WRITING TIPS: WHAT IS FORMAT?

by Ann Marie Williams © 2020

Each day this week I’m discussing one of the following writing terms: concept, plot, structure, format, and theme. I’ll give my explanation of the terms, their role in storytelling, and how they interrelate with each other since, even though each term represents a different attribute of story, they do affect one another (structure affects plot, plot affects theme, and so on).

So far this week I wrote about concept, plot, and structure. So…

Today’s topic: FORMATTING

FORMAT (AKA PRESENTATION) 

First, a quick recap: Monday I discussed how concept is the idea that allows for the plot to exist. Tuesday I talked about how plot is the story itself (the events that unfold from start to finish), and yesterday I went over structure (the framework used to convey plot).

So, if concept is idea, plot is story, and structure is conveyance, then:

Formatting is the tools used to build structure.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an analogy stretch. But, I do find it helpful to think of format as tools. Because, in a way, that’s really what they are.

I think of it this way: To build a home (story) you need a framework (structure). And to build that structure you need tools (formatting).

Now, I should clarify that I don’t mean tools as in pen and paper, fingers and keys. I mean the words themselves and their orientation on the page.

Formatting is about spelling and grammar. It’s about indentations, chapter breaks and scene headings, it’s about using consistent character cues, or giving your chapters appropriate titles… It’s about how the story is presented. And while this may seem trivial at first, it’s definitely not.

I remember as a kid writing letters to my pen-pals and not understanding the need for proper spelling or grammar. But then my mom said, “It comes down to how accurately you want your friend to understand what you’re trying to say.”

In other words: formatting is about accurately conveying your story. Knowing how to use the tools available to you so you can create the most effective and engaging story possible.


HOW FORMAT INTERRELATES

Format and Structure

There can be a lot of cross over between structure and formatting.

For example, where you place a chapter break could be considered formatting… but it could also be considered structure. Similarly, how a script transitions from one scene to the next is related to both formatting and structure.

But, to keep things clear in my own head, I choose to look at it this way: Where the chapter break is placed within the story falls under structure. Making sure those chapters are numbered correctly is about formatting.

Similarly, with scene transitions, where within the story one scene ends and how the next scene begins are about structure. Making sure the scene heading is organized and identified properly is about formatting.


Again, formatting is the use of whatever tools are available to you to ensure your story is conveyed the way you intended — the same focus, the same pacing, the same impact.  You can have a great concept and an amazing plot that’s structured brilliantly, but if you don’t convey that correctly then the audience won’t know just how great the concept, plot, and structure are. (If you’re interested, I wrote a post previously that delves into this further).

Concept generates plot. Structure conveys plot. Formatting builds structure.

That’s it for now! Until next time, remember:

FORMATTING = TOOLS


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