Mar 30 2011

How to Format a Novel Manuscript

William Shunn’s guide to manuscript formatting is the best reference I’ve seen on this subject.  If I could add some minor formatting points that should be obvious:

  1. Please do not ever use more than one exclamation mark at time.  It looks awful!!!
  2. Even if you’re writing a heated conversation, please don’t end a string of sentences with exclamation marks!  It will look really strange!  I wouldn’t recommend it! In a heated conversation, readers can infer that the characters are shouting at each other even if the sentence ends with a period.
  3. If you’re inclined to capitalize words for emphasis, 1) don’t and 2) if you do, please do so super-sparingly.  (No, really, just a FEW times in the manuscript, PLEASE.  It’s SO HARD to read when AUTHORS just seemingly use all-caps AT RANDOM).

34 responses so far

34 Responses to “How to Format a Novel Manuscript”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 30 Mar 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I learned not to use multiple exclamation/question marks when I was three!!! Is that difficult to believe??? XD When I was little, I didn’t know it was a bad thing to do, but I hated how it looked, so when I began to write, I didn’t use it. It looks terrible.

    Also, I picked up on the exclamation marks in every sentence when I tried to write my first manuscript (pffft… I was ten and I sucked) It’s one of the reasons I never finished it off – I was such a weak writer that I couldn’t figure out how to show they were shouting without them. Also, everyone was a Mary Sue… And I had no idea how the first settlers worked… and I had no knowledge of ships so I made them all pirate-type ships. I was just terrible. I should list it on TVTropes Old Shame, under TroperTales…

    I only capitalise words for emphasis when I’m commenting on something, or using MSN, because I A) don’t know which sites allow for HTML and B) on MSN, I’m too lazy. My friends aren’t gonna give a damn if I capitalise everything. Though it’s annoying when my sister texts me in all caps with things like “I AM HEADING HOME FROM WORK TELL MUM PLZ”. I hate it, I always reply with “Learn grammar and don’t ALL CAPS at me!”

    If there’s anything I ever want to emphasise, I put it in italics. It looks cleaner. I sometimes use it in argument scenes to show someone is yelling really loud, or screeching.

  2. Castilleon 30 Mar 2011 at 7:55 pm

    I have a question…if a writer is talented enough can they get away with using sentences in all caps for introspective sentences? I just finished reading ‘the Shining’ and noticed several instances where this occurs.

    Or…maybe Stephen King is just 10,000x more talented than most writers and knows what he’s doing. :/

  3. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 8:22 pm

    “if a writer is talented enough can they get away with using sentences in all caps for introspective sentences?” I’d have to see it in context. If it came up late in the story and the story was otherwise publishable, I doubt many publishers would say no on that basis alone. However, if it came up early and wasn’t executed well, I’d personally think about putting the manuscript down. My instinct would be that it’d be a lot smoother to italicize introspective sentences (internal monologues?) than to capitalize them.

    One example of all-caps that felt well-executed to me was from Terry Pratchett’s work. One of his elder gods delivers his few words in giant font. Fortunately, Pratchett is careful about using this effect sparingly.

    VERY SPARINGLY.

    I think it helps the character’s handful of words feel more extraordinary.

  4. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 8:29 pm

    “I only capitalise words for emphasis when I’m commenting on something, or using MSN, because I A) don’t know which sites allow for HTML and B) on MSN, I’m too lazy.” I think capitalizing words for emphasis is entirely okay in those contexts. My advice in this post applies only to novel manuscripts written for professional publication. (Also, NOT comic book scripts–most comic books are printed in all-caps).

  5. ekimmakon 30 Mar 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Drat. The name Terry Pratchett rings a bell, but I can’t remember what book.

  6. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 10:24 pm

    His works include Good Omens, Guards, Guards!, The Hogfather, The Colour* of Magic and many other Discworld novels.

    *Oh, you wily Briton, don’t think this slight against U.S. spelling has gone unnoticed. I will [sic] your ass, Pratchett! 😉

  7. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 31 Mar 2011 at 2:16 am

    “His works include Good Omens, Guards, Guards!, The Hogfather, The Colour* of Magic and many other Discworld novels.

    *Oh, you wily Briton, don’t think this slight against U.S. spelling has gone unnoticed. I will [sic] your ass*, Pratchett! ;)”

    *Arse 😉

    Around here, most teenagers say “ass” instead of “arse”, but older people have it the other way around. Australia’s turning into the USA – only Australia has more dangerous animals. (Seriously – even a koala can hurt you. They have very sharp claws.)

  8. ekimmakon 31 Mar 2011 at 2:45 am

    Only if you’re stupid enough to go after them. Most of the wildlife here in general will ignore you if you keep away. But for some reason, that doesn’t include wombats. I’ve heard some very strange stories about them.

  9. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 31 Mar 2011 at 5:59 am

    “Only if you’re stupid enough to go after them. Most of the wildlife here in general will ignore you if you keep away. But for some reason, that doesn’t include wombats. I’ve heard some very strange stories about them.”

    Either stupid or people who don’t know what they’re doing. I’ve heard some real horror stories about tourists trying to hug kangaroos, either getting ticks all over them, or a kick in the gut. Or people sit under the balga and get ticks on them because kangaroos rub them off onto the balga.

    Then there are the spiders – further north from where I live, funnel web spiders are common. My relatives in Port Hedland have told me of finding frogs in their toilets because they get through the pipes. So even if it doesn’t wanna kill you, it’s still gonna scare you half to death. XD

    Yeah, I’ve heard weird things about wombats too.

    Knowing all this stuff about native animals makes me view Blinky Bill and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo very differently. Blinky Bill – the koala who will wreck your face if you try to cuddle him. Skippy, the kangaroo who will scream “THIS! IS! THE OUTBAAAAACK!” before kicking you off a cliff. XD

  10. Wingson 31 Mar 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I wrote a manuscript at age 7. I had my own personal Wesley Crusher. It was terrible. xD

    I haven’t read that much by Terry Pratchett, but the one book I have read – Good Omens – was excellent. And using all caps form whenever DEATH spoke was fantastically wonderful.

    – Wings

  11. B. Macon 31 Mar 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I AGREE. 🙂 (However! I still wouldn’t recommend it unless there’s a really, really good reason. When the Grim ****ing Reaper or an elder god talks, I think it makes sense if it’s in all-caps–the character is so far beyond the realm of the ordinary that I think all-caps is a justifiable aid for his voice. I think the all-caps helps reinforce that he’s not only a powerful force of nature but also socially dysfunctional).

  12. B. Macon 31 Mar 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Also, dingos can eat your baby. In the United States, deer and geese kill many motorists and jet passengers each year (as if we needed any further proof that Bambi hates America). Besides that, the worst it gets in the US is stuff like the snake house and an alligator doing a sit-in at a Toyota dealership.

  13. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 31 Mar 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Oh God, I remember rewatching the first Rugrats movie about a year ago, and when the press is talking to the adults after the babies disappear one says “Is it true that a dingo ate your baby!?” and I spat out my drink. XD

    I didn’t realise how well known the case was outside of Australia. Poor baby Azaria.

    I don’t know where I’d rather live – Australia, where nature tries to kill people, or the US, where most people have a gun. Screw having a gun – I’d be terrified if I knew one was in my house. I’d never be able to shoot someone, so the only outcome would be for an intruder to find it and shoot ME. XD

  14. B. Macon 01 Apr 2011 at 12:05 am

    “…or the US, where most people have a gun.” I don’t think it’s that many. According to one 1997 survey, 25% of US adults owned a firearm (42% of men and 9% of women). However, there are over 200 million guns in the US, meaning that hunters will have extras to pass around when the zombies strike.


    At one point in The Taxman Must Die, the protagonists tell a paranoid marksman that he has been marked for death, and Gary is creeped out to discover that the marksman has amassed tons of ammunition in his house. Gary estimates it’s over 40,000 rounds. “That’s two for every person in the county,” he points out. The marksman responds, “What if I miss?”



    I’m not sure how well-known the case is outside of Australia. Probably not that well-known in the US, although it has been referenced in a few works. (For example, there’s a band in Buffy named Dingoes Ate My Baby, which is how I heard of the case).

  15. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 02 Apr 2011 at 4:45 am

    I think Australia’s best known crimes/accidents/incidents would be:

    1. Azaria Chamberlain’s disappearance
    2. Anything Carl Williams did (before he got his skull crushed in by a fellow inmate in prison)
    3. The Black Saturday Bushfires. It happened in February 2009 and killed 173 people. I was glued to the TV in tears pretty much every day until the death toll stopped rising. The bushfires varied in how they began, some were natural, some accidental, and others were arson.
    4. The recent Brisbane floods. I was really scared because I have friends over there and I couldn’t stop crying until everyone had confirmed their safety.
    5. The Beaumont children disappearance. It happened in the 60’s, three siblings went missing, presumed kidnapped, and the case was never solved.
    6. The disappearance of Peter Falconio in the Northern Territory. He’s presumed dead and because he was from England, the case got lots of coverage in Oz and in Britain. Not sure about the US, though. A man was convicted for the murder in 2005, four years afterwards.

    Australia has little value in the worldwide scheme of things, so our crimes and disasters don’t often get much coverage outside of Australia, New Zealand and sometimes Indonesia.

  16. Anonymouson 02 Apr 2011 at 8:21 am

    AW MAN! I CAN’T CAPITALIZE ALL WORDS?!?!?!?!…irony…

  17. B. Macon 02 Apr 2011 at 10:30 am

    I KNOW! IT’S BECAUSE EDITORS HATE AUTHORS AND READING AND FUN, OR SOMETHING.

  18. Danion 02 Apr 2011 at 11:30 am

    The extent of my knowledge about Australia mainly deals with koalas and Crocodile Dundee. If it wasn’t in the movie, then it doesn’t exist mate. I imagine all of you Down-under-ers (sic lol) wrestle crocodiles on a daily basis, carry about big knives, and save people from mansions.

    The thing I hate the most is the “…”. Just write “He was silent” or “He wondered how long he would have to remain silent as she set about questioning him about whether or not he had drank from the milk carton”. Or random capitalization… “He ate Spinach and then became Powerful!” <– You have no idea how often I see that.

    Best trick: if you're using Word, click the format button and then paragraph. Set it to have an indent when you hit enter. Cuts down on your formatting later.

  19. B. Macon 02 Apr 2011 at 11:41 am

    “He ate Spinach…” Unless the author was a Founding Father or his first language were German*, I’d pass on that right away.

    *In German, all nouns are capitalized. Das ist verrückt!

  20. ekimmakon 02 Apr 2011 at 1:16 pm

    No, I don’t. I’m a pale youth who spends more time stiing in front of at minimum three electronic devices, and hates outside. The only time I use knives is in the kitchen, and ANYONE can tell you that you don’t mess with crocs.

  21. B. Macon 02 Apr 2011 at 4:41 pm

    “ANYONE can tell you that you don’t mess with crocs.” They bring nothing but misery, despair and soccer. Or so I’ve heard from The Compendium of the American Alligator: A Treatise on Awesomeness.

  22. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 02 Apr 2011 at 9:17 pm

    “No, I don’t. I’m a pale youth who spends more time stiing in front of at minimum three electronic devices, and hates outside. The only time I use knives is in the kitchen, and ANYONE can tell you that you don’t mess with crocs.”

    Aww, mate, ya kiddin’ me?! If ya don’t wrestle with crocs, ya ain’t a true blue Aussie! Strewth, toughen up, princess! Where’s your bogan pride, eh!?

    Nnnnnnnyeah, I’m the same. I’m very pale, I’d die without my laptop and I don’t like going out for more than a few hours at a time. We don’t really get crocs where I live – mostly kangaroos and TONNES of bunnies. Also, sharks. Lots and lots of sharks. And drug dealers. And junkies. And murderers.

    Come to think of it, having crocs might be more pleasant than dealing with most of the people around here…

  23. B. Macon 02 Apr 2011 at 9:38 pm

    “Come to think of it, having crocs might be more pleasant than dealing with most of the people around here…” Yes, but that presupposes you can separate the unpleasant traits of the local populace from the seedy influence of crocodiles. The presence of crocodiles is strongly correlated with being a third-world dictatorship. The facts don’t lie!* 😉

    *Like prisoners, facts that have been sufficiently tortured will tell you anything you want to hear.

  24. ekimmakon 03 Apr 2011 at 3:53 am

    Looking back, I… guess I went overboard with my last comment. Sorry, I just get a little worked up over stereotypes.

  25. B. Macon 03 Apr 2011 at 9:18 am

    Oh, I thought it was pretty obvious you weren’t being 100% serious. 🙂

  26. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Apr 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Ekimmak:

    Whereabouts are you in Oz? I’m in WA. I tend to include Perth in most of my ideas because it’s a familiar area – big enough to be interesting, but also because I don’t actually live in Perth, I’m able to write about it for ages without getting bored. I’m a fangirl for the architecture, and with places like London Court in Perth, it’s a good place for me to go if I want inspiration. :3 I also like Fremantle. That’s great in terms of architecture.

    “Sorry, I just get a little worked up over stereotypes.”

    I don’t get worked up over them, I just make fun of them. 😉 You know the type: “Do you ride kangaroos to school?” “Nah, the cool kids ride emus.” “Is a wallaby a baby kangaroo?” “Nope, it’s a baby crocodile.” etc

  27. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Apr 2011 at 6:52 pm

    “*Like prisoners, facts that have been sufficiently tortured will tell you anything you want to hear.”

    Haha!

    Maybe I could get the crocs on my side and ask them to eat the people who trashed my street. I could build a little coliseum in my backyard and get some popcorn.

  28. ekimmakon 03 Apr 2011 at 7:57 pm

    The Eastern side. Can’t specify further, partly due to the dangers of the internet, but mostly because I suck at geography.

  29. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 03 Apr 2011 at 8:43 pm

    “The Eastern side. Can’t specify further, partly due to the dangers of the internet, but mostly because I suck at geography.”

    Haha, I’m the same. I suck at geography AND I’m really careful online. But I figure telling people what state I’m in is no problem, so meh. Being a female teen is enough reason for caution. Though I have scared people off before by lying and claiming to be a male in my 60s. Works like a charm when people get too creepy.

  30. ekimmakon 03 Apr 2011 at 9:12 pm

    I can remember one time I did similar. Someone was asking questions that got a bit too personal, so I gave them fake details.

  31. B. Macon 03 Apr 2011 at 9:56 pm

    “I have scared people off before by lying and claiming to be a male in my 60s. Works like a charm when people get too creepy.” Especially if you are a geriatric male! Oh wait, I’ve admitted too much.

    😉



    I think people are generally very polite and professional on SN, but I have had to ban one person for trying to get his creep on with the ladies. Hint, hint: If somebody introduces “herself” as a hot teen lady and posts her email address without getting a gentle dig from me or a moderator along the lines of “please don’t give away your age on the internet,” it’s probably me doing a cad hunt. The resulting IM conversation was pretty hilarious.

    B. MAC: I really like writing, was voted by my senior class Most Likely to be an Abercrombie and Fitch Centerfold[*], and am sort of a video game geek.
    CREEP: Got any pix?
    B. MAC: Like you wouldn’t believe! Hehe!

    *Thanks to an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign by friends. I’ve never had any faith in elections since.

  32. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 04 Apr 2011 at 1:19 am

    B.Mac:

    Haha, that’s awesome. Once my friends persuaded me to go on Omegle on text only mode, and this creeper was saying disgusting things.

    Creeper: 17/male/(euphemism for, er, arousal)
    Me: 56/male/priest 😉

    The creeper disconnected. 😀

  33. B. Macon 04 Apr 2011 at 2:06 am

    Hah, I like that.



    In one of my debate classes, we received an assignment to do a really creative 10 minute presentation on a serious issue that is not very pressing to most college students. One student spent the first minute talking about statistics showing the prevalence of children getting sexually harassed online and the next nine minutes on his laptop, posing as a 12 year old girl on a Britney Spears fan-channel. Those 9 minutes were far more effective at illustrating the severity of the problem than the statistics were.



    I had never heard of Omegle, so I looked it up and found a BBC article on it. According to its creator, “Most of the ways people interact are based on commonality: common interests, culture, etc. That’s all fine, but it’s also important to interact with people who are different from you.” Yes, clearly my problem is my friends are not willing to put their genitals on camera. (That’s not how Midwesterners roll–not even those debauched Iowans).

  34. Anonymouson 01 Aug 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks very much for this great post! Was very very helpful. I get writers block from time to time and this will keep me writing for a YEAR! Great stuff and some types of blog posts I’ve never even thought of writing.Thank you very much.

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