Ask Daphne! About Formatting

October 21st, 2010 • Kate

Paper_Stack - croppedI’m feeling SO GREAT about getting back within my two week response time for queries that I’m answering TWO Ask Daphne questions this week. Wheee! The first comes from Robin, who writes:

I am currently working on my second YA crime novel in which my protagonist is partially deaf. She communicates through texts on her cell phone with her best friend in a number of areas throughout the story. How should I format it in the manuscript? I have entire conversations that take place in cell phone text format. Currently, I have it in the same font as the rest of the manuscript (Courier New 12pt), just indented twice with no special formatting. Your advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks much!

First of all, I’m going to tell you a secret. Very few editors or agent that I know care for Courier New anymore. It used to be the standard when the publishing industry was switching over from typewriters to computers, and copy-editors needed a font that took up about the same amount of space that typewritten words did on a page. Nowadays, most everyone reads or uses Times New Roman or some other True Type font.

Most of us have moved to the modern age, and Times New Roman (or something similar) takes up a lot less space.

But that’s a tangent. To get to the meat of your question, I’m not sure that there is a standard for transcribing text messages — or emails, for that matter. You could do as you’ve done, and just set those conversations off from the rest of the text by indenting, or try using a different font.

Alternatively, you could just start each line that is part of a texting conversation with the phone number (or if an email or IM conversation, with the user name or address), so that if something goes wacky when an agent or editor transfers the manuscript to their e-reader, it’s still recognizably different. Look at Lauren Myracle’s bestseller ttyl, for example. (I linked to Amazon because you can browse inside the book.) The entire book is written in IM, and each line is prefaced by the user name.

Readers, if you have emails, IM conversations, or texts as a major part of your manuscript, how did you handle it? Or do you know of a standard format somewhere out there that’s recommended? To the comments!

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12 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Formatting”

  1. Amy Says:

    I write my manuscripts in Times New Roman, texts italicized, and emails/IMs in Courier New. But this is a standard I invented for myself, so YMMV.

  2. Rachel Says:

    In my current WIP, I have a few texts and did as Kate suggested, prefaced each one with the user name.

    Amy: When r u getting here?

    Me: Leaving now.

    And so forth, also in Beautiful Creatures, the two main characters speak to each other in thought. Those conversations take place in italics. Kate, correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard some agents/editors don't like italics.

  3. Kate Says:

    I don't mind italics myself, but I can definitely recall (in very recent memory) a manuscript where a thought conversation was conveyed in italics, but the end of the section wasn't clear, or just transferred weirdly to my Kindle, so instead of one line in italics, the whole rest of the chapter was that way as well.

    Still, I prefer italics to underlining, which is another holdover from the typewriter era.

  4. Georgia Says:

    Times New Roman all the way through. IMs & TMs in italics on separate lines.

  5. Krista V. Says:

    Eek! That italics problem sounds like it could definitely be my manuscript. I never considered the possibility of formatting problems cropping up in the transfer from Word to an e-reader.

    Would there be a better way to format something like that?

  6. Jamie Harrington Says:

    Something I've found that seems to work is just putting a * around the text.

    Here's an example:

    My phone buzzed with a text and my favorite pic of Billy popped up on the screen.

    *I did not have sexual relations with that woman.*

    Yeah, freakin' right. If that wasn't sexual relations I just walked in on, then they should just take away my junior PI license now.

    *Save it for someone who might actually believe you. I've got a tabloid to call. Thanks for the paycheck!*

    Okay, yeah so maybe that was going a little overboard, but when he texted back with nothing but a smiley face sticking his tongue out at me–I knew Billy C deserved everything I was about to dish out.

  7. Kate Says:

    Hmm, Jamie, as a fervert Twitterer, the problem I can see with that method is that you run the risk of someone reading it thinking it's an action. Like the way Maureen Johnson uses *s around an action she's doing, like her post the other day: You seem tired, Twitter. *pulls out cover, comes closer*.

  8. Jamie Harrington Says:

    Oh, that's a good point. In fact, I bet if I look back over my tweets I could find myself doing that same thing…

    *looks over old tweets*

    (OMG I did that without realizing I was doing it… I guess there's really no point in looking over them NOW, eh?)

    But, I don't think it would be too confusing because most of the time texts could be easily distinguished from an action. I agree that italics seems like the most logical way to go. We could always just do the gamer speak thing:

    /don't forget milk

    /already got it!


  9. Shannon Says:

    There are still SO many agents that don't even have websites and prefer snail mail.

    What is the best approach to handling the "typwriter" days of yore agents and the website, tweeting Gen agents without having to format a MS for each agent?

    Or, maybe I just answered my own question…

  10. Kate Says:

    Shannon, I don't think any agent, old-fashioned or new, is going to toss your ms in the trash just for your font choices. At least, I hope not. If it were me submitting, I would go with a standard font like Times New Roman and check SCBWI, RWA or SFWA, depending on your genre, for more specific formatting tips.

  11. Shannon Says:

    Thanks Kate.

    It's good to know that we can italics dreams, thoughts etc. I was wondering if that was still taboo.

  12. Jess Says:

    I have several journal entries and I italicize those. If I did an email, I'd put a space, then the email like it looks when you print it. Like so.

    To: kate@awesomeagentdotcom

    From: jess@superwriterdotcom

    Subject: Formatting

    La la la la la body of email!

    Another space and the chapter keeps going.

    I'd do texts the way it's been suggested, the way will grayson does IM. For example, with Twitter handles:

    DapheUn: Text!

    jessicatudor: Reply!

    And again with the off-set spaces so we know it's something different. I'm a big fan of spaces. ๐Ÿ™‚