Formatting Your Novel - The Spaces

This week is a bit of a different focus as I am again working on formatting, this time of In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation, which is now with the proofreader. As with A Pair of Docks, I had questions that I needed to address with three simple aspects of formatting:

  • The first line of each chapter;
  • POV shifts; and
  • Scene breaks.

Try as I might, I could find no definitive advice on how these three things are handled, and surprisingly there seems to be a lot of confusion out there on the part of editors. There is lots of advice on how to handle these things when formatting your manuscript for submission to agents and publishers. The advice with respect to manuscripts is that the first line of every paragraph should be indented and single or double line breaks, hashtags or stars should be used to show scene breaks. But there is limited advice on whether scene breaks and POV shifts within chapters should be treated differently, and there is almost no advice on how any of these things should be handled in the final formatting of a novel. Although I have not, until this year, spent a lot of time examining just how novels are formatted, I had the vague sense that the first lines of scenes and chapters may not be indented and that some symbol or row of stars is often used to separate both scenes and POV shifts.

   eLizArFeiNieL  Creative Commons

 eLizArFeiNieL Creative Commons

Since I could find no definitive “Formatting Your Novel for Dummies” on-line, I decided to go to the best resource I often have – the books on my shelves. Books written from one POV, or that have POV shifts that only occur from chapter to chapter, are obviously easier to format, as it is only the scene breaks and the first line of each chapter for which decisions need to be made. Since my novels include both scene breaks and POV shifts within chapters, I decided to investigate only books that I know include more than one POV. To ensure a somewhat diverse set of results, I pulled twelve such books from my shelf.

A minor digression before I give you the results. I have always called the symbol that you sometimes find between scene breaks and/or POV shifts a glyph. Turns out that they are not called glyphs, but that glyphs are often used to create them, and that they have no generally accepted name – how confusing is that?

Here is the helpful explanation on Wikipedia:

“Space between paragraphs in a section break is sometimes accompanied by an asterism (either proper or manual * * *), a horizontal rule, fleurons, or by other ornamental symbols. An ornamental symbol used as section break does not have a generally accepted name. Such a typographic device can be specifically referred to as dinkus, space break symbol, paragraph separator, paragraph divider, horizontal divider, thought break, or as an instance of filigree or flourish. Ornamental section breaks can be created using glyphs, rows of lozenge, dingbats, or other miscellaneous symbols. Fonts such as Webdings and Wingdings include many such glyphs.”

I have never heard it called a dinkus, but okay…

So how do most publishers approach these formatting issues based on my research.

First Line of Chapter

Unlike other paragraphs in the chapter, the first paragraph of the chapter was universally NOT indented in all of my sample books. From there it varied in terms of the typography including the following:

  • Drop Capital: 4
  • Three to five words all in small caps: 3
  • No special typography: 2
  • Raised Capital: 1
  • Five to ten words in different font: 1
  • Drop Capital and three words all in small caps: 1

Conclusion: Definitely no indent, and then the drop capital and small capitals approaches seem equally popular.

POV Shifts

POV shifts were treated very differently in the twelve novels I examined, but again as with the first line of the chapter, the first line of a paragraph where the POV had changed was NOT indented in all of the books. From there, the typography, size of the line space break, and symbol with no accepted name (which I am going to call a glyph) varied:

  • Three to five line spaces, no special typography or glyph: 3
  • Three to five line spaces and a glyph, but no special typography: 3
  • Three to five line spaces, a glyph and first three to five words in small capitals: 2
  • POV shifts only chapter to chapter or when one character writes a letter: 2 (technically these ones don’t really count)
  • Three to five line spaces, and first three to five words in small capitals: 1
  • Single space, drop capital and character’s name: 1
  • Three to five line spaces, a glyph and first five to ten words in different font: 1

Conclusion: Lots of variation. Again, definitely no indent, larger spaces than I expected, and either nothing or just a glyph seem most popular. Note that a glyph appeared in six of the twelve examples considered. Some of them are really flashy though with special typography, glyph and large break.

Scene Changes

As with the other breaks, there was no indent in all but two of the examples examined for scene changes. In seven of the novels, POV changes and scene breaks, where the POV did not change, were treated the SAME. In the other five novels, the scene changes were usually more subdued than the POV change breaks. In three, they were just a single spaced break with no glyph or special typography.

  • Three to five line spaces, no special typography or glyph: 2
  • Three to five line spaces and a glyph, but no special typography: 2
  • Single line space with an indent: 2
  • Single line space with no indent: 1
  • Three to five line spaces, a glyph and first three to five words in small capitals: 1
  • Three to five line spaces, and first three to five words in small capitals: 1
  • Three to five line spaces and first five to ten words in different font: 1
  • Single line space with first three words in all caps: 1

Conclusion: Scene breaks can be just as flashy as POV breaks, but in general they are not. The number of line spaces tends to be smaller and there is more limited use of glyphs. Scene breaks also sometimes have indents.

By instinct, I had been doing it correctly (or in one of the accepted formats). Perhaps I have internalized all my years of staring half-awake at books more than I thought. I now know what a dinkus is, but I think I will continue calling it a glyph.

What about you - what have you noticed? Am I hallucinating those glyphs?