Technical Excellence: Why You Should Use Styles While Writing

You know what styles are, right? Headers, lists, italics, bold… Those kinds of things. Do you use them? Do you use them correctly?

At this point, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with story. Well, I’ve decided to talk about technical excellence every now and then, and I think you’d be wise to read this post. No, styles are not as exciting as actually writing your story, but they have a big role to play in your professionalism and time spent preparing your story for publishing.

‘Cause you want to publish, right? Good.

Let’s clear up one thing to start with: Styles are not simply italicizing or bolding text. That’s a text style, not a real style. I know, it’s not all that nice of the word processing people to make it simple to hit a keystroke and apply styles the wrong way, but that’s how it is. We’ll have to deal with it.

Okay, so what’s the right way? And why is it the right way? Let’s answer the second question first. You want to use paragraph styles for a few reasons.

First, these styles will give you more certainty that your story looks the way you want it to on other people’s computers. Simply put, if you do the styles right, the instructions should (usually) carry over so that everyone sees what you see. Yay!

Second, styles will save you time in formatting your book. If you don’t define styles for your document, you’ll end up with messes when you try to do an e-book, especially if you’re converting to Kindle by uploading an HTML document to Amazon’s self-publishing page. Similarly, you’ll find big issues if you try to lay out your book in Adobe InDesign or another publishing application.

Third, you’ll save time and be more organized. Instead of having to mess with all the formatting stuff on a case-by-case basis, you can look for patterns and set up rules. For example, you can make a rule for all the numbered lists, or a rule for the long quotes, or a rule for poetry. All these can be applied with the click of a button if you simply take the time to set up a paragraph style.

Which brings us to answering the other question. What is the right way?

It’s simple. Your word processor probably has a bunch of common paragraph styles predefined, such as Body, Header 1, Title, and so forth. If you change those, you’ll want to redefine the common styles. So for example, if I change the font of some text marked as the Body style font from Helvetica to Times New Roman, I’ll want to redefine the Body style so that all my Body text is in the same font.

What happens when you need a new style? Easy! Make some changes to the text to make it look the way you want it, then create a new style from that text. All your changes get copied into a fancy new style. Name it something meaningful so you’ll remember what it’s for, then get back to work on formatting. When you need the style again, just click it and watch your text shape up its act.

I know this is a different kind of post for me, but it’s something I’m passionate about. Your story deserves to be styled and formatted correctly. Just do it!

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