Here I am back to writing resources again. As a new writer, I started from scratch in a lot of ways. One of those was learning how to format a work as expected by publishers. For short stories, almost every publisher’s submissions guidelines say to use Shunn’s manuscript format. Between that and Word’s manuscript template, my short stories at least looked professional from the beginning.
Some publishers look for stories in non-traditional formats. In the submission guidelines for several publishers, they state they actively seek stories in non-traditional formats. Examples provided include a story written in the style of a web chat or series of text messages. The concept of using non-traditional formats goes back at least as far as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and probably further, where the narrative appears in a series of journal entries and correspondence. More recently, the same concept was used in The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: A Novel by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. An author in my critique group experimented with using a Dracula-style format for her novel but abandoned the idea, citing difficulty in making it work. I have not tried the concept myself, though I did include an email exchange in one short story.
With formatting out of the way, I needed to learn stylistically how to write. Again, if your story calls for a non-traditional style, go for it. But for a traditional story, if I want to be published, the style should conform to that expected by most publishers. Stephen King advocates using The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. It’s short at about 80 pages. There’s also The Chicago Manual of Style. I happened to have an abbreviated version of this lying around.
The reason I knew to use “lying” instead of “laying” just then was because of Blood from Your Own Pen: A Practical Guide on Self-Editing and Common Mistakes: For Beginning Authors Who Intend to Survive to Publications by Sam Knight. I love this book. I recommend it for any novice writer. For starters, it’s funny, which I always appreciate. Second, the advice is solid. I often found I’d read a chapter, and then the next time I was editing a story, I’d catch the mistakes Knight just told me about. Also, as I receive rejections of stories I have out now, I’m finding myself re-editing them to eliminate the errors he discusses. That makes the turnaround time for resubmitting those stories slower, but maybe the revised stories will appeal more to subsequent publishers.