Friday, June 07, 2019

Writing: Punctuation For The Newbie

So you think you'll write a book. You're fluent in English. You know how to put the words together. And if you make a mistake, the editor will correct it for you. Right? Well, maybe, but it helps if you start off with an idea of what a manuscript should look like.

To begin with, double space the manuscript, using 12 point Times New Roman type. I've often wondered what would happen if you submitted something that's single-spaced, with justified margins (instead of the usual staggered ones) written in an unusual type face like Lucida. If your manuscript is the next Purpose Filled Life or The Shack, I suspect the agent or editor would overlook your failure to follow the rules. But, why take a chance?

How about that series of little dots that shows a trailing off of thought. These are called "ellipses," and there are three dots--not two or four. If you want to show the interruption of a thought or sentence, you'd use a series of dashes for that purpose. There are two of these--the "em dash" and "en dash." I can never remember which is which, and when they're used, but I know that if I hit the hyphen key twice, the result is a nice little dash (whichever one it is) and I can move on. So far, it's worked.

Wonder what a "pilcrow" is? It's the funny little symbol that is used to designate a paragraph. You'll probably never have to use the word, or even put in the symbol in your manuscript  (it's not typed, usually). But know what it is if someone like an editor adds it to your submission. Besides, think how cool it will be to slip the word "pilcrow" into your conversation. You'd really sound like a writer.

Of course, there are lots of other things a writer learns, but if you start out with your manuscript in the proper format and know some of the basics of things you'll use, you've got a leg up on the people who have no idea how to write a manuscript. Then, it becomes easier to say "I'm a writer," and mean it.

Questions?

NOTE: I've posted at Seekerville yesterday and Suspense Sisters today. Drop over to read the blog post and interview, leaving a comment both places for a chance to win a copy of Bitter Pill.

4 comments:

Priscilla Bettis said...

Good post. I learned the manuscript format this year, and I'm not too bad at handling em dashes, but here's a question I have: I'm thinking of breaking a "rule" and opening my novel with a descriptive paragraph rather than action. Do you ever break rules like that?

Richard Mabry said...

So long as you're aware of the rule and feel as though it's a good idea to break it, feel free. I suspect that Picasso drew models with everything in the right place until he decided to break the rules.

That having been said, I still like Jim Bell's admonition to start with action where possible.

Patricia Bradley said...

This is such good information to pass along, Richard. I'm still trying to figure out how to slip pilcrow into a sentence. lol

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, when you find a way, let me know.