Testifying with boldface | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn

Testifying with boldface

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A reader writes to ask:

Is the occasional Bold word in a manuscript okay? Because every time I change point-of-view, I leave an empty line (which from now on will be filled with a #), and make the first word of the next paragraph bold, just to make it clear to the reader that the point of view has shifted. Or will that depend on who I send my manuscript to?

Your questions evoke a whole thicket of intertwined issues which I will attempt to unbraid for you. The first of these has to do with how best to indicate a point-of-view shift in your fiction. There's no right or wrong way to do this. Some writers feel no compunction about switching POVs without any typographical indication, which is fine if you have enough control over your omnicient narration. Using a scene break or even a chapter break to indicate the shift is the more common technique, and should be sufficient in and of itself. The first couple of sentences after the break ought to make the POV change perfectly clear without any need to employ trickery like boldface words.

This raises our second issue, which is the proper use of boldface text. Boldface is not seen much in fiction, at least not within the text itself. It is seen most commonly in non-fiction, where it is used to emphasize keywords and terms that relate to the subject at hand. From time to time you might see it employed in fiction for typographical effect—for instance, to indicate text that appears on a computer screen, perhaps in an instant-message exchange, or to highlight some other kind of quoted passage. It's rare enough, though, that in the olden days there wasn't a good way to indicate boldface from your typewriter keyboard. Instead, you had to draw a squiggly line directly on the page underneath the text you wanted emphasized.

Then why, you ask, do you see the first few words of a chapter or scene rendered in boldface in so many books? That's a stylistic choice that the book designer has made, not the author. This is the third issue for you to understand, that many of the typographical elements you see in a published book were applied by members of the publishing team during production. These are essentially decorations that are intended to make the text more visually appealing. They're not things you need to worry about as you're working on your own manuscript.

Just do your best to make POV changes clear in the text, and keep your formatting as simple as possible. With luck, you'll be able to let your publisher worry about the rest.

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A reader writes to ask: I have perused your formatting advice and have a question. You advise underline to indicate italics, what about bold? Make it "actual" or use asterisks, etc? I need to indicate vectors in bold for a... [Read More]

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