The Top Five Mistakes Young Writers Make: Poor Formatting [1/5]

February 01, 2012

1. Poor Formatting

This post covers miscellaneous novel-writing goodness such as indentations, dialogue, and basic sentence structure. Here are some things to keep in mind as you write your novel!


     Davis turned purple as a tiny army of dinosaurs escaped from his nose.
     "New medicine, eh?" I asked, watching him gather the falling dinosaurs in his hands.
     "Yeah," he said. "How'd you know?"

If the program you're using to write your novel doesn't automatically indent new lines, use the "tab" button.

Dialogue Punctuation

Always put your periods and commas inside the end quote. 

"Aardvark," she whispered.

Be careful when punctuating dialogue—just because someone is done speaking doesn't mean the sentence is over!

     Bad: "I went to the store." I said
     Good: "I went to the store," I said.

In this case, "I said" is still part of this phrase. Your character may have stopped speaking, but you need to link dialogue and additional information pertinent to the dialogue/speaker together.

However, it may already be obvious that Danielle or Jimmy or Luke Skywalker is speaking. Therefore, the following is acceptable if your reader knows who is speaking or if the speaker's identity needs to remain a mystery:

     "Yeah, I ate that thing wrapped in foil from the freezer. Why you got that look on your face, man?"
     "HOW DARE YOU!"

A longer example:

     "I think cream cheese is amazing," Gloria says, cringing as I toss the unopened container in the trash. "Your alien taste buds are total crap."
     "I find the taste of sunflowers to be delightful," Drax says with a grin.
     "You're talking about the seeds, right?" Gloria asks warily.
     "No. The entire flower. It's absolutely delicious. Add a little pepper and whazam—bein' stuck on Earth suddenly ain't so bad after all!"

Using Periods to Separate Ideas

     Wrong: "Marcus is so hot have you seen him shirtless?"
     Right: "Marcus is so hot. Have you seen him shirtless?"

Here, we're expressing two different ideas: the speaker thinks Marcus is hot, and the speaker is, in turn, asking another character a question.

More examples:

     The weather couldn't have been worse, it ruined our party.
     The weather couldn't have been worse. It ruined our party.

     "I went outside today it's so hot."
     "I went outside today. It's so hot!"

     "I want a beach ball don't you?"
     "I want a beach ball. Don't you?"

Break Up Your Dialogue

Don't lump dialogue together. If someone else speaks, kick it to a new line.


"I saw him go to Tommy's house yesterday," Jane said. "Really." "Yeah, that's right." "I don't believe you," I said, scooping up my books with a smirk. "He was with me the entire night. We saw a movie."


     "I saw him go to Tommy's house yesterday," Jane said.
     "Yeah, that's right."
     "I don't believe you," I said, scooping up my books with a smirk. "He was with me the entire night. We saw a movie."

Fonts and Readability

When you share your writing with others (either through email or in print), be sure to set it in a readable 12-pt font. If you share it over the internet, use a sans-serif font. If you're printing your story out, use a serif font.

Serif Font (Includes Times New Roman, Georgia, etc)
Sans-Serif Font (Includes Arial, Verdana, etc)

A serif is a slight projection off the edge of each letter, which helps make the letter more defined and easier to read. While this is helpful for reading printed text, sans-serif (rounded, less defined letters) are easier to read on a computer monitor and other electronic devices. 

In my next Five Mistakes post, I'll tackle the equally maddening issue of "formality" in writing. We'll learn new ways to eloquently express thoughts such as "Marcus is soooo stupid I think he's dumb and mean" without sacrificing voice or attitude.

Until next time,



  1. This is so helpful, thankyou so much! I'm going to share this with all my fellow writers!

  2. I love you now more than ever. I am SUCH a grammar Nazi, so I appreciate this.
    Twitter: @GlamKitten88


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