Craft Chat Some Basics: Spaces, Commas, Dialogue Punctuation, Formatting A Manuscript

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Carol Rose

Sep 13, 2014
Indiana, USA
When to use a space in your manuscript....

In between sentences.

ONE space only. The old-fashioned two-space method is well outdated now. It was useful back in the days when publishers used typesetting to print novels, and some of us may have learned to type that way, but it's gone the way of the dinosaurs and should never be used today.

When punctuating dialogue, as in the examples below:

"Are we going to the movies?" asked John.
"I'm not sure," said Sally. "I'll check my schedule and let you know."

Spaces are not used after quotation marks, unless the quotation mark ends the sentence. See above. They are not used in between the first quotation mark and the subsequent word in dialogue. They are not used in between a word and a comma that follows that same word.

When to use a comma...

This varies.

As a general rule of thumb, commas separate clauses in sentences. They are also used to separate items in a list. They are sometimes used after conjunctions and proper names. They are used in punctuating dialogue, which we'll talk about below.

Comprehensive source to explain comma usage:
Rules for Comma Usage

If in doubt, Google it and you will find endless resources to assist with this.

How to punctuate dialogue...

Whether you use one quote mark around the words a character speaks in your manuscript or two, the rules of punctuation are the same. Some examples are below.

*Quote marks around the words the character speaks.
*End the sentence first and then the end quote mark follows.

"Are we going to the movies?" asked John.

*If the sentence of dialogue normally ends in a period, use a comma instead, then the quote mark, then the dialogue tag.

*If the sentence of dialogue ends with a question mark or exclamation point, use that punctuation, then the end quote mark, as in the example above.

*If not using a dialogue tag, end the sentence with a period, question mark, or exclamation point, and then the end quote mark.

"I'm not sure," said Sally. "I'll check my schedule and let you know."

*If using a dialogue tag between two lines of spoken words by the same person, and it's one sentence, use a comma after the first part of the sentence, and after the dialogue tag.

*Also, if you are continuing the same sentence after the dialogue tag, do NOT capitalize the first letter of that part of the sentence.

"But earlier," said John, "you said you would go."

*If the same speaker is beginning a new sentence after the dialogue tag, the tag gets a period a the end, and the new sentence begins with a capital letter in the first word.

"Well, I changed my mind," said Sally. "I no longer want to go with you to the movies."

General rules of thumb for formatting manuscripts if no specific guidelines are given on the submissions page of an agent's or publisher's website...

12-pont font such as Times New Roman.

Center and bold each chapter heading using the same font and same size as the rest of the manuscript.

One inch margins all around.

Double space it so it's easier to read - this is found in the Paragraph settings.

Indent first paragraphs - use the Paragraph setting in your word processing software to set this. Up to half an inch is sufficient. DO NOT use the tab key or space bar to indent.

When double spacing, DO NOT put an extra space between paragraphs.

If you single-space, DO put an extra space between paragraphs to make it easier to read.

Use Page Breaks between chapters - this is found as an Insert in your software settings.
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