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Page from J.K. Rowling’s, ‘Harry Potter’

I’ve been writing for a few years now and it still amazes me at how much I don’t know. This week I was going through the edits on my novel when my good mate and fellow writer, Piper Bayard, pointed something out to me about new scenes and paragraphing. She, too, only discovered this ‘must-do’ last year.

So, I thought it would be helpful to lay out some of the things I have learned over the last few years that writers must know when writing a novel.

First things, first.

The Basics

The below points are what publishers and agents expect to see from writers.

Font: Always use Times New Roman. It is easy on the eye and makes it easy for the reader to read.

Size: Although it’s commonly said that size doesn’t matter – this time it does. 12pt is the size everyone wants.

Line Spacing: Some use double line spacing, most want one and a half. This allows room for any notes and editing.

Margins: Leave one inch for both the left and right margins. Again, this space is for any notes or editing.

The Cover Page

The cover page is a blank sheet of paper that, when asked for, usually lists the title of your book, your name, contact details, and the word count. When submitting your novel you must read the guidelines as sometimes agents and publishers require different information.

Headers and Footers

It is imperative that you use your header to display your name, novel title, and page number. Without this information, if your novel is dropped how will the reader be able to put it back together again?

The Layout

Chapter Heading: Space down six (one and a half) lines. The heading can be in capitals or underlined.

Sub-Title: If you want to add a sub-title of a place, time, year, etc., then add it before you begin your story. This can be underlined, typed in italics, or in bold. There is no indentation.

First Paragraph: For the first paragraph in a chapter, there is no indentation.

Further Paragraphs: Following paragraphs are indented one inch throughout the scene.

Justification: Never justify your work. Aline your type to the left.

For example (and due to formatting issues with wordpress *bangs head on desk*, I have added in … to show the spaces):

CHAPTER ONE

Almalfi Cathedral, Campania. Italy – Monday.

The uncomfortable harness cut into his groin.

……….The thief shifted position, tried to ignore the dull ache as best he could, and listened.

……….Three bloody hours he’d been hanging here in the dark, just listening.

N.B. New Scenes: If starting a new scene in a chapter, then as at the beginning of a chapter, no indentation is needed.

For example:

……….Eliza rest her head back against the pillow. Her head hurt and she no longer had the energy to argue anymore. The young boy nodded and disappeared from sight. Her father waited a second, as if to bask in his triumph and remind her who was boss, then also left the room.

It was just before lunch when Nate made it to the records office. He parked in the unusually empty car park and got out. Removing his sunglasses, he strolled along the brick paved path to the front of the building and pulled the doors where they shuddered and remained closed.

Well, these are the basics to laying out your novel and enough to get you started.

And now it’s your turn. What are your pet hates? What is the worse mistake you’ve ever made when typing and submitting a manuscript? Maybe you have a question to ask about the manuscript you are currently writing, so feel free to type it in the comments.

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