come—a brutal blizzard that could finally drive her away, taking his heart with her…
Leave a comment today for a chance to win a copy of His Prairie Sweetheart, her debut release with Love Inspired Historical. Winner announced in the next Weekend Edition.
Oh, and just for fun, Erica did a Seekerville Style sample sheet (as though we 13 were characters in a book). ENJOY!! It's all good fun!