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NaNo Prep: Creating a Style Sheet

Thursday, October 17, 2013

One of the most important things you can do in preparation for starting a new project is to make lists. We’ve been covering a lot of the information that usually would go on these types of lists, but I don’t want to leave a very important list out.

The Style Sheet

When I was editing, I kept a style sheet for every manuscript I worked on—especially when I was working on a series. I needed to ensure continuity in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation (hyphenation, accent marks, etc.) of everything that couldn’t be found in the dictionary; was foreign, archaic, regional, or unfamiliar (jargon, techy, medical, etc.); or that was fictional/made up. I needed to make sure names were spelled the same way all the time (was it Kristen or Kristin?).

These are SOOOOOOOO helpful, not just to an editor, but also for yourself both in your revision process and as you go forward in a series so you can maintain consistency in the way you do things. For example—I should have done this during my revision process on Ransome’s Honor—before it ever went out to publishers and got contracted—because there were certain words/terms that were historically accurate capitalized that got lowercased or that, when used in different contexts should be uppercased or lowercased. I also should have done it for myself during the editorial process to make the editing of the second book easier because I wrote things out differently in Crossing: aye-aye instead of aye, aye; poop-deck instead of poop deck and so on. If I’d kept my own style sheet, I could have saved the editor a LOT of time!

So what should you include on a style sheet?

Unusual, foreign, archaic, uniquely spelled, and made-up names. You don’t think you’ll forget how you chose to spell something, but when it’s 3 a.m. and you’re trying to get your last 5,000 words written so you can have your manuscript emailed to your editor before she gets to her office at 8 a.m., believe me, you want these things written down. Be sure to include all nicknames/shortened forms of the names that are used.

All place names. While you may not think that you need to write these things down, even if you’re using a real-world place, it’s still a good idea to do so. After all, even a place like Nashville has many names that could be questioned: the Athens of the South, Music City USA, Nashvegas. There are also community/suburb/enclave names that get used: Woodbine, Woodmont, Green Hills, Forrest Hills, Belle Meade, Bellevue, etc. Writing these down, and including a descriptor of what each place is, can be helpful to you as you do your research and to your editor later down the road.

Names of restaurants, stores, schools, and other establishments. You need to know these, so does your editor. Be sure to include any abbreviations/shortened forms of the words.

Anything that gets a red squiggly line as you type it. Anything that shows up as a spelling error (whether it’s fictional or the computer just doesn’t recognize it) needs to be added to your style sheet.

Foreign, archaic, regional, or made up words and phrases. I used a French phrase as part of the name of a coffee shop in fictional Bonneterre, Louisiana. The computer doesn’t like it (red squiggly line) and, as a rule, foreign words and phrases not in common usage in America get italicized. So I included Beignets S’il Vous Plait on my style sheet.

Here’s a snapshot of what my style sheet for my story-in-progress, a sequel to the original Bonneterre series, looks like:

Click to See Full-Size

Click to See Full-Size

For Discussion:

How do you keep track of this kind of information, both during your prep time and while you’re writing?

  1. Stuart Wakefield permalink
    Thursday, October 24, 2013 8:39 am

    I’ve also added the names people call each other. One of my characters is called Leven, Lev, boy, or Moppy depending on which charater is speaking to him. Things like that get out of hand really fast if you’re not paying attention!



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