The use of a story bible or manuscript style sheet template can prove invaluable for keeping track of important details in a book, and even more so when it comes to an entire series. Such forms can range from formal to informal. The key is finding a system that works for you. To hasten that process, I’ve included templates that can help kickstart this process. Passing one along to your editor is always appreciated, but not always practical for busy authors.
When I copy/line edit a manuscript, a basic style sheet formatted in Word is included in the project fee. However, a story bible formatted in Excel can be obtained for an additional charge.
Story Bible and Manuscript Style Sheet Templates
This post has been edited to acknowledge that I based my story bible on editor Rachel Daven Skinner’s manuscript style sheet. The evolution of my Excel story bible and Word 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 the Excel story bible presented in this post.
I found Excel to be more practical in the creation of a story bible 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 five categories. I’ve created three tabs each on the story bible spreadsheet for the style sheet, timeline, people, and places. I left the quotes category at one tab since it’s best to choose a few enticing quotes judiciously for promotional purposes rather than a long list.
This system allows for information to be collected on three books in a series. However, additional tabs can easily be added. A link to download both the story bible template and manuscript style sheet template is included at the end of this post.
Each category of the story bible is fairly self-explanatory, and it’s important to remember this isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The spreadsheet 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.
Style Sheet: Essential alternate spellings, names, invented words, places, rarities, and unusual treatments (capitalizations, abbreviations, etc.).
Timeline: Day/date, chapter summary of main events, and chapter number or title, as well as any additional comments.
People: Any nicknames, important trait descriptions, unique habits, background info, etc. At times, the text may be directly copied from the manuscript.
Places: Layout and important details related to rooms, buildings, neighborhoods, towns, distances, etc.
Quotes: Memorable lines from the manuscript for sharing on social sites or other marketing materials.
The manuscript style sheet as it appears in Word is a simpler affair than the story bible spreadsheet, but it is still an invaluable tool for ensuring consistency within a manuscript. I also pepper the first quarter or so of each manuscript with more margin comments to inform and explain various rules. I believe an editor, like any good teacher, won’t just fix a mistake, but show the reason for the correction when a type of error appears multiple times.
DOWNLOADS!!! Feel free to download the Story Bible Template I’ve created in Exel and revise it to suit your purposes. The Style Sheet Template I’ve created in Word is available for download as well. If the action halts, you may need to ensure the popup blocker of your web browser is disabled. 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?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2015. Post updated May 2019.