Formatting a Manuscript
A lesson using Microsoft Word
By Christina Barber
When I first started writing seriously – not just in a notebook that no one else saw - I joined a critique group. With sweaty hands I turned in my fist chapter.
The head of the group took one look, rolled her eyes and said “First of all it’s not properly formatted.”
I had no clue how to format a manuscript. I made the newbie mistakes and
had very few paragraphs; no formatting for dialogue, cool looking fonts and the entire thing was a mess.
More than just placing words on paper, writers have to learn how to properly format their manuscript for consideration
at a publishing house.
Two and a half years later, I’ve learned quite a few tricks of the trade and learn more every day. I’d like to pass a few along.
General Manuscript formatting
with a blank page in Microsoft Word the first thing I do is set up the formatting. Of
course, if you are reading this article and have something already written, you can still apply these techniques.
I start by selecting spacing. By default it will start with single spacing. Click the spacing icon and select ‘more’.
Then go down to ‘spacing’ section and click the drop down menu for ‘line spacing’. Then click on ‘exactly’. Next to it will now be
highlighted where it states ‘at’. Then type in 25.
This will give you exactly 250 words (or as close as possible) per page. Word
count is a very tricky situation. DO NOT rely on Microsoft’s Word count
– it is HIGHLY inaccurate. Word count is more than just how many words
there are. Let me explain further.
According to Word : - their word count counts the number of words that have a space between.
My dog ran. – three words.
Extemporaneous mundane information. – three words.
As you can see, not all words are created equal. And in the publisher’s
eyes, they are merely concerned with space. How much space – or pages –
will your novel be?
If you use the method of exactly 25 as described above, it will give you space estimation used for word count in novels.
Another important issue is font. It is suggested that you use Courier
/ Courier New 12 point font simply because each letter takes up the same space. I’m
using Ariel for this article and you can see how a letter e takes up more space than an i.
Be sure to read the guidelines, many publishers request a certain font or formatting.
If that wasn’t
enough for you, here’s a bit more. Adding a header is another important
component to proper manuscript formatting.
start by selecting the ‘view’ icon and then ‘header and footer’.
It should take you to a header box. Type in the far left corner author
name. In the center add novel title and far right corner the page number will
be inserted later. Example:
To insert a page number, select ‘insert’ and then page number. You’ll
be prompted to select placement, select ‘top right’.
Once this is complete, space down 6 spaces, center ‘Chapter 1’ then space down two more, left justify then
begin writing. Indent when you begin a new paragraph – don’t use
any extra spacing or returns.
Dialogue requires special formatting. Every time there is a new speaker,
start a new paragraph. Example:
“So, Tina, how was your day?” Mom asked.
As you can see dialogue takes up quite a bit of space, especially when a character – such as a teenager –
replies in one word. Yet another reason we don’t rely on Microsoft’s
word count – this may be one word, but it takes a whole line!
These are some basic formatting rules that help you on the way to publication.
While I use these methods for my horror writing – my dark fiction minions – these techniques can be used
for any genre.