#WritersResources: How to format a manuscript

I’ve been trying to get more of my short-form fiction into (paying) magazines, which is one of the drivers for the changes to the blog that have been happening recently.  One of the key tenets for the magazines is, it doesn’t matter how low-key your blog, once it’s out there, it’s published.  So whilst I still want to share my writing, from my perspective it’s going to be much more of the micro/flash fiction and the experimental stuff.  And I’m using ‘Flash Fiction’ here in both senses – stuff that is written on a short deadline (no time to over-think things!) and stuff that is quick to read, typically 1000 words and under.  Anything over this is going to be heading to a magazine, probably.

As with everything to do with writing, there is a learning curve.  The publishing industry has been around for a while, and despite the digital revolution there tends to be not just a way of doing things, but THE way of doing things.  Some of these date back to the time when you would have sent a type-written manuscript in the post to the editor.  If they didn’t like it, they’d send you the manuscript back and you could hawk it elsewhere.  If they did like it, then they might scribble some changes they wanted, perhaps to fit with a house style, perhaps because they had it in for the Oxford comma, and send it back for changes, or agreement to the changes.  They might simply scribble on it and send it downstairs to the typesetter.

Cutting to the chase because, for reasons that will be self-evident in a moment, I want to keep this post brief, there is a standard format for manuscripts.  This is not to say that all magazines conform rigidly to this standard, nor that all magazines follow it at all.  However, having been less successful than I might have liked, and having had to submit certain stories to successive magazines, I have noticed that many editors direct prospective authors to one or other of two key  articles on formatting.  These are worth a read (links below), but not when you are in the process of trying to re-format your work ready for submission.  All the information is given, but not in a nice succinct way to make your life easier.  What I have done here is to pull out the key points for easy reference.

DISCLAIMER AND HEALTH WARNING: Always check what the magazine wants first.  These points are to help if someone refers you to either Shunn’s style guide or McIntyre’s, but it’s up to you to make sure that your document is formatted correctly – Fiction Can Be Fun cannot be held liable if your story gets rejected out of hand because it’s in the wrong format.  My opinion of the features of the standard format doesn’t matter, so I’m not going to give it.  It’s what’s been asked for, and that, as they say, is that.

All of that said, the two style guides mentioned are written as essays, with the formatting discussed.  This is a great visual reference, but a complete pain if you are frantically trying to sort things out so:

  • Courier or Times New Roman fonts.  Nothing else.
  • 1″/25 mm margins on all sides.
  • Double spaced.  Not 1.5, not 3, definitely not single.  Double.
  • Do not justify the text, leave it left aligned, with a ‘ragged’ right edge.
  • Do not leave lines between paragraphs.
  • Indent the start of a new paragraph.
  • If you have a section break (in the sense of the narrative, rather than with respect to formatting) mark it with a single #, centered.
  • If your text requires italics for emphasis, then italicized words should be underlined.
  • Mark dialogue with speech marks and remember what Shunn says:

“When a new person speaks, start a new line.”

  • As a header, place Surname/Key word/ page number in the top right corner.
  • Some people want a cover page, in which case the header starts on the first MS page.
  • Start the MS half way down the first MS page.  Just above this, put the document title, then your byline.  Top right, your name, your address, email. Top left, ~ word count (rounded to the nearest hundred for a short story and 500 for a novella).
  • If you are doing a cover page, put the title about a third of the way down, byline underneath this.  Your name, address etc goes a further third down the page, on the left, and the approximate word count goes to the right.
  • Some people end the document with ‘End’, to indicate the end.

Hope that helps.  If you’ve got some top tips, stick them in the comments!

 

#FuriousFiction – The Hunter

wIRe thE MoNEy tO THIS account

k33P Ur moUth z1pPed – TEll No 1

OR elS3

 

The note was a cliché, pure and simple, the latest in an attempt to blackmail my client, and followed the well-worn convention of text cut from a newspaper. The use of l33t-speak, replacing letters with numbers, was an evolution: the blackmailer considered themselves rather sophisticated and was attempting to prevent an analysis of the note from the perspective of the source of the text.  Mind you, if the black mailer was as smart as they thought they were, the newspapers used to produce this sequence of letters had been destroyed by now.

In practice, it didn’t matter.  One detail told me more than the blackmailer realised.  Perfect squares had been excised with a craft-knife rather than scissors.   It told me exactly who we were dealing with.

This blackmailer considered themselves to be the equal of Charles Augustus Milverton.  Following my wife’s suicide, I vowed to become Sherlock Holmes, to track them down.  They were a spider, sitting in a global web of agents and proxies.  I would need to become the same.  My wealth bankrolled digital knights, hunting down trolls and cyber-dragons, exposing them to the light.  We tracked down the individuals who made the world worse for their own benefit.  Most were easily dealt with by the authorities.

But there are those who will never face justice.  Those who are clever and cunning in their lairs.  Those for whom the evidence has been made to disappear.  How will these barbarians at the gate be brought to justice? I do not condone mob rule, even for those who prey on the weak and vulnerable. I took responsibility.

There is always a weak link.  They had given the account details, a Cayman Islands one, naturally, but the money didn’t stay there for long. An electronic handshake and it was off on a magical mystery tour.

It took 13 years, but every victim gave me another piece of information. My white-hat hackers finally tracked the blackguard to a sleepy English village, where he was playing at being the lord of the manor.  I tracked him from the cosy pub, where he had been spilling largesse into the eager hands and mouths of the locals.  I hunted him across his own estate, confronting him on a bridge.

There were 11 rounds in the clip of my custom-made pistol.  The rounds are rather special because – well, perhaps I won’t give that little bit of intelligence away.  Not just yet anyway.  As I say, 11 rounds, but only one was needed.   In the dark of the night, he staggered backwards and fell over the railing.

Beneath a crescent moon the body floated on the river and went over a weir.

© David Jesson, 2020


I submitted this story to the Australian Writer’s Centre monthly writing competition, #FuriousFiction.  The competition provides a prompt (typically much more intricate than the ones we offer here!), 55 hours to turn around a 500 word story, and AUD$500 as a prize.  This time round the prompt was to include an interpretation of five emojis (see below), to finish the story with an anagram of the first word, and to include the phrase “There were 11 ____ in the____”, to be completed as the writer sees fit.

The emojis to be included were:

emojis

Rachael Ritchey on The Making of an Anthology. — Fiction is Food

I may have mentioned this a couple of times, but I had a story published in an anthology, and I thought you might find this behind the scenes story of interest:

Last November saw me alongside fifteen other authors published in The Crux Anthology. This is Rachael’s story on how it unfolded.

via Rachael Ritchey on The Making of an Anthology. — Fiction is Food

I may have mentioned this a couple of times, but I had a story published in an anthology, and I thought you might find this behind the scenes story of interest:

Job Hunting

How could it be Fall again? Summer had seen my bank balance plummet, to the point that I was starting to tip into the red – a double whammy of too much fun and too few clients. I looked at the dog-eared copies of my favourite ‘tec novels slanted against each other on the shelf. What would Philip Marlow do? Sam Spade? Nick Charles? They’d shake things. They’d damn well find a client. I found a pencil and paper and started to write a list.

© David Jesson, 2018

________________

A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions.  There are a number of rules, but the key ones are:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

fall
plummet
tip
slant
list
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: fall/fallacious is ok but fall/faille is not