How to Format a Short Story

Formatting Tips

by Pat Decker Nipper

Formatting a story is designing how it looks in print. Determine the layout of your manuscript by setting parameters. Look at examples of written material. Are the letters large enough to read comfortably? Are the lines far enough apart? How are the new paragraphs formatted?

Professional formatting will make your work shine. If you follow these standards, your manuscript will be ready to submit, whether in hard copy (paper) or online. Although the following is a commonly accepted standard for formatting, individual publications occasionally vary, so be sure to check before you submit.

The 2010 Writer’s Market has illustrations of formatting and includes good advice. They say to use white 8-1/2 x 11 paper, and “ …no artsy fonts.” They also suggest you use a laser or an ink-jet printer.

Below are the common formatting standards, as developed over years of creating documents.

1. Leave one inch of space on all four margins of the paper—top, bottom, and both sides. 

2. Left justify your pages. That means every line should align on the left. The right margin is not justified, or in other words, it remains “ragged.”

3. Indent five spaces at the beginning of a new paragraph.

4. Choose an easy-to-read font. For PC users, try Times New Roman or Verdana. Macintosh users might like Palatino.

5. Set the font size at 12 point for easy readability.

6. Stay away from italics, except where needed to be grammatically correct.

7. Avoid bold, except in headings and areas where you want to emphasize text.

8. Double-space if you’re printing on paper. Single space if you’re submitting electronically, and in such case, double space between paragraphs.

9. In dialogue, each new speaker starts a new line.

10. Add your personal information in the upper left corner of the page. The title can carry over to the additional pages, along with a page number.

11. Center the title of the story and your name under it on the first page. Some publications want you to start the first page about one-third of the way down. Check their style and follow their example.

12. Avoid hyphenation at the ends of lines. e.c

These are general rules. Needless to say, guidelines always take president. For extra information, check The Chicago Manual of Style. You can even find it online. Another good one is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. There are many more style guides on the Internet.

Pat Decker Nipper is a native Idahoan and former teacher, now living and writing in San Jose, California. She is the author of Love on the Lewis and Clark Trail and a number of short stories and articles. For more information visit

Join the beginner’s short story contest at Contest closes Aug. 31, 2012. Please FOLLOW the guidelines so your entry won’t be disqualified. Don’t forget to click “like” before you leave!


What is Foreshadowing?


Foreshadowing Tips

by Bob Bruggemann

Wikipedia says foreshadowing is a literary device in which an author suggests certain plot developments that might come later in the story. This is an example of foreshadowing:

Sam thought about what the perpetrator said. It was nothing he hadn’t heard before; he’d been threatened many times. The light turned green and he swung around the corner. His eyes panned down the quiet block of single family homes and he knew something was wrong.  His partner’s house was dark and so was his. Sam rolled up to the curb and turned off the engine. Leaving his cap on the passenger seat, he pulled out his service revolver, loaded a round into the chamber, and cautiously stepped out of the car.   

Sam’s actions give a blatant description of what could happen next. The reader has been forewarned that something might be wrong.  It could be a false alarm or it could be something devastating. Only time will tell.

The reader will fall into this trap easily and without suspicion. It’s perfectly natural for a man to enter a tense and dangerous situation with his gun drawn… but suppose he enters the foyer, the lights suddenly come on, and he hears:

“Surprise! Happy birthday, Honey!”  He found a room full of neighbors in the living room, holding up drinks for a toast. The joy faded as they focused on Sam’s cocked 9mm pistol.

This scenario is a variation of foreshadowing called “misdirection” or otherwise known as a “Red Herring.” See for more examples on the following:   

o   Premonition

o   Master patterning

o   Red herring (misdirection)

o   Prophecy’s and omens

As an author, you control your world, along with everyone and everything in it.  Never be afraid to experiment and push your muse to the limit. There are no limitations to your imagination. Use red herrings and foreshadowing to great advantage.

For more great writing tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at

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How Mothers Find Time to Write

Finding Time to Write

by Deborah Owen, CEO, Creative Writing Institute

1. Without a doubt, the number one place to write undisturbed is on the commode. Take a cup of Java and enjoy your outing. Use the spray can a lot. It may dampen your paper, but it also stops questions like, “What are you doing in there for so long?”  

2. At the Laundromat. If you don’t mind writing while standing, the washer makes a great desk – at least until it starts spinning. Then you’re writing Chinese. 

3. The best ideas always come in bed. Keep a flashlight, pen, and paper by the bed. When the bloody muse pays you a visit in the night, prop one eye open with a toothpick and try to scratch something decipherable.

4. When the car is being repaired. Oh yes, this is a great place. Greasy waiting rooms are definitely created by men for men and writing is a great way to avoid the smelly guy with the three day beard. 

5. Many pastors encourage their flock to take notes during sermons. It could be considered sinful if you didn’t obey.

6. Have playtime with the kids. They scribble with crayons and you write… quietly… for 20 minutes. If they’re extra quiet, they earn a piece of candy. 

7. Trade babysitting with a friend and steal some writing time on the side.

8. Tape water wings on the kids and throw them in the deep end of the pool. Nah. Bad idea.

9. Stay up late, get up early. Write during the kids’ nap time or your lunch break.

But here’s the best one:

10. Tell the family, “When I get 30 minutes of undisturbed writing, you get supper.”

 MOTHER’S DAY SPECIAL: $50 rebate on any writing course at Sign up online as usual and ask for your rebate by writing to CEO, You have one year to take your course. Your rebate will arrive when you finish the class. Sign up today.