Prepare Your Game Manuscript to Send to Layout Pt. 1

This entry is part 3 of 17 in the series Tutorials


It’s an amazing feeling to see your game designs turned into a proper book, complete with complimentary art, typefaces, and all of the other bells and whistles. But how does it get from the stream of text you’ve entered into your word processor to the final product your adoring fans will download (or better yet, see on the shelves at their FLGS)?

After you’ve written your manuscript, it needs to be entered into a desktop publishing program such as Adobe’s InDesign or Scribus, the open source alternative. Once imported into the layout software, the layout artist can manipulate all of the text you’ve written and transform it from a stone wall of text to an elegant sculpture.

To do that, your layout designer needs to have a few cues about what sort of text elements your manuscript contains. Without any sort of guidance, it can be a time-consuming and error-prone process as they try to guess where you’d like to have your headers, tables, graphics, and other visual elements placed. There’s a lot you, as an author, can do to help streamline that process and make sure your layout specialist will be able to easily import your document and expertly manipulate the text.

Below I present two simple options you can use to not only help your designer, but to improve your own workflow as well. Where possible, I’ll provide steps for each of the three most common word processing programs: Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs.

The methods I’m about to show you can be performed after your manuscript is finished, but it’s best to get started with these techniques early in your writing cycle.

Style Guides

Have you ever seen a style guide? It’s a document a publisher may give to their authors to help guide their text formatting decisions during the writing process. If you know who your layout artist or publisher is going to be before you start writing, ask them if they have a style guide for you. By following one of these guides, you can use the techniques in this tutorial to conform to their standards. Most publishers/designers want things formatted in a specific way, so I’ll try to cover some common techniques.

Here is an example of a style guide from Steve Jackson Games, publishers of GURPS, Munchkin, and other great games:

And here is an example of their formatting guide:

Try not to take a look at these and feel too overwhelmed. SJ Games has one of the most detailed publically-available style guides I’ve seen for any game company.

Other style guides may be much shorter, like the one I put together for a Pathfinder series I’m working on:

Style Guide For Alliterative Amusements
23.9 KiB

Using Style Sheets to Format Text

One of the simplest and most useful things you can do to your manuscript is to use style sheets when formatting your text. This has a lot of benefits for you, as an author, but also helps your layout person should they choose to import them into their layout software of choice.

Style sheets allow you to set one set of parameters for a given style and apply it to multiple lines in your text. When you update the style sheet’s parameters, you update all of the instances in your manuscript at once.

For example, let’s say I want all chapter headlines to look a certain way. Most word processors have a style called “Heading 1.” If you apply that style to every place where chapter headlines are used, you can later change what the Heading 1 style looks like (let’s say you change the typeface from Arial to Verdana) and all of your chapter headings will immediately be updated.

Use this method as opposed to the old-fashioned method of highlighting a piece of text and manually changing its attributes each time a chapter heading appears.

How to Apply a Style in Microsoft Word 2007+

To do this in Word 2007, 2010, or 2013, perform the following steps:

1. Place your cursor on a line of text you would like to change.

2. On the Home tab of the Ribbon, under the Styles section, select a style you’d like to apply. Several “quick styles” are shown in the Ribbon all of the time, but you can also click the Down Arrow to display more style options.

3. The style is applied.

How to Apply Styles Using LibreOffice Writer

1. Place your cursor in the line of text you would like to change.

2. On the left side of the toolbar, click the down arrow next to Default Style and select your style.

3. The style is applied.

How to Assign Styles Using Google Docs

1. Place your cursor inside the line you would like to change.

2. On the toolbar, click the Down Arrow where it says Normal Text. Select the style of your choice.

3. The style is applied.

Making Use of Styles

Now you know how to apply styles, but what good are they?

The first and most obvious answer is they add some visual way for you to navigate your own document. As you work on your manuscript, you’re going to go back and forth; I’ve never met or even heard of a single person who can write a 200-page book from start to finish in the exact order it will appear when it’s printed. So by adding heading styles to indicate where your chapters, sections, sub-sections, and minor sub-sections go, you’ll be able to more quickly identify what you’re looking for.

Better yet, you can use the Navigation Pane in Word or LibreOffice to actually help you navigate your document like it was a table of contents. Here’s how:

Opening the Navigation Pane in Microsoft Word

1. On the Ribbon, click the View tab.

2. In the Show section, click the checkbox next to Navigation Pane if it isn’t already checked.

3. The Navigation Pane appears.

Open Navigation in LibreOffice Writer

1. Click View on the toolbar, then click Navigator. Optionally, just press F5.

2. Navigator appears.

Sorry, Google Docs Users

As of January 2014, this does not appear to be a feature in Google Docs. There does appear to be a third-party plugin which allows you to show a Google Docs Table of Contents in a sidebar widget, but installing and using it is beyond the scope of this tutorial. Here’s the link I found if you’re interested:

Navigating Your Document

Now that you’re consistently using Heading styles and have a navigation panel active, it’s simple to skip around inside your document. Simply click on the heading’s name in the navigation panel and Word or LibreOffice will take you straight to the section of choice.

Bonus: You can drag and drop headings on the navigation pane to rearrange sections. This is helpful when alphabetizing or when you decide Chapter X: Feats should come before Chapter Y: Equipment. Instead of copying the entire Feats chapter by hand, cutting it, and pasting it before the Equipment chapter, you can simply drag the heading in the navigation pane to the position you want to drop it. The program will automatically copy/paste the Heading and all of its sub-headings for you.

It’s like magic!

Guidelines for Using Headings

You’ve seen how simple it is to set up and start using styles, but what’s the most practical way to use them? I recommend the following:

Heading 1: Use only for chapter headings. Anything marked as Heading 1 will appear at the top level of your Table of Contents. As an example, you’ll set the Equipment chapter as Heading 1.

Heading 2: Use for major sections. In the Equipment chapter, you would create H2 styles for different equipment categories: Armor and Shields, Weapons, Adventuring Gear, etc.

Heading 3: Use for sub-sections. For example, under the Armor and Shields section, your H3s might be Light Armor, Medium Armor, Heavy Armor, and Shields.

Heading 4: Use for minor sub-sections. This one’s a little more discretionary. Personally, I like to use H4s to name individual objects so I can easily alphabetize them later. For example, under Light Armor I might have Padded Armor, Leather Armor, Studded Leather, and Chain Shirt.

Some people prefer to just bold the name of the item and add the description afterward, but if you want to alphabetize the items later you’ll need to copy/paste them by hand. By using H4, you can drag them around the navigation pane.

Other Styles

Headings aren’t the only styles you’ll use in your document. You may need to create individual styles for tables, bold or italic text, or various other elements. Strictly speaking, it may not be necessary to do this though, and I’ll talk about why next week.

Note that any style you use which isn’t a Heading won’t show up in the Navigation Pane in Word, but LibreOffice’s Navigator does appear to show a variety of style and object options.

Don’t Worry About Style Aesthetics

These programs all allow you to change the look and feel of your styles. You can change typefaces, line spacing, indentation, and more. But don’t worry about how the styles look in your own manuscript unless changing them improves readability for you and your editor, because chances are good those styles won’t carry over to layout.

Your layout professional likely has a toolbox of unique typefaces at their disposal, so regardless of whether your Heading 1 is displaying as Arial, Verdana, or even Comic Sans, they’re unlikely to use whatever they import. The layout professional will create their own styles in the software they use, and they’ll “map” (assign) your style definitions to their own. That means they’ll replace what you give them with whatever looks best for the book.

But that doesn’t mean you’ve wasted effort by adding Heading styles in the first place. Layout can’t map your styles to theirs if you didn’t set them up to begin with.

In short, the important thing is that your manuscript has clearly defined headings so their layout software can read it and apply the pretty new styles automatically.

Final Thoughts

This was a brief overview on how to start using styles in your manuscripts. Next time, I’ll talk about some Dos and DON’Ts of manuscript formatting. I’ll discuss some ways to mark up tables, sidebars, image locations, and other popular game-specific elements so your layout artist won’t throw it back at you and demand you fix it.

Sneak Preview: Don’t double-return after each paragraph. Ever. For the love of all that is precious to you.

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About Jacob Wood

Jacob founded Accessible Games because he wants to spread the joy of gaming to everyone, including people with disabilities. He is visually impaired and knows what it's like to need to adapt, and he brings two decades of gaming experience to the table.
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