Monday, January 28, 2013

Time Saving Tip When Writing Series

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

clockUnfortunately, I wasn’t blessed with the best memory.  And, the busier I get, the worse it gets.

Writing more than one series means that I frequently have to jump from writing a book in one series to a book in another.  I need a refresher to pick back up with the other series.

Style sheets are, obviously, very helpful for this. 

Penguin has been great about sending me style sheets for each book (hoping, of course, that I will use them to eliminate errors and inconsistencies from book to book in a series.)  The style sheets are emailed in a separate attachment from my edits, and sometimes include the email address of the copyeditor on them, in case I want to make changes to the document.

Penguin’s style sheets usually look like this (with the page reference next to the item):


Ash Downey 22
Beatrice Coleman (60s, silvery ash-blond hair) 9
Jo Paxton (black hair with white streaks, small, stout) 10
Miss Sissy (old, cadaverous) 18
Blowing Rock 34
Blue Ridge Parkway 49
Bub’s Grocery 104
Dappled Hills 12

Additionally, the sheets lists actual style: serial comma use, treatment of unusual contractions, how to handle direct thoughts in the book, word choice, etc. It always amuses me when Penguin adds the word y’all’s to the style sheets they send to me. :)

I’ve also used series bibles that go into greater detail….including things like character traits, habits, hobbies; setting details and any details of recurring subplots. This is useful too, but I still like to have the brief descriptions and the characters’ first and last names on the style sheet for a basic, quick reference.

The sheets were so helpful that I duplicated them for my self-published books. I found, though, that style sheet creation after finishing the first draft, was a time-consuming process.

This might seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me…create the style sheet while you’re writing the book.  It only takes a minute to jot down a character description or the name of the local coffeehouse so you’re not scrambling later trying to remember what you called the coffee shop and whether your character has a moustache or not.

Now, if you decide to change the character’s name, appearance, or the name of the coffeehouse, then you’ve got to remember to change the style sheet or you’ll have a real mess.

So…the style sheet helps while you’re writing the book—by offering a succinct reference that you can click over to as you write the first draft.  The style sheet also helps with edits and consistency.  And the style sheet helps with future books in the series.  I’m a fan.

Although this tool is especially helpful for series writers, I think it would also be helpful for writers who are drafting standalone books. When you’re editing your book, you’ll save time while checking for consistency in the document.

Another helpful cheat for the forgetful writer or the writer who writes multiple books a year: long synopses of each book. I heard from a teacher last week who wants me to Skype with her class about Delicious and Suspicious.  Not a problem…except that I wrote that book four years ago. Fortunately, I have a long synopsis that I put together that should refresh my memory enough to speak with some intelligence (ha!) about a book I wrote. 

Do you use style sheets or other memory crutches? Do you have any other time-saving tips while working on a book?

Image: xenia