I’ve read a lot books written by aspiring authors in the pre-publication stages, and there are basic things many of these books suffer from.

Proper formatting is one of them. A lot of authors think formatting is just for making your text look pretty, and insist not using indents or quotes.

But formatting serves a purpose.

An important one.

The formatting standard exists so readers can absorb the information more easily.

Reading a wall of text is headache-inducing.

You constantly lose your place in the text, skip to the wrong line and struggle to understand what’s happening in the story because you’re spending so much mental energy on parsing the text in the first place.

The basic elements of formatting, like punctuation and indenting, make a text much easier to read and understand.

Let’s eat Grandma.

The “Let’s eat, Grandma” example in punctuation is a classic illustration of how important commas are to the meaning of a sentence.

The phrase is used to show how the absence or presence of a comma can completely change the context and interpretation of a sentence.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Without a comma, “Let’s eat Grandma” has a cannibalistic intent, as if the speaker is addressing someone suggesting that they should eat their grandmother.
  • With a comma, “Let’s eat, Grandma” is a friendly call to the speaker’s grandmother to join in the meal, indicating that the speaker is saying to their grandmother that it’s time to eat.

Both are grammatically correct, just know which one you mean to use.

Don’t hate the indent.

Indents are used to indicate the beginning of a new paragraph.

This helps structure the text into manageable chunks, making it easier for readers to follow the narrative.

Indents provide a clear visual cue to the reader that a new thought is occurring.

Without the visual separation that indents provide, it’s difficult to discern where one paragraph ends and another begins.

Indents improve readability, because when readers move from one line to the next, the small space created by the indent helps prevent the eye from jumping to the wrong line.

A well-formatted page with consistent indents is aesthetically pleasing and contributes to a professional appearance, suggesting that the author or publisher values the reader’s experience.

Indenting paragraphs is a convention in English-language book formatting. This means that readers are accustomed to this format, and deviations can be jarring and may detract from the reading experience.

Compared to line breaks, indents save space because they prevent the need for additional spacing between paragraphs.

This is particularly important in printed books, where saving space reduces printing costs.

In book formatting, while indents are the standard for most text, block formatting (no indents with a space between paragraphs) can be used for specific elements like quotations, letters within a story, or for stylistic reasons to differentiate between different types of text.

But for the main body of text, indents are a key component of clear, professional formatting.

Use scene breaks the right way.

Scene breaks are a tool used in writing to signify a transition within a chapter.

These transitions might indicate a shift in location, time, perspective, or a combination of these elements.

  1. Transition in time: When you want to move forward or backward in time within the same chapter without a jarring jump, a scene break can be used to indicate that some time has elapsed.
  2. Change in location: If the narrative moves to a new setting, a scene break allows the writer to transition without having to explain the movement from one place to another within the prose.
  3. Shift in Point of View (POV): In novels with multiple POV characters, a scene break can signal a switch from one character’s perspective to another’s. This helps avoid confusion, clearly delineating whose thoughts and experiences are being followed.
  4. Pacing and suspense: Scene breaks can be used to control the pacing of a narrative, allowing the writer to skip over events that don’t contribute to the story or to create a pause for effect, building suspense.

The purpose of scene breaks is to provide a clear and clean separation within the narrative without the abruptness that can come with starting a new chapter.

A general rule for how to use scene breaks is that if in a given scene the location or the time changes, use a single line space.

If both the location and the time changes, use an ornamental break.

The visual representation of scene breaks varies:

  • Blank line: A simple way to indicate a scene break is by inserting a blank line between paragraphs.
  • Symbols or glyphs: Sometimes, authors use a centred symbol, such as a trio of asterisks (***), or a specially designed glyph to make the break more noticeable.
  • Ornamental breaks: These can include a small graphic or an ornate line and are often used to add a decorative element to the book. These are usually images and e-readers don’t tend to support transparent images, meaning that if you’re reading in anything other than light mode, any image is a bit jarring as it comes with a white background.

The key to using scene breaks is consistency.

Avoid using scene breaks too frequently, as this can disrupt the flow and make the narrative feel choppy.

Don’t use them to jump around in a scene unnecessarily—it’s important that they serve a clear purpose for transitions within the narrative.

Once you decide on a style of scene break, stick with it throughout the manuscript.

This helps maintain a professional appearance and ensures that readers understand the cues you’re giving them.

Scene breaks are used for specifically different purposes.

A single line break used to be a carriage double break, so you might still hear people referring to it with that name.

On manual typewriters, the carriage was the part on top that held the paper and scooted leftward as you typed. At the end of each line, you’d push a lever to move the carriage to the beginning of the next line.

On electric typewriters, this lever became the carriage return key, which you’d press at the end of each line.

While we no longer have either of these mechanical trappings with modern computers, the terminology stayed with us.

Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you not to listen to someone telling you how to write.

But formatting isn’t about the content of your writing, it’s about how you present what you’ve written.

And unless your story demands something different, the best thing to do is to follow the formatting standard.

It’s a horrible thing to say, but people will look at your book like it’s amateurish if the formatting isn’t up to the standard.

And this has nothing to do with the content of your writing, but presenting your manuscript in the most professional way possible is always better.

So, remember to fully justify your text and use indents.

Use your scene breaks to enhance the story and provide clarity.

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