Help formatting a document for a critique
January 20, 2020 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I am going to a writer's workshop. I am getting ready to submit an excerpt from my novel and I am not sure if the formatting is correct. Right now I have a space between paragraphs with no indentation. I also have 2 spaces after periods. Are these correct or should I switch to indented paragraphs and 1 space after periods? Above all, I don't want my formatting to distract from the text.
posted by Biblio to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Professional copy editor here. Two spaces after a period was specific to typewriters because the spacing of words was uneven on a typewriter. It will look wrong to most people now. It will also make you look old. (I learned to type on a typewriter, which is why I did it for years).

I would indent new paragraphs. Also, double space the whole text so people will have room to make notes.
posted by FencingGal at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Enjoy the workshop. I am sure these particulars will be fine, however, it is currently fashionable to double (or 1.5) space your work and have no spaces between paragraphs. You can stop Word adding spaces automatically by going to Format > Paragraph > Spacing and check the tick-box beside ‘Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style’.

Indent every new paragraph apart from the first one. Each line of dialogue counts as a new paragraph and is therefore indented. You can set up Microsoft Word to do this automatically by going to Format > Paragraph > Special > First Line.

When you want to indicate a large break in narrative time or a section break, you do so by leaving two paragraph spaces and left-aligning the prose in the paragraph following the break, as if it is another first paragraph. Every subsequent paragraph is then indented as per usual.

Get rid of the double spaces.

And, as I said, enjoy the workshop!
posted by einekleine at 7:56 AM on January 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Production/copy editor here, and I'm going to echo what was said above. Double space, indent your paragraphs, only one space after a period, don't add additional space between paragraphs unless it's a specific section break.

The Shunn breakdown of the MS format is still pretty much the professional standard.
posted by Fish Sauce at 8:21 AM on January 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From what I've seen/discussed with the sorts of people who run workshops, they're prepared to handle anything that's even in striking distance of official manuscript format, so don't overthink it too much. And good luck! I went to a workshop in 2013 that changed my life in nearly every way.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:32 AM on January 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two spaces after a period doesn't matter at all. It's not standard anymore but if you got it published your editor would get rid of them with a single keystroke. I can't see how it would distract anyone who is taking the workshop seriously. That said, there's no harm in doing a quick find and replace for double spaces--it has the added benefit of catching unintentional ones as well (there's essentially no reason for there to be two spaces in a row in a manuscript).

I would consider changing the double line break after paragraphs, though, if you're writing a traditional novel. There are some kinds of books where your formatting makes sense (but in that case you still wouldn't have extra line breaks--you'd change the before/after spacing in your paragraph formatting). Unlike the after-period spacing, because your current formatting might be used for other types of books, it does have the potential to affect the tone in subtle ways.

You can remove the double line breaks with find and replace, then add the indentation with the format paragraph tools--I would not use tab for this (though again, if you did and I eventually became your editor, I would simply remove them in one second. None of this is a big deal, it just might cause you less headache as you revise to have it tidy from the start).

I echo that the most important thing is to have double or 1.5 spacing throughout for this kind of workshop.
posted by lampoil at 8:40 AM on January 20, 2020

Best answer: In my experience, the most important thing is consistency. If the workshop didn’t tell you what formatting to use up-front, using the same formatting throughout the document is important. Also, yes, double-space your work to give people ample space to write notes.
posted by epj at 3:28 PM on January 20, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you all! My excerpt is nicely formatted and I'm confident about sending it in!
posted by Biblio at 4:27 PM on January 21, 2020

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