Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Manuscript Formatting Tips

Copyright © 2009, Steven E. Houchin

Writers often encounter frustrating manuscript editing and formatting problems when using an editor such as MS Word. Sometimes I'll see the problems in their manuscript, or they come to me (a software engineer in my other life) and ask, “How the heck do I ...?” Below, I list some of those issues and a solution. I use Office 2000, so the directions apply to that. But newer versions have analogous features.

Adding Headers and Page Numbers
Whenever you pass your manuscript (or portions of it) to someone else to read, you should have title headers and page numbers on every page. In MS Word, this is done with the “Header and Footer” feature.

Headers place text at the top of each page. Footers place text at the bottom of each page. In MS Word, they are created or modified by selecting “Header and Footer” under the View menu, which pops up a little toolbar. Usually, you will want to put your name and book title at the upper left. For my novel Double Fire, I have: Houchin/DOUBLE FIRE

The page number is usually placed in the upper right, but some put it on the right in the Footer. [There is a button in the toolbar to switch between Header and Footer.] To put the page number on the right, press the Tab key in the Header until the cursor reaches the right-hand border, then press the “#” button in the toolbar. That will cause all your pages to be auto-numbered. When you’re done, press the toolbar’s Close button.

However, you’ll want your manuscript to have a title page, but won’t want a header or a page number on it. So, how do you accomplish that?

Go to your title page in the manuscript. Then, open the “Header and Footer” toolbar again, and press the little button that looks like an open book. The Page Setup screen opens. Check the “Different first page” box, then press OK. If you had any title page headers, they vanish! If you don’t have headers yet, you can now insert them on page 2.

But, a problem remains: the page after the title page is numbered 2. You’ll want it to be page 1. To fix this, select the Insert menu, then open “Page Numbers…”. On the Page Numbers screen, choose the Position and Alignment for your numbers, and clear the “Show number on first page” box. Next, press “Format…”, select the “Start At:” option and type in 0 (zero) as your first page number. Finish by pressing OK. When you add your page numbers in the Header (or Footer), the page after the title will be number 1.

Automatic Paragraph Indentation
Editors expect to see the first line of each paragraph in your manuscript indented. I’ve noticed that many writers do this by simply typing a few spaces. However, MS Word provides for automatic indentation, which should provide consistent looking paragraphs.

To enable this feature, open Word’s Format menu, then select Paragraph. Under its “Indents and Spacing” tab, look at the settings under “Indentation”. Select the “First line” value under the “Special” drop-list box. If you don’t like the default 1/2 inch indentation this provides, you can enter a different value in the “By” box.

The “Left” and “Right” settings will indent the whole paragraph from the left or right margins. This might be useful if you’re inserting a quotation or poem within a story.
Note that these settings apply only to the currently selected paragraphs (and any new one added immediately after). Unfortunately, to fix your manuscript, you must remove the spaces you manually inserted, highlight all paragraphs you wish to change, open the Paragraph menu, select the “First line” value, then click OK.

Paragraph Spacing
Have you run into the situation where blank lines appear in your manuscript between paragraphs? There they are, but you never intended to put them in; and they won’t go away.

Well, here’s the problem. Open Word’s Format menu, then select Paragraph. Under its “Indents and Spacing” tab, look at the settings under “Spacing”. The “Before” and “After” values specify how much space to add before/after the paragraph. Zero means no space between. To fix your manuscript, you must highlight the space between all incorrect paragraphs, set these “Before” and “After” values to zero, then click OK. You must do this for each paragraph that is wrong.

Unwanted Horizontal Lines
Have you ever discovered that unwanted horizontal lines have magically appeared in your manuscript? Word may create these lines automatically in response to certain things you type, such as ‘***’. It assumes you really wanted to insert a horizontal line, so it does.

First, you need to eliminate the lines that already pollute your manuscript. To do this, highlight a line of text before and after the horizontal line, then under the “Format” menu, select “Borders and Shading...”. In the pop-up window, select the “None” box and click OK. The line should go away. If you intended to insert a scene break here, replace the now-removed solid line with a blank line, then type the break characters WITHOUT PRESSING THE “ENTER” KEY AFTERWARD. You’ll need to do this for each unwanted solid line you find.

To turn off this automatic line-insertion nonsense, open the “Tools” menu and select “AutoCorrect...”. In the pop-up window, choose the “AutoFormat As You Type” tab, then uncheck the “Borders” box under “Apply as you Type”. Then click OK. You’ll have to do this for every doc file you have. After this, typing asterisks for a scene break should not mess up.

1 comment:

Janette said...

I just read your whole blog for the first time and appreciate the informative tips you offer, especially in helping one in the use of the Word toolbar to format a manuscript.
Thanks and best wishes in your writing goals. You're good.