Style Sheets and How We Use Them
Have you ever wondered how your editor remembers what they’ve done and keeps all the little bits straight in your manuscript? Well of course we have checklists on top of checklists, but most seasoned editors will also use a style guide. This is a working document where they place information to help them keep all the people in the right place and remind them who killed whom, who slept with whom, and who didn’t exist until that moment. It’s often the reason we catch those plot holes.
Want to check eye colour? Check the style guide.
Want to know if a necklace was silver or gold? Check the style guide.
Want to know … well most things? Check the guide.
This blog will give you an insight into the style guide and how it supports us to work efficiently, as well as highlighting the differences between the styles of editing available.
Please keep in mind that all the examples in the style sheet are ones I’ve created for the purpose of this blog and are based on the way I work. All editors are different, and although the ‘bones’ may be similar, the processes will vary.
In this case, it is the final look at a text before formatting. Some editors work on a formatted text for a proofread, but since that’s not a service I offer, it won’t be covered here. Big issues will not be noted during a proofread. It is meant purely to correct grammar and ensure consistency throughout.
The Silent Edits section lists all the points that will be automatically covered during the read. As the author, you will never ‘see’ these marked on the page (unless you’ve requested to have them ‘marked up’) since they’re only minor grammar corrections and don’t affect the voice or style—Who wants to go through their manuscript accepting one hundred ‘add quotation mark, add apostrophe, add period …’?
Anything that does affect the style will be marked for you to check.
Example of a ‘marked up’ manuscript.
There will also be a section for spellings to ensure consistency throughout. This will include names and places as well as accepted variants for spelling. Normally, your proofreader will ask for any style choices you’ve opted for that may be outside of standard grammar rules. This is very prevalent in fantasy. For example: Do you have a council that you always want to be a Council? The word isn’t capped as standard, but it’s a style choice you would have discussed with your copy or line editor, and would be marked in the style sheet.
That’s the extent of the proofing sheet, since it’s meant as a final look, and any extras will have been flagged as queries in the manuscript for the author to consider.
When you hire a copyeditor, you will find there are a lot of comments and suggestions in your manuscript to consider, but the editor will often still create a style sheet to run alongside their changes to support the edit.
As well as including some proofreading items, copyediting style sheets will have extra sections.
The character section focuses on features and traits. Sometimes important plot devices may be marked too, but not always as this delves into line and content slightly. Some editors will use these bits of information to make sure the voice is consistent throughout. But in a copyedit, they mainly help to keep eye colour, hair colour and height straight, as well as any major features. This is especially useful for keeping track of whether character A has blue or green eyes and if they are a fox shifter or a wolf.
Content and Line Edit
In a content and line edit, important plot devices may be marked on the character information, too. Editors will use these pieces of information to make sure the voice is consistent throughout. In this instance, lines used by the character have been added in quotations to make the editor aware this is how she sees herself and how she relates to other characters.
A content and line edit will also delve into how places and items relate to the characters. This helps to make sure all the plot points are followed to their conclusion (or at least not forgotten so they’re completed by the end of the series). It stops readers wondering what happened to X or why Z seemed relevant in book two and then was never mentioned again.
In the example there are also notes in brackets to flag some issues that have been expanded on in the manuscript itself.
The example here shows some basic notes that may be made during a content and line edit. There are points marked for further development in the manuscript, as well as some observations on how a reader may see the character currently.
It helps to make sure that all the plot threads are followed to conclusion, and no one’s dead character makes a comment three chapters, or even ten chapters on.
A full content edit will also have some sections where the editor has gone into detail as to what is or isn’t working and why. This may include suggestions to support resolving the issue, or things to consider as the area is developed.
Because a content and line edit doesn’t focus on the small details, grammar and flow issues will not have been marked up every time they occur. To make sure the author is aware, however, there will be a section in the style sheet that covers any recurring issues. In a full style sheet, the points below would be expanded on using examples from the manuscript and offering some ways to resolve them. Following these will help prepare the script for the next phase of editing.
Style Sheets for Series
If you stay with the same editor for multiple books in a series, they will add to the sheet as they go. This will help to follow the progression of the characters in a content edit, and make sure everything is uniform in a copyedit or proofread. It reduces the chance of having a stepbrother in book one and a step-brother in book two.
There are lots of different methods employed to make sure the editor knows which book in a series which event occurred, but I, along with many others, use different colors to make it clear at a glance.
I hope you’ve found this glance into the workings of a style sheet useful. Have any questions or comments? let me know.