Wednesday, 11 May 2011

6 Formatting Bugbears

One of the by-products of reading a lot of student work is how sensitive you become to poor formatting. I imagine it's the same for agents and publishers so I thought I'd list some of my bugbears...

Indents
The first line of every paragraph should be indented. You can do this very easily if you use Word. Go to Format, then Paragraph. There's a box marked Special, which is probably empty. Click on the little arrow on the side and First Line comes up. Save this page. From now on, every time you press the carriage return key your next line will be automatically indented. Hooray!

Spaces between paragraphs
Academic formatting is no indents, and a space between each paragraph. Creative writing is just the opposite. You should only have a space between paragraphs when you want to indicated a new scene.

Uneven spacing
Sometimes Word randomly adds spaces between lines. Actually, it's not random, you need to go back to Format then Paragraph and check that the gap between lines is left blank.

Justification
When the writing is made to form a straight edge on the right as well as the left hand side. It makes manuscripts look like a block of text which can be off-putting.

Dialogue on completely separate lines to the speaker's actions
Character A does X (an action). Character A says something. It's on the same line. It's not:
Character A does X.
Character A says Y
Character B does Z
Character B says W.

Italics and other difficult to read fonts
Arial is supposed to be the easiest font to read, Times New Roman the most common. Choosing an unusual and exciting font will not make your work unusual and exciting, just harder to read.

It's a real pleasure to pick up a manuscript and realise it's beautifully presented. I want it to read well. Isn't that how you want an agent to feel when they pick up your manuscript?

4 comments:

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Thanks for that. Formatting seems to be SO difficult. Is there a definitive guide to it somewhere, or would you write one? I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. See the post on my blog.

Sarah Duncan said...

I'll put up my Format Sheet if you like. Thank you for the nomination!

Lori x said...

Hi Sarah, thank you for this.
I did have one question though, I was under the impression that an MS should be double spaced and so this is how I always set out my word documents. Have I got it wrong?
I love your blog and look forward to my e mail each day!

Suzanne Stengl said...

thank you.