Tools of the Trade

Tools of the TradeAt this month’s Critique Group, a fellow writer said that he thought he’d done everything correctly when writing his novel only to find that it had to be double spaced with one-inch margins, Times New Roman 12 point, starting a third of the way down the page—

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said when I noticed panic widening the eyes of another new member. “What you’re talking about is a manuscript submission copy.”

We had a discussion on how to write a story and touched on plotting versus pantsing, writing by hand versus typing on a laptop, etc. The first point I want to make is just write the story. As Will Shetterly said, “It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.” I’m also fond of “Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.” There are many such encouraging quotes, but I’m sure you understand what I’m saying. Get that story written.

With that being said, the second point and true purpose of this post is to offer another resource where new writers can find the information they require to turn their manuscripts into acceptable submission copies. I’m all about giving back the information I discovered and/or processes I learned.

These steps are for formatting a novel:

  1. Set 1″ margins on all sides.
  2. Prepare a title page with your name and contact information in the upper left-hand corner of the page (some sources say include the word count here), title in ALL CAPS about one-third of the way down the page, skip a line, followed with a novel by, skip a line, and your name.
  3. Don’t number the title page. Begin numbering (1) with the first page of the text of the manuscript, usually the introduction, prologue, or chapter one.
  4. Use a header on each page, including your last name, the title of your novel in ALL CAPS, and the page number. Remember to make the font of the header match the font of your manuscript.
  5. Start each new chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page.
  6. The chapter number and chapter title should be in all caps, separated by two hyphens: CHAPTER 1—THE BODY.
  7. Begin the body of the chapter four to six lines below the chapter title.
  8. Indent fives spaces for each new paragraph.
  9. Double-space the entire text.
  10. Use a standard font, 12-point type. Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier is fine.
  11. Alignment should be to the left, not justified. The right edges will not be uniform.
  12. Indicate scene breaks with a blank line and five centered dashes or number signs.
  13. End your manuscript with the five centered dashes or number signs or simply type THE END.
  14. Use 20-lb. bond paper.

The guidelines for a manuscript submission copy may vary a titch based on which websites you reference and/or who you talk to. The steps presented above are the basics and will ensure that your manuscript doesn’t get rejected because it is sloppy.

He said, She said – He complained, She admitted

And the debate rages on. I’m talking about using dialog tags other than said and asked. It wasn’t so long ago that said is dead seemed to be the rule of the day. While everyone agrees that too many dialog tags are annoying, people tend to waver on whether or not to stick with said and asked or mix it up with more descriptive verbs such as complained, boasted, and grumbled.

A few tags that appear to slip under the said/asked radar include whispered, yelled, and shouted. I suppose that’s because they are either extremely passive or aggressive; on opposite ends of the said/asked spectrum.

Then there is laughed and chuckled. People will argue that you can’t laugh or chuckle while speaking; it only occurs before or after a person is done talking. I would have to disagree based on personal experience. Laughing while talking doesn’t have to hinder the speaker. Short sentences can be spoken with a lilt to one’s voice that I would definitely describe as a laugh.

So join the debate. I want to hear from you on this subject. Do you think this is a hard and fast rule or a rule to be broken at the writer’s discretion rendering it just a guideline?

UPDATE:  Last week I sat in a seminar with a professional editor who actually suggested using dialog tags beyond said and asked.  She agreed that too many are burdensome to read, however, she pointed out how they help a reader keep track of who is speaking in a long conversation of two or more people.  I maintain that when used correctly, dialog tags beyond said and asked do not distract the reader.  Rather, they enhance the story and the writing.  In either case, I’d still love to hear your opinion, dear follower!


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