Paragraph Formatting in fiction and nonfiction

I have been asked a few times in the last couple of weeks about paragraph formatting in print and kindle editions of fiction and nonfiction books, and I just wanted to throw a quick guide out there, to answer all those questions at once.

Fiction paragraph formatting

In traditional print books, the standard paragraph formatting in fiction is to indent the first line of a new paragraph, except for the first paragraph in a chapter or after a scene break. No spaces between lines.

Nonfiction paragraph formatting

In nonfiction, there are no indents, unless it’s a bullet list. Instead, publishers generally leave a line space between paragraphs, to break the text up.

In both fiction and nonfiction, text is usually justified, so there are no ragged left or right edges. The effect is to create a neat block of text on the page.

Standard indent versus space paragraph formatting
Standard fiction (A) and nonfiction (B) paragraph layouts. Image courtesy of fonts.com where you can find a more detailed explanation.

Sticking to these conventions in print editions of indie published books helps to create a professional product. Differ from them, and many readers will assume it’s because you don’t know any better. That undermines the value of your work insidiously, even if you’ve had a full professional edit.

Paragraph formatting for digital editions

In Kindle and other digital editions you want the finished text to look the same as in a print edition. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of:

  • eReaders such as the Kindle automatically justify your text, so you need to set it to left aligned (also known as right ragged). If you try to create the justified look by adding carriage returns, as you would on an old typewriter, you will end up with half lines in the middle of your paragraphs, and an amateur look to your work.
  • You shouldn’t create the spaces between paragraphs, page breaks or other spacing by using carriage returns, either. Instead, use the style gallery.
Style gallery in Word
Don’t use the formatting buttons (Red) in Word. Instead use the style gallery (Green).

Here’s a quick video showing you how to use the style gallery in Word to apply paragraph spacing or indents to your text.

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