Prepare Your Game Manuscript to Send to Layout Pt. 3

This entry is part 5 of 18 in the series Tutorials


Last week I explained some DOs and DON’Ts of manuscript formatting. Today, we’ll take a more advanced look at how you can markup your document for quick, easy, and — best of all — consistent layout.

Markup Basics

If you’ve ever looked at HTML — the code behind a website — you’ll be familiar with what markup is.  By using a series of simple tags, you tell the web browser (or, in this case, the layout person) how to interpret your manuscript.

Markup for a manuscript may look something like this:

<h1>Chapter 1: World History

A bit of information about the history of <strong>My World.</strong> Here’s a list of some of the cool things you’ll find:


Item 1

Item 2

Item 3


The tags that precede or surround certain elements tell a lot about the manuscript. The <h1> tag, for example, tells us that “Chapter 1: World History” should be a level 1 heading, or a Heading 1. The <strong> tag tells us where text should be bolded, and the </strong> tells us where the bold should stop. Finally, <list> and </list> tells us where a bulleted list should go.

How to Use Markup

The easiest way to use markup in your documents is to get into the habit of typing these tags while writing. It means not having to go back over your document and add them later.

For example, any time you create a Heading 1 style, add <h1> to the beginning of the line. When you want to bold something, encompass the text to be bolded in <strong> and </strong> tags.

It’s important to note that, unlike with HTML, there’s no standard tagging structure for manuscripts. InDesign doesn’t (usually) import these things automatically, and it may be up to the layout person to convert the tags into styles (I’ll talk more about that in an InDesign tutorial).

If you know who your layout person is going to be before you start working on your manuscript, you may be able to find out what their preferences are. They may have a style guide which will help you identify the specific markup they use. If you don’t know who it will be, you can be fairly safe and stick with standard HTML. A good layout artist can alter their workflow to match what you’ve already done, as long as you are consistent.

I recently stumbled across Evil Hat’s style guide when I saw this “So You Want to Write For Evil Hat” article:

Direct link to their style guide:

Evil Hat’s style guide does an excellent job of describing exactly which tags they’d like ou to use. When you’re writing your manuscript, you can use these tags to make sure your document is easily imported into their layout software.

One thing to note about something Evil Hat says in their style guide: “Any formatting done in Word has a strong chance of disappearing entirely when the text is moved into layout.”

Generally speaking, when a layout professional imports text with markup, they will choose not to import your own stylesheets from Word. So why did I go through all of that trouble in previous posts to show you how to use stylesheets?

Using Styles and Markup Together

As an author, it’s important for you to be able to quickly and easily navigate your own manuscript. By using Heading styles in your word processing software, you’ll be able to take advantage of their benefits. You’ll be able to quickly scan text, take advantage of the Navigation Pane to jump between or rearrange sections, and so forth.

When you bold or italicize text, it’s a helpful visual cue to you and to your editor. It can get difficult to read a lengthy document filled with markup tags unless you have some sort of simple method for your brain to parse the data.

But the two methods — styles and markup — go hand-in-hand. There’s usually little reason for you to actually build a table in Word; instead, use the method for inserting a single tab that I talked about last week. You can show where a list should go without needing to create bullet points, and you can tell the layout person where to include a sidebox without creating a text box in Word (in fact, never ever do that for any document that will be exported to another program).

It’s okay that your formatting is going to be stripped away during layout. Notice that I didn’t go into detail about how to change your styles to be pretty or to look a certain way. We’re looking for the mechanical benefit of the styles, not the artistic benefit. Your layout person will determine what the headings look like, so your job is just to tell them where they go.

Final Thoughts

That concludes our three-part manuscript formatting series. Next week, I’ll begin talking directly with layout professionals to give them an idea of how to take a manuscript from Word and import it to InDesign.

If you’ve read the series but still have questions, feel free to ask in the comments. I’d be happy to speak directly to any examples you may have, or to answer generalized questions. And if you know someone you think may benefit from reading these articles, please do share with them!


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