Formatting Affects How You Read

I never really thought too much about this before. Only recently I have found myself, while editing for clients, explaining how formatting impacts on the way the reader reads. I think I always did this naturally as I write. So, since this week we have been discussing critiquing, I thought it might throw it in this morning.

We all know, or should by now, how to format work for submission. I tend to advise the standard formatting for all of us and to use it as we write as a matter of habit. So: New Times Roman, 12 font, double spaced, tick box in paragraph tab to not add extra space between paragraphs, no indent for chapter or story openings and for the start of a new scene (and extra line space), indent only for new paragraph or new speaker and reaction (even if action) by a speaker, (no extra line spaces for this) but I also have to emphasise that you need to follow guidelines by publishers, as it might vary slightly. So for example the Commonwealth Short Story Prize ask for Ariel font etc.

But get into good habits from the outset.

So what do I mean when I talk about editing the formatting for pace?

When you start scenes, in particular, I often suggest standalone sentences that pack a punch (although vary it between chapters and scenes, they don’t all need to do this) so for example you night start:

At first she thought it was thunder and then she thought it was a car backfiring, even an earthquake but it was none of these things, it was  a gunshot that was followed by a scream. Good intrigue right? But could you add drama without adding a single word? Here goes. (Note only the first line in these examples has no indent but WordPress here is not allowing me to show indents for the lines that follow!)

At first she thought it was thunder.

Or a car backfiring.

Even an  earthquake.

But it was none of these things.

It was a gunshot. It was followed by a scream.

Here we took out some words for pacing but see how something as simple as this changes the way we read the words; it adds the drama element.

You will see Stephen King does this a lot, single sentence paragraphs, sometimes even single words:



Car backfiring?



Shit. It was definitely a gunshot.

The screaming came next.

See how much you augment the intrigue and how the pacing is more defined here.

So next time you write think about how you can actually use formatting as a tool that impacts on the way the reader reads.

Editing is so vital, it can break or make a manuscript.

That is all. I will leave you to ponder and with this great quote I was reminded of by fellow member of Canvey Writers, Fiona about varying sentence length by Gary Provost:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

Standard tabs, as shown and indent tab to 1.25. Aligned left, rugged, New Times Roman 12, double-spaced, no extra line spaces between sentences, title in header (usually no name) and page numbers usually at bottom.

When you send work it’s vital to present it professionally but also you can format for your story telling.

Remove extra spacing between paragraphs

Remove extra spacing between paragraphs

Upper part of page

Lower part of page


1 Comment

Filed under being a successful writer, Blogging, Learning to be a writer, Living the dream, Mainstream Fiction, Novel writing, Passion for writing, Reading, Uncategorized

One response to “Formatting Affects How You Read

  1. j4ngj4ng

    Thanks Debz, really useful. Sorry I missed Monday, really hope to get there next time. By then I’ll be just a month or so from quitting the day job!

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