Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Question Corner

Formatting and grammar questions answered by Lorraine Mace

Perry McDaid sent us an interesting query on formatting: Okay, so I hate justified layouts in novels where half words carry over to new lines and hyphens exist where they should not be. Consequently, I self-published something which looked okay (left side oriented) on the A4 draft.

Three points here - one a piece of advice from the damaged, the others questions.

1. Writers, for your own self-respect, check the layout AFTER you have changed to uploading format. It's amazing how a few polysyllables per line can leave your text looking like a bar chart with great wide open spaces down the right hand side.

2. What is the best orientation for a novel - Left or Justified.

3. Paragraphs - indent or space-line

I’m sure many authors who intend to self-publish will be grateful for the advice.

Now to answer the questions.

1. Justified is the way to go. Left aligned in a book looks dreadful. In addition, justified is the industry standard. So, unless you want your books to look amateur, justify your text.

2. It is usual to format using double line spacing with indented paragraphs and no additional white lines in between unless it’s to signal a change of scene.

It used to be the rule that opening paragraphs (including those signalling a change of scene) wouldn’t be indented, but it seems many publishers (including my own) no longer follow this rule, so this one is up to you.

Each new line of dialogue should be indented.

Karen from the Lake District gets confused over into/in to and onto/on to. She writes: I never know whether to write ‘into’ or ‘in to’ and I note that you use ‘in to’ and ‘on to’ a lot. Could you explain to me when they should be joined together and when they shouldn’t be please?

Many people interchange them, but they have quite distinct uses. Into and "in to" are different. Basically into is a preposition and will form part of a prepositional phrase. With ‘in to’, ‘in’ is an adverb and ‘to’ is a preposition. But there are some easy ways to work out how to use them without needing to think about the grammar.

Into is used to indicate movement, action or change.
When it melts ice turns into water. (Change)
I am going into the shop to buy some chocolate. (Movement)
He charged into the scrum. (Action)

‘In to’ can be thought of as meaning ‘in order to’.
She went in to see if her father was there. (She went in [in order to] see if her father was there.)

When in and to are used as separate words, they should not be combined as one word
He turned his car in to the road. (If he turned his car into the road he’d be a magician.)

‘Onto’ and ‘on to’ work in a similar way, except that there are many instances where both could be used and would be correct, depending on context. You need to stop and think about what it is you wish to say.

She cycled onto the pavement. (She reached the pavement and continued cycling.)

She cycled on to the pavement. (She stopped cycling when she reached the pavement.)

‘On to’ should be used when ‘on’ is considered to be part of the verb.
For example: to move on to pastures new (to go somewhere new)

If you have a question for Lorraine, comment here or email lorraine@quinnpublications.co.uk

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (details on her website). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of crime/thriller, Bad Moon Rising.


  1. Thank you, Lorraine - invaluable advice. Perry

  2. I know it's a silly one but i still get confused with -- Except & Accept -- my memory lapses big time! Great article also, thank you :)

  3. Perry, glad to help.

    Emma, I'll write up a nice easy way to remember the way to deal with those two words (and affect and effect as well).


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