Creating and Using Styles

Hey, psst. Over here… so hey. Do you want to make your editor happy? Like, really happy? I’ve got something that’s really gonna make her day.

Actually, it’s not much of a secret, but I’ll tell you anyway, and even give you a few tips along the way, in case you’re feeling as clueless as I was when I wrote my first book.

I’m the first to admit that when I started writing, I just wrote. I wasn’t worried about someone else seeing the manuscript, much less what it looked like. But then I decided to publish, which meant I’d need an editor. God bless her heart for not sending my manuscript (ms) straight back with a note: fix this! Because, honest-to-God, I didn’t know enough to know what was broken! Now, this was back in ye olden days, and she worked with a paper copy, so there were written notes about tabs, spacing, the old-school double-space-after-periods…I think she suspected more, but couldn’t know what was going on behind the scenes for some other stuff.

Anyhow, since I decided to self-publish, I had to learn how to format on my own for my first novel. I took an online class—How to Format Your Book for Publication—wherein I learned about Styles in Word, and [insert sound effect here] … Mind… Blown… My life hasn’t been the same since.

While I know your editor will be overjoyed with a properly stylish manuscript, remember that you spend more time with your words than anyone! This is as much for yourself as for your team. And once you get the hang of it, you’ll want to use them for everything—Manuscripts, Family Newsletters, Grocery Lists, I could go on and on…

Now, you might be asking the question: What do you mean, Style? Is that like using Papyrus instead of Boring Old Times New Roman (TNR)? Should I use color to enhance the story?

Answer: Umm no. Yes… but no. Please do not send out a manuscript in Papyrus. Please, for the love…  TNR is standard, and it is what I generally like to see. You can also use other standard fonts (Courier, Arial). And in Black. No colors.

That’s the easy part, and the one most people get intuitively. But! Styles are more than that. If you look at a standard Word toolbar Home section, you’ll see a subsection called ‘Styles’. This is where we’ll be spending our time today. It looks like this and we want this section:

If you look at the bottom right corner of the block (which escaped my circle) you’ll see a little arrow that gives you a sidebar. I find this to be the best work area for set up. It’ll look like this:

This section has Word-provided Styles, almost none of which are any good to you for a book manuscript. So, you’ll use the little bottom button to create lots of new and useful styles! Let’s start basic with what I’ll call Standard Manuscript Format AB.

This is where things get fun! Click the button and look at the pop-out menu. It looks like this:

For a moment, please ignore the fact that my ‘normal’ is Merriweather Light. I know what I just said about TNR, and I’ll get to that in a bit. For now, I want you to look at the bottom left corner, which says Format. Using this button you can do magical things with both the font and the paragraph settings (the real star of the show), which is where we’re going next.

You’re gonna want your selections to look something like this (see highlights). You have a little wiggle room—I like my first line indent at .3 inches, but you can use .4 or .5. I sometimes use space-and-a-half (1.5) and sometimes use double. Double is probably more usual.

Next up, fonts:

You’ll only need to make sure these three sections are set for the Standard Style, but you can go nuts for special styles (not too nuts—it still needs to be readable).

 All that’s left is to name your font, and it’ll show up in your Styles Menu like so:

I lied—all that’s left is to apply your style! To do that, select your text and click your style. Everything will be uniform and pretty, even if you have two hundred pages of manuscript.

The easiest thing is to have these set before you even start writing. If you’re really proactive, you can set styles (as many as you need, really, and I have three to five in general) and then create a template so that all you have to do when creativity strikes is to open a new file and start typing.

Sidebar: Merriweather and Readability—my brand font is Merriweather Light. It’s a serif font, big/round and easy on my eyes. But it isn’t ‘standard’ because not everyone has it on their computer. Great for when I’m printing, not great for when I’m sending a file out. When you’re writing, use whatever font works for you. I had a client who used Comic Sans—she’s dyslexic, and it happens to be the easiest font for her to track. I have another who seems to love Arial. If you want to use Papyrus… The important thing is readability—for you, for your editor, for agents. TNR is generally accepted as an imminently readable font. Do whatever you want for you, but be prepared to send your ms out with the TNR warhorse. Trust me, it’s a good thing.

Sidebar Two: You’ll maybe want to know what my usual Styles are. I have one Style each for Standard (ms text), Chapter Header, Scene Divider. I might also have Styles for Journal Entry/Letter, Texting, or Flashback. In each case you’ll format slightly differently, but you won’t have to finagle. You’ll just select your text and apply the Style, or apply the Style and start typing. Easy-peasy.

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