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FormlessFox

Formatting for Dummies?

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I was wondering is there any rules regarding formatting when writing that a true amateur should know/follow?  I feel like the way my writing looks is off.  How do I represent dialogue etc etc?

 

Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thanks!

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Well, it's basically the format you'd see when you read books.

 

Common things you need to know include all basic spelling and capitalization rules, paragraphs indented, don't write long blocks of texts, etc.

 

 

For dialogue in particular:

 

First, you need a new line for every line of dialogue. (Except when there's a beat directly before/after the line.) Then, you format it like this: "Dialogue," said Person1. The comma is inside the quotes. A freestanding line of dialogue would have a period instead of a comma: "Dialogue." He walked across the room.

 

For questions or exclamations, you replace the comma or period with a question mark or exclamation point: "Dialogue!" he said. 

 

Beats:

 

Acceptable:

"Dialogue," he said. He walked across the room.

He walked across the room. "Dialogue."

"Dialogue." He walked across the room. "More dialogue."

 

Not acceptable:

Having two people speak without starting a new paragraph -

"Dialogue," Person 1 said. "More dialogue" said Person 2.

Having dialogue in the middle of a long paragraph of description.

 

I hope that helps somewhat, though I'm not quite sure what could be wrong - if you'd like to post part of your work here, I would know for sure if there were any problems.

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Good advice, Meandbooks. Never underestimate the considerable benefits than can be accrued by copying other people who know what they're doing - which is really all that learning is, after all.

 

Take three (recently published) novels off your shelf. There's a good chance that they will be formatted very slightly differently, but the main rules will be clear enough. I'm doing it now...
 

1.   In The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson - of course!), paragraphs are intended about a 1/4 inch. It uses "double quotes" for dialogue and doesn't always take a new page for a new chapter (depending on the space remaining on the page when the last chapter ends).

 

2.   The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss) has the same indentation of paragraph first lines, but uses 'single quotes' for dialogue and always takes a new page for a new chapter.

 

3.   China Mieville's Un Lun Dun has the same indentation as the other two. It puts dialogue 'single quotes'. It's chapter titles are always at the top of a new page, but the text starts a third-ish (quarter?) down the page.

 

Absolutely THE most important thing, however, in writing a manuscript that you are going to send to a publisher, agent, proofreader, alpha/beta reader, etc. - in any source I've ever read or heard - is that it must be double spaced. No ifs, buts or maybes.

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Expanding on this: Know what to do when dialogue spans from the end of one paragraph to another. It looks like this:

 

Blah blah blah original paragraph... "I know it bothers you too," Bob added. "and that's because it's no coincidence that we never heard from him.

"Coincidentally, have we been in touch with Alice at all lately?" Bob asked.

 

(Closing off the quotation marks when spanning paragraphs should only be done on the same circumstances you'd newline additional dialogue from the same person)

 

Single or double quotes in english is down to style, really. Whichever you use, make sure to use the opposite if your characters quote other people in dialogue.

You may need to reformat a little for manuscript submission- a lot of places want double-spaced courier as a standard format, but sometimes you'll run into specific requirements. If you're submitting you want to look like you've done your research and respected their time or you'll be set aside before being given serious consideration.

Edited by Ari
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Thank you for all your comments.  I am still a little confused about the mix of description and dialogue and when to start new paragraphs. 

 

I really appreciate you all taking the time to give me some tips.

 

Thanks again!

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At a basic level, start a new paragraph with a new thought, new voice or new direction.

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