A thing I have noticed in various feedback rounds and especially from new writers, is the lack of proper formatting.

Why is that important?

Formatting is a sign of respect for the reader / editor / publishing house and quite important for submissions. Magazines will have detailed explanation on how they want manuscripts formatted – if you don’t follow these, there is the risk they won’t even read it. Missing an opportunity because of formatting is quite disappointing.

But, don’t worry, once you know the basics, you should be fine!

Dialogue:

Take a look at this:

“Hey Mike. How was your day” asked Anna. “Pretty good” answered Mike. “Good to hear.” “And yours?” Anna responds: “I learned how to write dialogue.”

 

Now, take a look this:

“Hey Mike. How was your day?” asked Anna.

“Pretty good,” answered Mike.

“Good to hear.”

“And yours?”

Anna responds: “I learned how to write dialogue.”

 

The second text is automatically easier to read, right? That is because of the formatting – it is the standard way dialogue is formatted in novels or short stories. Take any book from your library and have a look. Sure, the indication how dialogue starts may differ: Some use single quotation marks ‘ ‘ rather than double quotation marks “ “ – French and German texts also often use Guillemet « » to indicate dialogue. It does not really matter what you use (unless the submission guidelines say so). In general, however, you should follow these steps:

  • Go to the next lines as soon as another character starts talking.
  • Within a quotation mark, use a coma before you close the quotation mark when you want to switch into prose. This depends where your speech action start though – if it is positioned before the quotation marks, you should use a colon (Anna responds: “…”).

 

You can also break up dialogue with prose, it could look like this:

  • “Hey Mike,” said Anna, “how was your day?”
  • “Hey Mike,” said Anna. “How was your day?”
  • “Hey Mike,” said Anna, before she asked: “How was your day?”
  • “Hey Mike,” said Anna. “How was your day?” she asked.

The coma within the quotations marks becomes the transition into the prose. If you want to continue, you can use a coma after the prose and transition into further dialogue. Do not go into a new line! The same character is still talking. If you feel like your character says sentence after sentence, you can use a full stop after the talking action and continue the paragraph with quotation marks; again, do not go into a new line. The third example work too – I have to say, I have not seen that one as much, but it still would work. And the fourth example works too – although the question mark already indicates that the sentence is a question, and perhaps the “she asked” becomes unnecessary. However, as you can see in the fourth example, after the question mark, there is no comma – you do not put more than one sentence marker at the end of a dialogue, it is either a question mark, exclamation mark, a comma or a full stop.

 

Paragraphs:

Similar to an essay, the first lines of a new paragraph is, more often then not, indented. Except the very first paragraphs of chapters or new scenes.

 

Size, font, cover page, and other details:

As a general rule of thumb: Size 12, a serif font (usually Times New Roman), 1,5 space between lines, remove space before and after paragraph.

Various magazines and publishing houses want varying information’s on the cover page, but here too, general rule of thumb: Your name, birth date, e-mail, phone number, country / address, title of the text in the middle of the cover, underneath it the word count.

It is best to always looks at the submission conditions of particular magazines and publishing houses. Often, it will also say: Classic Manuscript Format.

What they mean by this, is this: https://www.shunn.net/format/classic/ – this is often the industry standard (at least when it comes to English / American magazines). The detailed explanation and examples are all listed on that website, and you should follow these formatting guidelines to a tee.

 

Further reading:

(Some of these links deviate a bit about what I wrote here, but in general, the basic structure is similar. See for yourself. The main focus should be to make you text as pleasant to read as possible)