Friday, 16 August 2013

Personal Style Sheets

A novel’s a big thing. Naturally, you’ll forget the little details—the colour of the hero’s eyes, the spelling of a name, the location of a temple, that sort of stuff.

A personal style sheet comes in useful. This contains a roster of all your characters, their characteristics, goals, personal quirks, particular spellings and more. It can also contain any maps, important plot points, and continuity notes. Heroine left her parasol at Gunter’s? Then she shouldn’t have it with her at Almack’s. Style sheets can help avoid these sorts of errors.

Now, I don’t get stuck up on all the formal layout and spelling and stuff (except for proper nouns. Keep names and words unique to your universe consistent). But I do want to know important things.

I once wrote (most of) a novel organically. In the first few chapters, I had X happen, and a McGuffin went missing, thus creating an important plot point. Then about chapter eight, the missing object showed up without fanfare, and became part of a very important plot point. When Plot Point #3 came along, I had forgotten what had happened in the first part of the novel, so I went back for a read.

Oh, the continuity errors! If I went back and fixed one thing, it completely ruined the other thing. In the end I had to scrap that novel and redraft it.

Lesson learned: I work best when I draft out the outline first, including making notes about important things. Then I can sit down and crank out wordage.

When I work on a ms, I’m always taking notes. Thankfully, yWriter, my noveling software of choice, has a section for notes. (It’s also got places for listing character bios, locations, McGuffins and more.)

How do you keep track of the minutae of your ms?

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