Last week I finished reading Lisa Gardner’s novel, Catch Me, and it started me thinking about some of the critique sessions I’ve sat in and blogs I’ve written that cover topics like point-of-view and how to format a manuscript.
Because in that book, Lisa uses both first person and third person point of view and interspersed between some chapters there are chapters that are only one-page in length and contain only five or six-line sentences from a character who has never been introduced.
Whoa! Can a writer do that?
Obviously one can, Lisa Gardner did, and I feel she did so quite successfully. Of course, Lisa is a New York Times, multi-published, award-winning author of more than 30 books (Check out her website: https://lisagardner.com/ ). She’s sold gazillions of books, so she’s in a position to break rules.
Ok, what are the rules?
Somerset Maughan is often quoted as saying “There are three rules for writing well. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”
For decades there were rules (or maybe traditions) that most writers followed if they wanted to be published by the New York publishing houses. Up until the mid-nineties, writers submitted their typed manuscripts on letter-size paper. Editors wanted all manuscripts formatted the same: double spaced with 1” margins, 12 point font, and 26 lines on a page. (This allowed the editor to estimate the word count.) A new chapter was always started on a new page. Usually a new chapter started 1/3 of the way down the page.
And then along came electronic submissions, e-books, and e-publishing. Some of the old “rules” have carried over. Most editors (and e-pubs) still want mss submitted in Times New Roman 12 point and double spaced, but not all require that. Some editors or publishing forms now like 1.5 line spacing and different fonts and font sizes. E-publishing allows manuscripts to have several font types and sizes in them.
Chapters now might, and often do, start at the top of the page, and some start only a few spaces below the end of the previous chapter. A chapter might, as in the book I read, be only a few lines in length.
All of these changes free up the writer and allow for more creativity, but I think it sometimes makes knowing what to do (or not do) difficult for the new writer.
My advice: Find find out how a publisher, agent, or e-pub wants a submission presented. Do they want the traditional Times New Roman, 12 point font, double spaced, one inch margins, start chapter at top or near the top of the page, and start new chapter on a new page? Or do they want or allow a variation of that style of formatting?
If a writer’s goal is to be published by a New York Publishing house or any traditional publisher, it’s probably safest to follow the traditional rules. Variations on the traditional can be suggested or presented once a story has been accepted, or after a writer has an established career.
With self-publishing, the writer can be more creative. It will be the buying public who determines if the writer has been successful or not.
Final word: Learn the rules. Study what publishers are publishing, find out what they’re asking for in their guidelines, and then decide if you want to break the rules.