Friday, August 10, 2018

Style Sheet Redux!

Today we're recycling a post from a couple years ago, due to an unexpected illness befalling the scheduled blogger. This post first aired June 23, 2016.

You've Got Style!

with Erica Vetsch.

 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 largest, most complex Style Sheet I’ve ever done stands currently at a whopping 33 pages and counting! This particular Style Sheet is for a novella collection I’m coordinating. Seven Brides for Seven Texans is a set of novellas that all take place within one calendar year, written by seven different authors, about seven brothers who must marry in 1874 or lose their inheritance. With so many authors needing to coordinate stories so tightly interwoven and overlapping, keeping track of details is a MUST, which is where a Style Sheet comes in. 


For the Seven Brides collection, the Style Sheet includes:

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! 

Have you created a style sheet before? Did you find it helpful?


Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.com where you can learn about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at https://www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/ where she spends way too much time! 

33 comments:

  1. Hi Erica:

    What is described here seems like a 'story bible' as it would be called in tv story writing. Style sheets to me, in advertising copy writing, had to do with type faces, sizes, page margins, and the like. As such I have never created a style sheet as described. They seem like a very good idea. I'd be happy to learn more.

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    1. Yeah, I was thinking of this as a story bible as well, Vince. Very helpful!

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    2. Hi Vince,

      I have never liked the term story bible...since Bible means something much different and much better to me. A story bible in publishing is often used to mean the document containing all continuity issues for a connected series/continuity series.

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    3. That's true, Erica. It's always felt a little uncomfortable to me when I've used that term.

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  2. Erica, thank you for this. Gosh, this is a wonderful idea and I can see how helpful it would be to so many. Keeping track of the details is a huge thing when writing a book... and more so when writing a series! Thank you!

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    1. Morning, Ruthy! Editors kind of like them, too! It makes their job easier if there's a standard list/record to use when editing.

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  3. Erica, what a great idea and badly needed, at least by me. I'm usually pretty good about keeping details in my head, mostly because there's nothing ELSE in my head, but sometimes I slip up. Recently I caught myself giving the villain two different eye colors. Caught myself and went with "cold gray." I tend to gravitate toward sagas and series, even my novellas are spin-offs from larger books, so being a detail person is key.

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    1. Hey! There are SO many details to keep track of. As I get older, I need a style sheet more and more! :)

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  4. I really need to start doing this. If only to keep track of eye color. I seem to always mention the hero's eye color near the beginning and then forget it before the end, with no desire to scroll all the way back and find it again. It's what I get for living eyes, I guess. :-)

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    1. Amy, eye color is a pitfall for all of us. Sigh.

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    2. Eye color gets me every time, too, even when I write it down!

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    3. Yep, Eye color is one of the ones that gets me, too. Also, throw-away characters. Like what was the butler's name, or the order of the names in the law firm from chapter one???

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  5. What a great idea. I do this sort of, with notes about eye and hair color because I tend to mess that up - but I love the concept of ending it along to the editor. Thanks, Erica!

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    1. Your editor will thank you! :)

      I add photographs sometimes of my characters, so that the editor can picture them, too.

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  6. Good morning, Erica!

    I already do this, up to a point. I keep files in Scrivener with notes about the different characters. I also add another file for names of characters that pop up, or are mentioned by one of the main characters. (I never really know when they might show up again!). And then there are the animals - all the horses, cows, dogs, etc. that live on a farm!

    But I've never thought of organizing all this information into a document to send to my editors! What a fabulous idea! I can just see the kudos I'd get from them!

    The other thing I need to say...I am in awe of your organizational skills in spearheading the Seven Brides collection. Wow.

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    1. I just counted all the exclamation marks in my comment. *shaking her head in disbelief*

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    2. LOL, I love exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Keeping track of all the details for the Seven Brides collections made a "Master Document" essential.

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  7. This is a wonderful idea. I will be making style sheets from now on! Thank you Erica!

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    1. Hey, Pat! Yay! So glad you found the post helpful!

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  8. Erica, I evidently was out of town and away from my computer the first time this appeared because it's new to me. All such great information. Thank you!

    So good for an author's series as well, as Jan mentioned!

    Thanks for stepping in on short notice, Erica, when one of our own was hit with the bug! You're a doll!

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    1. Hey, Debby! I'm glad you got to see the post now. :)

      I'm glad I was still awake to get the email last night, so I could get something put up for our lovely readers!

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  9. I'm finding the more i write the more I need notes. I'm still perfecting my method. I hope everyone has a great weekend.

    I hope Beth is feeling better quickly.

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    1. Wilani, I am with you. The more I write, the more I need to keep careful notes. And, I think we're all perfecting our method. I think it's never quiet flawless. That's what makes it fun!

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  10. Great post Erica! I've always done something similar to help me keep up with pertinent dtails, but not in so specific and organized a way! It may be worth taking the time to set up a template to use going forward. (And yes, I'm a spreadsheet girl all the way!)

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    1. I've used spreadsheets in the past, Winnie, but now I just keep a separate Word Document. And at the end of the day, I email my manuscript and style sheet to myself as a backup.

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  11. These are great ideas and I am very important with your organizational skills! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hey, Connie, I am organized out of self defense, mostly. I have what I call Teflon Colander Syndrome. What doesn't slide off, slips through the holes of my brain! :) If I don't write it out, it never happened!

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  12. Thank you for sharing this great information. It's definitely going in my toolbox.

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    1. Hi, Bettie, my pleasure. Thanks for coming by!

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  13. This one's a keeper, Erica. Thanks so much.

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    1. Hi, Pat! I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and I hope you find it helpful in the future!

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  14. Hey, Erica! I have an extensive character interview or style sheet. Mine goes into the back story, like you mentioned. I'm the most interested in the character's motivation. If I know her/his motivation, I can write the story.

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  15. Hullo Erica! i never knew the actual name of this process - my style sheet is more on the order of a style ring binder!! especially my latest series of four which takes place in a tight time frame (1912-1913) i create my cast of characters which is a family tree (including peeps who never make it to the written page), a daily calendar to track significant events, character sketches, a map of the town - i add to my list as i go, i.e. as the characters tell me more of what's important!

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