A reader writes to ask:

I've been writing in Microsoft Works, which I believe is similar but not identical to Word. When I type an ellipse by typing three periods in succession, the program automatically compresses them together, rendering the ellipse almost illegible. Instead, I've been choosing an ellipse from the "insert special character" option, but it still looks squashed to me. Is there any way to turn off the compression, or is the special character acceptable?

The special character is probably acceptable, but I hate the way it looks at least as much as you do. Let's see if we can't help you disable that annoying feature.

Assuming that Microsoft Works works similarly to Word, there's a feature called "AutoCorrect" that's enabled by default. Besides converting three periods to a single squished ellipsis character, AutoCorrect is automatically configured to make a lot of other corrections to your typing, all of which you can choose to turn off individually.

Full entry

Ending your manuscript

| No Comments
            

A reader writes to ask:

Please-does anyone out there know how to end a manuscript for a short story or novel?

Do you skip a line and write -END- (margin left)
or THE END (Centered)
or...

I've seen both methods you mention, and in addition I know writers who always end their manuscripts with "###" or "-30-" centered. The simple fact, though, is that you don't have to do anything explicit to indicate the end of a manuscript. The fact that there are no more words or pages after a certain point should indicate the ending all on its own.

If you are truly afraid that someone reading your manuscript will reach the end and think there are pages missing, then either of the methods you cite would be fine. There's no standard method, so let your personal preference guide you.

Full entry
            

A reader writes to ask:

I have a children's fiction novel. Once the second chapter starts, do I type the chapter at the top of the next page or 1/3 of the way down, like mid-way the page?

Start the second chapter (and every subsequent chapter) on a new page on the same line where you started the first chapter. I start about halfway down the page, but how much blank space you leave above the chapter heading isn't as important as being consistent about it throughout the manuscript.

For an example of novel formatting, see my sample partial novel manuscript.

Full entry
            

A reader writes to ask:

I came upon your blog when asking a question about short story indentation at ask.com. I don't know if you'll ever read this, but if you do and can spare some time, I'd appreciate a response.

I was just about ready to submit an anthology of short stories to the printer. I am self-publishing some of my stories.

Anyway, for some reason, this afternoon I looked at four short story anthologies in my personal library. In three of them, all of the stories begin without any indentation. In the fourth, there is an indentation, but the first letter of each story is formatted in an oversized capital letter.

I have begun each of my stories with a standard paragraph indentation, just as I note you indicate short stories should be formatted. But now seeing the formatting of the anthologies in my possession, I wonder if I should re-do the formatting of the first paragraph of each story.

You seem to be confusing book design with manuscript formatting. Let me try to explain the difference.

Manuscript formatting is what you do to prepare your book or story for submission to an editor. The editor's job is to decide whether or not to accept the manuscript for publication, and then to offer suggestions on improving the manuscript. He or she will likely make a lot of notes directly on the manuscript itself. That's why, when submitting a manuscript to an editor, you should do the things I suggest in my manuscript formatting guidelines, such as using a big, readable font, double-spacing, indenting paragraphs half an inch, and so on.

Full entry
            

A reader writes to ask:

I read somewhere that if you format properly you should get 25 lines per page, but I consistantly get 24. So when I use Word to give me a word count on 141 pages, I get 28k, but when I do it the way I think publishers want a word count for novels, which is by multiplying the number of pages times 250, I get 35k. That's a big difference.

I followed all of your rules, so I don't understand what I'm doing wrong.

Indulge me a moment, please, while I review a couple of standard typographical measures. The smallest unit in typography is called the point, which measures exactly 1/72 of an inch. Twelve points equals 1 pica. Therefore, we have 72 points per inch, and 6 picas per inch.

A standard typewriter uses 12-point type, which is a measure of the height of the metal block on which each individual letter is cast. This also equals the height of a each line of printed type the typewriter produces, meaning that a typewritten line is 12 points high, or 1 pica, or 1/6 of an inch. Single-spaced, this means you can fit six lines of type per inch. Double-spaced, you get three lines per inch.

Full entry
            

A reader writes to ask:

I scoured your blog as well as the Internet, and am still having problems with underlining for italics. I am definitely using underlining but am fuzzy on the following:
  1. Do I use "underline words only" like this or do I include the spaces like this?
  2. Do I include punctuation like this: This is a sentence.
  3. Do I include quotes like this: "Buon giorno!"

As I've discussed before, you should always use underlining in your manuscripts to indicate words and phrases that are to be set in italics in the final printed version of your work. In trying to follow that advice, you've uncovered some interesting questions about the finer points of underlining.

The only hard and fast rule I have to offer is that, when underlining more than one consecutive word, you should be sure to underline the spaces between the words as well. Underlining the words only and not the spaces looks too choppy and distracting to the eye.

Full entry
            

A reader writes to ask:

At the recent meeting of our local writers group we got involved in a discussion about formatting. Several of us were having problems with the header/footer and page numbering aspect of our word processing program. My problem was setting the page for "different first page" and how to begin the numbering with page 2.

Our president showed us how she set it, but the way she did it, the page numbering started on the second page but numbered it page 1. Her point was that the very first page of a manuscript was simply a "cover page" and as such should not be considered part of the numbering process. She did not have anything on her "cover page" except for name and address, word count, title and by-line.

I, on the other hand, use your format—the first page includes name, address, word count, title etc., with the story starting a third of the way down the page. Our president said that was something that would get a manuscript kicked back from an agent/editor very quickly.

This is the first time I have heard of such a thing, and I'm wondering if there have been any changes in required format that I don't know about?

You raise a couple of different issues here. The first is the question of whether or not to give your manuscript a separate title page. I suspect the confusion between you and your group president stems from the fact that novels and short stories employ slightly different formats. You may be trying to format a novel like you would a short story.

A book-length manuscript, whether for a non-fiction work or a novel, should have a separate title page. The title page will have your name and address in the upper-left corner, the title and your byline centered in the middle of the page, and an approximate word count centered at the bottom of the page. The text then starts on the second page of the manuscript, and that page should be numbered 1. You can study a portion of a sample novel manuscript here.

Full entry

Copyrighting your work

| No Comments
            

A reader writes to ask:

At the end of your podcasts, you include the important fact that your podcasts have a Creative Commons license on them, and I'd like to ask how I can be sure my own work has that protection. I've uploaded some of the preliminary drafts of chapters of my unfinished book onto a website in PDF form, and I did put a copyright statement at the bottom essentially stating "it's my work, don't steal it," but I don't know if I need to receive any official documentation of a Creative Commons license, or if there's a more secure way to make my work available for anyone who wants to read it.

I want to preface this (slightly off-topic) discussion by stating that I am not an expert in copyright. Bearing that in mind, the first thing you should understand it that your work is copyrighted automatically by virtue of the fact that you wrote it. You don't need to include an actual copyright statement on your work to make that true (though you can, of course). If you anticipate ever litigating over unauthorized uses of your work, you might consider registering your copyright. (Learn more about American copyright registration from the U.S. Copyright Office at copyright.gov.)

The only reason you would need a Creative Commons license is if you want to be able to make your work available for others to repost, reuse and/or remix for free. With Creative Commons, you can customize the license under which you release your work, choosing which rights you want to reserve and which you want to give away. Cory Doctorow and other high-profile writers routinely release their books online under such licenses, and for some of them it seems to be working out very well indeed. (For more info on Creative Commons and how to license your work, please see creativecommons.org.)

Full entry

Story collection format

| No Comments
            

In followup to the post Proper novella format, a reader writes to ask:

What do you do if you are using a novella as part of a short story collection?

If you're including a novella in a collection, then format it essentially like you would a short story.

This, however, begs the question of proper format for a story collection. Different authors do collections in a couple of different ways. The quick-and-dirty way would be to just print out all your stories in normal short story format, then slap a title page (complete with total estimated word count) and a contents page on top of the stack and call it a day. I'm sure plenty of collections have been sold this way (which includes the bonus of allowing the editor to shuffle stories around to her heart's content).

Full entry

Indicating literal thoughts

| 1 Comment
            

A reader writes to ask:

How should I differentiate the character's thoughts from the rest of the narrative? Some people have suggested I put them in quotation marks, but I find that when I read novels in which the character's thoughts are in quotation marks, I initially think they're speaking rather than thinking. I have seen novels in which the thoughts were italicized, but I know it's not advisable to use italics in a manuscript you're submitting to an editor. Should I instead underline all the thoughts? It makes for long underlines, but maybe it's the best way. What do you think?

There are three basic ways of indicating literal thoughts in narrative: setting them off in quotes, setting them off in italics, and not setting them off at all:

"I have to get out of this place," John thought, "if it's the last thing I do."

Full entry
 
Looking for Bill's original properly formatted article on proper manuscript format? Click here.
Proper Manuscript Format Illustrated - Click here.
FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.