This goes to the more physical aspects of your story--margins, font, font size, and style...
What style, you ask? I'm glad you did.
Some of your decisions are going to be based solely on where you're planning on housing your fic: Fanfiction.net, LiveJournal, your own Web site, or a list (Yahoo group type list). For the purposes of this particular article, I'm going to focus primarily on formatting/styling for uploading onto Fanfiction.net
Let me caveat all this by strongly recommending that you keep a master log somewhere of all your stories. I wish I'd done this when I first started writing fic, but I didn't, and I fear that there may be a story or two that I've completely forgotten about, but are floating about orphaned in cyber space somewhere. Some important information to keep track of:
Microsoft Excel or whatever equivalent you have is perfect for this. You can devote a spreadsheet page for each fandom and then use the colomns for each category.
Okay, back to style--we all have some, whether good or bad. Some of us have developed it over time, based on what works or what looks good, and what we like. Some of us are still experimenting. My suggestions here, are just that, but based on nine years of reading and writing fic; five years of learning the art and craft of writing romance from the largest writing organization in the world: Romance Writers of America©; strong knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and spelling; and, finally, in-depth knowledge of the ins and outs of Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org.
Using the default margins, font, and font-size of your particular word processing program is fine. If you don't care for the font, change it. No biggie. Personally, I hate Times New Roman and use Courier New for non-fic manuscripts and Century for my fics.
When I read a fic on Fanfiction.net, all I want to read is a short disclaimer at the top, a short author's note only to thank any and all beta readers, and then the story.
The disclaimer and the author's notes should be separated from the story by a (short) series of characters--your choice: asterisks, tildes, equal signs, whatever. I use this: ~*~*~. Simply because it's slightly decorative and nothing happens to it when you hit Enter. If you use three asterisks, three pound signs, or three of various other characters, they morph into some kind of line, which can be difficult to remove later.
Any more than five characters for separation is overkill and pointless. And if you're into the back end of Web sites like I am, every character adds time to the download; minute as it may seem, it does add up, especially for anyone still using dial-up connections to the Internet.
Back to the 'separators'...you may also choose to use a separator between scenes. You can use the same one as before or a matching, modified one. In my case, I use ~*~ for a complete switch in scene and character or just a single tilde ( ~ ) or an extra line for when I have one character move from one scene to the next.
Whatever you use in whatever format, just be consistent.
The proper use of punctuation marks is never a style choice. If you choose to use a particular mark, please-please-please use it correctly. If you know you are weak in this area, find yourself a beta reader who is very strong in this area (I am very good at punctuation--if you have a question, e-mail me). The only exception to this rule for me is the use of em dashes. But however you choose to employ this mark, do it consistently. Please.
As a side note, parenthesis and asterisks should rarely, if ever, be used in fiction. That is not a style choice, it is the incorrect usage of these marks.
By the bye, there are only fourteen marks of punctuation in English grammar. Can you name them all? And can/do you use them correctly? (article)
If uploading your fic to Fanfiction.net, then summary, dates, and the like do not need to be included on your document. Spoilers, if there are any, should be mentioned in the summary or in a short author's note at the top of the chapter. In the summary is probably best. If you are posting to a list, you'll probably want to include the following at the top of your post: title, summary, disclaimer, spoilers (primarily for TV shows), rating (G, PG, R, NC-17 or equivalents), and which part of how many (1/2, 2/5, etc...) you're posting if there's more than just the one.
Every story deserves the very best entree into the world. These are just a few of the ways you can make your work be the best it can be and make readers want to read more from you.
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