Write Hacks 5

Style Sheets The Old Fashioned Way by Deborah J. Ross

Nowadays, you can find all sorts of software to help you keep track of characters, places, names, even geneologies. I croppedQuillstill do this the way I learned to when I was first writing. I use both a notebook (handy for flow charts, diagrams, portrait sketches, and family trees) and a file labeled “NOVELNAME Style Sheet.”

I keep this file open as I write, both drafting and revising. I don’t even bother with formal headings; I just start lists, roughly grouped by type. As I go on, I add and change things. For instance, when I introduce a character, I put down their name and any characteristics that are in the text (physical description, occupation, relationship to other characters). If I change my mind about something (eye color, for example), it gets changed in both the text and the style sheet. I’ll use the search function of my word processing program to find the mentions in the text.

If I’ve made significant changes to the style sheet, I’ll keep the old one. One of the benefits of the paper notebook is that it provides an archaeological record of what I was thinking then. The great thing about the style sheet file is that if I’ve kept up with it, all I have to do is tidy the categories and send it off to my copy editor (who will then be eternally grateful and send me chocolate).



Write Hacks 5 — 4 Comments

  1. *I* want to send you chocolate, and I’m not even _your_ copyeditor!

    Stylesheets are wonderful. These days, I use Storyist (software similar to Scrivener), which means I get to keep all of my character and setting notes in one place rather than spread over several documents.

    As for the changing eye colour thing: it’s such a cliche that new copyeditors are regularly tested on it; but I’ve found it several times in novels that had been through at least one editor’s hands.

  2. A character list is, in my experience, always good.

    Other lists are beneficial but depend on the work. I’ve kept lists of Good Folk types, or geographical locations, and many others for different stories.

  3. Oh God, now you put me in doubt. Is this character’s eye color brown or blue? Cannot recall. I had better go and fix it; it doesn’t matter as long as I’m consistent.

    The great Elizabeth Moon had a system to manage her multiple-volume series — a three ring binder. She had a set of alphabet tabs for it. Every character had a sheet of paper, and every time he appeared or anything happened to him it got noted on the sheet. So if Sergeant Elvis had his left leg blown off at the knee in a combat in vol. 2, when someone runs into him in a bar in vol. 7 she can note that he has a nice peg leg.

  4. With the exception of short emails, I outline every piece of writing I do. My outlines aren’t terribly elaborate or structured – for this article, all I did was write a list of the five hacks I wanted to talk about, and for a longer piece like a novel I write a half page of short sentences describing the main plot points. You shouldn’t be spending hours creating the outline – it’s a way to get your ideas down on paper so you can start organising them.