We've officially entered the basic formatting portion of your book.No matter if you are submitting to an agent or self publishing, you have to do the basic formatting your damn self. First up is creating your chapters.

Before we begin there is a quick checklist you should pay attention to. Did you:

1) Mark breaks in your manuscript as *** and NOT label them as chapters while writing?
2) Read the best example & best seller in your genre and study how those chapter breaks were made?

If you did both, congratulations! Perfect! If you created chapters while writing...you done fucked up. GO. DELETE. THEM. NOW. Replace them with three asterisks (***) and re-edit your manuscript for continuity

If you didn't read the two best books of your genre, go back to the previous lesson and do it.

Now, for those of you on schedule, you have your conflict outlines from the books you read with chapter breaks notations, yes? Do you see a pattern? Here is what you should see:

Chapter breaks occur at major internal conflict being presented or major external conflict. That will be 80% of the chapters. There will be a few that end on minor internal conflicts. Take a look. They're endings of chapters 20-25 pages long, right?

That's because you do not want a chapter to exceed 25 pages no matter what genre you're writing in. NEVER!

How short can they be? In truth, as close to 20 pages as you can get. Try, really try, to never have them be shorter than 15 pages. You ever read those books with the 1 or 2 page chapters? here's a secret: THEY'RE SHIT WRITING. Sure, they may make the bestseller lists, but Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" is the #1 selling single of all time. POPULAR DON'T MEAN RIGHT.

So why do we need them to be all the same length (or close as we can get)? Here is a sad truth about books: the middle lags. It's the nature of the beast. But you don't want your reader to feel it, and one trick to smoothing it out is to keep your chapters even and subconsciously the reader will not be overwhelmed by pacing differences.

A good way to check your pacing is go and look at all your major external and internal conflict. Remember how we planned that out? It should be even, but double check now. They should be pretty evenly spaced but not 20-25 pages apart. Maybe they are 40 pages apart, or maybe you're writing a fast-paced action and they're 10 pages apart. Fair enough, but remember chapters should be 20-25 pages apart so let's hope your most major conflict isn't more narrowly spaced than that. If it is you may make the sin of a 10 page chapter BUT ONLY ONCE PER BOOK. ONLY. ONCE.

Your first time doing this you should plan out chapter breaks on your conflict outline. Look primarily for the most major of conflicts, either internal or external, and note those. Then fill in with more minor breaks to get your 20-25 page chapters. If you did the conflict planning in your outline and summary correctly, this should be easy.

But what if there is a big desert? Well, you'll have to do what more experienced writers can do (and they do for almost all their chapter breaks once they have a feel for the process). Make the chapters up to that desert, then skip ahead 18 pages and find the next **** break. Use that. If you've been writing correctly *** only occurs at major or minor conflict.

In a worst case scenario if you don't have a *** you'll have to make a new chapter in the middle of a scene. Try to do it where there is a pregnant pause in dialog, or a red herring is thrown out. You maybe have to write a sentence or two, but do everything you can to make a chapter break on some conflict, even if it is minor internal conflict.

Let's get into some examples first, then we'll discuss how to format your chapter headings.Here is an example of a good place to set a chapter break when you have NO major conflict:

Susan frowned at his retreating form. If this was going to be the way they fought, perhaps she needed to rethink this partnership after all.


And here is an example of a horrible place for a chapter break I see authors do all the time:

Donal caressed her thighs through her jeans. Smiling up at her he grasped her zipper tab between his teeth and lowered it slowly, letting the anticipation build. Peeling off her jeans his touch burned, smoothing up her thighs, spreading them. He gave her a wicked look and then descended.


I see the authors do the latter all the time, and where does the next chapter begin? Donal is eating her out. Literally it ends at the beginning of a physical action, and the next chapter starts at the continuation of that action, no conflict of any kind happening. DO NOT DO THIS. It annoys me, it annoys critics, and it will annoy most of your readers.Do not settle for mediocrity, if you have to edit it to make a break you can! How would we do this? Put in conflict! Here is an example:

He gave her a wicked look and then began to descend. Shelly was nervous having never done this before, and was it the right thing?

"Wait!" she suddenly cried.


The next chapter could begin with her confessing her nerves and he seducing her out of them. Adding one or two sentences therefore introduces a very minor conflict, but conflict allows a chapter break.

As a note, if you go through traditional publishing, your editor will probably make their own decisions about chapter breaks and you're helpless to change it, but if you do it right the first time they probably won't change it. Remember, MAKE CHAPTER BREAKS ON MAJOR CONFLICT and if no major is available THEN USE MINOR CONFLICT. If none is available WRITE IT IN.

The point of a chapter break is to end one line of plot and leave a question that drives the reader on (explicit: What did the map say, she wondered helplessly as it fluttered off the bridge. implicit: It was John, and he wasn't dead - the question being then what the hell happened to John and why was he back?). Those books you have to stay up all night reading? They end on conflict. The ones you can walk away from no problem? They end randomly. And you want to write a quality book that costs your reader sleep. Trust me, they like it. Don't you, when you read? we bookworms are masochists at heart.

Now how do we format chapter breaks? First up no matter how you will publish you need to disable widow/orphan control.

Disabling widow/orphan control means a paragraph can be broken up into 2 pages. In Microsoft word, select your HOME tab. Click on the small bottom right hand box of PARAGRAPH and select the second tab of LINE AND PAGE BREAKS. Unselect Widow/Orphan Control and then click OK. Here is an example (from Word 2010):

These next few steps are for the self-publishers, those going for agents/legacy publishers can skip ahead

1. Then go to your first chapter and in 12pt font write in all caps
CHAPTER ONE in bold. Next, indent 2 lines to your paragraph. Here is an example from my most recent book at this time The Violin Case.

2. You can see I title chapters in that book. If you are titling yours simply hit RETURN once, write the title in ALL CAPS, and then hit return twice to your paragraph. Next center your chapter heading and make sure that the first line indent is off (go back to that paragraph window and make sure the SPECIAL tab is left blank, see example below).

3. Now on your subsequent chapters after the previous paragraph you will hit RRETURN twice, write CHAPTER TWO or THREE and so on, hit return twice for the next paragraph. Here is an example from The Violin Case:

Repeat until you finish your chapters.

Now for those of you going to go the route of agent then legacy publisher, the first step is the same. Nix widow/orphan control. It keeps those pages even and is a MUST do. Now are your steps to formatting headings.

A. Since we're doing basic formatting, for chapter one simply indent 4 RETURNS from the top and write Chapter One or Prologue (not in all caps) in 12 point font and DO NOT make it bold. Hit RETURN twice to your paragraph. Here is an example in the original manuscript for  Hidden Magic:

B. Chapters will begin on new pages so simply hit return at the end of the previous chapter to get to the new page. Then hit RETURN to get 4 lines down, write the chapter title such as Chapter Two, and then hit RETURN twice to start the paragraph. Here is an example:

That has the bonus of showing you a chapter ending on a minor conflict. It happens. You just need a final sounding sentence such as a resolution or questions posed.

Now you should have your chapters all worked out. The next step is what I call Universal Formatting, or the basics of formatting a manuscript before getting to the nitty gritty of indie vs. legacy publishing. Best of luck, and remember, you're now 75% of the way there. You're further than most people ever go, and you have everything now that you'll need to successfully publish your book. There is hard work to come but you're almost there!