5 Reasons Authors Need Style Sheets

At Castle Walls Editing, I supply style sheets when returning edited manuscripts to authors. But, you might ask, what the heck is a style sheet?

The style sheet is a separate document (or documents) used to ensure consistency in a manuscript or across a series.

While editors usually work in accordance with specific style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, style sheets cover instances not covered by the guide or instances that conflict with the guide.

Style sheets usually address the following areas:

  • Spelling and Styles
    Editors will specify the dictionary they follow (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, for example), but there are still any number of spelling decisions an editor has to make. The style sheet tracks the spellings of made-up words and words with alternate spellings. The style sheet also helps the editor, author, and proofreader use consistent styles for formatting and punctuation of quotation marks, ellipses, and other features of the manuscript.
  • Characters
    Consistent spelling of character names is obviously important (you don’t want Sara on page five and Sarah one hundred pages later—and family names can get even more complicated). Style sheets also track character traits and histories, so you don’t end up with characters switching eye color midway through the manuscript or performing an action that conflicts with a previous action.
  • Locations
    The style sheet tracks the spelling of place names and indicates characteristics of those places. This is important so that characters don’t head east out of a door that earlier faced west, or any number of other logical inconsistencies that can occur. The style sheet also helps track the physical layout and features of rooms, buildings, and locales for consistent presentation in the work.
  • Timeline/Plot
    It can be surprisingly easy for the author and editor to miss time gaffes and plot holes while focusing on the micro-level action in the manuscript. A timeline by day (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) or whatever time division works best for the manuscript helps keep time elements straight while noting basic plot points.


Benefits for the Author

No author or editor can remember everything or keep track of all the information involved in a novel without some sort of handy reference. The style sheet is therefore a necessary tool that helps editors do their job while providing a multitude of benefits to the author.

And now for the promised five reasons authors need style sheets.

Style sheets supply the author with the following:

  1. An explanation of edits. When authors review the edits an editor has made in a document, the style sheet shows why the edits were made, thereby preventing authors from sending unnecessary queries to the editor. This reassures the author and saves the author time and money.
  2. An invaluable resource. After editing, authors may still rework their novel or they may move on to sequels or additional books in a series. The style sheet provides a helpful tool for keeping track of names and styles, especially useful for SF, fantasy, and other genre work with unusual naming conventions.
  3. Insight into their own work. The style sheet provides authors with another tool for viewing their work. Some authors create story maps or chart out their novels on index cards. The style sheet acts as another lens through which authors can view their work, and seeing their story from another angle often helps writers identify flaws and improve their novels.
  4. Lessons on style. After reviewing a style sheet, it’s not uncommon for an author to have an “Oh, I didn’t know that” reaction. Some authors may be talented storytellers but fall short on the technical aspects of writing. Style sheets help in this area, and authors are usually more than happy to learn something new.
  5. A peek inside the editor’s mind. In many ways, the style sheet maps the editor’s process and demonstrates his or her competence. The style sheet is, therefore, a useful tool for helping an author grade an editor and decide whether or not to use that editor again.


A writer might take a manuscript to a copyeditor with no idea of what a style sheet is or that one will be provided with the edited manuscript. Once writers start enjoying the benefits of style sheets, however, they usually find that the sheets are something they don’t want to do without.

For more information about style sheets or the services that Castle Walls Editing provides, select Contact from the menu to your left.

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