While formatting will be changed for Kindle and the like, it is good practice to get into a submission-ready standardised way of formatting your work as you write. Then change fonts and spacing if required by whoever you are submitting it to but generally most follow the same basic guidelines.
Here are some tips from a handout I like to share:
A Few Simple Tips For Formatting
Always check the guidelines for submission with the publisher or agent. Likewise, always check the rules and the submission guidelines when submitting to a competition or anthology. They will have their own in-house styles and rules. However as a rule of thumb the most preferred formatting is:
- Times New Roman (Ariel sometimes)
- 12 point
- Double Spaced (remove extra space between paragraphs)
- Double speech marks – although some prefer single (some even say if they want straight or curly!)
(Just make sure you are consistent.)
- Rugged right (justified leaves gaps in the text) and editors usually prefer this as it appears too uniform otherwise. This is using the ‘align left’ tab not the ‘justify’ tab.
The default tabs in Word are usually fine (sometimes they might ask for certain indents but not usually), set for double spacing (sometimes 1.5) and click box – don’t add extra space between paragraphs for the whole document. Start the piece or a new section to the far left, then indent for new paragraphs. Look at books as this will give you the idea:
And so it began.
It was the summer of 1974…
Use an indent for a new paragraph or speaker (also includes reaction by a speaker so the reader can easily follow the conversation).
If you change scene, extra line space – no indent.
For a large time gap or point of view change also consider using asterisks for a larger scene break.
… She never stayed to hear his reaction. She couldn’t watch the man she loved just walk away. Not today. Not ever.
Peter drank. Perhaps not always the best answer but today Peter drank to forget.
Here we changed point of view. The formatting tells the editor/reader the switch in point of view was intentional. Again look at the way books do it and be consistent in your text. You will find your own style.
Always indent when a new person speaks unless it’s after action:
Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. “What the hell was that?” he said.
Avoid hanging saids like:
Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. He said,
“What the hell was that?”
(Move it up onto the same line.)
Again look at books. If you’re given another character’s reaction to what a speaker says start like a new paragraph.
“It looks nothing like an alien or a lion,” said Joe blushing.
Peter dug his hands into his pockets and shook his head at Joe.
Thoughts are sometimes also expressed like dialogue. This is completely unnecessary for a single viewpoint character narrator when it’s clear it’s all his thoughts (so you can also lose expressions like he thought.) But excursions in a third person narrative to direct first person thoughts or with an omniscient third person narrator it is preferable to use italics. These make it clear it’s thoughts and differentiate from dialogue.
He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound, like a bird maybe. It put him in mind of a parrot screeching but longer notes, more persistent. Whatever it was it wasn’t going away – (all character thought)
It’s going to get me – (switch to first person direct thought).
He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound. “Maybe it’s a bird,” he thought. “Maybe like a parrot but more persistent.” He stood back. “Whatever it was,” he thought, “it wasn’t going away. It’s going to get me.”
If you get into the habit of using the correct formatting it makes it easier when you submit and it also tells the editor you do know about writing – it’s far more professional. It also shows them you know how to follow rules which is essential if they decide to publish you. It’s surprising how many writers don’t read. Read as much as can not only do you then pick up the right way to format but you also see what works best.
Also make sure you use things like hyphens (-) to connect words and en dashes (–) to separate clauses and em dashes (—) for interruptions
Also for ellipses do not use three or more full stops control-alt-period (…) not (…).
Make sure you follow the guidelines, so if it says no identifying marks, remove your name from headers and footers. If it asks for page numbers at the bottom, insert them in the footer. If it asks for Ariel font, no indents (The Costa Prize does this!) and saved as a PDF, then do exactly as it asks.
Make sure you follow the rules of competitions: themes, word counts, previous submissions etc.
Have a great weekend everyone!