30 Second Guide to Novel & Short Story Formatting

Many new writers are confused about how to format their manuscript. Many of these issues arise from mixing the conventions for non-fiction, such as essays, with that of fiction.

So here are a few guidelines:

Indent each new paragraph

Each new paragraph should be indented by about a half a centimetre, with the exception of the very first paragraph of each chapter, which should be flush with the margin.

Don’t use excessive new chapters

We’ve seen manuscript where almost every new paragraph is named as a new chapter, meaning that you’re on chapter four within 2000 words. This is not appropriate use of chapters, which will be around 2000 words each as a rule of thumb.

Don’t leave line breaks between paragraphs

Essays and other fact based writing dictates that you should leave a gap between each paragraph. This is not the case with fiction writing.

Use font size about 12

If you are expecting anybody else to read your work, it’s only polite to offer it in an accessible size – don’t forget that not everybody has perfect eyesight. But in addition to this, the way we read (not by smoothly scanning but in jumps and pauses that take in groups of words at a time) means that excessively long sentences – that would be created by very small text – are harder to read.

Use a serif font

A serif font is one that has the little tails at the edges of the letters (such as Times New Roman). A Sans Serif font is one that doesn’t – and therefore looks more abrupt. Serif fonts are easier to read when printed, so you should use one. The most common ones are Times New Roman and Courier New.

Final notes:

If you’re not sure about the formatting of your document, there’s a very quick and easy way to check – take a paperback of the shelf and see how they do it! Check in a few to confirm, and hey presto – now you know the convention.