Style Guide

Style Guide for Unpublished Submissions

In case this is the first writing competition you've entered (or even if you're an old hand at the game), information and RULES follow on how to format and present your submission and how to write a synopsis.

The CWC Award of Excellence

for Best Unpublished Crime Manuscript
Sponsored by ECW Press

STYLE GUIDE

This page addresses various issues to do with formatting and presentation.

There are a few official rules to do with presentation.

  • We now only accept digital files. PDFs are prefered, but doc files are also acceptable.
  • The title of the entry – but NOT your name – must be on each page of your submission. Make sure you remove your name from the file properties too.
  • Pages must be numbered.
  • Use 12-point Times New Roman.
  • Use single line spacing.
  • Margins should be 1 inch
  • Paper size should be 8.5 X 11 inch paper or A4.

IGNORING THESE RULES MAY DISQUALIFY THE ENTRY.

Beyond these rules, however, there are all sorts of presentation elements which won't disqualify you if you get them wrong, but will which make it much easier for the judges to read and enjoy your work if they are used.

Formatting and Layout

The best way to format text for fiction, used in just about every novel ever published, is as follows:

  • Start new paragraphs with an indented first line.
  • Don't use blank lines between consecutive paragraphs.
  • Do use a blank line or three asterisks to show a break between scenes or a break in the flow of the narrative.
  • Start new chapters on a new page.
  • Use a new paragraph each time a different character starts to speak.

Spelling

  • Check your spelling meticulously.
  • Beware malapropisms and homonyms; words can be spelled correctly and still be terribly wrong. Some examples include a particularly 'viscous murder,' a 'burlesque policeman,' and – in a supermarket – an 'isle of chips.' Do not rely solely on your computer's spell-checker.

Punctuation

Punctuation can be a bit of a minefield, and many of the rules are unclear. Three things in particular to beware of are:

  • Apostrophes: It's a shame that many people can't put an apostrophe in its proper place. 'It's' is a contraction of 'it is'; 'its' shows that something belongs to 'it' (whatever 'it' may be). Apostrophes should never be used for plurals – no 'bag's of orange's.
  • Quotation marks: Always use quotation marks around speech. Standard North American usage is to use the “double quote.”
  • Exclamation marks! Try not to use exclamation marks. If a sentence is witty, funny, or dramatic, the reader will notice anyway. If it's not, you won't make things better by drawing attention to it.

The Synopsis

For many entrants, writing the required synopsis may be more daunting and difficult than writing the initial 10,000 words of their novel. You are not alone. Experienced and published writers balk in exactly the same way that you do when faced with writing one.

  1. The synopsis should be of the entire book.

  2. Use the same narrative style that you use in the book; if the book is 'chatty' don't change to formal in the synopsis.

  3. Be clear. Show plot movements in order, introduce new characters as they appear, if they are major characters show us the 'why' of their actions as well as the 'what'.

  4. Never offer meaningless sentences such as: “Something dreadful was about to happen.” or “What happened next would devastate him.”

  5. Show how sub-plots interlink with the main plot and its characters.

  6. Do not include physical descriptions unless it is absolutely essential.

  7. A synopsis is always written in present tense, never past.

These pages incorporate material written by Michael Jecks, Kay Mitchell, and Edwin Thomas, members of the CWA who have coordinated the Debut Dagger Awards.

We thank Margaret Murphy and the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain for their generosity in allowing us to adapt material from their Debut Dagger Award Website in describing the Best Unpublished First Crime Novel.

And thank you to Louise Penny and Michael Whiteside for the original adaptation of the CWA Style Guide.