Streamlining Your Novel using Microsoft Word Styles

Microsoft Word is a powerful word processor, and most of us don’t use even half of what it can do. One of the features often overlooked are Styles. Styles allow us to setup consistent, easy to access paragraph formatting, and once they’re setup, you can use them over-and-over. This post is going to discuss styles and how to use them. I based it on a PC, so the Mac counterparts may be different (they should be similar, based on a limited amount of fiddling with Word at an Apple store). Styles are huge time savers, and they allow us not only to repeat the exact same formatting, but any changes to the styles will automatically be applied. I’m using Word 2016, but most of the later editions are similar. What are Styles? Styles allow us to pre-define formatting for paragraphs. Things like font, size, bold/italics, spacing, and numbering, among others, can all be defined. Using Styles, you can easily create a table of contents, if you’re writing a document that needs one. Another great thing about Styles is that once you take the time to set them up, you can save them and use them on new documents. How do you access the Styles? Most of the time, a style window will be on the Home tab, as shown below: Let’s look at the Styles section in greater detail. Expanding the link on the bottom-right, we get a new Styles dialog box: Hovering over the style will show its properties: As you can see, I created a Style called “Book Paragraph.” It has a font of Times New Roman, 12 point size, indented first line of 0.5”, and is double spaced. To look at the Style in more detail, select it, and click on the drop-down menu. Then select modify:

Modify brings up the following screen:

Looking at my Style defined as “Book Paragraph After Chapter,” we can see the following: To modify font, spacing, and other properties, select the Format button (bottom-left): Using the format button, you can make any of the changes you want. Save them, and you can re-use this style for your next manuscript. Let’s look at a final example. This time, we’ll look at how I setup Chapter Numbers: Since the Style is based on Heading 1, it will automatically number the chapters each time we apply the Style:


If I deleted a chapter, say Chapter 2, Chapter 3 would automatically renumber to Chapter 2. There is a huge advantage to using Heading 1 as a basis for chapters. If you press control-f (Find), a navigation area will be displayed:

Clicking on “Headings,” you will see each of your chapter numbers. Want to move a chapter? Simply select the number (in this case, Chapters 1, 2 or 3) and drag it where you want. Easy Peasy! The best way to learn about styles is to play around with them and see what works for you. I made it so I can have a consistent layout for each novel or short story I write. The Styles I use for each chapter are the following:

  • Chapter Spacing – sets up the Chapter Title ~ 1/3 down
  • Chapter Number – Increments the chapter number and adds a name if needed
  • Location reference – Sets up the location, in italics
  • Book paragraph after the chapter – first paragraph after the start of the chapter, so it’s not indented
  • Book paragraph, so it’s a regular paragraph (indented).

I simply start with Chapter Spacing, press Enter, and it moves me to Chapter Number, which automatically numbers the chapters sequentially. Pressing Enter again, and I’m taken to Location Reference, where I can identify where the chapter takes place. If you’re writing a book that doesn’t use locations, you can simply omit that style. After Location Reference, pressing Enter takes me to the first chapter paragraph, so it’s not indented. A last enter takes me to the first indented paragraph, and all subsequent paragraphs are indented as well. And there you have it. Styles are an easy way to make consistent word documents. Comments? Questions? Let me know. Happy writing.