Have you ever read a piece in which the author dropped in an unfamiliar acronym without explaining what it stood for? Or have you ever encountered a character whose eyes are green in chapter 2 but brown in chapter 9?
Even if you're not an editor, it's annoying. How are you supposed to stay in the flow of the narrative or argument if you have to keep stopping to figure out inconsistencies and whether they're important?
Fortunately, there's an easy way to (a) minimize the number of times you make those mistakes in the first place and (b) help your editor find and correct them.
Meet one of my favorite editorial tools: the style sheet.
Excerpt from a sample style sheet used here
Essentially, a style sheet is a collection of notes on how certain words, terms, and abbreviations should be used in your specific manuscript. Some entries simply show how a particular name, word, or term should be spelled and/or punctuated, like most of the entries in the sample. Other entries include notes (such as the entry for suck-up in the sample). Style sheets can also include global guidelines, such as "Use American spelling and punctuation conventions throughout," which style manual and dictionary the editor should use, and any deviations from the chosen style manual and/or dictionary.
A good editor will create a style sheet, if one doesn't exist, for reference as they work on a manuscript. But you can save your editor and yourself a lot of time and trouble if you create a style sheet as you write. First, you can reference it while you're writing so you can minimize or eliminate inconsistencies in the first place. Second, the style sheet helps your editor know exactly what you want. Third, it'll save time by answering many questions that your editor would otherwise have to ask you:
"What does ST: TNG stand for? When do we spell it out vs. use the abbreviation?"
"Should the villain's name be spelled Damian or Damien?"
"Is it lightbulb, light bulb, or light-bulb?"
"Do we include authors' middle initials in citations or just first and last names?"
When writing or editing fiction, I also like to put important details about characters, locations, and other story concepts on the style sheet. I've found that we authors have a troublesome habit of switching these things partway through stories without realizing it. For example, my creative-writing professor once wrote a scene in which he accidentally had a one-armed character dealing cards with both hands. I've also edited a fantasy novel in which one kingdom had five or six different names!
No matter what we're writing, consistency is key, and the style sheet is one of the best tools available to help us achieve that. So give it a try. Your editor will thank you. 😉
P.S. If you're struggling to even get enough written down to put together a style sheet, I can help. Click here to learn about my book-coaching services.
(Thanks to Amber Mayo for sharing their work on Unsplash.)