Tag Archives: formatting


Incomplete, check a dictionary when in doubt, but quite useful, anyway.

Compound Adjective Formed With Rule on Hyphenation Example
all Always hyphenate. all-inclusive study
century Always hyphenate. twentieth-century   technology
cross Some hyphenated, some open, some closed. Check the dictionary. cross-referenced section
cross-country skis
But: crosscut saw
fold Closed unless formed with numbers of 100 or more. tenfold increase
100-fold increase
full Hyphenated before noun, open after noun. full-scale drawings
The drawings are full scale.
half Most hyphenated, some closed. Check the dictionary. half-inch measurement
half-baked plan
halfway house
halfhearted attempt
high, low, upper, lower, middle, mid Most hyphenated before noun, open after noun. high-volume trading
highbrow organization   (check the dictionary!)
middle-class voters
midlife crisis
mid-Atlantic region
Mideast peace process
like Closed unless root word ends in l or ll or has three syllables or more. catlike jumping ability
childlike demeanor
cathedral-like façade
number + odd Always hyphenate compounds formed with numbers (words or numerals) plus the word odd. twenty-odd pages
360-odd days
four-hundred-odd socks   . . .
but, four hundred odd socks
number Always open when used to express a ratio (with the word percent). ten percent increase
100 percent change
Number + Unit of Measure Always hyphenate three-mile limit
two-week vacation
150-yard skid mark
Number + Unit ofMeasure + Adjective Always hyphenate two-year-old daughter
sixty-five-year-old man
two-and-a-half-year-old   child
twenty-five-foot-high wall
But: six year-old girls
Number + Number + Unit of Measure + Adjective Hyphenate the number and then the adjective twenty-four six-inch-long measurements
Number + Unit of Measure + Adjective (coming after noun) Hyphenate the number a man sixty-five years old (note plural years)
No hyphen a wall three meters high
Hyphenate the number twenty-four boys five years old
fractional numbers Hyphenate spelled-out fractions used as adjectives. two-thirds majority
In mixed fractions, the whole number is not joined to the fraction by another hyphen. twenty-one and one-quarter miles
four and one-eighth inches
numbers Hyphenate only the numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine. All others are open. twenty-four bottles of beer on the wall
two hundred rock stars
over, under Closed unless the word the appears in the compound. overexposed film
underrated basketball team
over-the-counter stock   market
under-the-table deal
self Most hyphenated. Closed if prefix un- is added or suffix added to self. self-confident applicant
self-conscious speaker
unselfconscious speaker
selfish act
selfless character trait
wide Always closed unless cumbersome. Cumbersome compounds are hyphenated when they appear before the noun modified and open after the noun modified. statewide referendum
worldwide legal services
university-wide crusade (comes before the noun modified)
The crusade was university wide (after noun modified)


We are Gods 3: Italics, Underlines and CAPS, oh, my!

This is the traditional emphasis formatting caveat:

Limit [word emphasis] to the use of italics. … removing all underlines, bolds, and CAPS.

A page of print is a visual medium and we can convey a great deal of data through our use of emphasis formatting. That said, newb writers use way too many!!! <— ESP THOSE THINGS.

A wonderful ARC reader send me 41 total pages of corrections on Dancing Men. Most were comma use (another post) but some were about my use of italics and caps. I ignored most of those. Not because she was wrong, but grammar in ebooks is about delivering the story as clearly as possible.

Italics in dialogue can literally change the meaning of the sentence:

Don’t give him any money.” (Stop it!)
“Don’t give him any money.” (Lend it to him.)
“Don’t give him any money.” (Give it to someone else.)

Italicize any word in the sentence and the character says different things.

In my own case, I write a lot of thought and memory. My stuff already has a lot italics, so I look for options. Over-use of italics or any emphasis formatting, fatigues a reader.

I also use underline, though years ago I didn’t, it was way too heavy on screen. Today,  programs are subtler and underlining provides another way to communicate with my reader.

“Stop,” she said. “Stop. … Stop it!”

No dreaded adverbs needed to convey her increasing agitation. A character might be overhearing this, and that last underline prompts her to get off a bus bench and peer down an alley.

These are my personal emphasis parameters:

  • Italics for memory – indented.
  • Italics for thought – not indented, usually within the graph.
  • Italics for clarity – example above.
  • Underline strong emotion or more intense action. Whap-whap! Whap!

Here’s a rule that’s a rule for a reason regardless of paper or pixels:

Don’t underline punctuation like periods, commas, question marks. It’s confusing because it obscures spaces and ends. If you underline “straight-backed” for some reason I’m unable to imagine, do the whole thing. It’s one word.

Italics have traditionally been used for sounds. Bzzzzzzz. I write BDSM. There’re WHAPs and shwippping. I write cop stuff. There’s a lot of BAM! BANG! Comic book sounds. I like those, they deliver quick audio/visual to the reader.

Italics are visually softer. Underlining is stronger. I’m not italicizing pounding on the door unless it’s way escalated and it’s in addition to all caps and exclamation points and underlines.

Italics also imply softer sounds. They can be insidious. Stephen King is a master of the insidious italicized sound. tap-tap-tap

If you don’t overuse them so your reader becomes immune, they become strong in certain situations. Another King use, if memory quotes correctly, in a scene where a woman is completely alone, then studies a shadowed area. There was someone in the corner.

Emphasis formatting is a powerful writer’s tool. Italics and underlines and caps and indents, these are our tools. Bold is also, I suppose, I just avoid it unless absolutely necessary. We also have color

Font color – One: black

I agree, unless you are writing non-fiction (even then) or a children’s book, maybe? Use black. Why?

Because having the word


in red as if it will be what? Bloodier? This is the writer inserting themselves into the story: coming between the reader and the reality they’ve created.

IMO. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, too. Or a hypocrite. The puzzle in Matchstick Men is in color. It just showed up better. But that’s not font.

Back to color: I don’t believe it must be the same shade of black. You might have noticed the default font in this WordPress theme is not black. The chapter/section titles in the ebook of one very successful author used grayscale quite effectively for Section and Chapter headings.


Overuse of emphasis formatting weakens the story and the reader ignores the  formatting after a while, assuming they keep reading. Don’t give your tools up, just use sparingly.