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Bewildering Stories

Style Manual

How to send a text
Divisions within a text
Spelling and Grammar Direct address
Pseudological “so”

How to send a text to Bewildering Stories

Some of our contributors worry about the proper format for submissions. Please don’t worry. Our general gudeline is an invitation: “Please send us something. If we have questions or problems, we can talk about them.”

But we’re sometimes asked how to make things easy for our review readers and editors. Fair enough: here are three tips:

  1. Don’t embed page numbers in the text. Page numbers are not needed; we never refer to them. If you want to keep page numbers in your manuscript, that’s perfectly okay; put them in a header or footer.

  2. Include a title and byline (your real name or pen name). We need to know who wrote what.

  3. We can work with most filetypes, but some are easier to work with than others, and a few we can’t work with at all or only with difficulty. Please see Contacts & Submissions, Preferred File Formats.

If you like, you can see a sample page with commentary.

Beyond that, some might like to take a “peek behind the scenes” to see what goes on in the editing process. Please remember that the following section — unlike the others — is not a set of guidelines; it’s more a “guided tour” of the production facility!

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. It’s easy to use and has lots of handy macros built in.

  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. Don’t worry about them; this work is quite routine.

  4. Makes the entire text flush left. The margins are made “flush left, ragged right.”

  5. Removes any first-line indentation in all paragraphs. Paragraph indentations are useful for some purposes, but BwS’ format doesn’t need them. If your submission has paragraph indents, no worries; just leave them as they are.

  6. Removes double spacing within paragraphs. Same procedure as for paragraph indents.

  7. Adds double spacing between paragraphs. Ditto.

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. The editor verifies the use of italics as a matter of routine.

  2. Running a spell check. If English is not your first language, please tell us and we’ll make a special effort to help. The most frequent problems are homophone errors, which spellcheckers can’t catch, e.g. “there,” “their” and “they’re” or “to,” “too,” and “two.”

  3. Proofreading the punctuation. A special note: Full dashes (—) should be two short dashes (--) with a space before and after. 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. Some of the submissions we’ve received might have brought their contributors fame and fortune, but the punctuation was so sloppy that print publishers would have found it too expensive 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; the editor will center it.

Numbering: We won’t allow untitled sections to be numbered. In earlier years, two contributors doted on numbered sections. Both lost count and misnumbered them.

Long works may have chapters, and the chapters must have titles, of course. Chapters must also be numbered. You may use Roman numerals, if you like. However, Roman numerals are hard to read. If the number exceeds V (five), the editor will convert all the chapter numbers to Arabic (actually Hindu) numerals.

The horizontal rule may separate footnotes or bibliographies from the body of a text; 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:


Most writers unconsciously follow a preference of English syntax that puts an adverb — especially a short one — before the verb (that sentence is an example of itself). But the position is optional, not a rule. “Only” is a special case, because it doesn’t necessarily modify the verb. Let’s add “only” in a simple sentence and see how the meaning changes: “I ate cookies.”

  1. Only I ate cookies. (Nobody else did. “Only” modifies “I”)
  2. I only ate cookies. (I didn’t do anything else. “Only” modifies the verb.)
  3. I ate only cookies. (I didn’t eat anything else. “Only” modifies “cookies.”)
  4. I ate cookies only. (Same as #3, but emphatic)
Pseudological “so”

“I woke up, so I opened my eyes. So I got up but was cold walking around in pyjamas, so I put on some clothes.” — Do people actually write like that? Honestly, you would be amazed...

Some languages systematically emphasize links between cause and effect; English, not so much. Two reasons:

  1. The logic is obvious: “I woke up and opened my eyes.” (Upon waking, one can either open one’s eyes or not.)
  2. The logic isn’t obvious: “I was cold walking around in pyjamas; I put on some clothes.” (Or one might turn up the heat.)

“So” has many uses, but not as a substitute for “therefore,” or “and [therefore],” or a semicolon, or even nothing at all. Please don’t use pseudological “so”; it’s a style fault! (See also “Oral Punctuation,” below.)

infinitive present participle,
past tense,
past participle
to drag
to lie
to lie
to lay
to shine
to shine
to sink
to feelike
dragging, dragged, dragged
lying, lied, lied
lying, lay, lain
laying, laid, laid
shining, shined, shined
shining, shone, shone
sinking, sank, sunk
feeliking, feeliked, feeliked
(Both “to drag” and “to drug” are regular verbs.)
to tell a falsehood
to be in or assume a horizontal position
to place in a horizontal position
to make a surface better reflect light
to emit light
to submerge or become submerged in something
a 22nd-century substitute for “to feel”


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

Bewildering Stories likes innovative writing. However, we draw the line at punctuation. It is a “common good” designed to enhance communication. Like traffic signs and signals on the highway, it can’t be used idiosyncratically. Bewildering Stories likes 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.

Commas and other punctuation

Many writers confuse punctuation with musical notation. In particular, they say that commas indicate pauses or “breathing points” in oral recitation. No, that is not the purpose of punctuation; it is a set of grammatical signposts intended to aid silent reading.

Oral punctuation

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 may contain a verb that tells how something is said. It precedes, follows, or is inserted within a direct quote and is part of the same sentence as the speech itself. The placement of speech tags can keep the readers on the page with you or, if misused, throw them out of the story. In The Other World, Cyrano de Bergerac routinely uses initial and medial speech tags.

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...”

Suspension points

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

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.

An interruption by another speaker requires an em-dash and a closing quote:
“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.

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

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, if they’re superfluous, they’ll be deleted.


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. 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.

However, the em-dash is also used to end a line of dialogue that is interrupted by another speaker. For example:

Speaker 1: “Humpty Dumpty sat—”
Speaker 2 (interrupting): “On a wall!”

Contrast the em-dash with the use of suspension points, which indicate a pause initiated by the speaker:

Speaker 1 (puzzled): “Humpty Dumpty sat...?”
Speaker 2 (helpfully): “On a wall.”


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. Exceptions may occur. Italics may be indicated simply by using italics in a word-processor file.

Italics are very hard to read on line. Readers will simply not go to the considerable trouble of deciphering 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 separately, 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 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?!” Please feel free to use italics in your word processor file or in e-mail RTF, if you find it more convenient.

    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 <EM> tag affects text vocalizing software 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 a giant HTML tag. It lower-cased all the capital letters.

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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