Many authors assume they don’t need to be conscious of style choices because it is understood that the editor will fix style choices. Other authors use the excuse of “just getting the words on the page” to get out of using a consistent style as they write.
Using a consistent style (and being conscious enough to make consistent style choices) will force you to think about your audience; for example:
Hmmm . . . I am writing a military story for the general public . . . should I use all military acronyms throughout, or should I remind my audience of what they stand for at the beginning of each new chapter?
Using a consistent style will also make you more conscious in your writing.
After a while, you won’t have to think about it–you’ll just be thinking about your words, and TADA! Your style will be consistent.
So what are the steps to making a great style sheet?
1. Choose your style guide.
Before making any major style decisions, you should consult the way that one specific style guide recommends that particular item’s usage. I (Amy) don’t recommend mixing style guides unless you have a specific reason for doing so. For example, if you’re writing an academic book that has a lot of footnotes and you’re using MLA, you might choose to use Chicago’s rules for footnotes, as Chicago has a better footnote system for many footnotes. This would be in the interest of your audience, and you would make this one choice purposefully and consistently.
For general trade books, use: The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Note: You can sign up for a one-month free trial of the online version. I love using the online version–much faster for looking up specific rules than the book version!)
For journalistic writing, use: The Associated Press Stylebook
For scientific writing, use: Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
You will also want to choose the dictionary you’re going to reference–it is not recommended to use more than one dictionary’s recommendation. I like Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
2. Choose your columns.
You could have many columns un your style sheet (for example, specific columns for grammar rules, punctuation rules, word choice, and word list, and miscellaneous). However, I recommend using just two specific columns in your style sheet:
I find having only two columns allows me more flexibility in making necessary adjustments as I go through. Plus, it is easier to navigate in only having two columns. In the notes column, you will describe specific rules that need to be followed; for example, “Use the footnote style in The Chicago Manual of Style” or ”Use British spellings for common words.” The word list column will be used to show all specific usages and spellings of keywords. For example, as you’ve decided to use British spellings for common words (because let’s say your audience is mostly outside of the United States), you might put “favourite” and “colour” down. Make sure it is in alphabetical order!
3. Create it as you go!
You’re not going to be able to start your book with a completed style sheet–you’ll just have to fill it in as you go. Create the structure (your style guide choices and column headings), and make your style choices as they come up. As your style choices come up, make sure to always reference your style guide first, then make the best decision for your audience.
If you’d like to see some examples of great style sheets, let us know!