Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Microsoft Word for Writers: Set up your styles to lay out your writing properly

Love your laptop and customise it!
This post series is the techie tricks to make your writing life so much easier, with all the nifty little things you can do on Word. You can read the first post here.

Once you've put proper headings in your document, you're already using the Styles and Formatting - and it has a ton of brilliant uses besides the headings and the document map. You can customise it so your headings look exactly how you want, and you can also set it so it does proper layout for you, without you having to press tab all the time. If you're not sure what story layout should look like, compare these two documents:


If your story or book looks like the one on the right, hurrah! You're using sections and paragraphs like a pro! If it looks like the one on the left, every paragraph flush with the margin and white space above it, you need to shoot off and read this post on layout, and spend some quality time flipping through the books on your shelves, saying "Ohhhh..."

Proper layout does all sorts of useful story-things, but all those indents mean a lot of enter-tab, enter-tab, when you'd rather be concentrating on the writing. So you set up your styles to do it for you! And you do that by customising your styles.

We'll start with customising your headings, to cover the basics, and then go through setting up proper layout. As before, if you feel nervous, use another document to play around.

The golden rule of Styles and Formatting


This is the golden rule of Styles and Formatting: except for italics within the writing, never make formatting changes to the text itself: change the Style instead. It's so important I'll put a box around it:
Change the Style not the text formatting.
Want a pretty font for your headings? Don't select the heading and change the font - change the heading style! Want your writing in Times New Roman instead of Cambria? Don't select the text and change the font - change the Normal style! Want indents and a special font for the text messages your characters send each other? Don't just change the formatting for that bit - create a new style!

Why? For a short story, doing formatting by hand doesn't cause you problems - it's only a few pages. And for the first 10,000 words of your novel, you won't notice any issues either, probably. By the time you finish your novel, though, it's probably at least 80,000 words. And then you've written it in Calibri point 11, because that's what you like, but the agent says "Times New Roman or Cambria only not Calibri, point 12" because they hate Calibri and want good-sized text. And then you have to change everything. But you can't just select everything and say "Times New Roman, point 12" because you also have those text messages, remember? And the headings. And that innovative stuff you did in the middle, to mimic Google search results. And then you're trawling through your whole document trying to fix it and change it, and it's not just a few pages, it's over 200. But if you're using Styles instead, you make a few quick clicks and - voilà!

How to customise your headings


The in-built headings are often ugly, a bit corporate, or just look too much like the documents you see at work. Make them your own!
  1. On the Home tab, right-click the style you want to change and choose Modify.
  2. A box will spring up in the middle
  3. Click Format to change the settings.
  4. Choose Font to change the heading's font, colour, size, whether it's underlined, small caps, all caps, etc:
    Then click OK to get back to the Modify Style box.
  5. Choose Paragraph to change the alignment, and the space above and below it. Don't use extra Enters to create space - use the Styles:
  6. On the second tab of the Paragraph box, you can tell it to start a new page automatically. If you want each chapter on a new page. Click Page break before.
    Then click OK to get back to the Modify Style box.
  7. Click OK in the Modify Style box.
Done! You can play around with your heading settings to your heart's content, use colour, have a font that matches your novel, anything you like. (And then before you submit it to a publisher, you can change it back to a sensible font by changing the style again.)

If you fancy losing yourself down a font rabbit hole, have a look at Dafont's collection. Most of them are free for personal use and you can just download them. Once they're downloaded, open the zip file, drag them onto your desktop, then drag them into C:/Windows/Fonts to install them. Hours of fabulous WAB! (Writing-Avoidance Behaviour.) Be careful with sites you don't know, though - I've had viruses bundled into font downloads before. Dafont is safe.

How to create your story layout styles

You're going to do the exact same thing, but with a few extra settings, for your story layout styles. You need two styles: Normal will be your paragraph style, indented, with no white space above. Normal_new will be for the start of a new section, not indented, with white space above.

Just like you did for the heading, modify the Normal style:
  1. On the Home tab, right-click the Normal style and choose Modify.
  2. A box will spring up in the middle
  3. Click Paragraph and change the Indentation to First Line - 0.63cm.
  4. I also change the Line spacing to Multiple - 1.15. I find that's easier on the eye than single-line spacing, but you still get a good amount of text on the screen.
  5. Click OK to get back to the Modify Style box.
  6. You can also change the font settings if you want, and when you're done, click OK all the way out.
NOTE: This might make all your headings indent as well! That's because all your styles are based on the Normal style. That's fine - just go into any headings you're using, modify their style, and set their indent to None. Yay! More practice!

Now you're going to create the Normal_new style, for new sections:
  1. On the Home tab, right-click the Normal style and choose New Style.
  2. The box will spring up in the middle:
  3. In the Name box, type Normal_new. (You can call it whatever you like.)
  4. Underneath the sample text, you'll see it says "Normal +". That means it's based on the Normal font, so has all those settings, plus whatever you're going to choose now.
  5. In Style for following paragraph, click the down arrow and choose Normal.
    This is genius. It means when you start a new section, and then press Enter, the next paragraph will automatically be the right style - a nice indented paragraph!
  6. Click on Format then Paragraph to open the paragraph settings. Change the Indentation to None and the Space Before to 12 pt:
  7. Click OK to confirm.
  8. In the Modify Styles box, look below the Preview section and you can see that your new style's settings are Normal + First line: 0cm; Space before 12pt. That means any other changes you make to Normal, except those two extra things, will also apply to this Style. So if you change Normal's font, this one's font will change too. Brilliant! That's because the style is based on Normal (as it says in the box).
  9. Click OK.
You now have your two headings set up! Whenever you start a new section, you click the style Normal_new, and it automatically adds the white space above it and goes flush with the margin. When you press enter at the end of that paragraph, the next paragraph will automatically be Normal, so it will be indented with no white space.

That's the essentials! If this has been a steep learning curve, I suggest you go away and play with this a bunch, then come back later once you feel it's properly under your belt. If you fancy delving a little more, read on...

Go wild with your styles!


Any time you need particular formatting, you can add a style to do that for you. You don't need to make a style for italics in the text, like this, but for most other stuff it's useful. For example, in my novel, I have two separate story strands with two separate fonts, so things set in the other world have the styles Otherworld and Otherworld_new. I also have styles for text messages, which are heavily indented, use a smaller point size, and use MS Sans Serif font. I have fonts for newspaper headings, because the novel has a bunch of those. You own your computer, you tell it what to do, you create your wonderful repertoire of styles however you want.

How to create character styles


Most styles you create will be Paragraph styles - ie they apply to the whole paragraph. Sometimes, though, you have a bit of text inside a paragraph that needs a special setting - so you want to change just those particular letters. ("Characters" means letters, here, not your imaginary people.) In Rope of Words, I had the "titles" the woman thought her story would have plus the words that had a physical existence in the story:


If I created a paragraph style, it would change the whole paragraph, not just those words. So you create a character style:
  1. On the Home tab, right-click the Normal style and choose New Style.
  2. The box will spring up in the middle.
  3. In the Style Type box, click the down arrow and select Character:
  4. Now, if you click Format, you only get options that apply to the characters, not the paragraph:
  5. Make any font settings you want. I made my "physical" words Book Antiqua, 12 pt, bold, with a shadow. Click OK all the way out.

Of course when you start your next book, you'll want some of the same styles, at least the Normal and Normal_new already set up. And if you're writing lots of short stories, then you'll be wanting new documents with those set up all the time. So we should probably look at templates, next! In the meantime, have a play with this, have fun, make things silly colours and crazy fonts, OWN the machine! Love your laptop!

Get occasional emails about interesting things

* indicates required

I won't share your email with anyone else. You'll get emails from me only, about upcoming courses, writing competitions, publishing opportunities, interesting articles about writing, new blog posts, and creative events in Oxford. All emails are sent via MailChimp and you can unsubscribe at any time. Add megan@thewritersgreenhouse.co.uk to your address book if you want to keep the emails from vanishing into spam.