Finding a Style

You’ve got style. Whether you realize it or not.

I’m not talking about writing voice, here. I’m talking about the underlying document styles that you compose in on any wordprocessor. There are a lot of variations, I’m going to touch on two, and hopefully show you a couple of tricks that will make life easier when it’s time to clean up a document for publication or submission to a publisher.

The topic came up in a discussion of the Postcards anthologies. Most of the Raconteur Press staff sat down and chatted about the interesting challenges these have posed to us – they were an off-the-cuff fun challenge, and they took on a life of their own! As a part of that conversation, I commented that I should write up how to set a style for MGC… and here I am.

If you haven’t seen the Postcard challenges, there is one going on this weekend, and you’re all welcome to ask for a prompt and submit a story. It’s fifty words, how hard can it be? The answer is… it’s not easy. Send off an email to us and you’ll get a unique image prompt. What do we do with these? Well, take a look at Steam-Powered Postcards and you’ll see!

The first of these is to begin as you mean to go on. One of the issues we’ve been running into with the Postcard submissions is the lack of consistent formatting. We’ve gotten more specific, as you’ll see in the graphic above, to give the editors a fighting chance in dealing with a minor flood of submissions – we aren’t getting hundreds, but we were originally not expecting above a couple of dozen, and this workload is on top of an already ambitious schedule for Raconteur Press. It occurred to me that some people might not know how to set a style before they started work on a document. I’m going to cover Word, and Google Docs, below. Whatever you use, you should be able to find out how to do this with some judicious button-pushing or googling.

I’m using MS Word 2016, and central to the home ribbon are the styles. If you click on the tiny expansion arrow in the far right corner (Just above the Styles dropdown in the above screenshot) you’ll find that you can select an existing style, or create a new one (the button on the bottom left of the dropdown box, highlighted in blue).

Here’s where all of the fun happens. For the purpose of this exercise, I’ve set the style to Time New Roman, 12 pt font. You can also give this style a name, and save it for easy access later. If you select the ‘format’ button on the bottom left of the initial popup, you get the popup shown here on the right, which allows you to set up the indentations and spaces that govern an entire paragraph.

Using the tab key on the keyboard introduces an ‘invisible’ character, which can play merry havoc when trying to format the document for publishing. You will want to always, always use the indentation to set as I am showing above, for the first line to be indented. 0.5″ is fine. Sometimes 0.33″ works well too. Default is 0.5″ and that works for most purposes. If you don’t do this, and you use the tab key, you’ll have to do a universal find replace to eliminate it, and trust me when I tell you it’s a complete PITA and takes more time than you want to spend. A moment with the default styles and you’ll be much happier (Why yes, I am speaking from sore experience!).

Google Docs is a lightweight cloud-based wordprocessor. I know many don’t want to use it, and that’s perfectly fine. I do use it, because I can access and work on a project from any device, anywhere I have internet, and if I plan ahead and know I’ll be working offline, I can have access that way, too. Because it’s not as feature-rich as Word (which is frankly not a detriment if you aren’t in need of all the bells and whistles) you won’t be able to create a new style and save it with your own name. What you can do is set up your style in the top ribbon, and then in the options at the bottom of the droplist, save as my default styles.

The indentation can be set from Align & Indent, indentation options.

My final thought on Google Docs is that you’ll want to be sure of your format when downloading a file. I download personal (Indie) projects in .docx and finish them in Word, or Vellum. If you plan to submit a short story to an anthology, say, or a novel to a publisher, you’ll want to pay close attention to the format they want. Raconteur likes .docx, but other presses only want .rtf so be sure you’ve read the submission guidelines!

Finally, and before we started doing Postcards I’d have not thought this was necessary to remind authors of… put your name in the document. Header is nice, and some venues may require this. But in the document, before the story, you’ll have the editor happy if you have your title, your author name, and a way to contact you. Emails get separated from documents. Don’t have an orphan story!

24 thoughts on “Finding a Style

    1. Did you submit to the email in the promo graphic? If it was properly formatted you won’t hear until later, but if it wasn’t formatted Jonna has been bouncing those back to authors asking them to do the formatting. This way, hopefully, they learn!

  1. Word formatting is a personal bane of mine. I started writing in a lightweight rtf editor Jarte, but needed to convert it to a docx formats so Margaret Ball could edit it and I could track changes, and have pretty much constantly had issues with Word changing the default line spacing and quote bracket types from straight to directionally curled ever since.

    I probably just need to set the quote style in the current WIP to straight “dumb” quotes just to be absolutely sure they’re consistent throughout the thing, because there’s nothing quite as jarring as an unexpected type setting change part way through a book.

        1. If you’re in Word, I think you can do it from the Options menu in the File tab. Autocorrect options are what you’re looking for, iirc, and you can tell it to quit “correcting” the style of quotation marks somewhere in there. (This is purely from memory; been a power user of Word for years, but only at work; I use TextMaker at home.)

          1. Although that won’t auto-apply the change to a whole document, it will make Word quit messing with the way you want things done. The find-and-replace feature might be able to en-masse swap out the quotation marks for you.

  2. I have been very happy with Google Docs. I bought a fold up bluetooth keyboard so I can write on my phone. I often need to be around people to write, so this works well in clubs and bars.

    1. Y9u might check the terms-of-service with G–gleDocs. Five or six years ago (several revisions back), a lot of us discovered that buried in the print was the right to sell or otherwise publish manuscripts saved in G-Docs. If you are going to put the book or story up somewhere that demands exclusive sales rights, you might, possible, have a problem. (Someone found her book for sale through G-Books after Amazon flagged her for distributing wide despite being in KindleSelect. G–gle said, in essence, “Should have read the fine print.”)

      1. Their current TOS is… okay. Too vague for my own tastes, but some folk are fine with it. On the other hand, this is why I don’t use google docs for anything I care about these days.

  3. I despise everything MicroShaft with the burning rage of ten thousand dying stars.

    Could you at least mention LibreOffice? It’s free, open-source, and I’ve been using it for years. LibreOffice can export documents to the horrible ‘docx’ format, and I haven’t noticed any deficiencies.

    1. Microsoft is almost as evil as Google.

      If anybody’s looking for an alternative that isn’t Libre Office, I’d recomment TextMaker. It’s made by a company in Germany, available for a very reasonable one-time price, and it’ll do everything Word or Scroogle Docs will do. There’s also a free version that’s very capable and does almost everything I’d want a word processor to do at home (including saving in .docx format by default).

      1. That’s a matter of perspective. I would say rather that Gurgle has become almost as evil as MicroShaft. Ironic for a company that started out with the motto “Don’t Be Evil” as a reaction to the Evil Empire’s depredations against its competitors, business partners and customers alike.

        1. This is why you should make your descriptions positive. To use “no” or “-less” or “without” in a description is to bring to mind the thing you want omitted.

        2. It’s arguable for sure, but I’d say Scroogle has reached a higher level of evil. Microsoft was always standard-issue corporate evil: the Standard Oil of the digital age. Google has grown so much bigger, and its tentacles reach so much further and are so much harder to see, that I’d call its evil a civilization-level threat; the kind of thing where the people in charge should be hung (mind you, I’m not saying Gates and Ballmer shouldn’t be) and its assets, including the government bodies it has captured, ground into fine dust and scattered to the four winds.

  4. I find that early training in touch typing is hard to break. (Mom got tired of illegible handwriting when I was eight.) Easy enough to set the indent style, impossible to not hit tab at the begining of a paragraph after carriage return. You will probably note that even on the touch screen I double space after periods.

    Does find and remove work well enough to eliminate those tabs?

    1. The trick is in the finding. You need to jump through some hoops to make it work. IIRC, regex “\t” started working in a more recent version of Word if you check some box, somewhere.

      I just checked whatever version of Word 365 we’re using at work. On the Find dialog, if you click the “More >>” button, there is a “Special” droplist that includes “Tab Character”. I do not know how well it works.

  5. My experience with MS Word is that if you start with styles, it works fairly well.
    However, if you start with manual formatting, and then go back and retrofit styles onto the text, the result is unreliable and a pain in the butt.

    LibreOffice is also organized around styles. I’ve done a number of long technical manuals with both Word and LibreOffice; I think LO is better for long technical manuals (at least on the formatting side; I didn’t use any change tracking features). Some people thought LO was the modern program closest to FrameMaker.

    In summary, I highly recommend setting up your styles BEFORE you start in either Word or LO Writer, and use them consistently (e.g. body text, different heading levels, etc), because in the end it can save a lot of time (e.g. creating Table of Contents) and frustration.

  6. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure what you mean here with the formatting. I’ve always done it the following way:

    [My legal name], writing as [my pen name]
    [My email address]
    [My phone number]
    Word Count: [something around 50]

    (Centered) [My Story Title]
    (Centered) by [my pen name]

    [Actual story]

    That has all the information you want, but if the goal is for Jonna to basically automate figuring all this out, I worry that I’ll mess things up if they aren’t exactly where she expects them.

  7. Oh, and P.S.: Cedar, I owe you guys for creating this challenge. Last night, my little girl was sick and feeling miserable and we were looking for something we could do with her to cheer her up. I proposed that we play postcards: we each went to one of the AI art sites, made pictures, and then worked together as a family to write the postcard stories. The little one went from on the verge of tears to laughing and cheerful within minutes.

  8. I’m sooooooo happy that, A), I only work with authors who are dead (they complain a lot less) and B), the base-level format I use is plain text (using Markdown for markup), and I basically don’t have to worry about styles until preparing for conversion to ebook format.

    The main exception to that is something I’m bumping into with the Victorian novels I’m working on for this upcoming VicTober: formatting poetry and verse. They are done in so many ways that, for now, I’m marking them out in the text, and worrying about how to achieve the proper formatting later when I generate the proofreading copies.

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