Unless you’re writing solely for yourself (and maybe for your family and a few friends) you need to know the craft of writing: formatting; point-of-view; chapter length; what tense to use, and so on.
Although getting the story you want to tell out of your head and into some sort of printable form is the most important step, the more you know about what’s expected (in the industry) the less rewriting and reformatting will be necessary later on.
There are no actual rules, but if you’re going to do something different from the norm, you should do it for a reason rather than out of ignorance.
Nowadays agents and publishing houses want a manuscript in a form that can be converted easily into a book (print or electronic). They expect (and demand) the formatting be in the industry’s standard form. (Even if you self-publish, you’ll have to follow standard formatting.) If an agent or editor receives a manuscript that they can tell will require a lot of formatting changes, chances are it will be rejected.
Always check the agent’s or publisher’s website (submission guidelines) for exactly how they want the manuscript formatted, but the general guidelines are:
* One (1) inch margins all around.
* Times New Roman, 12 pt font
* A header with your name/title and page number
(Where these are placed may differ, but it’s easy to change this.)
Use the Header option in your word processing program. NEVER actually type this information on the page because if you do and then if you add or delete lines from that page, what you just typed will change position and taking all of those out of a manuscript is a headache.
* Use the “New Page” option rather than a series of returns to start a new chapter or go to a new page.
(Same problem as with the header. If you use the returns to get to a new page and then add or delete lines, you’ll change where that new page starts.)
* Use “First Line Indent” not the tab key to indent
First line indent is usually part of paragraph formatting.
Generally a .5 indent is used but some prefer .3
* Under paragraph formatting, use 0 pt before and after.
If you don’t, you get wider spaces before and/or after each paragraph.
* Use only one return (Enter) after a paragraph.
* Use a series (usually 3 or 5) asterisks (*) or symbols (#) centered to show a time break.
You’re not limited by what symbol you use, but be consistent.
DON’T show a time break simply by hitting the enter key and adding another space.
If the time break comes at the end of the page, using the added space may not show up.
* Only one (1) space after the end of a sentence. (Not 2 as so many of us were taught years ago.)
* Use real italics. Don’t underline the word to show italics.
* Center chapter titles (unless directed to do otherwise.)
I strongly recommend you toggle the ¶ from the Home menu bar. That will allow you to see a dot for every space and the paragraph symbol for when you hit Enter. If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised by how many extra spaces show up on the page.
Some publishers want no indent with the first paragraph of a chapter and after a time break.
Most publishers no longer want a chapter to start 1/3 of the way down the page.