Writing: Scrivener for pantsers

I got a Mac and one of the advantages is that you can try some of the dedicated software, like Scrivener. I will probably end up getting MS Office for it, but we like to move to the Office 365 program and buy a licence for multiple computers and tablets. But there are some issues with computers in our computer farm that already have a paid licence, or are too old, or are on their last legs, so it isn’t feasible to get the multi-user licence until those things have been sorted out.

I used Pages for The Necromancer’s Daughter. I don’t really care about whizzbangery in text editors. I’d write in Notepad if it didn’t do that horrible sideways-scroll thing. I was using OpenOffice 3.2 on the Samsung before. I really don’t care. I use zilch formatting in my drafts. I even enter italics _like this_, so that it doesn’t get lost if I enter the text in a web page. Pages was OK. It’s nice and clean. But it isn’t particularly compatible with pretty much anything.

So. People on the Kindleboards were raving about Scrivener. You can do outlines and character sheets and yadda yadda, but I was thinking: what the hell is the use in that for someone who pantses their novels?

Anyway, someone on the Kindleboards offered a 50% off voucher (thanks, Amy!). The program is only $40, there is a Mac and PC version but the Mac version is said to be better and have more features. So I thought what the hey.

It turns out I’m a really visual writer. Being a pantser, there are features I will never use. But I do enjoy seeing a really rough map of the story with the click of a button. For a new manuscript, I enter two “chapters”: Beginning and End, and then write in each what’s in my head about how the story begins and ends.

Then I divide the story in 3-5 sections, depending on the structure. Each will have a couple of words of what happens, like “Characters go here” or “Character goes into town to talk to xyz people”. They are lines of stuff that will put words on the page, not so much about why things happen. It’s like a stage play: this is where the next act starts and we need to change the set.

I allocate each of those chunks a word count according to how many parts there are in the total target word count of the book, usually 80k.

Then I start writing.

As I go, I subdivide the sections into 3000-word chunks, each with a word or two about what happens. Then I fill them with story.

The progress bars that change colour are awesome!

Anyway, if you want to read about it, the official website is here. It looks like it’s Mac only, but it isn’t, I swear.

Here is a screenshot of my current WIP:

Screenshot 2016-01-14 09.07.10

Writing: Scrivener for pantsers was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Advertisements

Exposition and backstory in science fiction and fantasy

While I’m working on Trader’s Honour, the sequel for Watcher’s Web, I had some thoughts about exposition.

Of course the need for exposition is not unique to science fiction and fantasy, but they are two genres where it is often very important and prominent (other genres where exposition is important that come to mind are crime fiction, historical fiction and some types of mystery fiction). But in all types of fiction you may have to explain something that has happened in the past, or some fact of knowledge that the reader needs to know.

If you’re writing a fantasy it may be important, for example, to relate the family tree of the royal family, because this will be important in the plot. But the information itself is fairly dry and will take at least a page or so to cover and it’s pretty much impossible to “show” in real-time, in other words in a scene that happens in the story.

Often the information is of a type that’s expected within the genre. In hard SF there are often explanations of facts. The reader expects these just the same as a reader expects to read about history in historical fiction. The work would be poorer and not fit well in the genre without it.

You have two choices:

You can narrate the information directly. This technique, also known as “infodumping” is often denigrated and discouraged in creative writing classes, but there are a number of situations where it works very well and where I doubt a different technique would be more efficient.

Direct narration is ideal for situations where your main character, in whose POV we are, already knows this information but the reader doesn’t. Or it works as a summary of material your character reads.

Direct narration does not need to be dry and neither is it without character. You can infuse the narration with the voice of the POV character by recounting it as a memory (this also gives the character more depth) or lacing it with the opinion of the character.

Even if direct narration is a page long and not particularly lively, readers will forgive you if you have made them care about the characters and the imparted data first. Direct narration doesn’t usually work well int the beginning or a story.

Or you can use dialogue.

With dialogue, it’s essential that each character’s aims are clear when you start writing.

An infodumping dialogue can be as simple as a character explaining something else to the main character. This works if there is a clear imbalance of knowledge and if it is OK for the secondary character to share that knowledge. It doesn’t work if both characters have knowledge of the facts (you’ll get “As you know, Bob” dialogue), but if your character visits an academic expert and the expert goes on to explain how his area of expertise sticks together in relation to your plot. It’s awesome if you can do that, but most dialogues are more complicated and less naive than that.

The character who imparts information may not be at liberty or willing to share the information. The character is evasive and leaves out important details. The character may be under force to reveal the details, either because the main character holds the right end of a gun, or because the secondary character faces a moral crisis that makes it seem the right thing to do to spill the beans.

Your character could be overhearing two other characters talking. In this case, the information would be incomplete and subject to misinterpretation by your main character. There would be chunks missing that could turn out to be important in the plot. Or chunks of information that, through their absence, change the meaning of the overheard information.

Or your character could speak to another character who is polite but does not want to give the information your character seeks. Here the secondary character’s body language and the answers not given are more important than what is said.

There are endless variations on the dialogue infodump, and what is not being said is often more interesting than what is said. All characters have motivations for what they say or don’t say and those motivations are part of the infodump.

Point of View in Fiction

Another companion post to the Ten Home Truths of Starting in Self-publishing, this one on point 3: Make sure you can write.

I see a lot of self-published fiction or unpublished fiction as submissions in the slush. When looking at first chapters, there are a number of problems which stand out as needing attention, before I’ll consider downloading the rest of the book. I want to say a few things about Point of View (POV), because one of the things that mark a book that’s not ready for publication is a poor handle on the point of view.

Why is this important? In the past, a lot of fiction was written in omniscient style, where the book was told through the eyes of a god-like narrator. Even today, you will occasionally find an established author who “hops heads”, in other words, the POV is not tightly attached to one particular character.

Why can this be a problem?

The most important reason is that it’s confusing. Because most novels these days don’t use god-like narrators, readers are used to seeing each scene (or even the entire book) through the eyes of a character. They become used to that character’s quirks and personality. Moreover, they want to see the book through a character’s eyes, because character is considered to be an important element of the story. The character is more than a narrator or a pair of eyes. The character interacts with the story.

When you’re in a character’s head, you don’t know what the other characters are thinking. They may be doing things your character doesn’t understand, but the moment you move out of your character’s head, you break the reader’s intimate connnection with your character.

Maybe, too, there is a third person in the scene, and you’d like to explain what they’re thinking, too.

After you’ve head-hopped a few times, the reader gets confused. Not so much about the content of the story, but about whose story you’re telling. See, while you’re in a character’s head, the story belongs to this character. The character has something at stake or wants something. The character has backstory. We feel sympathy or interest for the character. When you break the POV, the story no longer belongs to the character.

There are a few other issues with head-hopping:

The story runs the risk of becoming too explain-y and exposition-heavy if there are three characters in the scene and you have to explain what they’re all thinking.

Covering what the other person thinks reduces tension. The tension is upheld because we don’t know what the bad guy wants. Your protagist can guess, but not look into the bad guy’s head. So, when the two have a discussion, you’re going to spoil the tension by telling the reader what the bad guy thinks. That’s poor storyteling technique.

“Don’t hop heads within a scene” is not a rule to follow off a cliff. It is a principle to understand, and if you understand it, you won’t hop heads, because your storytelling skills will be better. You will also understand that there are situations (mainly in old-style narration or fairytales) that hopping heads is the convention, but that the audience for these is very limited.

Speed vs Quality: the eternal debate

I’m probably venturing into dangerous territory with this one, but here goes.

I consider myself a reasonably fast writer. Mostly, it’s because I spend a lot of time writing, more than someone with a full-time job, but also because I think my writing process is reasonably efficient. I am, however, a pantser extra-ordinaire, and this brings a measure of inefficiency. I tried, but cannot write any other way. I could write faster if I was better organised, but my process doesn’t allow it. My process involves going over the manuscript again and again, and again just for good measure, until I’m willing to set the piece free into the world.

There are a lot of writers with different writing speeds, from really fast detective writers to writers who only complete a book every few years. There is, however, nothing that gets fast writers riled up so much as the suggestion that fast writing equates poor quality, and the suggestion that a writer ‘should’ only write two books a year.

I’m on the fence on this one. I could write faster, but I could write a heck of a lot slower.

Does faster writing equate poor quality? I’ll stick my toe in the too-hot tub and I’ll say that it does, sometimes. It does when you can tell that a piece of fiction is written fast.

These are what I consider symptoms of writing that suffers from too little time spent on it:

The introduction of each new character is accompanied by a character sheet, in other words, an infodump (usually peppered with the word ‘had’) that lets the reader know exactly and unambiguously who the character is and what events have shaped him or her. It often spells out clearly whether the character is good or bad, and what their main aims in life are. I use character sheets in-text in early drafts. Remember I’m a pantser–I just stop the show and waffle on for a page or so to get myself acquainted with the character. The important bit is that a character sheet in the final version of your novel is boring as hell. It takes any tension out of the character by taking away the reader’s opportunity to wonder and question. A character sheet is first drafty stuff and should be deleted in a final draft. If that hasn’t been done, the story was sent out one draft too soon.

Too much throat-clearing. A character spends an entire chapter musing about the past and nothing much of note happens in the chapter. This is an extension of the character sheet problem. I write chapters like this in order to become further familiar with the character. It happens at a point where I’m at a loss as to what to write, so I start bullshitting the character’s internal thoughts to get the ball rolling again. This sort of stuff doesn’t belong in a final draft.

Simplistic characters. In early drafts, characters often do the job they need to do, and little more. At this stage, they’re merely chess pieces. Subsequent drafts add depth, quirks or ambiguity. If vital characters are one-dimensional, the work hasn’t seen enough drafts.

Sloppy research or worldbuilding. Facts are untrue or inconsistent. Sometimes the facts aren’t untrue as such but lack depth. The worldbuilding doesn’t venture beyond what can be gleaned in five seconds from Wikipedia.

If you can write really fast and not do any of this, great! But I know that I can’t. For me, fast writing definitely equates poorer quality. Then again, fast means something different for each writer, and I think setting limits as to how fast is too fast is pretty silly. Too fast is when the quality suffers. End of story.

Infodumps: why you should embrace them

I have, in the past, written numerous posts extolling the virtues of writing groups. I still highly recommend them, especially for beginning writers finding their style and interests, and especially if the group includes writers further along the path than you are.

That said, there are also drawbacks. One of those is that often these groups (and writing courses alike) will develop a strong subculture of ‘writing rules’ which leads the group’s members to believe that only if they eradicate all adverbs, all instances of passive writing and all instances of characters looking at themselves in a mirror from their manuscript, it will be publishable.

Another writing group taboo covers the poor old infodump.

What, exactly, is an infodump? I found this link on Writing.com which covers the commonly-touted opinion. Much of what is mentioned on this page is correct. The reader doesn’t need to know everything, and it’s usually not a good idea to start off your story with a huge block of info. But, that said, this article takes a unanimously negative view of information in fiction, as if you should never add any. Wikipedia offers a more balanced view. For starters, it routs the search for ‘infodump’ to ‘exposition’, a much more values-neutral word. It also describes exposition as a ‘literary technique’, again, without attaching a value. And it notes that exposition can be very useful. To this, I would add that if you write Science Fiction or fantasy, it is often mandatory.

If I write a story that involves, for example, the construction of a space habitat at the Earth-Sun L4 LaGrange point, I bet my readers are going to be mightily annoyed if I don’t explain somewhere in the story just what exactly L4 is and why one would locate this habitat there. That doesn’t mean I will start the story with that explanation to make sure the reader knows before the story starts. It means I need to explain where the information is needed when the reader needs it.

A similar situation will exist in fantasy. You need to explain your magic system, your class system, your hierarchy of gods, because the readers can’t even begin to understand how the world works from half a hint here or there.

The explanation could take various forms. It could be straight narration (very efficient). It could be one character talking to another (more dynamic). Or it could involve a scene. The latter would be most elegant, but you can’t do it for every single little fact without both blowing out your word count and slowing the plot to a crawl. This means that sometimes you have to lecture. Bad, bad, writer! Nah, really? What a load of BS.

These bits of information, worldbuilding, made-up or real, are what attracts readers to SF and fantasy. They want to learn about weird worlds, therefore, show them weird worlds. Show them where they need the information to fully appreciate the story. Show them in as active a way as you can make it. Sometimes, the most effective way is a full-scale lecture in orbital mechanics. Sometimes it involves a character giving a lengthy narration of the history of a kingdom, or a lesson in elemental magic, or having two characters discuss the course of the Second World War in the Pacific for five pages. Guess what? If it’s been clear from the outset that you were writing hard SF, or historic fantasy, or high fantasy, historical fiction or any genre that includes settings that are not those we’re familiar with in our day-to-day lives, this is exactly the reason why your readers are reading this stuff.

Embrace your infodumps. Your fiction needs them.

Will your story get rejected on typos?

Writing post today. As usual, leave it, or take it with a good dose of NaCl and humour.

Sometimes, you can hear people cry out: ‘but surely magazines don’t reject a story because it has a few typos!’

Well–uhm–no, they don’t. And yes, they do.

First: define ‘typo’.

‘Tyop’ is a typo; ‘amking’ (making) is a typo. This is one of my bugbears, by the way. ‘Frpm’ is a typo.

‘Then’ instead of ‘than’ is not a typo. ‘Your’ instead of ‘you’re’ is not a typo, and neither is ‘affect’ when it should be ‘effect’.

A typo is something the fingers did that the brain didn’t intend the fingers to do. It is clearly an accident. The second lot of ‘typos’ are lazy-arse excuses for writers’ poor grammar skills. Guess which are likely to get you rejected?

Genuine typos tend to be one-off occasions in an otherwise clean document. Excuses for typos tend to breed in dark corners. If there is one, there are almost certainly more. There are exceptions, of course, and some stories are good enough to excuse a very low level of this kind of poor English. One thing you should remember about exceptions, and that is that they as a rule never, ever apply to you.

Mostly, excuses-for-typos tend to be symptomatic for other style problems, such as chronic over-writing, word repetitions, trying-too-hard writing or flat writing. They are never the sole reason that a story gets rejected, because they rarely happen in isolation.

In other words, if you have grammar and style bugbears, catch them, squash them or shoot them and incinerate them. Your grammar skills are like the screwdriver in a tool kit: you can use it to fix things, lever things off, or bash things, but you don’t notice it until it’s missing and then you can’t do the job.

Motto of the day: don’t leave home without a screwdriver.

How to format a fiction submission in 2011

It must be the season, but this subject has once again reared its head in a number of my writers groups. At the same time, I’ve been editing ASIM 53, and noticed some insidious formatting annoyances that can easily be avoided.

So here is a quick and dirty guide on how to format your submission.

The first step to formatting is the Standard Manuscript Format (SMF). However, the document that describes it is old by real-life standards, and positively prehistoric by digital standards. It assumes all submissions are on paper. Remember paper?

The best way to submit a manuscript is a fluid concept. It changes over time and changes with the target publication.

Recent developments include:

Most submissions are now electronic. The SMF guidelines do not cover digital submissions.

Many magazines publish digitally. For on-screen formatting, some of the SMF requirements do not matter half as much as they do in paper form, and some are plain annoying.

Some people (mostly agents) seem to have developed an irrational hatred for the Courier font.

Most important:

Before you submit, check publishers’ guidelines. If the publisher doesn’t stipulate something, assume ‘sensible’ format is sufficient. No matter how antiquated, SMF will always satisfy those requirements.

That said, here are some footnotes:

Contact info:
Put your full name, address, telephone number and email address at the very top of the document.
Yes, no one uses addresses anymore, but the author’s address is useful for a few things, even if only for backup in case the email refuses to work (and you’d be surprised how often that happens). Also, some magazines want to keep tabs on where their submissions come from.

Font:
SMF says courier. This dates back to the time of hard copy submissions and OCR software. Courier is a fixed-width font that’s very easy on OCR software. It’s also very inefficient with space and piss-ugly. For a paper submission of a story of around 10,000 words to be posted to the US, I can save myself $6.60 in postage by printing in Times New Roman instead of Courier. This saves 20% of space. If Courier is not explicitly stipulated, why not use a more modern font? Honestly, no one is going to kill you.
But: stick with a sensible font. A sensible font is one that every computer will have. No, not everyone uses Windows. Not everyone uses a PC. Not everyone uses Word. If editors choose to use OpenOffice for Linux on a Mac, the onus is on you to make sure they can read your submission. Choose a font their computer will have (in practice, this means Courier, Times New Roman or Arial/Helvetica). No, that’s not Georgia. Or Papyrus. Yes, it looks boring. Tough.

Italics or underline:
SMF says underline. Some publications say italics. Meh. It doesn’t matter. Both get lost when you have to copy and paste your submission into a web form, so I use underscores on both sides of words I want in italics, _like this_. Sometimes I even submit my manuscripts like this, especially when submitted into web forms.
No matter how you format, the layout editor will have to manually change your intended italics into real italics in the end version. I tend to think that either underlines or underscores are easier to pick up for someone looking over a text. Otherwise: meh. Seriously, if the guidelines say nothing about it, pick one method and be consistent.

Paragraphs and spacing:
SMF says to double-space your lines. I know this is antiquated because no one prints their submissions anymore, but please do. When a slushreader opens a file, he or she does not like to be hit in the face with a myopism-inducing slab of text that invites the immediate engagement of the reject button (rest assured, slushreaders’ computers come with such a thing; there is a secret place where we buy them).
Do double-space (or 1.5 if double spacing really pisses you off) your manuscripts. It’s easier on the eye.
It’s probably not a good idea, however, to format your text in any other way. Many publications are electronic and digital publishing requires that the text can flow freely across whatever line width required by the end-user.
Do not—ever, on the pain of a slow and painful death—use hard returns at the end of your lines, unless you really want to start a new paragraph.

Indents or empty lines:
SMF says to indent the first line of each paragraph. Some publications want you to insert an empty line instead.
Meh.
Do whatever, as long as you don’t do both or none of the above, and you are consistent.
Again, no one’s going to kill you.
If you want to look like a pro, however, do not use the tab key for indents (or worse: spaces!). Use the Paragraph>>Indents and Pacing>>Indentation>>Special setting in Word.
Do not use ‘space after’ or ‘space before’ as substitute for an extra empty line. This won’t work across all platforms, and in the worst case will insert weird formatting shit into your document.

Scene breaks:
SMF says to use a hash sign # to indicate a scene break. For the reason that empty lines sometimes get eaten by programs, this is an excellent idea. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a hash or an asterisk or twirly-whirlies or a plus-sign, and neither does it matter if they’re centred or not, as long as you put something in between scenes.

Page headers:
SMF says to have page numbers, and include story title and/or author name at the top.
This was so that if the slushreader drops the manuscript, no one has to spend much effort putting the pages back in order. Old-fashioned, huh? Who prints manuscripts anyway?
That said, if you’re like me, and have ten documents open at any one time, it could be handy to know which one you’re in. It’s probably a good thing to do, unless the publication tells you not to.

File format:
Most publications stipulate RTF or DOC. Note of extreme importance: this is not DOCX (the native format for Word 2003 and Word 2010)!!! While this will probably change in the not-too-distant future, there are many people who can’t read DOCX files and some DTP programs don’t handle them well.
Be aware that if you use OpenOffice, it can have some serious issues with the production of RTF files on some computers. Issues I’m aware of are: random deletion of spaces, changing your text to allcaps, and deleting random words. Check this. Email the file to a friend to check how it comes out.

File name:
SMF says nothing about this, but use something that resembles the title of your story, or your name, or both.

Checklist for if you really love the editor:

Follow the venue’s guidelines to the letter
Get rid of all style formatting (this is what the layout person does, not the author)
If in doubt, or if funny formatting remains, ‘nuke’ the submission by importing into Notepad, saving it, and re-opening in Word
Get rid of all your double spaces (yes, including those after full stops) prior to submitting
Get rid of all your tabs
Make italics clearly visible
Make sure you insert scene dividers.
Make sure your address, email contact and word count is on the submission

In short:
While it’s ancient, and unless the guidelines specifically state that authors who use Courier will be drawn and quartered, you can’t go wrong with SMF.
Simpler and plainer is always better.
For a very good and detailed guide on how to prepare documents for electronic display, see the Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Croker. This document concentrates, naturally, on self-publishing, but much of what is covered is common sense and applies to electronic documents across the board, It explains how Word works and how it sometimes stuffs up documents. It is free and also covers how-tos in Word which I can’t explain in this post.

The worst writing advice

Writers often ask each other this: what’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? Following this question, the funny, sad and tragic stories come out, of advice given by friendly, but misguided fellow writers, of paid-for assessors who really didn’t know much about fiction or others who were plain rude.

This post is not about that. I have had some incidences of laughable advice, of occasions where my fellow writers led me onto a path that ultimately led to a place worse than where I was coming from, but those incidences will stay in my personal memory. No doubt I have given such advice, too. I have no illusions about that.

This post is about the slush I see, about an older manuscript I’m revising, and about what I think is the singlemost damaging piece of advice doled out in workshops and writing courses:

Your prose should be active and not use dull verbs.

I have a problem with this, not because it’s bad advice (it isn’t), but because it leads almost every writer to write notoriously bad prose through the simple and very human assumption that if you do something right 70% of the time, you get decent marks, but if you do it all of the time, you get full marks.

Wrong. This advice often leads to the most beginner-ish and most tortuous prose on the planet, and an editor can do nothing with it, because the crap is terribly insidious and all-pervading.

I’m writing this because I’m angry with myself for getting caught up in this must-write-active-sentences and must-use-interesting-verbs advice. I’m editing a manuscript that is full of this sort of crap. It is insidious. I have to make changes to many, many sentences. I wrote this about three years ago.

So, what is the problem?

OK, an example:

Carla opened the bottle. The contents smelled strongly of vinegar.
Carla opened the bottle and was hit in the face by a strong smell of vinegar.
Carla opened the bottle. A strong smell of vinegar wafted out.

These are all functional, quite simple constructions. But say you were afraid of starting the sentence with a name, or you had a feeling that somehow you needed a more complicated sentence.

When Carla opened the bottle, a smell of vinegar wafted out.

Here we have four perfectly serviceable constructions writers can use. Why then, do so many writers feel that it’s necessary to say stuff like this:

After opening the bottle, a smell of vinegar pervaded Carla’s nose.

Urgh. I mean: urgh, urgh, urgh. Why make such an effort to say a simple thing in such a complicated sentence, which is grammatically incorrect to boot. Why make the smell of vinegar a character? What is with the smells pervading people’s noses? Has no one heard of the verb ‘to smell’? Why, why, why?

The worst thing is, a total, total beginner will probably in all his or her ignorance, write a sentence like the top examples. After a writing course or reading a book on writing, or a few workshop sessions, he or she will come into bad habits, and those habits need to be un-learned first. Scents pervading noses, eyes dropping to the floor, just don’t OK?

Two simple rules here:

If it doesn’t sound like something someone would say in real life, don’t say it.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

How to punctuate dialogue

One of the major things I notice when reading slush is that far too many writers can’t punctuate dialogue, so here is a quick & dirty guide that will help you in at least 90% of cases.

Consider the following sentences.

‘It’s OK,’ he said.
He said, ‘It’s OK.’

Notes:
I’ve used single quotes as standard in Australia, because that’s where I am. Many writers use double quotes, but I just want to be contrary. Both are acceptable and interchangeable. If your material gets accepted for publication, the publisher will change it to their house style.
There is a comma at the end of the spoken part. There can also be a full stop (see below) but you always need some form of punctuation at the end of the spoken section (= the part in quotes).
The spoken part and the dialogue tag (he said) are one sentence. The sentence would be the same without the quotes. In fact, some writers don’t use quotes.
A dialogue tag that is part of the sentence is never capitalised.

Now these examples:

He smiled at me. ‘It’s OK.’
‘It’s OK.’ He patted me on the back.

Notes:
Each of these examples consists of two sentences. The parts outside the quote are independent sentences because you cannot ‘smile’ or ‘pat’ a piece of dialogue; you can only say it, or shout it, or ask it.
Therefore, the punctuation you need at the end of the spoken part, inside the quote is a full stop.

But what if:

‘Are you OK?’ he asked.
‘That is not true!’ he shouted.

Because ‘asked’ and ‘shouted’ are still variations of speaking, you can treat them like proper dialogue tags, which means that they are not capitalised, never mind the question mark or exclamation mark inside the quotes.

But:

‘This is rubbish!’ He banged his fist on the table.
‘How would you do this?’ He flung the tangled mess of wire into her lap.

Because ‘banged’ and ‘flung’ are not speaking-verbs, they need their own sentence. Therefore the part outside the spoken text is an action tag, not a dialogue tag, and needs to be capitalised.

How to make an editor happy

The editor of a magazine that has accepted your story will be happy if:

1. You followed the formatting guidelines
2. You used a sensible font. Whether this is Courier, Times New Roman or Arial matters little. Just don’t use a font few people are likely to have
3. You went through your submission and did a search & destroy for double spacing
4. You did not use tabs for indents
5. Or spaces
6. You used no headings or any formatting other than italics or underlining

Simple, innit? Why then are some many people intent on creating tonnes of work for us?

(trundles off muttering, having just re-formatted an entire story where the author used not only tabs, but spaces for indents, as well as double spaces after full stops. Dudes! Some of this stuff has to be fixed up by hand, increasing the risk your story will be printed with effed-up formatting)