Style Sheets: A Tool for You and Your Critique Partners


You’ve got it!

Every writer does.

My online dictionary describes style as “a manner of doing something.” Beneath that description are these, which relate directly to writers: “a way of using language” and “a way of writing, characteristic of a particular person.”

You have a distinctive style.

Your style is part of your Voice. Ye ol’ dictionary defines it as, “the distinction, tone, or style of a literary work or author.”

Do you know your style? Have you discovered your Voice?

Maybe you haven’t, but your CPs will be able to pick up on them.


Elements of Style


In the classic little volume, The Elements of Style, co–author E. B. White said, “As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from the other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing as well as it’s principal reward.” – Fourth edition, chapter five, page 70.

I’ve edited for several novelists and served as a judge in a number of contests. I’m amazed by how different and distinct each writer’s Voice is. Their use of language—their style—is one of the contributing factors.

And what comprises a writer’s style? Here are a few components:

  • word choices
  • sentence structure
  • punctuation preferences
  • approach to and amount of description
  • adherence to or avoidance of certain “rules”
  • POV matters – how “deep,” how the shifts are made


What’s My Style?


When I edit for another writer, I take note of how she handles style components, such as those above, because they affect what I will mark and what I won’t. Those who edit my work will become aware of style choices I make as well.

Let’s take the example of POV. I prefer to use deep POV much of the time so the reader feels as though she’s inside my character’s head, hearing her thoughts as she thinks them. One way I achieve this is by having my POV characters think of other characters by the names they use for them rather than their positions or roles. The hero in my work-in-progress, a historical, thinks of his mother as Mother, and the heroine thinks of her father as Pa. She begins by thinking of the hero as Mr. Rutledge. In the course of the story, as their relationship changes, she switches to his first name in her thoughts, which shows the deepening of her feelings for him.

In order for my CPs to best help me, I’ll tell them about my use of proper names in internal dialogue and explain that the switch from Mr. Rutledge to his Christian name in the heroine’s POV in a certain chapter is intentional. This way they’ll know to mark instances where I use the hero’s first name in her thoughts prior to the turning point and Mr. Rutledge after.

Another example is my use of commas in compound sentences. Today, writers often omit the comma before the conjunction in compound sentences, especially short sentences with closely related clauses. This has become an acceptable practice, one seen in many published books.

Because I write historicals, I tend to follow the more stringent, or traditional, rules of punctuation that would have been in use at the time my stories are set. I choose not to omit the comma in a compound sentence, except on rare occasions, such as when the young character in my story is excited and speaking rapidly. Because this is a matter of style, I’ll let my CPs know that I’d like them to mark missing commas in compound sentences.


Developing a Style Sheet


As I read for a novelist, I ask her to clarify matters of style as I encounter them. Does she prefer a comma before “too” at the end of a sentence? Does she capitalize certain nouns to emphasize their importance in the story, e.g. the Livery to show that the hero’s business is a prominent place? Does she like to use an occasional adverb in her dialogue tags?

So that I know how to mark such matters in the future, I create a Style Sheet for each writer for whom I edit. When I complete my story and send it to my CPs, I’ll provide them with the Keli Gwyn Style Sheet to acquaint them with some of my style choices.

I break a Style Sheet into sections so I can quickly locate items I may want to refer to as I edit. As I clarify style issues with a writer when I read her work, I add the items we discussed to the appropriate section in her Style Sheet. Here are the sections I use:

  • Items to Mark: Dialogue-Related/Character References
  • Items to Mark: Grammar-Related
  • Items to Mark: Punctuation-Related
  • Items to Mark: Repetitions/Possible Deletions
  • Items to Leave As Is
  • Items for Global Search/Replace

The last two sections remind me not to mark things the writer doesn’t plan to change because they are part of her style or things she will locate herself using the find function of Word.

Having a Style Sheet can help your CPs, so you might want to consider developing one for yourself that you can share with them. Once they see yours, you can explain how it would help you edit for them if they work with you in creating one for themselves.

A side benefit to having a Style Sheet is that you can share it with your editor when you sell. The editor will be able to tell you if there are house conventions you’ll need to change as part of your revisions. Your copyeditor might shout for joy when she receives a copy because she’ll have a set of guidelines to help her do her job. Another benefit is that if your editor approves of the items on your Style Sheet, the copyeditor won’t have reason to change them, which could help preserve your Voice.


• • • • •


This concludes Critique Week here at Romance Writers on the Journey. Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by to read the posts and leave comments, which are filled with wonderful ideas and suggestions.

Since I’m a micro editor who has a hard time removing my editor hat, I plan to make a few changes to this blog in upcoming weeks. I’ll still conduct interviews with as-yet-unpublished and debut romance novelists on Mondays, but beginning in August I will no longer post interviews on Thursdays.

I plan to shift my blogging days and begin a series of posts I call Wordsmithing on Wednesdays (WoW). In those posts, I’ll share tips and techniques for making our writing the best it can be, drawing upon my experience as an assistant editor at a small publishing company and my degree in Mass Communication. Some of my posts will address items that can be included on our Style Sheets.

Fridays will be devoted to fun. But more on that later . . .


• • • • •

I wanna know . . .

What do you think of the idea of using a Style Sheet?

Have you ever known a writer who used one?

What benefits can you see to having one?


Double the Fun Drawing!

In honor of my blog’s second birthday, I’m giving away two prizes a day during my Critique Week, one each to two winners. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post by midnight Pacific Time and leave your email address when prompted. (This way you don’t have to add it to your comment.)

I’ll hold the drawing the following day, post the winners’ names here, and contact them via email to get a mailing address (which I won’t share with anyone or add to any mailing lists.)

Congratulations to the winner of the apron, Lori Benton!

Congratulations to the winner of the DVD, Julie Robinson!

Note: Offer void where prohibited. Odds of winning vary depending on number of entries.


And here are today’s prizes:

Apron with saying, "I kiss better than I cook," being admired by our cat, who refused to budge. 🙂


Close-up of apron with saying," I kiss better than I cook."


Sabrina DVD

About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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16 Responses to Style Sheets: A Tool for You and Your Critique Partners

  1. Lori Benton says:

    I’ve never used a style sheet, but these sounds like good things to be aware of about one’s own style, at least so I’ve thought through why I make the stylistic choices I make. I like the idea of having such information available for an editor.

    Happy 2nd Birthday RWoTJ!

    • Keli Gwyn says:


      Thanks for visiting and for the bloggy birthday wishes. Today marks the second anniversary of my first interview. I’m looking forward to yours on Monday, which will be the first one in the blog’s new year. 🙂

  2. Sherrinda says:

    Wow, Keli! What a great idea to have a style sheet for CP’s and for future editors. I have never thought about the details like that, but I can see how it would be incredibly helpful in critiquing. You are amazing, you know that, right?

    I am so excited about your blog changes. I have loved the author/writer interviews and am glad you are not getting rid of them, but the WOW Wednesdays will be a great addition to your blog. You have so much to offer!

    I got my plaque and have it hanging by my comfy chair where I write! I love it! Thank you!!!!

    • Keli Gwyn says:


      Thanks for your kind words. When I sell, I think I’ll hire you to write my press releases. 🙂

      I’m glad you like the changes I’ve got planned. I can’t wait to tell you about my Friday posts because YOU inspired them. The debut will be August 6.

  3. Keli,

    You make an excellent point with the style sheet given to an editor (as well as a CP). It might also be a good idea to attach a copy to your contest entry. I really like how you’ve broken it up into different items for better clarity.

    Your WoW sounds like a great attraction.

    Thanks for your mini-course this week. You’ve been a great teacher! 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:


      I’m glad you found the posts helpful. I’ve been so blessed by my CPs that I wanted to share what has worked for me in the hope that others can enjoy critique relationships as rewarding as mine are to me.

      I think you’re a braver soul than I. I’m willing to send my Style Sheet to my CPs. I look forward to the day I can send it to the editor at my publishing house. But, I wouldn’t have the courage to send it to a contest judge. I’d be afraid she’d take one look at it, scratch her head, and say “What is this thing?”

      Since a contest clearly states what we can and can’t send, I’d be afraid that if I were to send my Style Sheet I might disqualify myself or cause a confused judge to mark me down for trying to tell her how to view my work. My recommendation is to reserve one’s Style Sheet for CPs and editors.

      Thanks for all your great comments this week, Julie. You’ve added so much to the discussions, and I appreciate your insights.

  4. Keli: I received my beautiful towel and I thank you once again.

    I love the new changes you want to make in your blog. WoW is most intriguing.


    Am I considered to be an acceptable CP to someone if I tell them upfront I cannot do line editing? I spell phonetically and my grammar skills seem to be instinctive, i.e. I don’t always know the rule of grammar that applies, only that it is correct.

    I loved Strunk and White … The Elements of Style and I am grateful I read it along with other good writing books, like Stephen King.

    As a CP, all I can offer is my incredible ear, I have perfect pitch, and a great love of the pacing of dialogue and narrative. I am good for content, style, plot and story, character development, but I clearly get a solid “F” for spelling.

    A good friend and one of my trusted readers does my line editing. that or I pay someone.

    Since I just met my new CP this week and I have told her this, what is your take on my true value to her?

    • Keli Gwyn says:


      You will be a valued and valuable CP, of that I’m certain. Why? Because the writing world needs macro readers like you. Those of us who obsess about comma placement and parallelism of verb tenses need people like you to help us step back and take a look at big picture issues.

      Imagine this. I’m standing on the first floor of the Louvre across from The Wedding Feast of Cana with my face as close to the sheet of protective glass as the guards will allow and staring at a painting. I’m admiring the lovely flesh tones, the fine lines at one corner of a mouth, and the texture of the lips.

      You tap me on the shoulder, beckon me with a crooked finger, and whisper, “C’mon.” I turn and walk toward you, a good ten steps. You spin me around, and I gasp as I behold the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa.

      Let me tell you, I’d be ever so grateful that you helped me shift my focus from the details to the beauty of the entire work. That is the same gift you’ll give your CP. 🙂

  5. Susan Mason says:

    You are so clever, Keli. I never would have thought of doing this.

    You make a lot of really good points. Off to ponder my own style!


    PS. Looking forward to your new format!

  6. Sherrinda says:

    Uh Oh…I inspired you for your Friday posts? Hhhhmmm, that could be good or bad! lol 😉 I had to look back at your post to see what you hinted at about them and you said they would be devoted to fun. So, whew! I’m all about fun! Gummy bears on the house! I will celebrate the fun with you!

    • Keli Gwyn says:


      Yes, I plan for Fridays at RWotJ to be fun. Why? Because after subjecting my visitors to my WoW posts, you wonderful people deserve a break!! 🙂

      And to celebrate the first Friday post, we’ll definitely have Gummy Bears!

  7. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to my faithful friends and new visitors for making Critique Week such fun for all. Your comments added so much to the discussion.

    I’ve held the final drawing of the week. The winner of the apron is Lori Benton. The winner of the Sabrina DVD is Julie Robinson.

    Congrats, Lori and Julie!. I’ll get your prize packages on their way to you.

  8. Thanks Keli! I love Harrison Ford.

  9. Tonya says:

    I think it’s awesome! I see how it could be very helpful. Thank you so much for all your CP insights. I look forward to visiting again soon. 🙂 Have a wonderful Day.

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