Wednesday: Editing Tricks

Editing Tricks

One thing that doesn’t get enough attention as an editing tool is the Style Sheet. (Yeah, I’m capitalizing it. What? It’s important.)

I’ve made many style sheets throughout the years, but I only just started making them for my own writing. It helps you (or your editor) keep all your proper nouns, stylistic quirks, and story details organized and, therefore, consistent. I organize all mine this way:

Author: If I didn’t write the piece in question, I need to know who did! This is where I list the author’s alias and name, their contact information, and what package they ordered, along with any notes they might have given me. I list each item as a bullet point for clarity.

Title: Only the title goes here, because the title has to reverberate throughout the piece, yes? The title has to make sense for the entire work you’re editing.

Type: This is where I list whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, a short story, novella, excerpt, novel, essay, article, research paper, or whatever. I also put the word count that the piece had when I received it, so after I finish editing it, I can compare the before count with the after count.

Characters: List every single character here, even if the character is mentioned one time on page thirty-six in passing. I organize them by role, then bullet-point their stats: age, appearance, skills, job, hobbies, nicknames, friends, enemies, goal, or anything that is relevant to the piece. If they own a car, I probably don’t have to mention it. If it’s a murder mystery involving a hit-and-run, it goes on there, with every reference to it marked (pages 1, 7-8, 24, and 51).

Locations: Like above, I list every location the piece mentions. The city, state, county, nation, continent—whatever the writer gives us. Mountain ranges, water bodies, roads, villages, nightclubs, ski resorts, ancient ruins, hotels—anything. Each location is bulleted under a parent regional location with the page numbers of the first mention preceding any other notes about it. Read that five times fast.

Numbers and Letters: Here is where I keep all the different forms of numbers and acronym- or letter-mentions. For example, I’d include the first mention of each: distance (length and height), money, chemicals, age and years, and then miscellaneous. Now, if the character goes to the gas station in chapter one and buys a candy bar for $1.04, then in chapter seven is paid $20 for baby-sitting a French poodle, I’d have to include only the first candy-bar instance and make sure that any time I run into a cash transaction, the format matches the one on my style sheet. Make sense?

Formatted Font: This is where I include all the italicized, boldfaced, or underlined things that are consistently italicized, boldfaced, or underlined. I would not, for example, bother to mention when something in dialogue is italicized for stress; that doesn’t have to be checked and re-checked throughout the piece. However, I would include the first instances of direct and indirect thought, onomatopoeia, non-English words, special characters (like the pi symbol), and media titles.

Punctuation: List the used punctuation; ask if the writer uses the serial comma, then include the earliest instance of your answer. What do they hyphenate, when do they use em- or en-dashes, do they use the apostrophe-S on a name like Boris, do they use single or double quotation marks for quoted items within and without dialogue? The list goes on. Whatever you encounter, keep it here as a reference or as a note to check the correct usage.

Word List: Oh, yay! The biggest, most grueling part of the Style Sheet and your piece—the list of all the words you had to check! This list will include words you didn’t know were supposed to be one word instead of two, or words from above (onomatopoeia, non-English words, etc.), or words you’ve just never heard before, or words you had to check the spelling for, or words the writer misuses and the words they meant to use and the words you suggested instead, or the name of a location, a culture, a class, a vehicle, a button, an operating system, a robot, a species, a spell, a breed, or a slang term, or a slur. The first novel I ever edited (about 80,000 words) had 188 words in the list, including the names of gadgetry and non-English words.

References: Finally, list the dictionary and encyclopedia you used to edit this work, and any other fact-checking resource you had to find (but make sure to mark what part of the work made you look at this).

I’ll use Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to show you guys how to format your style sheets on the next Editing Tricks Wednesday! Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Friday: Promotion

Call To Write

Because I edit fiction for a living, writing first drafts (or first-drafting) can be difficult. First-drafting is when you stifle your inner editor and just write your scene(s). It doesn’t have to be interesting, pretty, or even comprehensible. Just get it out so you have something to expand and edit later.

Think what you want about NaNoWriMo (I know I will), but one thing participants do that seems to help me stop talking about writing and actually do it is a writing sprint. Set a time limit (I usually do 15 minutes), and refuse all distractions so you can write. Just spill it all onto the page!

I’d like to host a sprint challenge here: Open a comment, post your starting time, and WRITE for 15 minutes. Post your ending time and submit! The best “entry” will be featured with links to the author’s blog or online portfolio. Good luck!

What do you think of writing sprints, or NaNoWriMo? Post a comment below!

Wednesday: Before Editing and After

Before Editing and After

Are you on the fence about hiring an editor? That’s understandable; I write perfect prose, too. However, I’m going to make you look at this. Our new series, Before Editing and After, highlights writing that may not be bad originally, but that has improved after Cicero Grade’s suggestions.

For our debut BEA post, we thank writer Judi for sharing a bit of her short story. You’re awesome, Judi!


Many times I lie awake staring at the walls, and feel as if I’m waiting for the hush to fall so deep that Death will come at last and take me. I’ll just close my eyes and never wake up. He’ll take my hand and we’ll walk out the front door together.


Often I lie awake and stare at the walls, the silence so deep that Death could come at last and take me. I’ll just close my eyes and never wake up; he’ll take my hand and we’ll walk out the front door together.”

How would you have rewritten it? Put your answers in the comments below!

Would you like a free paragraph-edit? To be featured in Before Editing and After, send your passage of up to 150 words (along with your name and a link to your webspace) to Thanks!