See what I did with the title there?? If you’re unfamiliar with style sheets (also referred to as “specification sheets”), let me share the horrible pun I made out of the title for this post.
Style Sheets 101
Style sheets are living reference documents created to accompany your manuscript through the writing and editing process. They contain every nitty-gritty detail of your novel, from the eye color of your MC to your choice of the American or British spelling of favorite / favourite.
The purpose of a style sheet is to ensure consistency in your novel. You don’t want readers to meet Dave on page five with “piercing blue eyes”, only for him to return on page 178 with “muddy brown eyes reminiscent of a dried-up riverbed”. While this example seems extreme, even the most devoted authors will accidentally alter beloved characters after churning out 173 pages.
Style sheets are also crucial for consistency in your writing style. For example, you can indicate that you prefer the em dash to parentheses and love the serial comma (as if that was ever a question! Oxford commas for life!). This allows subsequent editors of your work to note and check for consistency of your individual writing style.
It’s good practice to create a style sheet as you write. Your copyeditors and proofreaders will then reference and add to this document while they dissect your work, and then return it to you when it’s time for your own edits.
How to Construct a Style Sheet
Don’t be intimidated! Style sheets should be simple, straightforward, and easy to fill out. They’re meant to aid rather than slow you down.
At its most basic level (and where it should stay), a style sheet is a literal list of alphabetized details. Write each letter of the alphabet down the left hand side of a page in sequential order (A, B, C…). If you prefer to handwrite this document, be sure to leave plenty of space between sections.
Under each lettered section, list everything worth referencing that begins with that letter. For example, under the letter “D” in my Style Sheet Template below, I list a character named Diane. I note that she was first seen on page 68; she has blue eyes and brown hair; and she was born in Mississippi. As I continue editing, I can now reference back to Diane’s name each time she appears to make sure these details stay consistent.
For any details you find difficult to file under a specific letter, enter these in the “Notes on Style” section at the end of your style sheet. In my template below, I include example notes on sentence fragments and dialogue-formatting choices.
How to Use a Style Sheet
Your style sheet will be most useful if you fill in details as you go. You can then reference this information while writing and revising subsequent sections. Furthermore, you can note any changes you’d like to make to already written facts (maybe it’s better if Dave has “dried-up riverbed” eyes on page five!).
With that being said, of course, do what works best for you and your writing process. If you use a “brain dump” approach for your first draft, then it makes sense to wait for the second or third drafts. Remember, style sheets are supposed to be helpful, not a burden!
Style Sheet Template
Without further ado, here is your Style Sheet Template (with examples)! I use this exact one for all my editing projects.
Additional Relevant Information
Airflow not air flow
American spellings, not British
City of Barvís (spelling, accents)
Contractions used during Diane and Fred’s dialogue only
Diane (pg. 68 – first seen)
– blue eyes, brown hair
– born in Mississippi
Danger Zone (capitalized)
em dash rather than parentheses
Numbers spelt out through ninety-nine, numerals after
Paragraph titles bold and left-aligned
Phone numbers hyphenated
Quotation marks used for emphasis, not italics
Quote layout – indent from left entire paragraph in block quote
Serial comma used
“Which” acceptable for “that”
“Notes on Style” Section
Use ellipses for trailed off dialogue, em dash for cut off dialogue
Fragmented sentences are not to be changed
Style Sheets Wrap-Up
I hope this has been a helpful breakdown of the mechanics of a style sheet! Just remember to keep it simple and straightforward. Your future self (and most certainly your copyeditors and proofreaders) will be incredibly thankful for the time you put into your style sheet while writing your manuscript.
(And now you know why the title of this article was so funny!)
Keep in mind that you will use both style sheets and style guides while writing — you can check out Style Guides 101 to find out more about this second tool!
To learn how your style sheet relates to your style guide, Style Sheets vs. Style Guides provides a straightforward explanation of their relationship.
If you have additional style sheet questions or want to chat more about best practices, let me know in the comments below and I’d be more than happy to help!