I spend an awful lot of time in Microsoft Word. It may not be the only word processing software out there, but there’s no denying that a lot of novels get written in it–and that a lot of people don’t know the useful things it can do.

So let’s talk about styles and how you, a novelist, can use them.

Styles are complicated and powerful, and while you don’t need to use many of them in a novel, they are good for:

  • Making your Word file easy to navigate, so you can jump with one click from chapter to chapter
  • Making it easy to create an ebook version of your file in Calibre
  • Quickly and easily changing font styles throughout the document.

Let’s get to it!

First thing’s first: what are styles?

Screenshot of the

“Styles” takes up about half of the “Home” tab in Microsoft Word. Here’s what it looks like.

“Styles” are, well, font styles. Let’s say you have a simple report, and you have three different font styles: a large 1st-level header for the title of every section, a smaller 2nd-level header for subheadings, and a “normal” font for all of the text. You want your 1st-level heading to be 20pt Arial font, black, and with a 6pt of spacing after every header, and your 2nd-level header to be 16pt Arial, blue.

Let’s say your report is 100 pages long and includes 30 1st-level headers and 60 2nd-level headers. You write the whole document. You’re done. Then, one day before the report’s due, you have to change it.  Both of your headers should be blue, the 1st-level header should be 18pt Times New Roman, and the 2nd-level should be 14pt. What do you do?

Well, if you manually formatted this document, you’d have to find all 90 of those headers and manually change them, one by one by one.

But if you had used styles, you wouldn’t have to do that.

Here’s what would have done: You would have gone to the “Heading 1” and “Heading 2” styles and made them look exactly the way you want it to. You would have set their size, color, spacing, borders–whatever.

Then you would have gone through the document. Every time you used a first- or second-level header, you’d select the text and click one of the buttons in the “styles” section–“Heading 1” or “Heading 2,” in this case. Then MAGIC HAPPENED.

Because the moment you do that, your text is automatically formatted according to the rules you assigned to that style. And if you ever need to change that style, you don’t change it in the document. You just edit the Heading 1 or Heading 2 style directly and every header in your document using that style is automatically updated.

How is this useful for novels?

You probably don’t use a lot of font styles in novels. 99% of my novels are one thing: 12pt Times New Roman font. There’s just one really important exception: chapters headings. At the start of every chapter, I have a big, bold heading: CHAPTER ONE. CHAPTER TWO. CHAPTER THREE.

And I create a style for those. This does two things. First, it makes it really easy to navigate your Word file. Just hit Control+F to bring up the Navigation Pane:

The MS Word Navigation Pane with the "Browse the Headings in your Document" button circled.

See that button? That’s called “Browse the headings in your document.” Click it.

The Browse Headers button showing all the chapters in a document.

And voila. Because I made every chapter heading a header, I can now see all of them–and I can click on them to navigate around the file.

Know what’s even better? If you want to create an e-book of your novel, Calibre will automatically split your book into chapters and create a table of contents. It does this by looking for Heading 1s and splitting the book at those points. (I covered this in a very old post called A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Making Imperfect .EPUB Files.)

So if you write in Word, this is useful. Let’s talk about how to do it.

Step #1: Edit the “Heading 1” Style

First, let’s make the Heading 1 style look the way you want it to.

  1. Go to the “Home” tab. In the “Styles” section, find “Heading 1.”
  2. Right click on it.Screenshot of styles tab showing Heading 1
  3. Click on “modify.”MS Word - Styles Page
  4. This is the “Modify Style” page. The easiest stuff to change is in the middle. Choose the font, size, and color.
  5. If you want to change anything else, click the “Format” button. You can customize a lot of things! But for the purposes of this example, we’re done. Hit “OK.”

“Heading 1” should now look exactly like you want it to.

Done? Good. Now do the same thing to the style called “Normal.” This is your “normal” text.

Step #2: Apply the style to all your chapter headings.

This one’s easy!

  1. Go through your entire document.
  2. When you encounter a chapter heading, select it. Be careful to only select the text you want to be a header. Don’t select extra lines or spaces!
  3. Click on “Heading 1.” Your chapter heading should automatically change.

Step #3: Make sure it looks right.

Remember above, when I told you how to use Control+F to bring up the Navigation Panel? Do that. View your headings. Does everything look OK?

It’s easy to make mistakes. I have, for example, accidentally made single blank spaces into headers–and then they show up in the heading viewer as big, empty spaces that mess up the flow of my “table of contents.”

So what do you do if that happens? Just turn it into normal text.

  1. Navigate to the thing that shouldn’t be a header. (You can do this by going into the Navigation Panel with Control+F, going to “Browse the headings in your document,” then clicking on the mistake.)
  2. Select the stuff that shouldn’t be a header.
  3. Click on the “Normal” style.

It will be converted from a Heading to normal font. And normal font doesn’t appear in the navigation panel, so it should vanish from your “Browse the headings in your document” list.

And that’s it!

That’s all you have to do. Now you can navigate your Word file with just a click of the mouse. And if you want to convert your Word file into an e-book, you’re all set–all you have to do is follow the steps in A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Making Imperfect .EPUB Files.

It’s a simple trick, but it can be super useful!

 

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I wanted to do a short post today. So let’s talk about something easy!

Here’s the situation: You, like so many unfortunate people, might have been taught to put two spaces after every period, because that’s how it was done in the days of the typewriter. But alas, that’s not how it works anymore. When you type on a computer, you put one space after a period. Always.

But you didn’t know that, and now you’ve written an 80,000-word novel with two periods after every punctuation mark. How do you fix that?

If your answer is “I guess I’ll clear out an afternoon and spend 5 hours deleting the extra spaces,” then have I got a lifesaver for you. (And if you’ve done this in the past, then I offer my condolences for the hours you’ll never get back.) This takes five seconds to fix.

Here’s how you do it in Microsoft Word.

  1. Open “Find and Replace.” (Shortcut: Control+H.)
  2. In “Find What,” enter two spaces.
  3. In “Replace With,” enter one space.
  4. Hit “Replace All.”

    Screenshot of Word's "Find and Replace" showing two spaces in "Find What."

    This screenshot is almost useless. But there are two spaces in “Find What,” I promise.

That’s it. That’s literally it.

Note: This will indiscriminately replace any place with more than one space in a row. So pause for a second and ask yourself: do you use multiple spaces for anything else?  For example, some people use spaces to indent. They shouldn’t, but still: this’ll mess that up.

(In fact, that would be a great opportunity to use Find and Replace to replace your space-indentations with tabs or to remove them entirely and use Microsoft Word’s automatic first line indentation.)

Find and Replace is surprisingly powerful, and can replace much more complicated things than just spaces. So if you’re ever faced with a messy manuscript, just remember: most formatting problems can be fixed in a couple of clicks. (And if you want to know how to fix most of the other problems, check out my mini-tutorial on putting a manuscript into Standard Manuscript Format.)

Anyway, that’s it! We’re done!

Let’s talk about Standard Manuscript Format!

(Wait, no! Come baaaaaack…)

OK, so it’s not the most exciting topic. But I was on Reddit’s r/Writing when I read a post where more than one person said it took them hours to format their manuscripts. And oh good golly, no! This might not take you five minutes, if you don’t know Word very well, but it’s fast. Super fast.

So let’s use Microsoft Word 2010 to put a story into Standard Manuscript Format. You can do this for novels and short stories.

Let’s get started!

What are we aiming for?

When we’re done, it’s going to look like this. If you’re confused at any step of this process, just try to duplicate this (or the first page of the Standard Manuscript Format link.)

SMF - Template.PNG

You’re going to:

  • Format the text of the story.
  • Create a title page that includes:
    • Your word count.
    • Your personal information.
    • Your title and byline.
  • Add a header to the top of every page.

Step #1: Double space your lines

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  3. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Paragraph section.
  4. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Double.”
  5. A screenshot of Word's Paragraph: Indents and Spacing tab.Hit “OK.”

Your text is now double-spaced. That’s 95% of the work right there. And while you’ve got all that text selected…

Step #2: Change the font

  1. Select all of the text in your document (shortcut: Control+A).
  2. Go to the “Home” tab.
  3. Change the font to Times New Roman. (Or Courier New, I guess. But Courier is gross.)
  4. Change the font size to 12pt.

SMF - Font

Now your font is standardized. That’s most of the work right there.

The next step is optional!

(Optional) Step #3: Change the italics to underlines

You only need to do this if you’re using Courier New font. And, as you can guess, I hate Courier, and very few places require it.

In novels, emphasis is usually shown with italics. But  Standard Manuscript Format suggests two different ways to handle emphasis: either with Times New Roman and italic font or Courier New and underlines.

The vast majority of places are perfectly fine with Times New Roman and italics. Check the submission guidelines of the place you’re submitting to. If they explicitly ask you to use underlines, follow the instructions in my previous post.

If they don’t mention it, skip this step.

Step #5: Check your margins

If you’ve never changed your margins, they’re probably fine. But let’s check.

  1. Click on the “Page Layout” tab.
  2. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Page Setup” section.Screenshot of the Page Layout tab, showing the Page Setup section.
  3. Ensure that your Top, Bottom, Left, and Right margins are all set to 1″.
  4. Screenshot of the Page Setup section, showing all margins at 1".

    If they aren’t, set them to 1″. Then hit “OK.”

Step #6: Set up your title page

Now that your story is formatted, it’s time for the title page!

Step #6-A: Add your title and byline

  1. Put your cursor at the start of your file and hit return until you’re about 1/3 or 1/2 of the way down the page. It doesn’t have to be exact.
  2. Enter the title of this piece.
  3. On a new line, type: by YOUR NAME
  4. Select both of these lines.
  5. Center them (shortcut: Control+E).

Step #6-B: Add the word count

  1. Figure out how many words your story has. You can find this in two places:
    • Under the “Review” tab, in the far left (next to the Spelling button) is a small button with “ABC123” on it. That’s your word count button.SMF - Word Count 2
    • Word 2010 also keeps a running word count at the bottom of the file. You don’t have to open anything! Just look at the bottom of Word.SMF - Word Count
  2. At the top of the manuscript, add “#### words.”

Step #6-C: Add your name, address, phone number, and email address

One important note: Your personal information (and, by extension, your word count) are all SINGLE-SPACED. But you double-spaced this file back in step #1, right? Yeah. That’s why the last step in this section changes that.

  1. Put your cursor before your word count.
  2. Type in your name.
  3. After your name (but before the word count) hit tab until your word count is at the right edge of the page.
  4. On the next two (or so) lines, put your address in.
  5. On the next line, add your email address.
  6. On the next line, add your phone number.
  7. Select all of this new text.
  8. Go to the “Page Layout” tab.
  9. Hit the little box-with-an-arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the “Paragraph” section.
  10. Find the “Line Spacing” drop-down menu. Change it to “Single.”

Step #7: Add a header

  1. Double click in the empty header area of your document. Word will open your header editor.
  2. Go to the “Insert” tab.
  3. Select “Page Number.”
  4. Choose Top of Page > Plain Number 3. This will add the page number to the top of your document, aligned right.Screenshot of the Insert tab and the Page Number section, showing Plain Number 3.
  5. Put your cursor in front of that page number.
  6. Type in your information: LAST NAME / NAME OF PIECE /

Now you’ll have a pretty header. It’ll appear on the top of all of your pages, complete with an accurate page number.

At this point, your story should look like the screenshot at the top of this page. You’re pretty much done! There’s just one last thing to do…

Step #8: Add the Ending

  1. Go to the last line of your story.
  2. On a new line, type: END
  3. Center it. (shortcut: Control:E)

Tada!

And, when in  doubt…

This probably looks like a lot of steps. And if you’re not super used to Microsoft Word, it might feel like a lot of work! But this is really, really easy.

If any of this IS confusing, just mimic the example at the top of this post or look at the Standard Manuscript Format guidelines.

Once you get the hang of it, this is fast! This is so easy, in fact, that I never write in Standard Manuscript Format. I find 10pt single-spaced Arial font to be soothing to look at, so that’s how I write my stories. I only format them when I’m done with them.

There are definitely a few other things you can standardize–this definitely isn’t everything. But most of the other stuff you can do is small, and it won’t get you into hot water. A manuscript that follows all of the above steps will be perfectly acceptable for submitting at most places.

Of course, that’s not a promise. This’ll work for most places. Most! Always check a place’s submission requirements before you submit! But for everything else? You’re done, and it only took you 5 minutes.