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About Writing Right: The Blog


People have asked me this question a few times now in the last few months, and it deserves an answer. Namely, can you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? My answer: Yes!


Next question: Should you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? Next answer: No! For reasons that may not be obvious. So, let me add a little something more from an "insider's" point-of-view to clarify.

As a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor, I soon learned that nothing set my ears upright and the hairs on the back of my neck skyrocketing for the stars faster than some quirky, unconventionally formatted manuscript submission. It told me about the writer, "I'm a weirdo trying to stand out visually because my material isn't strong enough to stand out on its own contextually." And, do you want to know something else? That was (and is) exactly right. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred. And, for that one time that it didn't hold true, well, let me just say that, as an editor swamped with manuscripts, running the risk of wading through all the hog slop in search of the pork chop just wasn't worth it.

And that editorial dictum doesn't apply only to Roman numerals. It applies equally to colored fonts, fonts of differing sizes and families, margins, line spacing, header construction, the use of footers, and the insertion within the manuscript of artwork, including photos, line drawings, emojis, or anything else known to man or that might become known to man in the future but is not yet acknowledged to be in existence.

That was true with me when I was an editor, and that's true today for every editor of a legitimate publication ever to punch in on a corporate time clock. And even the for those who didn't.

Let me put it another way: If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

And, just FYI, the conventional way of formatting novels ain't broke.

Now, carrying this whole Roman numerals thing one step further, let me ask you a question: Why?



You heard me. Why do you want to use Roman numerals for chapter headings? Because they're germane to the story and absolutely necessary to set the stage for your novel? Is that how you'd answer? If so, I say to you ...


Let's be honest. You want to use them to help set your manuscript apart from the very beginning, as soon as an editor opens it up to the first chapter. The very "differentness" of your presentation will wow him and send him on the path to reading nirvana.

Uh-uh. It doesn't work like that. You're only dooming yourself to failure and a quick trip to the "Rejects" pile. Don't do it with this novel, and don't do it with any novel you may write in the future. Stick to conventional formatting. If you have any questions about what that might look like, I can help. Just drop me a line via the Contact page of my Website, and I'll tell you everything you need to know. You can't ask for more than that, can you?


In the meantime ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.

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