Formatting for Dummies

So, few things tick me off more than a badly-formatted fanfiction. Seriously, it’s right up there with bad grammar and spelling (which usually are close companions to bad format, making it triply annoying). So, here’s a quick crash course in how to make your fanfictions readable.

Step 1: Have spaces between paragraphs.

Most fanfiction sites format things in a way so that the traditional no-space-between-indented-paragraphs method is incredibly hard on the eyes. In some cases, indents aren’t even possible. In order to make things easier on yourself and your readers, use a format involving blocks of text that are separated by skipped lines. It makes the fic as a whole much easier to read. This format is also ideal for blog posts, as you can see here.

Those spaces are very important, okay? I have had too many incidences when I’ve clicked on a fanfiction only to see a wall of text with no spaces whatsoever. My eyes hurt within seconds and I didn’t read a single word.

Step 2: Know WHERE to put spaces.

The next step is realizing that there are right and wrong places to put spaces. Too many people don’t use enough spaces, resulting in huge blocks of text that are really tedious to read. There are others still who literally separate every line. You need to find a balance. If a block of text starts to look too long, look for a place where you can separate it. If you have a collection of singular lines, beef some of them up.

Here are some examples on where to separate lines: Whenever an idea changes, whenever a point of dialogue changes, whenever there’s a point of view shift, and whenever different characters are talking.

Step 3: Keep your POVs straight.

A common mistake I made during my early days of writing was not knowing how to correctly switch between points of view. I always began a paragraph with dialogue, then kept going until another character spoke. This meant having huge walls of text and shifting POVs within a paragraph. Don’t do that! Every time you switch the POV in your story, make a new paragraph. Every time a new person speaks, make a new one. Pretty much every time something changes, make a new paragraph.

Step 4: CHECK YO GRAMMAR! (and spelling)

As I said before, bad formatting is often linked strongly with bad grammar and spelling. Please proofread your work. If you aren’t good with grammar or spelling, get a beta reader. Trust me. There are so many fanfictions out there, and most people will ignore the ones that look like garbage and/or read awkwardly. Just trust me on this.

Step 5: Use bolds/italics/underlines sparingly.

These things can be used to emphasize a point. In the case of italics, it’s correct to use them to depict thoughts. However, having whole walls of text that are bold, italicized, and/or underlined is a pain on the eyes. Try to restrict text manipulation unless you really need it.

For example, I use bold text for my Author Notes and italics for thoughts, letters, and an occasional point of emphasis. I don’t use underlines because, honestly, I don’t see the use for them within a story’s text in most cases.
So, yeah. These are some basic tips for keeping your fanfics from looking like a horrible scrapbook consisting of half-thought ideas and a failed English education. I hope they help. Remember, keep writing and keep improving.

Peace out!