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Formatting Stories Tutorial by Staff
Chapter 1: Formatting
Having trouble with formatting? Too much space? Not enough space? Been told not to use a thousand asterisks to separate text? Thinking "My chapter looks all weird when I hit preview!" Well, it's your lucky day, and not because the Nigerian government would like to give you fifty million dollars, but because this is a tutorial on formatting!
1. Know What You're Doing
If you know the conventions of fiction writing style, you'll avoid several rejections.
Read the thread on how to format dialogue. This will prevent a common rejection: "Please begin a new paragraph when a new character speaks."
If your story looks like this:
"Hi James!" James looked over at him and smiled. "Hey man, good to see you. Want to go pick on Snivellus in an age-inappropriate way?" "Sure, sounds like a great time, let's go!" And off they went to play rude pranks on people for no good reason whatsoever.
...you might get rejected.
Another common rejection: "Please separate your story into paragraphs to avoid block text."
Similar to the above issue, but this time your story is one... endless... paragraph... Through the entire chapter. Now, William Faulkner might have written a sentence that lasted four and a half pages, but let's try not to emulate him, shall we? If your chapter makes the validators' eyes cross just looking at it, you're probably going to run into some trouble getting validated. Seriously. I already wear glasses. Don't do this to me.
Another one: "Your entire chapter is bold/italic. Please reserve bold/italic for emphasis."
Again, if the validators' eyes are crossing... This one is just common sense, as well. Have you ever read a book that was printed entirely in bold or italic? Neither have I. That's because the formatting conventions in fiction reserve such things for emphasis. Doing the same on the archive will serve you well.
And here's a staff favorite: "Please do not use long strings of asterisks/dashes/underlines/tildes/zeroes/hatches/etc to separate text."
You want to separate sections of your text? Great! There are two ways to do so. Neither includes a hundred asterisks floating across your screen. We're not kidding when we say it messes up system formatting on the archive. Sometimes we literally cannot even read your chapter. You may be setting yourself up for two rejections in a row simply because we couldn't read what you wrote to see if there was something amiss.
Method the First! I bet you've seen this in published novels, so it should look familiar.
If you'd rather use a ~ or a - or a $ or whatever floats your boat, just treat it the same way as that asterisk. Try not to use more than three typographic symbols as a text separation. You really don't need a hundred of them. One, properly used, will do the same job, and be much more unobtrusive to your readers' eyes, making reading your chapter a more pleasant experience.
Method the Second! Need a little more emphatic separation than a simple asterisk? Lucky for you, we have this lovely little button called the Line Break. You've probably seen these around the archive, most commonly separating an author's note from the rest of the story. You can use them inside the story too. Using too many of them may not please everyone, but if that's what you like, go for it. Separating text is what it's there for.
Just click that button and voila! Line break. Now, if you're in the habit of previewing a hundred times before you post, you'll find that this little guy likes to add a line of space after himself for every time you hit preview. Keep an eye on that - you should delete them before posting.
2. Copy and Paste: It Can Be Your Friend.
You may have gotten this rejection before: "Please reduce the amount of blank space between paragraphs to no more than 1-2 lines." Or its companion piece, "Please insert a blank line between paragraphs."
Ideally, what you're shooting for is your story to look like this:
This is a paragraph. It has sentences full of nouns and verbs, and predicates and dependent clauses and maybe even a T-unit. Adjectives and pronouns and adverbs, oh my!
One blank line between each paragraph. Not 15. Not zero. You're writing for web publishing, and it needs to be formatted in a way that will be legible onscreen. Too much blank space is just as bad as not enough. If it's hard to read, you're going to lose readers, so make it easy on them (and the validators! Please! Save our eyes!).
You know, I've never had trouble with those pesky extra spaces. Why? Because I use the "Insert as Plain Text" button. No really. It will solve almost all of your problems. Here's the thing. Word processing programs like to throw in little bits of unseen code, to tell itself how to display your story onscreen. That's great if you're reading it in OpenOffice/Microsoft Word/iWork/etc, but not on the archive. All those extra bits and bobs that tell it how to display your document will also tell the archive's Advanced Editor that you want to insert a whole lot of extra space between paragraphs.
"But I don't want that extra space!!!" Neither do I. So I copy, and paste as plain text. And here's how to do it.
Step 1. Copy
Go to your document. Highlight whatever you want pasted into your chapter. PC keyboard shortcut is ctrl+C. This places the text on your computer's clipboard. You can also right-click and select copy, or go to the drop-down menu in your word processor and click copy. I like keyboard shortcuts, so we'll be using those.
Step 2. Paste
Switch to your internet browser, where you should have your Add Chapter screen ready and waiting. Click the Paste As Plain Text button.
This will bring up a pop-up window. Click inside it so your cursor appears, then hit ctrl+V to paste and click ok.
Now you should see your text - stripped of all formatting and extra tags and unnecessary whatnots from the word processor - in the editing window.
Step 3. Add formatting.
You will now go back and add italics, centering, etc. as needed. Sort of a pain? Yes. Better than dealing with extra spaces that won't go away or deleting bits of code in the Simple Editor? Absolutely. It won't take you but a few moments to scroll through your chapter in the word processing screen and alt-tab over to your browser window to add the italics and center your text break asterisks. Just scroll through until you get to the word that needs italicizing (or whatever formatting you're adding), highlight it, and click the button. You can also use keyboard shortcuts for italics (ctrl+I) and bold (ctrl+B) during this process, to speed things up a bit.
P.S. Preventing Timeouts
The dreaded timeout. If you spend too long playing around in the Add Chapter screen, the archive may decide you must have eloped with another website and abandoned it, and will log you out. There's a very simple way you can give yourself a do-over without actually having to do all that over again. After you have everything ready to hit the Preview button, click inside the editing area (where the text of your chapter is). Hit ctrl+A. Hit ctrl+C. Now hit Preview. If you've been logged out, simply log back in, add the chapter again, click in the editing area and hit ctrl+V (no need to Insert As Plain Text this time). It will retain the archive-style formatting you gave it in the previous steps.
(Another quick & dirty method with no copy/pasting: Open a second tab/window in your browser and aim it at the archive's home page. If you see it asking you to log in, do so. Now your other window will also be logged in.)
Don't forget that your clipboard can only handle one ctrl+C - if you hit that again (for example, for your chapter summary) it will drop whatever you had beforehand. Ctrl+V will then give you whatever you most recently copied. If your choice is saving the chapter or the summary, I'd pick the chapter. It's easy to add formatting back to a summary if you need to, simply because they're so much shorter.
3. But how do I add italics and centerings and stuff?
Bold, Italics, or Underline
Bold is quite easy to add using the standard, Advanced Editor. Simply highlight the word(s) you want to bold and click on the button that represents the style you want: bolded, italicized, or underlined. Please note that you cannot use bold or underline in story summaries.
This is the tricky one. There's a center text button in the Advanced Editor, but it likes to center your entire chapter rather than the highlighted text, or not center anything. We recommend centering text with the Simple Editor. Switch to this editor and use the following code to produce this:
Center Aligned Text
<div align="center">Center Aligned Text</div>
One last thing...
Write in your word processor the way you want it to appear onscreen. This will help you quite a lot toward getting the correct formatting, combined with the above instructions.
Not writing in a word processing program? You can still follow these steps to get good formatting. Text editors don't generally allow a lot of fancy formatting, so you probably would have needed to add bold and italics anyway.
Familiar with HTML and want to write with HTML tags in place? You'll need to use the Simple Editor to do your pasting. The Advanced Editor is probably going to give you trouble with those tags, and if you know your way around HTML enough to write in it, you shouldn't have any trouble with the Simple Editor. Make sure you close all your tags, and use proper HTML conventions (there's a short guide to HTML tags inside the Simple Editor, but if you are not at least somewhat conversant in HTML, you probably ought not do anything too complicated). Please do NOT write in BBCode.
Bonus: Adding Chapter Images
Got a fabulous chapter image from TDA and trying to put it on? Made one yourself and want to use it?
First, make sure it abides by the site rules on chapter images. Don't take somebody's fanart and call it a chapter image. Make sure it's within size regulation: no more than 380 pixels wide, and no more than 300 pixels tall (not sure of the size? right-click on the image and select Image Info in the menu. You'll see the pixel size displayed. If the numbers are 380x300 or less, you're good to go). Upload your image to your preferred file host, and get the URL. The one that says "Direct Link" on Photobucket is the correct code to copy.
Now you want to position your cursor to where you want your chapter image to go. Once you've got it in the right spot, click the Insert Image button.
This will bring up a pop-up window asking for a URL. Paste it in there, and click ok. You're good to go!
You may want to add the chapter image last, after your chapter's text is all formatted the way you want it. It'll be easier to fiddle and adjust things to make the image look the way you want it to.