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.