We’re all welcome again to another Writers’ Guide 101 class. Our last class was on Types of Fiction. Now, I was actually looking to progress from that into ‘real’ writing class lessons. But it struck me that to begin to write, you must set up your writing page. It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or on the hunt for traditional publishers… you need to get your MS Word page right if you don’t want your manuscript looking like the writing sheet of a toddler.
So, today’s lesson is titled: SETTING UP YOUR NOVEL WRITING PAGE ON MS WORD
I consider that one of the most important things to first master as a writer is the art of setting up your writing page on Microsoft Word.
NOTE: I am focused on MS Word because that is what most of us use in writing.
Many people begin writing or drafting their manuscript by just clicking open the MS Word document and setting the cursor to blink-mode. I used to do that too—that was until I knew better.
There is actually a Manuscript-Format or maybe I should call it ‘Novel-Format’ for writing stories using the MS Word document template. And that simple format is what we are going to study in today’s class.
My motto is ‘begin as you mean to go’. This is key in the setting up of your Manuscript format or Writing page, because I have found that it is a little bit too tedious when you have to re-format a manuscript when an initial format is already in use.
I have had many ‘bad’ experiences with poorly formatted manuscripts sent to me to read. I find it difficult to read such scripts and even worse, I may be forced (as I mostly am) to do the reformatting—and seriously, this is always a traumatic experience.
Now let us begin our lesson step by step:::
SETTING UP MARGIN:
This is usually pre-set on MS Word. But just in case you’ve been using another setting, it is one-inch margin on all sides. On your Word document dashboard (if that is what it’s called), go to Page Layout, click on Margin and pick the very first one with this – 1″ – and Normal written on it.
That one-inch margin page setup is the recommended manuscript style. So Use it.
Now it is recommended that if you are submitting a manuscript to a publisher, and there are no given specifications, you should use ‘Align Text Left’ format, leaving the right-side of your manuscript jagged.
That is the recommendation but as a self-publishing writer that is not the format I use. I use the ‘Justify Text’ method. I do this simply because I cannot stand jagged right-ends. It is disturbing to my eye-sight and all (or a great percentage) of books I have read, have their right-ends justified.
So, if you are self-publishing or writing for free-reads/pleasure, you might apply my method. And if you ever plan on giving me your manuscript to read, please JUSTIFY not Align-Left.
To find the aligning buttons, just click or stay on Home and cross-check the tabs after the Font-tab section.
Now I noticed many websites didn’t talk about this. Possibly because this section is (used to be) left for the publishers to decide what is suitable. But in today’s world of Self-Publishing, it is imperative we know it all and know how to do it all.
Style-Set is found in that part of the Home dashboard on your opened MS Word document page where a small and big A is intersecting with ‘change style’ written underneath. When you click on the down arrow, you will find ‘Style-set’ and a click on it will open different styles for your choosing pleasure.
I work with the ‘Traditional Style-set’. I think some others work with ‘Manuscript’ but I find that too spaced.
Of course many people just writing on normal/default page template without choosing or changing the style-set. But paperback novels come with a style-set and are not just straightforward— at least that is how it comes when published by knowledgeable publishing houses not kiosk-roadside ones.
So, let us learn to adjust our style-set and either go with ‘Manuscript’ or ‘Traditional’ style.
Now with your margin, aligning and style-set setup, the next thing would be Spacing.
This one is simple and I never argue with it—Double-Spacing.
If you have chosen a style-set that will most surely cram-up your document page and without double-spacing your writing looks jammed.
So to avoid half-blinding your readers, choose double-spacing from that up-and-down arrow after the aligning section and you are good to go.
HEADER (& FOOTER):
Now it is writing time, yay!
First off, get your manuscript a ‘Header’… don’t just leave it without a name, that’s mean. Lol.
On your Header is supposed to be your name and the title of your manuscript. Now, I like to do the alternate style, not both on each page. But the choice is yours—that is if you are not submitting your manuscript to a traditional publisher.
If you are though, this is the recommended guideline:
Title of your novel written in ALL-Capital letters. And the same maybe applied to your name (Penname if you have one) and both appearing on each page… not alternate-format like I use.
If you ever bought my PDF format stories then you will know what I mean by alternate-header-style. But it simply means, Title of story on maybe odd pages and then Name (Penname) of Writer on possibly even pages.
And for Footer, this is where your page number goes. But we’ll treat that differently in a minute.
Let me caution that if you are self-publishing then you have to learn to technique of not beginning your header/footer from your cover page. It is actually meant to begin from your first ‘story page’, that is either your ‘Chapter-One, Prologue or Introduction’.
It is easy to learn this technique by just befriending Google *wink*.
Numbering your manuscript actually begins from the actual story page. Just like I explained above with the ‘Header’ thing.
You don’t number all other pages such as—Copyright page; Dedication page; Content Page (if you have any); Cover Page and Synopsis Page (if you are adding one).
These pages are left unnumbered and you begin numbering from the very first chapter of your story.
For some people, they count until that first chapter and enter the number of count. This is what I mean. If their Cover Page, Copyright Page, Dedication Page are pages 1, 2, 3 and the first chapter is the fourth page, on the footer of that page (if you are choosing to enter your page numbers on the footer as I do) they enter 4 and not 1.
But that is not my personal style. I choose to begin count 1 on the very first story page, all others remain unnumbered and uncounted.
Just decide which suits you best… if you are self-publishing.
Font is key. Never joke with it. Your font choice can make or mar your manuscript.
Now for those seeking Traditional Publishers, find out their submission guideline and use the font recommended by them.
For all others, nothing reads better than Serif Fonts—that is my humble opinion. Some say Sans-Serif Fonts are great on the web, but I still think Serif-Fonts are best all around.
For Manuscripts, use Serif-Fonts. And if you are wondering what are Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts, engage Google… most helpful fellow I ever encountered.
Serif Fonts choices that are best are: Times New Roman. Now this is the recommended font style world round… that is for most people. It reads wells on PDF and EPUB digital formats and also on Printed formats.
There is also Georgia. This is my chosen font style. I love it! It is the post-entry font on this blog. I made sure I changed the font style that came with the theme I’m using. Georgia, in my opinion, is better than Times New Roman. It is bolder and more legible.
You can also try Courier New, Century, Book Antiqua and BookMan Old Style. They are all acceptable and do great on digital formats.
But if you insist on Sans-Serif Fonts, try: Arial, Calibri, Tahoma and Verdana. These are the great ones I know.
For your Headers use strong Serif or Sans-Serif Fonts like Cambria, Arial, Perpetua Tilting MT, Times New Roman and Verdana.
And if you want italic-styled header/chapter title fonts (only if you are self-publishing of course) try: Script MT Bold and Monotype Corsiva.
Whatever your Font choice, the size is recommended at a standard 12-point type.
But like I’ve been yapping, self-publishing allows you create your own rules. I use 11-point type for my text sections and 14-above for Chapter numbers/titles. *I’m something of a rebel *wink*
Begin new chapter on a new page. Jeez, I don’t think we need to say that, do we?
Yes, we do. I’ve gotten manuscripts where the writers expect me to read stories not properly chaptered… like what the heck!
Just kidding!… or not.
If you plan on submitting your manuscript to traditional publishers and you don’t have their submission guidelines, please chapter your manuscript using this format:
- Use ‘Insert Page break’ to break chapters. Don’t just keep scrolling down until you get to a new page. No!… and I mean Heck no!
- Centre you Chapter number and title (if it has one). Chapter number is like: Chapter One (1) or One (1). And chapter title is like: 1 – Unknown Visitor. I used this style in Who Killed Dana Bala? Missing Christabel and Keziah’s Diary. So when chaptering, never leave chapters on the left-side of your manuscript.
- Centre that chapter number and title about one-third of the page. That is like something I did with ‘For Better, For Worse’ for those who read it in PDF format (EPUB formats don’t show these things, don’t know why). Place your cursor at the top of the page and go down several spaces before you enter chapter title.
- Don’t begin text immediately after chapter number /title. Skip a couple of spaces before you begin. C & D are to keep your manuscript neat and readable.
- Enter Chapters in all-capital-letters format.
*Editors can be testy fellows, so be warned*
But if you are on your own and not worried about any publisher’s ‘stifling’ recommendations, then simple centre your chapter numbers/titles, space as desired and use case of choice (lowercase of uppercase).
There is such a thing as breaking your scene. Don’t just keep writing like you are jotting notes in a mad-scientist’s Physics class, uh-uh.
Indicate your scene breaks by inserting a blank line/space and then enter any chosen scene-breakers format. If you are submitting to Traditional Publishers limit your choices to these—# or *.
But if you are the master/mistress of your own publishing, then make finer choices. It could be heart signs, a fancy image… anything. But be sure it’s not distracting and enormous.
Whatever your choice, make sure you enter scene breaks. It is imperative!
When submitting a full manuscript, don’t just end your story, dump your pen and flounce off… doesn’t work that way. You must indicate that the reader has come to the end of your story. The reader in this case would be a probable editor.
But traditional publishing or Self-publishing, I like to rightly end my stories. You can use the scene-breaker of your choice (and still add The End) or you can simple put ‘The End’.
If nothing else, it certainly tells your reader, “don’t hope for more; we’re done.” Nothing like a clear message, right?
Now let me add these side lessons:
ITALICS: Do not overrun your story with italics. They are a favourite pleasure of mine but I’m learning to bite them back. Never underline italics and don’t embolden them either.
CAPITAL LETTERS: Use them only as they are meant to be used. Never use them to indicate tone of voice e.g. shouting. Capital letters are only permitted to indicate tone when you are writing on the web. Like if I’m posting a story on the blog and someone is shouting, it is permissible to write that dialogue in all-capital-letters format e.g. “DAMN YOU!”
But on your manuscript, it is forbidden. Use verbal or action descriptions to indicate tone of voice or emotions in dialogue. Or use the exclamation mark sign ‘!’.
CHARACTER SPACING: Single spaces. It is mostly always pre-set.
So, that is the way to set up your manuscript before you begin writing and whilst you are doing so. Use these methods in order to come out with clean, easily-readable stories and save your readers a bunch of scowls and groans.
If you are submitting to a Traditional Publisher though, please be sure you know what their submission guideline is and adhere to it.
Please note that these guidelines can be helpful even if you’re writing non-fiction. At least, you now know how best to make your script legible.
Until our next class in March, let’s keep writing… and reading. Cheers.