Editing Tip #71

Manuscript Formatting Secrets, Pt. 5 ~

One of the most basic formatting secrets to know is how to use breaks properly in your manuscript. A lot of first-time writers are unfamiliar with how to do this this… you get to the end of your scene, you hit enter a couple of times and carry on OR you get to the end of your chapter, hit the enter button a ton of times to get to the next page and carry on…

Image Courtesy of wikidave

Image Courtesy of wikidave

What you need to know:

The Soft Break

The Hard Break

The Page Break

The Soft Break

When you finish a scene (a compact “happening”) that leads into a new scene either a few minutes or several hours later, if it takes place in the exact same location as the preceding scene then you need a soft break:

Hit the enter key to give you ONE extra line space between the last paragraph and the new paragraph

Maintain your standard paragraph indent

Give an indication of transitional time

The Hard Break

When you finish a scene that leads into a new scene a day or more later (indicating that something has changed with the setting along with the time – e.g. The next day, the red jacket on the swing was no longer lying there.) or you move to a completely new location outside of the natural sequence of the story (You don’t write a long transition to show how everyone got from point A to point B, you just plunk them there and keep on writing.) you need a hard break:

Hit the enter key to place your cursor on a fresh line

Hit the back key to re-align your cursor with the left margin

Centre your cursor

Make your mark (typically either 1 or 3 pound signs or asterisks – ### / ***

Hit the enter key to the next fresh line

Align cursor to your left margin (no indent)

There is no standard for distance between multiple symbols and for agents and traditional publishers it becomes personal choice and preference so make sure you read their submission guidelines carefully.

The Page Break

When you feel you’ve said all that needs to be written for any given sequence of scenes and you’re ready to end one chapter and go to another – do NOT hit the enter key until you get to the next page. This is where you need to insert a page break:


Hit the enter key once

Align cursor flush to the left margin

Select “Insert” tab

Select “Page Break”


Hit the space bar once after your last sentence

Select “Insert” tab

Select “Page Break”

Regardless of your preference to the above options, you will immediately be brought to a new page to begin your new chapter. I highly suggest you stick with one or the other way of doing this just in case you suddenly need to add something to the end of a chapter. If you know that you’ve hit the enter key, you can select a spot for your cursor on the line beneath your last sentence and keep typing. If you’ve done the double enter version, you know you need to place your cursor right next to the end punctuation of your last sentence before typing again. Keeping this in mind will save frustration and heartache in successive drafts.

Even if you plan on self-publishing, you need to keep these Breaks in mind. Many free self-publishing options don’t like a lot of “enter key” strokes and will not be able to detect where to place a link to a new chapter if you don’t format your manuscript the right way. That being said, be sure to always read the formatting guidelines for any online free self-publishing house you go with – they are all a little bit different when it comes to their systems being able to read certain code.

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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