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Bewildering Stories

Style Manual

How to send a text
Divisions within a text
Spelling and Grammar Verbs

How to send a text to Bewildering Stories

Many of our contributors send submissions that are a pleasure to read and work with. A few need help. In either case, everyone might like to know what happens to a file when it’s processed for publication on line.

Let’s say your submission is in a word processor file formatted for printing on paper, as though you were going to stuff hardcopy into an envelope and mail it somewhere. Since Bewildering Stories accepts submissions only by e-mail, you send it as an attachment.

If you don’t know how to save a file in rich text format (RTF) or you forget and send a normal file, don’t worry about it; we’ll probably be able to open it. Please see “Contacts & Submissions, Preferred File Formats.”

What should a typical submission look like? (click here)

Here’s what the Editor does to your document:

  1. Duplicates the original file by copy-pasting it into a relatively little-known but sleek word processor for the Mac: Mariner Write.

  2. Changes the font to Verdana 14-point for easy reading. Bewildering Stories prescribes fonts only in headers and footers and a few other places; otherwise the fonts and sizes are those of the readers’ browser preferences.

  3. Removes all extraneous formatting such as headers, footers, page numbers, hard page breaks, linefeeds, tabs, and weird spacings.

  4. Makes the entire text flush left. The margins must be “flush left, ragged right”; line justification in submissions has caused Bad Things to happen.

  5. Removes any first-line indentation in all paragraphs.

  6. Removes double spacing within paragraphs.

  7. Adds double spacing between paragraphs.

Next, the Editor simplifies the appearance of the text itself by:

  1. Marking up boldface and italics. Boldface is normally used only for headers and subtitles; we do not use it for emphasis. The boldface in this page is not an exception because the page consists mostly of lists. Italics have to be marked up by use of the italics, emphasis and cite tags, each of which has a special purpose.

  2. Running a spell check. If English is not your first language, please tell us and we’ll make a special effort to help; otherwise we’ll return badly-spelled texts for a rewrite or, more likely, decline to consider them.

  3. Proofreading the punctuation. N.B. Full dashes (—) should be two short dashes (--); anything else may be garbled in transmission. See the section on “em-dash,” below.

The most important thing in your submission is the words. Artwork may add to them, but anything else is liable to distract your readers. And that especially includes such things as punctuation. These guidelines are the result of editorial experience and are intended to help us avoid errors and to help you achieve a seamless visual presentation.

Punctuation is a copy editor’s nightmare. Sad to say, some of the submissions we receive might bring their contributors fame and fortune, but the punctuation is so sloppy that publishers wouldn’t give it a second glance: the text would cost publishers too much to correct.

Divisions | Spelling and Grammar | Punctuation |
Suspension Points | Dash | Emphasis

Text Divisions

Our standard separator: To separate your text into “mini-chapters,” so to speak, simply type three spaced asterisks ( * * * ) as a separate paragraph. Please leave it flush left and let the editor center it.

Numbering: We advise against numbering sections unless absolutely necessary. Two of our regular contributors dote on numbered sections. It’s hard to see why: numbers add very little, and both of those contributors have been known to lose count. Sometimes writers forget to remove page numbers, which can easily be confused with section numbers.

If you absolutely must number the sections, please type an Arabic numeral, e.g. “1” or a Roman numeral, e.g. “II”; please use no punctuation. Each number should appear as a separate paragraph. Please leave it flush left along with the rest of the document, otherwise it may be overlooked. The copy editor will center it.

The horizontal rule: Bewildering Stories uses the horizontal rule very rarely. It may separate footnotes or bibliographies from the body of a text, and it may appear in headers or lists on index pages, or it may separate texts by different authors within a single document. But that’s about all.

If you feel you must use the horizontal rule, you may explain why, but we’ll probably insist on a less obtrusive solution.

Spelling and Grammar

Contributors may use either or British or North American style. However, we do make a few exceptions, because North American usage tends to be conservative with respect to British:

The following rules are ironclad and apply to all texts regardless of origin:

infinitive present participle,
past tense,
past participle
to lie
to lie
to lay
lying, lied, lied
lying, lay, lain
laying, laid, laid
to tell a falsehood
to be in or assume a horizontal position
to place in a horizontal position


All the remaining sections on this page fall into this category.

Bewildering Stories likes innovative writing. However, we draw the line at punctuation. We like to dress up nicely and put on an attractive appearance.

Weird cases: A few contributors occasionally enjoy indulging in stylistic fads. In particular:

Exceptions: We will allow unorthodox typography for embedded texts, such as a quotation written in text-messaging style. We’ll probably block quote it in a monospaced font. And we won’t accept anything written to an appreciable extent in text-messaging style.

Quotation marks

Plain and “smart” quotes: We like to think that printer’s quotes and apostrophes help give Bewildering Stories the kind of professional appearance a literary webzine ought to strive for. True, such elegance takes work, but we consider it a courtesy and a favor to our contributors.

You do not have to supply the “smart” quotes yourself. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. The copy editor can change “straight” quotes to “curly” quotes with one pass of a Mariner Write macro.

Placing quotation marks:

Speech tags: A “speech tag” identifies the speaker and contains a speech verb. It precedes, follows, or is inserted within a direct quote.

Use lower case unless the attribution begins the sentence or begins with a proper name or the pronoun “I.” It is part of the same sentence as the quotation and is set off by a comma unless there is some other punctuation, such as a question mark or exclamation point. The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things...”

The placement of speech tags affects readability. Final position is clumsy unless the dialogue is a simple sentence, for example:
“You can do it this way,” George said.
“But, if you want readers to wonder who’s talking, you can dawdle, delay, and procrastinate in adding the attribution,” George said.

Rather: “But,” George said, “if you want to make it clear immediately who’s talking, use initial or medial speech tags.”

In The Other World, Cyrano de Bergerac routinely uses initial and medial speech tags. In final position, the attribution normally adds information about the speaker.

Suspension points

When to use them: Suspension points are normally used to indicate a pause initiated by the speaker. Please use three points only, with no spacing between them or after the preceding word, e.g. “Wait...” Felix began and then thought better of it.

Since suspension points indicate a pause, they cannot be used at the beginning of a sentence; there’s nothing to pause. A hesitation can be indicated by other means.

To indicate an interruption by another speaker, the most common usage is an em-dash and a closing quote, e.g. “You don’t mean—” “No, I don’t.”

BwS will accept “floating” suspension points — i.e. those that are separated from the preceding word by a space — only if the text uses British spelling and punctuation throughout. Floating suspension points require a non-breaking space between them and the previous word, otherwise the results are liable to look very bad in an on-line text.

A true ellipsis indicates an omission in a quotation from another author. BwS indicates the true ellipsis by three points enclosed in brackets, in the French style — thus: [...] — with a space fore and aft.

When not to use them: Please do not use suspension points where a full stop, comma, semicolon, colon or even nothing at all is called for. Suspension points are punctuation, not a substitute for it.

Some contributors like to use more than three periods in suspension points. We’ve even seen them take up entire lines, as though the writer had fallen asleep on the key. Please don’t do that! They’ll all be reduced to three or deleted, if they’re superfluous.


The en-dash (-) is used mostly as a linking hyphen to spell certain words, e.g. “en-dash,” “co-operate.” Full dashes or em-dash — like this — indicate an apposition or insertion with no particular emphasis.

Please do not use the em-dash in your text; in RTF, Microsoft Word may change it to capital N. The copy editor probably won’t be able to catch all instances of the error, but your readers will, and they will not like it. Instead, use two en-dashes ( -- ) with a space before and after. If we see any, we’ll reformat all of them as full dashes.

Reminder: full dashes normally come in bracketed pairs. If only one full dash is used, some other punctuation is usually called for, such as a colon.


Bewildering Stories’ usage is quite standard. In fact, we do not allow non-standard usage.

Contributors sometimes use italics to show that sections of text are special in some way. The most common special usage indicates interior monologue, e.g. Oh no, Joe thought. But then again, maybe yes.

Italics may be indicated by using italics in the word-processor file or by enclosing the italicized speech within asterisks, in plain-text e-mail, thus: *Oh no,* Joe thought.
Please do not use the tags <i> and </i> or other HTML unless you’re adept at it and have experience with its conventions.

Italics are very hard to read on line. Readers will simply not go to the considerable trouble of reading more than about two lines of italicized text. We’ll find a workaround, such as blockquoted indentation or section subtitles. Please don’t ask us to make an exception; for the sake of your readers, we can’t agree to it.

As a general rule, italics are used to indicate:

Proper names, such as those of people and places, are not italicized, of course, regardless of the language.

More information under “Emphasis,” below.


Our authors frequently like to show that certain words — especially in dialogue — carry special emphasis. That’s fine with us, but a caution: by “emphasis” we mean oral emphasis. Anything enclosed in the <em> and </em> tags puts the words in italics and affects speech software. Using italics to emphasize ideas rather than speech will look and sound funny, as though the speaker had sat on a thumbtack.

There are two ways to do show emphasis:

  1. The easy way. If you prefer, you may send italics or even boldface, but since we don’t use the “strong” emphasis tag, boldface will be changed to italics with the <EM> tag.

    If you wish, you may put asterisks fore and aft, e.g. “What are you *doing*?!” It will appear as “What are you doing?!” The asterisks are intended to make things easy for our contributors.

    Contributors often use full caps for emphasis. We’ll make an exception and leave them as is provided there are no more than about three or four words in a row. After that, we’ll probably change them to lower-case emphasis; full caps quickly become very hard to read.

  2. The hard way. Use HTML code, e.g. “What are you <em>doing</em>?!”

Please do not use HTML unless you’re adept at it. For example, the <I>, <EM> and <CITE> tags affect computerized text vocalizers for the visually impaired, and the tags themselves may be subject to special formatting in the style sheet.

We once received a story that used the angle brackets < and > as fancy quotation marks. The first occurrence of < turned the entire text into an HTML tag. It converted to full caps, and the document looked like a giant telegram.

We like to think our coding is pretty sleek. Please do not send files in HTML unless they contain fancy visual effects. Otherwise we’ll just display everything as plain text and convert it to our style.

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