Okay, here's the thing. I'll keep it simple. I use double quotes for general dialogues. Single quotes for flashback dialogues and italicized letters for monologues and emphasis words only.

The doubt comes when I want to show a computer error in the scene. The novel's written in Times New Roman. I thought I could just use a different font like Courier New to show the computer error. Doable?


For a printed book, consider a fixed-width font like Courier. Or you can get fancier and use a font designed to look like 1990s computer text. I know that computer text doesn't look like that any more, but readers will make allowances.

For e-books, you may not have any control over the font that the reader sees. But you can try all caps, adding left and right indents, font size. Maybe font color, though that can be problematic, given that current devices and apps allow readers to select from a variety of background colors.

If you're asking about how to format it in the manuscript, just set it off in some way to alert the editor that it is not normal body text. Try all caps, indented left and right. Maybe centered. The context will make it clear that it is computer output. Your publisher will figure out how to format it.


Are you asking if you can do it (from a publishing standpoint), or if you should do it (from a stylistic standpoint)?

If the former, sure, there's all sorts of books published with atypical formatting in whole or in parts. House of Leaves would be the obvious example of doing that extensively; then there's also something like The Neverending Story which makes limited but effective use of it (with one storyline in green ink, the other in red). The only publishing concern is that it might not work on some e-reading platforms.

If the latter, one drawback is that some readers might see it as somewhat tacky. Just like excessive italicization or all-caps writing can come off as unrefined, so can using a different font. I guess the question to ask yourself is, how much does using the different font help you tell your story? If it's integral, I'd say definitely do it. If it's just a flourish, I'd say definitely don't. Anywhere between... Well, I'm not sure if that can be answered without better knowing the context.

  • If there's one thing I'm sure of is that it's not flourish. It's a hacking scene. And a pretty important one since its more of a climax. But I never thought about the e-reading thing. +1 for that. I'm going to wait for some more opinions. Jun 28 '15 at 23:08

Short Answer.... Yes. Doable.

But, there are a few other things programmers do...

Formatting the Text with Decorators...

Often times, computer errors will be presented with some type of inline decoration. It is generally safe to assume that putting the '>' character in front of every new line of text will help make your error text look like computer generated text. Example:

>kernel error: line segmentation fault in address 0x83af3a

Some programmers will add additional decorations for bringing the viewers eye to the fact that a warning is present:

>::SYSTEM ERROR - FAULT CRASH:: line segmentation dump on daemon 0x002201

Proper Font Selection is your Best Friend...

The standard computer code font is some variation of 'Courier.' So, your original hunch is solid on font selection.

You could also investigate other fonts, especially if two computers are communicating. To do so, you'd probably want to incorporate multiple computer type fonts which need to look hard-core, no-frills. These fonts will be monospaced. There are many examples of it on the web. Here's another link that lists other programming fonts: http://hivelogic.com/articles/top-10-programming-fonts Most of these are good choices, but I'd stay away from any that have rounded corners.

Using Good Jargon....

I know the OP hasn't asked about this specifically, but I'd recommend getting to know some cool and useful computer jargon. Some catchy and ultra techy computer terms that could add authenticity are:

  • kernel
  • dump
  • address
  • 0x000000 <--- the hexadecimal representation of numbers where each digit is 0-9 and a-f. So this is a perfect example: 0xaa983d.
  • stack
  • heap
  • compiler
  • interpreter
  • command list
  • argv*
  • varargs
  • instruction set

Programmer syntax...

Anything that a programmer writes for a human to read will be short, to the point, and nearly devoid of emotion. So, the errors and reports in your story, would be more authentic if the text was extremely abbreviated with shortened sentences that border on sentence fragments.

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