Welcome to Part 1 of an ongoing series to help you get your Word documents in order. This will eventually form a portion of a non-fiction book that I’m currently writing on how to better format your novel and prep it for print. There seems to be a plethora of information on creating ebooks, but I find some gaps in the print-on-demand field and I hope I can help some folks out.
Now, those of you who craft your work in Word, raise your hand now. And of those, how many understand Word’s somewhat convoluted style sheet and way of handling formatting? Yeah? Just about no one? Well, that’s totally understandable, and I want to talk a little bit about it today. Even among those of us who use Word on a day-to-day basis in our professional lives (technical writer speaking here) the thing can be a difficult beast to tame.
The problem? For a long time, Word did not account for well-formed code, which caused all kinds of headaches when people used divergent formatting and didn’t use style sheets. This is the #1 reason WordPerfect shall forever be the perfect word processor, but I digress. Going to talk a little technical here before I get to the more practical demonstration, so feel free to skip the next two paragraphs. At work, I would probably be telling you to skip to Step 5.
I’ve talked a little about this before, but one of the biggest problems that faced the early web was the relative flexibility of HTML. That’s right, it was actually too flexible. It’s great that browsers could allow you to do different things, but it led to fragmentation, wherein some sites were nigh-unviewable in certain browsers. You still see this in some instances today, but it’s become very, very uncommon because people got their heads out of their asses about standardization of features across the language (well, to some extent. It could be better but it’s a huge improvement over the early 00s).
So, you might wonder, how does this apply to Word? After all, Word didn’t even support HTML for quite some time. The problem is that this same thinking applied to Word. Combine that with the fact that no one envisioned early word processors as a desktop publishing resource and you have a product that’s trying to grow while being held back by its own legacy and the demands of the current market for a delicate balance of flexibility and rigidity. I don’t blame them for having some difficulty with standards, especially when they support some antiquated formats. I’m sure something has to give with an architecture like that.
Anyway. The issue is that few people used a standardized template with their documents, and styles were in no way formalized. You might have one paragraph that’s tagged as “normal” while the next might be “normal (web)”. You might switch to a “graphic” tag and then have it stick in the next paragraph (this has been fixed in newer versions of Word). The biggest nightmare is copying text from one document and pasting it straight into another document with a different template. The new style gets inserted into the target document and just…that becomes a mess really quickly. You can see where style issues crop up.
Okay, you are now past the geek talk. The answer to all this is to keep a consistent template and style sheet, and be sure that you use styles when you’re writing. How to do that? Well, the current default template for Word 2010 (we’ll be looking at this today) is actually perfectly adequate for writing a novel, though I’ve developed some of my own styles. Continue reading