Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Formatting Issues

Now that the novel is finished, I have my most dreaded task still ahead; writing the two page summary. Honestly, I hate this part. What could be harder than summarizing your years of work into 2 short pages?

I'll have some tips and techniques for summaries coming soon, but before we get there, I wanted to clean up on final aspect of the Final Read: format.

I get asked lots of questions on word count for a thriller, font to use, etc. The basics of writing. The same stuff I had so many questions about. So in this post I wanted to clarify issues of page format, as taught to me by a New York agent. I wanted to do this in proper novel format, but blogger won't let me. Still, the information below is correct.

left margin: header: your last name/title
right margin page # at right, or in footer

(four or five lines)

Chapter Title (centered)

(two or three lines)

One tab indent (five spaces) --start first paragraph. Everything in a standard font, i.e. Times New Roman, or Courier. Always 12 point. DO NOT add an extra space after sentences. One space, that's it. Do not underline lieu of italics. Left justify only. Double space.

Indent each new paragraph with tab key.

Do not add extra double space between paragraphs, just indent.

One inch margins minimum.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Keep writing

Friday, January 23, 2009

Final Read and Final Changes

I don't usually take space in this blog to talk about personal affairs, but I did promise in my sub-header text that I was going to share everything with you as this novel heads towards completion, publication and it's eventual Nobel Prize :)

Anyways, I'm happy to report that this morning I put the finishing touches on the final read through (and there was much rejoicing!) After going through the Ten-Point Revision Strategy, incorporating the extra few points, I can honestly say that this is the tightest version of the novel yet. My final act, other than one last spell check, was to use the search command to help me incorporate my last revision point; eliminating "feeling" words.

Setting the search for "felt" 95 entries came up where I used the word felt. Such as "he felt his heart begin to race," etc. After re-reading each entry, there were times when I wanted to keep the "feeling" word, whether for cadence, pausing, or an intentional distancing of the character from the act, ie., when one of my character's is dying and he can feel his oxygen content dropping in his blood. But about half the time, I rewrote the sentence to remove the word. "She felt her anger rising," became "her anger surged," or such.

Tomorrow, I write the cover letter and the book goes off to my agent. On the off chance, she is no longer interested, hates it or puts out a contract on my head, I'm going to write a new query as well. I imagine then, my next few posts will be on query writing, which is always a fun and challenging thing to do.

Moving forward feels so good.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of Key Importance - Saving Your Work

I used to have a dog named Sara (well, I have three of them right now, all Lhasa's, but what I'm talking about was many years ago.) Sara, a yellow lab mix, was a rescue, previously badly abused and terrified of men. For some reason, she bonded with me instantly, crawling across the lawn on her belly before placating herself at my feet at the doggie adoption day. She looked up at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, I know you're a nice man, please take me home. So, I did.

Sara was a wonderful dog, by my side every instant of every day. Her favorite place to hang out with me when I was writing was at my feet, underneath my desk. She'd lie down on my toes and patiently wait for about 2 hours of writing time, before she'd pop her head up onto my lap saying, "that's enough, let's go walk." I'd ignore her for a while, and she'd nudge me harder, and harder. Eventually, she'd jump her front paws onto my lap and start scratching me. "Let's go," she'd say. No more writing, let's play!"

It was a game we played every day, and I loved it.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post.

One morning, after a particularly inspired bit of writing, Sara started her routine. I'd cranked out 15 pages of beautifully (in my mind) written first draft, moving through some key scenes and solving some difficult problems. I was flying. It was the best nonstop run of writing I'd had in a long time.

Then it disappeared.

Sara, per her routine, moved to plop her head onto my lap and in doing so, her butt sat on the on/off button on my surge protector, shutting it off. My eyes gaped. My jaw dropped. But no amount of praying was going to solve this problem. I'd lost it all. Wanting to scream, instead, I looked down into the lovely brown eyes of my dog, smiled, and took her for a walk.

But I learned my lesson that day. Now, I'm compulsive about saving my work, and I'd like to encourage you, if you aren't already, to do the same.

When I'm writing, my hand instinctively guides the cursor to the save icon every page. Never, will I let more than one page be finished without saving. It's become an unconscious habit for me. At first, I thought that this repetitive stopping of writing to save the work would slow down my writing or inspiration. It doesn't. As I said, it's unconscious for me now, and perhaps the security it gives makes writing easier.

When I'm revising, rereading, I save my work after every single change. Each sentence that is modified, I hit the save icon. Every single time.

And it doesn't stop there. After each writing session, I back up all my work on a series of flash drives. I hope you're all doing this, but I didn't learn of it before too long ago, so maybe some of you haven't done this yet. Flash drives are now amazingly inexpensive, hold a tremendous amount of data, and can bring you a wealth of security. I have three flash drives that I save my novel onto after each morning session. One drive goes into my desk. One drive goes into my briefcase, which is always with me when I leave the house, and one drive is attached to my keyring, which always goes with me when I travel.

Flash drives can be fun, and you should have fun with it. Writing is fun, but it's also your love, your passion. Let the flash drive be a reflection of that fun, that love. Not that I'm into hamburgers or anything, but that picture sure makes me laugh.

It may sound strange, but I like having my novel with me at all times. In my pocket, in my case. That way, should anything ever happen to my home, the novel is safe.

Compulsive, I know. But I've worked too hard for too long on this to lose it now.

Besides, Sara would want it that way.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Revision Strategy - Choose the Right Words - Eliminate Feeling Words

A nice little tidbit that I picked up the other day. I've always know this, seen it in my own writing, but never actually put it down as a strategy point before. So today we're going to rectify that.

Here's our new point to consider in our revision strategy.

Eliminate Feeling Words.

Now what does that mean? Quite simply, eliminate the words that we use to describe our senses, but not the words that describe the sensory experience. This process will tighten your writing, force you to choose better verbs, tighter sentences, better descriptors.

So what's an example? How about this?

He felt the cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple.

Now remove the "sense" word, and it becomes. The cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple.

Which one do you feel is tighter? Which one conveys more drama? Which one seems more sensory?

I'm back adding a paragraph here, based on the excellent comments this post has received, but the points brought up are too important to leave to a chance finding in the comment section.

By using the "feeling word," as a writer, you are distancing the reader from the character's POV by telling them what the character is feeling, rather than putting them inside the character's body and letting them feel it themselves. Saying, "he felt the . . . " takes away from the immediacy of the moment, creating a pause that pulls the reader back.

In other words, don't tell the reader what the character felt, describe the sensation. Again, the "cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple," is much more immediate, sensory evocative, and threatening. It is what's happening.

Of course, there's always exceptions, and there are plenty of times when I may really want the "he felt," in the sentence, but I'm trying to really look at my sentences, my length, my tightness, and this can be a simple, powerful and effective tool.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Writing the Novel - Which Font is Best?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and as simple as it seems, it can create a lot of confusion.

What is the best font to use for my novel?

The simple answer is to use whatever works for you, is appealing to your eye, and most importantly, easy to read.

The more involved answer is that agents do have preferences. They don't want anything flashy or creative or flamboyant. Beginning writers often try to play with different fonts as a way to express their individuality or creativity. Nothing screams out amateur greater than this. The font is not where you will stand out to an agent, it's the writing. A flamboyant font is enough of a red flag for agents to toss your manuscript into the trash.

What agents want is a professional looking (and reading) manuscript that follows strict format. They also want a font that is easy to read.

Originally, I wrote in Courier because I was told it was the most neutral. I've since switched because the spacing between the letters creates too many pages for the word count. After speaking with Robert Dugoni, I now use exclusively, Times New Roman, and have since learned that this is a very commonly used, accepted font with professional writers.

Other basic fonts should be acceptable, but the beauty of Times New Roman is that the page count you'll get using this font is nearly identical to the page count for the finished product. In other words, my novel at 102,000 words is 454 pages, just as it will appear when printed (or close to it.)

Save the standing out for your writing. When it comes to font, it's best to blend in with the rest.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

That All Important First Chapter - Six Tips to Getting it Right

Nothing in your book will work if you don't get that all important first chapter off the ground. No agent will read it if you make mistakes right off the bat. So, as we're heading into our final revisions, here's somethings to watch out for to avoid that first chapter clunker.

1) Description: Don't start your book off with page after page, or even paragraph after paragraph of description. Not even sentence after sentence. Don't describe the characters in detail, or the setting, or the mood. There's time for all that later. Introduce the characters, preferably in action, at or just before a big moment. Then you'll get your story off the ground. Description can come later, but even then, with modulation. There's no room in today's writing for endlessly, long, leisurely descriptive passages. I skip over reading those. Don't you?

And no matter what else you do, don't start your book with descriptions of the weather.

2) POV: From the get-go, make sure your POV is tight and clear and your voice firm and strong. Don't be wishy washy, you'll lose the reader.

3) Action: As I said before, get the action going right away. There's no room for a chapter where nothing happens. Readers respond to scenes that start in media res.

4) Avoid Chiches and Cheesy Hooks: Draw the reader in naturally, with your story, not some prefab cheesy hook you think will get their attention. Avoid dream scenes, completely if possible, but certainly in the first chapter.

5) Backstory: We talked about this in the dreaded info dump. Don't launch into backstory on characters or place before you get into the plot. Readers don't care about your character until you make them care. You make them care by their actions, not their story.

6) Dialogue: Right from the start, make sure your dialogue is tight and strong. Again, don't be afraid to show strong voice. It's the only way.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More Editing Tips - Writer's Common Mistakes

I found this article at On Writing, and felt it was very well done. Another nice set of tips to add to the Ten Point Revision Strategy.

More Common Mistakes Writer's Make. I'm guilty of quite a few of these myself.

1) Spelling. We all rely too much on the spell checker. Nothing cries out amateur more than gross misspellings in a submission. The spell checker only finds words that are misspelled from its vocabulary, which may have no relation to how they're used in your sentence. The misuse of there/their and they're is a great example. One I make too often.

2) Grammar. It's important to maintain consistency in your use of grammar. I tend to write with quite a few sentence fragments, which is my style. Others right with run-on sentences as a style. Neither is good or bad, just be aware of grammar rules. Break them only when you know them. The On Writing article stresses maintenance of tense also. Can't argue with that.

3) Homophones and similar looking words. Another item that your spell checker won't pick up. Pour or pore. You have to know which is which.

4) Punctuation. Not my forte, but always try to use the proper punctuation, proper use of commas, colons, semi's, etc. I've probably broken the rules ten times in this post alone.

5) Maintenance of Point of View. Old rules are changing. You can shift from one point of view to another in the same chapter now. Even in the same paragraph. But you must do it clearly and elegantly.

I'll keep my eye out for these errors as I'm finishing this final read.

More soon.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Final Read Through

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you all find this year to be happy, healthy, and successful.

I'm back from my research trip and have volumes of material socked away in my mind for location, people, culture, texture. There's nothing like going someplace fully with the intention of researching for a novel to help you see all the little nuances you'd miss as a tourist.

Traveling has set me back a bit on writing here, which I plan to rectify this year. Look for an update at least once a week as my novel is completed, goes off to the agent, to the publisher and beyond. I'll keep you all posted on all the tricks and tips I learn along the way.

The other set back was on the goal of finishing the book by 12/31. I'm a touch off, but not too bad. Which brings me to the all-important subject of today's post: The Final Read Through.

After going through the whole novel, following the Ten Point Revision Strategy we've discussed, there's still one, immensely important task to do. The Final Read Through.

In order to do this, you must get some distance from the book. Many authors suggest putting the book into the desk drawer to let it cool. For me, the trip to Turkey was perfect. I didn't bring my computer, I didn't work on anything else. I didn't read novels or book or magazines on writing. I let my brain cool. With that, I knew that when I got home, I'd be able to re-approach the novel with fresh eyes.

The goal of this read is to really check for language flow. By this time, after completing the Ten Points, character should be solid. Premise should be like a rock. Major description, flow, pace, all of it should be where you want it. With this read, you're just trying to see how the book. . . reads.

I make little changes to sentences. One thing I really try to do is to limit the amount of times that I back into a sentence. An example:

Sitting on the back porch, Doug reached for his glass of wine.

That phraseology is called, backing into a sentence. the subject is Doug, the action is reaching for the wine, the first clause is purely descriptive.

Now there's nothing wrong with occasionally backing into a sentence. The grammer is ok, and it's nice to use this phraseology to break up the constant; subject-verb sequence. But it can be over done. Check your writing. Occasional is ok, too much is too much.

I also focus on length of sentences, which usually tend to be too long. For the most part, shorter is better. Keep the book moving along with well clipped sentences.

Word selection we've already gone over with the Ten Points, but here again is an opportunity to make sure each word is really working for you. Saying exactly what you want it to do, as powerfully as possible without the need for modifiers to strengthen it.

I'm on chapter 8 of this read. Hopefully I'll be done by next week.

Then it's off.

I'll keep you posted.