Monday, May 13, 2013

How to Survive and Return from Formatting Hell

I'm Baaack...

When my editor, the fab Mistress of Multi-Tasking Angela Kelly, pointed out that my manuscript had a few double spaces between words, I investigated. And was appalled.

In my *completed* and *polished* ms, there was way over a hundred double spaces.

It was easy to figure out how it happened. No doubt, I had misplaced the cursor when moving a line or paragraph.

Other concerns arose however.
  • Sentences that magically jumped down a line or two that needed re-attached or pulled up.
  • Hidden Text, the cockroach of the word processing world.
  • The mechanics of em dashes and en dashes. I know where to place them and the difference but Word program sometimes twiddles its digital fingers, dithers around, and creates the wrong symbol.

Now that I am hyperaware of these problems, fixing them is easy but time consuming.

! Note: before attempting these fixes, copy your manuscript and practice on it rather than the original!

Inserted Lines. There are two ways to find formatting symbols in Word program. Hit the formatting symbol ¶ at the top center of your screen. Or click on the Window icon at the top left, click on Word options then hit Display. This will show the formatting.

The Fix. After you click on the formatting tools, all kinds of things will pop up. The paragraph symbol is ¶. If you hit enter twice or inserted a section from another ms, you will see where the sentences jumped or lines inserted in the text and can edit them.

Hidden text. Faint dots underlining the word represent hidden text. This became a problem when my editor and I exchanged the ms back and forth, converting it from Word to Word Perfect and inserting comments as we went. Remove them by using Find and Replace.

The Fix. Hit Find. Under format, click on Font. Click on Hidden then OK. Highlight All and work your magic.

Em Dashes. When my Word program didn’t convert the dashes to em dashes, it meant I had to physically do this.

The Fix. Click on Find, Special and (in my case) en dash. Replace with em dash. This does the job, but since Word placed spaces before and after the dash, I used a different technique for most of them.

Try this. Where you want the em dash, type the word. Then hold down on the Alt key and type 0151 then the next word. This places the correct symbol—in that spot. No spaces before and after. And no double dashes to muck up the format.

Double spaces. These are represented by two or more dots. I committed this sin not only in the middle of text but at the beginning of some paragraphs as well. It is easy to fix in the sentences. Not so much at the beginning of a paragraph.

The Fix. Hit the formatting symbol ¶ or Word options to see them. Use the Find/Replace by hitting the space bar twice then Highlight All. Replace All with a single space.

The spaces before the paragraphs required more labor, a page-by-page inspection.

Dig out these formatting errors since who knows?

Maybe a prospective agent is looking for these goof ups in your manuscript and using that as a guide.

Got any more horror stories?


  1. At least you found them. I solve the em dash problem by not using it. My publisher's editor likes it better than ...
    However, my publisher has gotten used to the fact I don't break my manuscript into chapters until the very end. They are very patient with me...

  2. Oh boy, that sounds like a lot of work!

  3. It is a lot of hard word, but the Pilcrow button shows up all those little formatting glitches.

  4. So, I was reading this book on my ereader, and I got to the climax of the whole thing, and two lines of gobbledegook stopped me cold. That was annoying.


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