Tag Archives: #amwriting

The transition scene #amwriting

A well-paced narrative has a kind of rhythm. Instructors commonly refer to this as “push, glide, push, glide,” as if skating. What that means is that while the characters might be in the midst of chaos, there is order in the layout and pacing of the narrative.

  • action,
  • processing the action,
  • action again,
  • another connecting/regrouping scene

These “processing” scenes are transitions, moving the plot forward while allowing the reader to process what just happened.

We can’t have non-stop action, as that is exhausting to write and more exhausting to read. The character arc is often at the forefront during these transitional scenes as that period of relative calm is when you allow your characters’ internal growth to emerge.

We justify what just happened, making it believable. It is also where you ratchet up the tension.

When it comes to writing transitions between scenes, we have several paths to choose from.

Introspection:

  • Introspection offers an opportunity for new information important to the story to emerge.
  • It opens a window for the reader to see who the characters are, how they react and illuminates their fears and strengths. It shows that they are self-aware.

Keep the scenes of introspection brief, and go easy on them if you are given to using italics to set them off. A wall of italics is hard to read, so don’t “think” too much if you are using those.

  • Characters’ thoughts must serve to illuminate their motives at a particular moment in time.
  • In a conversation between two characters, introspection must offer information not previously discussed.
  • Internal monologues should not make our characters too wise. Humanize them, show them as a bit clueless about their flaws, strengths, or even their deepest fears and goals.

Conversations:

  • Conversations should not become clumsy info-dumps. “As you know….”
  • Each character must speak uniquely, sounding like themselves. Don’t dump conversations into a blender and pour out a string of commentary that makes them all sound alike.

Don’t get fancy with speech tags/attributions. It’s best for me as a reader when the author avoids words that take me out of the narrative. Some words are eye-stoppers. I recommend you stick with said, replied, answered—common and ordinary  tags that don’t leap out at the reader like ejaculated, disgorged, spewed, and so on. Occasionally, you can get away with more forceful tags, but keep them to a minimum. Make the characters’ actions and words show the force of their words. In my opinion, you can do away with speech tags for some brief exchanges if the scene contains only two characters.

Fade-to-black and hard scene breaks:

I’m in two minds about using fade-to-black scene breaks as transitions. Why not just start a new chapter?

One of my favorite authors, L.E. Modesitt Jr. sometimes has chapters of only five or six-hundred words, which keeps each character thread truly separate and flows well.

In a short story, a hard scene break is sometimes required, as you don’t have the option to do chapters. Use an asterisk or hashtag between scenes. * #

New chapter:

Each of the major players has a point of view. Some authors use the aftermath of an action scene as an opportunity to advance the antagonist’s story line. That is a good strategy, as we do need to show why the enemy is the enemy.

The key is to avoid “head-hopping,” and I feel like the best way to do that is to give a new chapter to the point-of-view character. Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene. It happens most frequently when using a third-person omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

My favorite authors will employ all the above listed transitions as they move their characters through the story arc. Each transition will lead us into a new scene, and when they are done right, we the readers won’t even notice that they are transitional.

The transition is the most difficult part of the narrative for me to formulate in the first draft. I get stuck, trying to decide what information needs to come out, and what should be held back.

Sometimes, a transition just will not work no matter what. This happens when a flaw in the logic exists in the scene preceding it. Usually, I can’t see it at that point, but my writing group will show me what the problem is.

This struggle to connect my action scenes into a seamless arc is why writing isn’t the easiest occupation I could have chosen. But when everything comes together, it is the most satisfying job.


Credits and Attributions:

Detail from: Journey of the Magi (East Wall) by Benozzo Gozzoli 1459Magi Chapel of Palazzo Medici-RiccardiFlorence, 1459–1461. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Benozzo gozzoli, corteo dei magi, 1 inizio, 1459, 51.JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Benozzo_gozzoli,_corteo_dei_magi,_1_inizio,_1459,_51.JPG&oldid=179731811 (accessed April 24, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Sir Galahad (Watts).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Sir_Galahad_(Watts).jpg&oldid=277887181 (accessed April 24, 2019).

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Update on Works in Progress #amwriting

I hope you had a happy Easter weekend, celebrating the advent of spring your way. We share five children, and they all have children, so warm weather and the addition of extended family made for a great family party on Saturday. Unfortunately, our poor abused vacuum cleaner died the final death before we were finished preparing for the party and there was no time to get a new one.

Near the front door, beneath the growing pile of cast off shoes, bags, and backpacks, lay an expanse of unvacuumed carpet. Strangely, no one seemed to notice.

By three in the afternoon, my kitchen was loaded with every kind of food imaginable, and the party was in full swing. While the younger children involuntarily were held captive indoors behind closed drapes, the teenagers hid well over a hundred plastic eggs. Each was filled with cash, toys, and candy.

Somehow, in the process, the rod holding up my front drapes was pulled loose from the wall. It still hangs there, like everyone’s drunken uncle…precariously positioned and slightly askew.

Thunder shook my suburban neighborhood when we released the captives and the front door burst open. Tender shoots of green lawn met a grisly fate as the mob of crazed grandchildren descended on our yard.

High drama unfolded as toddlers fell and scraped their knees and older children took advantage of their distraction. Oh, the carnage!

At around seven PM, the last car left the driveway. We geared up in hazmat suits and began the cleanup—sans vacuum cleaner.

However, I’m a pro. My husband and I are both suffering from back injuries, so in the aftermath, we were forced to be creative. Who needs a stinkin’ vacuum cleaner? My broom works on the carpet, and I have developed mad skills with my new tool of choice—the reach extender.

It’s amazing the things you can do with long-handled grabbers. They make excellent tools to extricate candy wrappers from the shrubbery and retrieve the few eggs that were overlooked in the stampede. Being able to grab the toy cars and plastic farm animals out from under the porch is a real plus.

Inside the house, wide-spread devastation made negotiating the hallway to the bathroom difficult for travelers in a hurry. Muffled cursing was heard as sock-footed old people stepped on abandoned Legos.

I’m talented—I can pick up the merest fragment of potato chip from under a bed with my long handled grabber, without crushing it. This tool, properly wielded, works on every kind of debris—lint, broken crayons, Legos, Polly Pocket purses, Barbie shoes, and half-eaten Cadbury eggs.

You can lean on it when you need propping up.

We dug a path and cleaned the kitchen before going to bed. But by noon on Sunday, the cleanup had been completed, and the toy room was once again a place of moderate order.

Speaking of order, I have ordered a new, sturdier vacuum cleaner, and peace reigns once again here at Casa del Jasperson.

Now that the madness of the family Easter rumble is over, I will continue working on my three projects. I have just finished a large editing job for a client but now will get back to work on several smaller editing jobs.

I am still working on the final revisions for Julian Lackland and intend to have him ready for publication by mid-July. This book is both the final installment in the Billy’s Revenge series and was the original book that the series grew out of. It has been unpublished for seven years and during that time, it has been re-written, expanded, and edited properly. It is about to go to the beta readers.

I am also nearing completion of the first draft of a new book set in Neveyah, the Tower of Bones world. For me, in the first draft of any work, long or short, writing the transition scenes between events are difficult to imagine.

I think of them as “just” moments: adjust and justify. That sort of thinking takes a bit of mind-wandering, so while I ponder ways to move my characters gracefully from disaster to disaster, I work on other projects.

Writing keeps me busy, but the grandchildren are a never-ending source of entertainment for me.


Credits and Attributions:

Shmuser at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:36 inch reach extender.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:36_inch_reach_extender.jpg&oldid=307417600  (accessed April 21, 2019).

 

 

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The author’s blog #amwriting

Today I want to encourage authors to make use of their websites, by blogging occasionally.

For an author, the goal of a website is not to gain “fans” – it is to gain readers. Your website is a resource that offers readers a place to meet you and see what you are interested in. It is also your storefront, a place where readers can find and buy your books.

Writing three times a week for this blog has helped me grow more confident as a writer. I can write using the “stream of consciousness” method, or I can write it several days in advance. Usually, I put together a quick outline and do the research on whatever aspect of writing has been on my mind, and soon I have written 700 or more words.

I have made many friends through blogging, people all over the world whom I may never meet in person, but who I am fond of, nevertheless. Readers love to talk about what they are reading, and authors want to talk about what they’re writing. Both subjects are obsessions for me.

And I can’t tell you how much I enjoy discussing my little passion for 16th and 17th century Netherlandish art. When I write about a particular artist or picture, I find some new bit of creativity to admire, things that make me almost feel the artist is someone I might know.

I think the best bloggers are those who are passionate about something and who have the courage to write about it. Here are only some blogs I follow:

Lee French – Finding Family in Strange Places

Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Aaron Volner

Stephen Swartz’s Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog

These are the just the blogs I can think of off the top of my head – in reality I follow many, many more. In fact, if you are already a regular blogger, I am probably following you and reading your posts!

Real life can be a rolling disaster, as everyone knows. This is why I occasionally write about the difficulties of traveling and how hard it is for a vegan to find food on a long road trip. At times, I write about the challenges of having two adult children with epilepsy.

I’ve sometimes written about the dysfunctionality of growing up with a father suffering from battle-related PTSD.

I have also talked about growing up in a family of word-nerds, and the shock of discovering we weren’t “normal.”

Whatever I am thinking about, I post a short piece on it.

If I can do it, so can you.

If you are an author, having a blog on your website and updating it at least twice a month is a good way to connect with your readers on a human level. Readers will enjoy hearing what your writing goals are.  They want to know where you will be signing books, or if you will be at a convention near them. Also, they love to know what you are reading.

I do recommend publishing short pieces occasionally. Bits of flash fiction are fun to write and readers enjoy them. These pieces can find their way into your larger work, as they are a great way to brainstorm ideas.

At the bottom of each flash-fiction piece, I post a disclaimer that it is copyrighted:

  • Bleakbourne on Heath, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2016 All Rights Reserved

I suppose I am a compulsive blogger. I sometimes think about slowing down, but then I suddenly have an idea that I need to write about. In no time flat, I will have written 500 words. In fact, this post is around 600- 700 words long.

Not a bad length and not too long to write.


Image Credits:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt – Rembrandt and Saskia in the Scene of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_-_Rembrandt_and_Saskia_in_the_Scene_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=340120613 (accessed April 17, 2019).

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Plagiarism, Citations and Footnotes #amwriting

I write posts for several other blogs besides Life in the Realm of Fantasy. During the week, I make a note of any interesting topic that might make a good blogpost. Today, the subject of citing sources came up again in conversation, so I am going back to an article I first published here on September 4, 2017.

This post pertains only to blogging. To use copyrighted material in your book, you need to contact the publisher. Follow their guidelines to obtain the right to quote from a published book. This is NOT a simple process, but you must do it if you plan to quote anyone whose work is NOT in the Public Domain.

Plagiarism and quoting are two different things. Plagiarism is lifting entire sections and publishing it as yours. For more on the current scandal emerging in the world of “fast-track” publishing, read this article at the Fussy Librarian. Romance authors discover they’ve been plagiarized.

I always write my posts in a Word document because it is easier for me to edit. Sometimes, there is research involved. When that is the case, I make footnotes at the bottom of my composition document as I go.

So why did I mention making footnotes? Many people think that is just for academic stuff.

It is important to give credit to people whom you quote, whether it is verbatim or paraphrased. When I first began blogging, I didn’t understand the nuts and bolts of citing sources, as I hadn’t really had to do much of that in college. I learned about this by looking things up on the internet.

It’s your legal obligation to cite your sources, but there is a moral one here too. Perhaps you wrote something that other people found useful. Wouldn’t you want to be credited? It’s a rough business, and as we have recently discovered, plagiarism is rife. As ethical people, we must make it our business to not be a part of the problem.

First, let’s talk images:

When we first begin blogging, sourcing images seems easy. You Google your subject and a lot of images pop up. You see one you like, right click on it, copy it, and paste it. The images are on the internet, so it’s free to use them, right?

Not true.

I’ve mentioned this article before, and it bears being referenced here again: The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid!

I either make my own images or get them from Creative Commons. An excellent article on using Creative Commons Images can be found here:

I often go to Wikimedia Commons to find Public Domain images. I really like Wikimedia and Wikipedia because they make it easy for you to get the attributions and licensing for each image. Another good source is Allthefreestock.com, where you can find hundreds of free stock photos, music, and many other things for your blog and other projects.

Sometimes I need images I can only get by paying for. For those, I go to Dreamstime or Canstock, and several other reputable sources. For a few dollars, usually only two or three, I then have the right to use the image of my choice, and it’s properly licensed. The proper legal attribution is also there on the seller’s website, clearly written out with the copyright and artist name, so all you need to do is copy and paste it to your footnotes.

I love being able to copy and paste citations, as it saves a little time.

I keep a log of where my images are sourced, who created them, and what I used them in. I also insert the attribution into the image details on my website so that when a mouse hovers over the image, curious readers can go to the source. (In WordPress, you must be on the WP Admin dashboard. Click on the image and go to edit details.) If you can do this, you won’t have to credit them in your footnotes.

We may want to quote another blogger or use the information we have learned from them. Good citations are absolutely critical and can help you build friendships within the writing community.

I recommend you don’t quote too long a passage, or your “quote” could be interpreted as reprinting their entire work. Quote only the pertinent information and cite your source in proper footnotes. The instructions for citing sources follows:

First, I open a document in my word-processing program (I use Word), save it as whatever the title of the post is in that blog’s file folder. I compose my post the way I would write a story.

  • Composing the body of my post in a document rather than the content area of the blog-template here at WordPress allows me to spell check and edit my work first, and I feel more comfortable writing in a document rather than the content-window.

As I work and do research, I keep a log at the bottom of my page, listing what website I found information at, who the author was, the date of publication, and the date I accessed it. I have found the simplest method is the Chicago Manual of Style method:

Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab,  General Model for Citing Books in the Chicago Notes and Bibliography System, Copyright ©1995-2019 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. Website: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/717/03 Accessed Jan 10, 2017

When you quote from Wikipedia, you can click on the ‘cite this page’ link. This can be found in the left-hand column of the page. In fact, the left-hand column of a Wikipedia page is a menu of items about Wikipedia in general, and of that article specifically. ‘Cite this page’ is listed under ‘tools.’ Clicking on this link takes you to a page offering citations for that page in CMOS, APA, or MLA style, whichever suits your need. All you need to do is copy and paste the one you prefer into your footnotes, and your due diligence has been done.

All this information for your footnotes should be inserted at the BOTTOM of your current document, so everything you need for your blog post is all in one place. When my blog article is complete and ready to post, I will insert a line to separate the body of the post from the credits and attribution notes.

When I have sources to cite, readers will see this at the bottom of the post:

Authors should blog about who they are and what they do because they can connect with potential readers that way. Using pictures and quoting good sources makes your blog more interesting and encourages regular readers to follow your blog.

I always think that anytime you can direct curious readers to other websites that might be new to them, we all win.

Photographers and artists are as proud of their work as we are of ours and want to be credited for it. Protect your reputation by giving credit to the authors and artists whose work you use.


Credits and Attributions

Portions of this article and the screenshots first appeared on the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association  Blog in January of 2017, written by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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When creativity fails #amwriting

Every writer has moments when creativity fails them. We sit before our computer and the words refuse to come, or when they do, they seem awkward. At times like this, we feel alone and isolated. After all, an idea is jammed in our head and words should fall from our fingers like water from the tap.

I have suffered this, the same as every author does. However, it never gets too firm a grip on me because I have several exercises that help me write my way through the block. Something we sometimes forget is that the act of writing every day builds mental muscle tone and keeps you fit and in the habit of writing.

Every author suffers a dry spell now and then. Even so, this job requires us to practice, just like music or dancing. Doing well at anything artistic or sports related requires discipline. Just like a retired football player, when we stop writing for any reason, we lose our momentum and our purpose.

We lose our passion.

If you are in the middle of a manuscript and you lose your ability to go forward, save the file and close it. Walk away from that manuscript for a while.

Before we go any further, you must delete nothing. You will come back to your manuscript later with a fresh viewpoint and will be able to use some or all of it, so file it properly.

Occasionally, we get distracted by a different project that wants to be written. When that is the case, I always suggest you go ahead and work on the project that is on your mind. Let that creative energy flow, and you will eventually be able to become reconnected with the first project.

But what about those times when you need to write, you have to write, but the words won’t come? Trust me, it isn’t the end of your career. This is true writers’ block.

First, we have the element of fear to overcome. You are suddenly afraid that you have written everything good that you will ever write, and anything you write now is garbage.

It isn’t the end of everything. You will prove to yourself that you can write. This is a small exercise, very short. It should take you perhaps ten or fifteen minutes each day. My solution for this problem is a combination of mind-wandering and a a few simple writing exercises.

I got the idea for this while in a seminar on the craft of writing essays offered by the bestselling author of Blackbird, Jennifer Lauck.

In that class, Jennifer gave us prompts and asked us to write to them. I have never been good at writing to someone else’s prompts. My ideas don’t flow that way. To make it worse, we were going to have to share them with someone else in the class.

I felt panicky, terrified I wouldn’t be able to write, and would embarrass myself. My mind was blank.

When I saw what Jennifer’s prompt was, it occurred to me that I could do that. I had one of those bolt-of-lightning moments, a tangent to nowhere that didn’t pertain to her class. But it seemed important so I wrote it down. When I got home, I pondered a little more about it and put my thoughts into a short essay.

In that class, I realized that most of the time, writer’s block is a result of not being able to visualize what you want to write about. If you can’t visualize it, you can’t articulate it.

It hits us in two stages, two emotions that are so closely related, it feels like one horrible emotion.

  1. If you can’t visualize it, you can’t describe it. This can create a brief flash of panic.
  2. Once you have experienced that moment of complete inability, fear that it will happen again magnifies the problem until it paralyzes us.

This is the writing prompt Jennifer Lauck used as the first exercise in her class:

  1. Open a new document. At the top of this document type: Where I Am Today:

This is going to be a literal interpretation and description of your surroundings:

  • Look around you and see the place where you are.
  • Briefly describe the environment you are sitting in, what you see.
  • Describe how you feel sitting in that place.

Just give it two or three paragraphs. For me, sitting here at this moment and writing this post, it runs like this:

I sit in the small third bedroom of my home. It’s my office, a cluttered storeroom, known here as the Room of Shame. A cup of cooling coffee sits beside my elbow, as does my cell phone. My desk holds many books on the craft of writing and also my computer.  

Stacks of cardboard boxes filled with things that were, at one time, deemed important to keep, surround me. Filing cabinets full of legal papers, tax forms, and research take up space, all stuffed with the debris of our business life.

I could easily clean this space. It would take no time at all, perhaps a day at most. It’s a mountain I put off climbing.

See? At the end of this exercise, you have written a small short story.

But, more importantly, you have written the setting for a scene. Those paragraphs are around 120 words and are nothing special. But they were words and I wrote them, which keeps my mind functioning in a writing mode.

  1. For your next exercise, go somewhere else and take your notebook. Write three more paragraphs detailing what you are looking at, and how you fit into it, and how it makes you feel.

You could do that on your porch, in a coffee shop, or the parking lot at the supermarket, but go away from your normal writing space. Just write a few paragraphs about the space you have come to, what you see, and what you sense.

The third exercise is more abstract:

  1. Where do you want to be? Visualize and describe it the same way as you described the places you could see, a few short paragraphs. For me, I want to be flying my kite on Cannon Beach.

Your practice work is for your eyes alone. No one has to see it if you don’t want to share it.

If you do these three exercises at the same time every day, describing the environments and your perceptions in a different space each time, even when you have nothing to say that is worth reading, you are writing.

It’s a weird thing but writing about nothing in particular is like doodling. It is a form of mind-wandering. It can jar your creative mind loose. With perseverance, you will be writing your other work again.

The important thing is to write every day, even if it is only a few paragraphs. These are the exercises that work for me and which I recommend for working through writer’s block.

Remember, if you are suffering from a temporary dry spell, you are not alone. We all go through those times. When you want to talk about it, you will find friends here.

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Plotting and Agency #amwriting

Sometimes when I am writing the first draft of a novel, the characters take over, and the plot veers far away from what I had intended when I first began writing it. Even though I am a plotter, this happens because my work is character driven and sometimes, they’re erratic drivers.

When that happens, I have to sit down and look at my outline, then make adjustments. Usually, the ultimate ending never changes, but the path to that place can go quite far afield from what was originally intended. My task at that point is to keep the plot moving in such a way that it flows naturally. The characters must still act and speak as individually as I envision them.

This is called giving your characters “agency” and is an integral aspect of the craft of writing. Allowing your characters to make decisions that don’t necessarily follow the original plot outline gives them a chance to become “real.”

Many times, the way to avoid predictability in a plot is to introduce a sense of danger early, a response to an unavoidable, looming threat. How our characters react to that threat should feel unpredictable. When you let them act naturally, they will emerge as real, solid characters.

In literary terms, “agency” is the ability of a character to surprise the author, and therefore, the reader. If, when you are writing them you know their every response, it can feel canned, boring. Their reactions must surprise you occasionally.

For me, there are times when my characters drive the keyboard, making their own choices. Other times, they go along as I, their creator, has planned for them. Ultimately, they do what I intend for them, but always they do it their own way and with their own style.

Plotting, for me, means setting out an arc of events that I will then create connections to. Because my characters act independently, the order of events changes. New events are added. My plot outline must continually evolve with them so that I don’t lose control of the arc, and go off on a bunny trail to nowhere. This evolution of the outline happens because as I get to really know my characters, they make choices that surprise me.

They have agency.

When I begin planning a new novel, plotting is important because introducing an unavoidable threat early limits the habit I have of writing too much backstory. Plot outlines don’t allow much time for the characters to go about “life as normal” rather than going on an adventure. “Normal” is boring.

As they move through the events leading toward the final showdown each character will be left with several consequential choices to make in each situation. Allowing the characters to react to each incident that takes them out of their comfort zone is good.

The final event will happen in a situation where they have no choice but to go forward. By that point, their personalities are fully formed. How they react feels natural, because they have been growing as human beings over the course of the story.

Consequences are the most important aspect of any story when it comes to the choices my characters must make. I say this because if there are no consequences for bad decisions a character might make, everyone goes home unscathed and I won’t have much of a story.

So, while I am an outliner and plotter, I do fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants to a certain extent. Those moments are beautiful, flashes of creativity that make this job the best job I ever had.

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How to use the Track Changes Function #amwriting

Part of being a writer is going through the experience of having your work edited by a professional editor. Submissions that have been accepted by anthologies and publications may require a little editing prior to publication. We do our best to submit a clean manuscript, but none of us are perfect.

Editors often use a function of Word that is called “Track Changes” along with inserting comments in the right-hand column. When you are new to this process, it can be confusing. It may make you think he has “mucked up your manuscript” because he may have made changes that are marked in red and which surprised you.

Trust me, you have the final say on all changes that have been made, and you can “accept” or “reject” each suggested change. If you reject a suggestion, the text reverts back to your original prose.

Just a note: before you submit your work to an editor, you must do what I think of as “Due Diligence.” If you have hired an editor for a novel-length manuscript that was poorly proofed, tracked changes can be distracting, looking like a wall of red. If that is the case, the manuscript probably wasn’t ready for editing. Editors can only do so much – you must submit work that is as clean as you can make it, and they will help you clean up the rest.

A good way to catch the majority of typos and dropped or missing words is to use the “Read Aloud” function (on the review tab) or read it aloud yourself.

When a manuscript is too rough, some editors will choose to edit only the first few chapters and put most of their suggestions into the comment column rather than using tracking. Editing via keying suggestions in the comment column can be quite time-consuming. They will ask you to consider the suggestions they have made and make revisions in the whole manuscript accordingly, and then resend the ms once those changes have been made.

MS Word has four ways to show tracked changes:

  • Simple Markup: This shows the final version without inline markups. Red or black markers will appear in the left margin to indicate where a change has been made.
  • All Markup: This shows the final version with inline markups.
  • No Markup: This shows the final version and hides all markups.
  • Original: This shows the original version and hides all markups.

When I am editing for a client, I use “All Markup” and add comments as needed.

Places where I insert a suggested change will be in red and have a line beneath them. Deleted items will be in red and have a line through them, or in the case of commas, above them.

To accept or reject changes:

  1. Select the change you want to accept or reject.
  2. From the Review tab, click the Accept or Reject
  3. The markup will disappear, and Word will automatically jump to the next change. You can continue accepting or rejecting each change until you have reviewed all of them.
  4. When you’re finished, click the Track Changes command to turn off Track Changes. Just click on it, and the dark gray will return to the same shade of gray as the rest of the ribbon.

The automatic comments generated by “track changes” will disappear when you resolve the suggested changes. Those will say “Inserted” or “Deleted” followed by the word or punctuation that was changed.

If your editor has made separate comments regarding larger issues, such as suggestions to move a section to a different place for continuity, they won’t disappear from the comment column when you accept or reject tracked changes. You’ll have to delete them separately.

  1. On the Review tab, in the Comments section, click Next to select a comment.
  2. On the Review tab, click Delete.

To delete all comments at once, click the arrow next to Delete, and then click Delete All Comments in Document.

This is how a document might look when it comes back from the editor. The left column shows a line indicating a change was made, the change itself is in red, and a comment was automatically generated explaining what that change was.
Some authors get exceedingly angry when the editor of an anthology requests some changes in the story they have submitted. Editors have a vision of how the whole book will flow when it is complete, and they may ask for some small changes so that the stories transition well.

If the changes are reasonable (and most are), do make them. If you strongly disagree, wait until you cool down before responding.

Once you have a handle on your irritation, write a note explaining why you don’t feel those changes are right for that piece. It could be that the editor just didn’t understand where you were going with it, and a few minor tweaks along with a calm discussion will resolve the problem.

Google Docs has a track changes function, and I am sure all other word processing programs do too. Their processes will likely be similar to what I have described, and you can go online to find out what the differences are. But Word is the program I use, so I am most familiar with that.

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Fonts and Headers #amwriting

Today we are going to discuss fonts and why we use “industry standard” fonts for all our submissions. Publishers have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites. When a call for submissions goes out, their editors will have no time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts. If you don’t follow their guidelines, they will assume you aren’t a professional and won’t read your work.

If you have a specific contest or publication in mind that you plan to submit your manuscript to, go to the publication’s website and read the standards and requirements they have laid out.

A good guide for making a manuscript conform to industry standards can be found at William Shunn’s website: Proper Manuscript Format: Short Story Format.

That looks complicated, you say. It isn’t, but you do need to learn how to use your word processing program, and I am here to help you.

I use Word as my word processing program, but most word processing programs (Open Office, Google Docs) follow a similar process as my program does.

Running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right-hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.

Now we must select the font. As I said before, I use Microsoft WORD, and like every other word-processing program, it has many fancy fonts you can choose from and a variety of sizes.

You don’t want fancy. Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts and have little extensions that make them easier to read.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions for changing your fonts.

Open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home.’  In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:

select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the ms still highlighted, go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. The default font, or predesigned setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body)’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by opening the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Courier (depending on the publisher’s guidelines). Click on that, and the font for the entire ms will be that font. If you have clicked on the wrong font, it can be undone by clicking the back-arrow (upper left hand corner).  Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

Now, with the ms still highlighted, we are going to format our paragraphs. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments and is easier for an editor to read. The specific details for formatting paragraphs can be found in last week’s post, Formatting Your Paragraphs. It is a process that is absolutely critical.

Most publishers and editors want the header formatted. Each page should be clearly marked with your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number. Many publishers will still accept print copies of manuscripts, but want them UNBOUND. No staples, not in a ring binder. You may use one large binder clip if you just can’t resist, but otherwise, they want the manuscript stacked and inserted in a manila envelope.

Accidents happen: if the printout of the manuscript accidentally falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled, and the editor will always know that you wrote that story.

To make your header:

  • Open the “insert” tab.
  • Click on “page number.”  This opens a new menu.
  • Add the page numbers using the small dropdown menu.
  • Insert the title and your author name just before the page number.

That will be your header.

This is how the ribbon and menus look:Sometimes, a publisher will specify that the first (title) page have no header or page number, but they want the header and page numbers to begin on page two.

To make the page numbers begin on page two:

  1. Click anywhere in the document.
  2. On the Page Layout tab, click the Page Setup Dialog Box Launcher, and
  3. then click the Layout
  4. Under Headers and footers, select the Different first page check box, and then click OK.

What goes on the first page? Your first page should include:

  • The name of the work.
  • The approximate word count, some will want it only to the nearest hundred.
  • In the upper left, your contact details formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript font.

Now your manuscript:

  1. is aligned left.
  2. has 1 in. margins.
  3. is double-spaced.
  4. has formatted indented paragraphs.
  5. The header contains the title, author name, and page numbers, and is aligned right.
  6. The first page contains your mailing address and contact information in the upper left hand corner.

Good luck with your submissions. Selling work to anthologies and magazines is the best way for an indie to build a reputation as an author. You will be competing with many other authors, all of them as creative and talented as you are, so making your work look as professional as is possible will give you an edge.

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Formatting your paragraphs #amwriting

When we finish writing a short story, we feel the urge to immediately submit it to an anthology, a magazine, or contest. This urge can be overwhelming, but don’t do that just yet.

Set your manuscript aside for a week or so then come back to it and revise it.

Have the “Read Aloud” function of your word processing program read it to you as you go over it and look for editable flaws.

Check for words that spell check won’t find because they are spelled correctly but are wrong, little things such as “They went their for breakfast.”

Next, we want to format it for submission, which is a process with several steps, all of which are important. It is a bit too long for one post, so I am dividing it into digestible chunks and will finish this series next week.

First, you must look for extra spaces in odd places. They are most frequently found at the end of sentences. Nowadays, publishers and editors want one (1) space after each sentence. When I was learning to type in school, they taught us to hit the space bar twice (two spaces) after each sentence, but this is no longer acceptable as the extra spaces interfere with formatting for eBooks and other electronically uploaded applications. Other than at a few specialty printers, ALL books and magazines are uploaded electronically nowadays, even print books.

Tabs – I feel it’s important to revisit this subject, as I have seen many manuscripts where authors used the tab key to indent their paragraphs.

Using tabs to indent paragraphs screams “amateur.” The indents fail when the ms is uploaded to a mobi or ePub file, so publishers really hate it when this happens. Ninety percent of publications and publishing houses want electronic submissions. For this reason, make sure you have removed the tabs before you go any further with your manuscript. The following instructions only work if you have a ten-key pad on your keyboard.

To remove tabs from a manuscript in Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (under “Edit” in Word). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t) This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard. ^t.

Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. One click on “Replace all” will remove every tab.

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand which is a daunting task no publisher or editor has time for.

Once the tabs are all removed, the following instructions will help you format paragraphs.

You want your work to look professional, even if you are only submitting it to your writing group for a critique. You can format the paragraphs two ways.

The easiest way is to open the “home” tab, click on “select all,”  and choose “normal” from the “styles” tab on the ribbon.

 If your word processing program doesn’t have that option, you can format the paragraphs by using the simple formatting tool:

Step 1: On the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it.  A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced, and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the drop-down menu select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (Some publishers will specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double.’

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

  • margins of 1 inch all the way around
  • indented paragraphs with no extra space between
  • double-spaced text
  • Align Left. This is critical.

Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text aligns with both the left and right margins. It gives you straight margins on both sides, but this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is published, and at that point, the publisher will handle the formatting.

On Monday, we will look at the next step of formatting our manuscript—that of making it “submission ready.”

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Gaining strength through rejection #amwriting

We who are authors and artists are notoriously thin-skinned. When we are young in the profession and still consider our works to be the equivalent of our perfect children, we bleed profusely when you admit you didn’t really enjoy what we wrote (or sang, or painted). Some of us handle this kind of conversation with grace and dignity, and others not so well.

But what if the unloved thing was the best thing we ever wrote?

It does happen.

I get ten rejections at least for every one acceptance, but usually many more. I get so many that I hardly even notice them nowadays. I just keep the revolving door revolving. After all, if you don’t submit your work, you won’t get any acceptances.

When I first began shopping my work out, I would feel crushed upon receiving a rejection. However, when I look back at those efforts, I can clearly see why those particular pieces weren’t accepted.

First, I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like. The internet wasn’t a thing yet, and I hadn’t heard of William Shunn or his instructions for how to properly format a manuscript. I knew my finished story had some problems, but I didn’t understand what those problems were or how to resolve them. I naively assumed an editor would fix them, because that’s what editors do, right?

Wrong.

I wasn’t as well educated as I thought I was. Typos, dropped and missing words, long, convoluted sentences, and hokey dialogue—all found their way into my first efforts.

I began to get past that stage when I found Orson Scott Card’s book, “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

I still didn’t understand everything, or even most of anything. But I was on the road to learning more about what I didn’t know. Books on the craft of writing began to fill my shelves, and I took classes and went to seminars.

Nowadays my work is submission ready and as clean as I can make it. Sometimes my work is accepted, and believe me, I celebrate. Most of the time it is rejected, and not because it is bad. Most of the time, rejection means that I submitted something that wasn’t what the editor was looking for.

Editors usually have a certain kind of story in mind when they put out an open call, and only a few of the landslide of submissions will be accepted. Those that are accepted are the few that perfectly fit the editor’s original concept.

What I’m going to say next has been said before, many times. Sometimes we receive a form letter rejection that boils down to “Sorry, but no.” It isn’t personal, so don’t brood over it. Those kinds of rejections are bad only because they don’t tell us why the piece wasn’t acceptable.

Sometimes we receive a little encouragement: “Try us again.” That means exactly what it says, so the next time you have something you think will fit in that anthology or magazine, send them a submission.

I know this makes no sense, but when an editor explains their reasoning in a letter, it is very likely that some phrase will be like a knife to the chest for the author. This is because it’s a rejection and may contain detailed criticism.

I once got a rejection from an anthology along with a note that said the subject of my quest had been done before. I was a little surprised and hurt because I felt that comment was vague and meant they didn’t even bother to read the story.

I could have responded childishly, but that would have been foolish and self-defeating. The truth was the type of quest it involves has been done before. I felt that my story was original in its presentation, but it didn’t ring that editor’s bells.

I hauled myself off to a corner and licked my wounds. Then, I sent that editor a response thanking them for their time. An editor’s bluntness is valuable, so I will someday rework that tale with a different twist.

We live in a world that is always observing us. We are judged by the way we act and react in every professional interaction. If you’re in a writing group and your work isn’t as well received as you thought it would be, don’t respond to a peer’s criticism without thinking it through.

Even worse, if you fly off and send a flame mail to an editor, you risk doing irreparable damage to your career—you will be put on that editor’s “no way in hell” list.

Also, please don’t go bad-mouthing that editor on Twitter or Facebook. All that drama is just plain embarrassing, and unprofessional.

It’s easy to forget that editors are also authors. They are involved with the same forums in all the many social platforms you are, so be careful of what you say online. Editors are just like the rest of us, and they’ve experienced their share of rejection.

When an author has a public tantrum, the innocent bystanders remember it. Snide tweets about other authors, awkward Instagram photos, or Facebook rants don’t show a person in a good light.

I shouldn’t have to remind anyone of this, considering all the noise about Facebook and our personal information, but how we interact online with others is public information and is visible to the world.

We must always consider what an interested reader will find when they  Google our author name. Our online interactions at Goodreads, Twitter, and in every other public forum will be available for eternity.

What should you do if your work is accepted, but the editor would like a few revisions?

If the editor wants changes, they will make clear what they want you to do. This happens most often for submissions to an anthology. Editors know what their intended audience wants.  Trust that the editor knows their business.

Make whatever changes they request.

Never be less than gracious to any of the people at a publication when you communicate with them, whether they are the senior editor or the newest intern. Be a team player and work with them.

Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. I keep a file of my rejection letters/emails. Most are simple: “We are not interested in this piece at this time.” Some have short notes attached with the words, “Try us again in the future.” Some contain the details of why a piece was rejected, and while those comments are sometimes painful, they are the ones I learn from.

Rejection is the most common kind of response an author will receive, sometimes for years. How we react to it is where each of us has the opportunity to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. My next post will be on making your short-story manuscript “submission ready.”

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