The most common formatting question I hear is, “Should I double space between paragraphs?”
“Since you asked, the answer is no.” If I’m not asked, I don’t comment.
Double spacing between paragraphs is not wrong, but it isn’t the accepted standard for publication. I have concluded that after leaving school, most people write nothing but checks, business letters, and e-mail. Double spacing between paragraphs is the accepted standard for business correspondence, and perhaps most office reports have drifted into this standard also. Thus the tendency to write stories like business letters.
Taking a historical perspective, when I was in school, professors required that term papers, theses, and other academic documents be type-written, with uniform double-spacing throughout. Paragraphs were indented five spaces. Odd as it seems in this electronic age, that’s still the standard for manuscripts submitted for publication. I don't keep up with term paper style requirements.
The other place you see double spacing between paragraphs is websites. It’s harder to read on-screen, so it’s important to keep paragraphs short and leave lots of white space when writing web content.
Your stories are not business correspondence, and they probably aren’t academic documents or website content. My recommendation is that you use the standard found in books — single spacing with indented paragraphs. Save the extra spaces for times when you have a major shift in thought or scene change within a story.
There are a few other things you can do to make stories easier to read:
- Increase the line height a bit. I give detailed instructions on how to do this, and examples of various settings in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing.
- Increase margins to keep line width shorter, making it easier for the eye to track across.
- Select a serif font, such as Georgia, the one you are reading, rather than a serif font like Arial. I use Georgia rather than Times New Roman (the standard on all word processing programs) because a wider font is easier to read. (Check the book for examples of several that work well.) A web search for “free font download” will turn up thousands of fonts, most of which are decorative, but you can find some that are good for extended reading.
- Use a comfortable font size. Twelve points is the standard, but depending on the font you choose, you may want to go up or down a point. All three fonts in the previous paragraph are the same point size, and you can see that they look different in size.
In general, let your eye be your guide. This is your story, and you can lay it out any way you wish. Just remember that picture frame analogy — good layout sets your story off to advantage and makes it easy to read. It’s worth finding a format you like, then sticking to it from one story to the next. You can make that easy by using a template, but that’s another post for another day.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal