What is a Style Sheet and Why is it Important

When I do a stylistic edit or a copy edit, I always create a style sheet for myself and the author. A style sheet is a wonderful resource that many new authors have never heard of so I thought it best to explain exactly what it is, why it is so useful, and what to do with it once you have one.

What is a Style Sheet?

In short, a style sheet is a document that lists all the story details and style choices an author has made that need to be kept consistent. Story details that may be in a style sheet are things like character names and descriptions, place names and descriptions, and made up words (since I often edit fantasy). Style choice refers to decisions made about capitalization, hyphenation, italics, spelling, punctuation, and formatting to name a few.

Why is it Important?

The main purpose of a style sheet is to help ensure consistency. By having one place where all the decisions are listed, an author and editor can quickly check to ensure the style remains consistent throughout a novel.

A style sheet also helps an editor remember the particulars of an author’s voice. As I’ve mentioned before, an author’s voice is distinct in word choice and syntax, so keeping notes helps an editor mimic the author’s voice in instances where some rewriting may be in order. It also makes it easier to spot areas where the voice has changed unintentionally.

And finally, a style sheet saves time and trouble. It does this not just in terms of checking suspected inconsistencies but also by explaining why certain aspects of a novel were changed. Rather than the editor adding an explanatory comment every time they, for example, italicize a character’s thoughts the author can see by looking at the style sheet that interior monologue should be italicized.

What to Do Once You Have One

I always recommend reading through the style sheet and editorial letter before delving into the edits in the manuscript pages. Doing so will help you understand the foundation on which the edits and notes are based and therefore will help you understand why certain changes were made.

The style sheet provides a great reference for when you are going through an edit especially if you are rewriting, expanding, or adding a new scene. Referencing the style sheet will help ensure consistency within the newly written scenes. It is also a great reference for ensuring consistency throughout a series.

Sometimes authors and editors will work together on every level of editing but not always. There are a few scenarios where an author will seek out different editors for different types of editing. In that case, your style sheet should be passed along to each editor working on the manuscript. This will ensure each editor understands why certain choices were made and can save them some time and trouble as well.

Now that you know what a style sheet is you should know that you don’t have to wait for an editor to make one for you. If you feel it would be helpful to have while still writing (and in my experience it definitely is), then go ahead and make one for yourself. Here is the template I use to make my style sheets.

Drop me a comment if you have any questions about style sheets.

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