Before you write, you’ll find it helpful to set up a blank style sheet and fill it in as you write your novel. Then when you edit, you’ll be able to look for and correct troublesome spots.
Okay, for those of you who are lost, here’s what I mean by a style sheet for fiction. A style sheet is a form you devise to remind yourself of many of the specifics you have written into your novel and to be able to check what you wrote without paging through what you have written.
As you’re writing, you will note on your style sheet the specifics about your characters, locations, spellings of troublesome names, brief descriptions of people and places, any question you want to make sure you answer in your story, etc. Then when you edit, you’ll use the style sheet for quick reference to ensure that you meant for Sally’s eyes to be green and not blue, and you meant to have the one way street for the car chase going north instead of south.
Basically, there are no set categories for the style sheet. You’ll make them up as you go along and include on it the items you want to check during the edit of your book. Some parts of the style sheet will stay the same for every book you write. So as you devise it, you could put those topics up front, such as Names of Characters, Character Descriptions, Places, etc. The remainder of it, you’ll want to individualize for that particular book. For example, if your setting for the novel is in a foreign country, you may want to have a category for foreign words you use and their definitions.
When I’m writing a book, I keep track of the particulars mentioned above, but I also use my style sheet to do an evaluation of my novel as I go along. Evaluation items I usually include are:
1. Character development: Are the characters fully developed? Make notes of things that need to be changed.
2. Setting: Can you visualize the setting as you read the story?
3. Plot: Does the story move? What slows it down? Changes to make.
4. Point of view: Is the story told in one point of view? If told in multiple points of view, does it work so the reader will not be confused?
5. Drama: Does the tension build throughout the story? What changes are needed to keep the story moving?
6. Ending: Is the ending satisfying? Does the story end at the right point?
So, you develop the style sheet as a form that you fill out as you go through the editing and revising process of your book. Leave plenty of room on it to write notes to yourself. After you complete filling out the style sheet, go back through the book and make the revisions you noted.
Of course a style sheet is no substitute for having your book professionally edited. Even editors have their books professionally edited. You just can’t catch everything yourself. When you take your book to an editor, take them a copy of your style sheet. Your editor will do a much better job for you if you give they can see what worried you about your book.
The style sheet for non-fiction writing is much different. We will discuss that in the next blog post.