A Book’s Stylesheet: Why You Need One | laurenlayne.com
Writing Organization

A Book’s Stylesheet: Why You Need One

April 9, 2022

A stylesheet in publishing sense of the word is a guide or “bible” to your book’s “world.” 

It’s a list of character names, places, proper nouns. It contains key details like the cross streets of your hero’s apartment, your heroine’s age and eye color, the name of your hero’s ex mother-in-law…all those nitty-gritty details that may not live in your outline (if you have one of those), but that you need to keep sorted.

Why bother?

Because it can save you time. I didn’t have a stylesheet in my early books (or rather, I did, but only the one my publisher provided after I’d turned in the book), and I cringe to think about how much time I spent searching and scrolling, trying to remember the name of my character’s employer, or whether or not my heroine was the oldest sibling or the youngest.

Yes, you can of course just plow through it so as not to lose flow, and fix it during revisions. But I’ve found that taking ten seconds to type those kinds of details in my style sheet as they come up is generally worth the effort and doesn’t interrupt my flow unless I”m in a really pivotal, tense scene.

The key here to having an “in progress” style sheet while you write is to limit the amount of friction. Adding to and updating your style sheet should be fast and easy. This is not the place to color code. Or fiddle with font headings. Or to have it formatted just so.

Make it easy on yourself.

Create a document somewhere. I maintain my stylesheet and all of my writing notes in Craft, but Apple Notes, or Evernote, or a Word Doc are great too.

Name it: 


And then just type names, places, or details you need to reference later as they come up. 

I keep mine in bullet list form so that I can simply hit enter and type the next entry. Below is a copied/pasted snippet from one of my style sheets.

Example of For Better or Worse Stylesheet:

  • Heather Fowler, 26, curly dark blonde hair, hazel eyes, slim, good butt, average boobs
  • Michigan State (college)
  • Brooklyn walk-up (4 years out of college, age 22-26)
  • Manhattan apartment, east of Central Park, 10128, 95th and 5th
  • Heather’s apartment, 4C
  • Josh Tanner, lives in 4A. Green/blue eyes, six-pack, casual clothing, light brown hair. 33
  • Mrs. Calvin, elderly neighbor who used to live in 4C
  • Josh’s band, The Weathered Gentlemen
  • Park Avenue Methodist Church, site of Heather’s wedding in chapter one, Bleaker Hotel = reception.
  • Brooke Baldwin, wedding planner, 28, long blonde hair, blue eyes, tall, hour-glass curvy
  • Seth Tyler, Brooke’s significant other.
  • Alexis Morgan, head of The Wedding Belles (founder), dark brown hair, wide light brown eyes. Polished and pretty.
  • Logah Harris, WB accountant. British.
  • Danica Robinson, big celeb wedding. Daughter of Hollywood director and super model, long chestnut brown hair (shiny), round blue eyes, perfect makeup
  • Monteith wedding, previous August, Danica’s inspiration for her own wedding.
  • Jessie, WB receptionist.
  • Shorty’s, philly cheese steak

See? Not fancy, but effective, and a huge time saver. They’re even more crucial if you’re writing a series. The details from Book One are going to feel very far away by the time you get to book four!

One quick thing to note: the style sheet can and should serve as a reference point as you go along, trying to remember, “What was that one character’s name again?”

But as you get along in te book, your stylesheet will be lonnnnnng, and it may be harder to peruse ‘at a glance’ looking for the detail you want.

In the name of “staying in the zone,” don’t spend too much time searching for whether or not you’ve captured a particular detail. Repeats are okay! You may you have two different names listed for your hero’s older sister in the stylesheet. No problem. Pick the one you want, and then search for the other and adjust. The beauty of having the style sheet is that you’ll know exactly what name to search for!