Formatting your flash fiction, short stories and novels
It’s good practice to format your work in the way that most publishers and agents expect submission. The following guidelines do not apply to poetry or plays and where you want to present your prose in a special way for readers, e.g. diary entries, display, humour, horror.
1. Use black, 12-point, Times New Roman as the font.
2. Use A4 page size and set margins which are not too tight or generous.
As an example, set top and bottom margins to 2 cm with left and right at 2.4 cm.
3. Set alignment to left justified
5. Use double-spaced or 1.5 line spacing for submission to a publisher.
This will be changed for publication, but it will help to read the document. Obvious grammatical corrections will be made before publication.
Of course, you don’t need to do this for LWG writing, but it does make it easier to read and make notes
6. Indent all paragraphs by 1 cm, except the first paragraph. The first paragraph in new chapters and after an * break should not be indented.
Note: Setting tabs and hitting tab aren’t the same thing.
For indented paragraphs select all of your relevant text in Word, then set indentation using Format > Paragraph. Under “Indentation” and “Special,” then choose “First line” from the drop-down menu and enter 1 cm.
7. Don’t leave an extra space between paragraphs.
Just hit one return for the next paragraph – not two or three.
8. Use page breaks for new chapters.
To begin a new chapter, don’t just keep hitting return until you create a new page. Rather, use page breaks.
In Word, place the cursor at the end of a chapter, then click “Insert > Break > Page Break” in Word’s top menu.
9. Quotation marks.
Most publishers prefer single quotation marks for speech. (But not always.) Quotations within speech should then be in double marks. The full stop or coma (or other punctuation) always comes after the ending speech mark, e.g.
… at the end.’
… place,’ she said.
No spaces before or after quotation marks.
10. Single space only after and before full stop, comma, colon, semi colon, dashes and …
More about Dialogue
· Dialogue counts as new paragraphs, so it should be indented.
· When speech by one character is interrupted by a descriptive line, and then the speech continues, this all counts as one paragraph. Begin the next paragraph with the next speaker.
· Use single quotation marks for dialogue. When dialogue is followed by ‘said X’ or ‘chortled Y’ you should not capitalise either the s of said or the c of chortled. This is true even if the dialogue ends with an exclamation mark or a question mark.
· If the speaker quotes someone else within dialogue, you show that inner quotation with double inverted commas. Like this, for example: ‘No,’ said Hugh patiently. ‘What Sophie actually said was, “Go to hell, you bloody idiot!” Words to that effect anyway.’
· There is one general rule for punctuation. It is there to help avoid ambiguity.
· Commas are tricky and often missed out before names, for example: ‘Where’s the ketchup, Mum’
· Hyphens are an endangered species, and only the writer can save it. Again, it is vital to avoid ambiguities and absurdities – for instance, the white toothed whale. Is it the whale or the teeth that are white?
· It is a good rule to avoid lists of adjectives but, when you have them, check to see if any should be hyphenated. You can have a dining room, but a table there becomes a dining-room table.
· Semi-colons are also endangered, yet can bring a deal of subtlety to a writer’s style. A semi-colon links two related sentences; the second often elaborates or adds context to the first. A semi-colon is stronger than a comma, not as strong as a full-stop.
· Colons are used where one sentence introduces another. The rule is simple: use the colon when one sentence introduces the next.
Most common mistakes
Not enough use of commas. Commas are like a tiny pause within a sentence and they can divide sentences into little blocks of meaning. They can make (especially) long sentences much easier to parse and comprehend. And commas are free. Use them!
· Use of commas instead of fullstops / periods. Yes, we like commas, but commas aren’t there to divide one sentence from another, if you use commas where you mean to use fullstops (periods), you will end up with sentences that never seem to end, writing of this sort will drive your editor mad, punctuation-related homicides are rising sharply as a result.
Misuse of apostrophes The mistake which will have most agents screaming has to do with apostrophes. These are simple, so get them right. (‘It’s’ means ‘it is’, It’s raining, for example. ‘Its’ means the thing belonging to it, The mouse gnawed its cheese, for example – and ‘its’ is correct. No apostrophes are added to other possessive pronouns like his or hers, either.)