A manuscript style sheet can prove invaluable for keeping track of important details, and especially so for a series. As an author, the style sheet you create can range from formal to informal. The key is finding a system that works for you. Passing one along to your editor is always appreciated, but not always practical for busy authors. In any case, I would like to share the system I’ve come up with for creating manuscript style sheets when I line or copy edit a book.
This post has been edited to acknowledge that I based my style sheet on editor Rachel Daven Skinner’s manuscript style sheet. The evolution of my Excel style sheet was also informed by examples given by Beth Hill and Rachelle Gardner. I particularly liked how Ms. Skinner includes memorable quotes from the manuscript for the author to use for promotional purposes. Regardless of already existing examples, a lot of trial and error (and time!) went into devising my Excel style sheet.
I found Excel to be more practical due to easier navigation between tabs as well as the ability to sort information in various ways. The form I’ve been using to create my manuscript style sheets utilizes seven categories, though not all books will warrant use of a miscellaneous category. When keeping Mathias’s German accent consistent in Stealing Time by KJ Waters, the miscellaneous category came in quite handy.
The screen shots here are from T. B. Markinson’s upcoming novel The Miracle Girl. If the images are a bit small for your taste, each can be clicked on to open in a new window. From there, hit Ctrl + to zoom in one each one. A link to download the manuscript style sheet template is included at the end of this post.
Each category is fairly self-explanatory, and it’s important to remember this isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor and can be adjusted to better fit fiction versus nonfiction, etc.. In any event, the following types of details will generally be included in each category.
Timeline: This amounts to a chapter-by-chapter timeline that includes the day/date, brief chapter summary of main events, and chapter number or title, as well as any additional comments.
People: Valuable information related to the character such as eye color, height, hair color, etc. It’s not uncommon for an author to end up spelling a character’s name three different ways or changing their eye color partway through the book. List any nicknames, unique habits, important descriptions, or background information.
Places: Details on the layout for buildings, neighborhoods, towns, distances, etc.
Quotes: In this age of social sharing and nonstop marketing, this category is a quick way to find great lines from a manuscript and put them before the eyes of potential readers.
Words: Even if I only verify a word once in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary for proper spelling (kung fu as opposed to kung foo), preferred use (T-shirt), hyphenation (nitty-gritty), being rendered as one word versus two (pantsuit) I will include it on the style sheet in order to show an intentional decision has been made. Other times, it’s necessary to verify the proper capitalization, spacing, and spelling on external websites (Xbox or M&M’s).
CMOS: This gets into the fine points of proper depending on the style guide being used. A traditional publisher will already have various guidelines in place (that may differ from the accepted norm). Nine times out of ten, the indie authors I work with tell me to follow all guidelines when it comes to spelling out numerals, the use of serial commas, and italics vs. quote marks for proper emphasis. I always encourage the writers I work with to state certain preferences. Rules after all were meant to be broken, but only if done with purposeful intention and not out of ignorance!
My style sheet contains brief summaries of various usage rules that come into play during the course of editing most manuscripts. I also include resource links to helpful sources so the author can further explore more examples and explanations if interested. I also pepper the first quarter or so of each manuscript with more margin comments to inform and explain various rules. An editor, like any good teacher, won’t just fix a mistake, but show the reason for the correction.
Feel free to download the Style Sheet Template I’ve created in Exel and revise it to suit your purposes. In return, it would be lovely if you could share this post.
How do you keep track of pertinent details when working on large writing projects? Have you ever created a style sheet or received one from an editor?
Permission must be granted by Jeri Walker to use the images in this post.