How can you improve your novel opening?

One effective way to strengthen your own writing is to look at other people’s writing. Read the opening of a novel, or preferably several. How do they introduce the character? What idea do they give you of the character’s wants and needs? What promise do they make in the opening?

Now look at your writing. What do we learn about your character and the world they are in? Do we learn what they are missing in life? What lie are they telling themselves in order to feel happy? What do they think they need?

How does the setting relate to the content? Do we get a real sense of place, or could the events be happening anywhere?

How far does the story progress in the opening? Does anything actually happen, or is it all about introducing your world and the characters?

Years ago, a story might have started with a long preamble, setting the scene and mood. These days, the fashion is far more to start with action, and then cut back a little and fill in background once the reader is engaged.

Likewise, older stories might well use omniscient voice, but more modern stories tend towards close third point of view, so that the reader can really identify with your character and empathise with them.

Get into the habit of active reading – not just reading to enjoy the story, but to pull apart the storycraft and writing. What can you learn from any book that you can carry back to your own work? What pitfalls can you see and therefore avoid?

Creating a table of contents

A table of contents is a quick way to navigate around your document. In an ebook, it can provide links to chapter headings. In a print book, it will list page numbers for quick reference.

Styles are the key to your table of contents – if you consistently style chapter headings with the style Heading 1, then any ebook generator should take those styles and create your linked table of contents automatically.

The bonus is that you can use these styles to help you navigate around your Word document as well, using the Navigation Pane.

As always, there are two elements to working with Styles – apply your style to the text, and modify your style to have the appearance you want.

To apply the style, highlight the chapter heading and on the Home tab, click on the style labelled Heading 1.

To modify the appearance of that style, right-click on the style in the listing and choose Modify…

Use the Format button on the bottom left to access the main formatting dialog boxes.

Changing the appearance of any style in this way will automatically change the appearance of any text that has been marked as that style.

Alternatively, if you’ve already got your heading just as you want it to appear, highlight it, and then right-click on the style in the Styles panel. Choose Update Style Heading 1 to match Selection.

This will both mark the text with that style and set that style to the same appearance as the highlighted text (updating anything else marked with that style to the same appearance).

View the Navigation Pane by ticking the box on the View tab.

This provides a quick way to see and move around the structure of your document. If you’ve used more than one level of Heading (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3 etc), then you can see the hierarchy of your layout.

To include a Table of Contents in your printed document, place your cursor where you want it to appear and then on the References tab click on Table of Contents. You can use an automatically generated Table of Contents, or customise it to create your own (for example, you can choose how many levels of heading you want to show – do you want just chapter headings, or do you want subheadings listed as well?).

Using Track Changes in Word

When working with an editor, it’s very likely you’ll need to be able to use the Track Changes feature in Word. This feature allows you to see what changes the editor suggests/recommends, and to accept or reject them individually or in bulk.

Text where changes are tracked can look messy. Any changes are marked (usually but not always in red), with either underlining for added text or strikethrough for deleted text. If two people have worked on a document, the changes will be colour-coded for each person.

There may be other changes that aren’t immediately visible apart from the presence of the line on the left, such as paragraph endings added or removed. To see these, try turning on the invisible marks.

The easiest way to see the clean, edited version of the text is to select No Markup on the Track Changes toolbar, where in this example it says All Markup. This will display the text as though all changes have been accepted.

Use Previous and Next to step through the changes without taking action.

Accept and Reject will take action on the change under the cursor and move the cursor to the next action. If you’d rather see the effect of the action before moving on, then use the dropdown arrow underneath to take action but not move on.

Another action from the dropdown is Accept all Changes and Stop Tracking. Use this if you’re happy with all the changes suggested and want to accept them en bloc.

Be careful – Find and Replace won’t work properly if a word has changes tracked within it. For this reason, editors will often replace an entire word rather than changing one letter within it.

The page layout can also be affected by changes being tracked – for example, natural page breaks will move around.

If in doubt, save a new copy of your document before using the Accept All option. You can then compare versions if you need to.

Some editors may lock the document so you can’t make accept/reject or turn off tracking, especially if they need to do further passes. It’s important that they are aware of any changes made, so they can double-check they’ve been made properly. It’s very easy for spaces to creep in or disappear between words, for example! If you make changes to the edited document without tracking them, your editor might need to check the whole document again, incurring extra time and expense.

Once all changes have been accepted or rejected, it’s a good idea to have a proofreader cast a final eye over your text. This is best done once the text is typeset, as they can then check for layout issues as well.

What are styles?

Styles provide an efficient way to manage the appearance of any document. For anything other than a very simple title/content document, there’s usually a structure: headings, subheadings, body text. If you apply styles throughout your document, it’s a much simpler process to change the appearance of any one of those elements without affecting the rest.

Styles have two stages:

The first task is to decide what role a piece of text plays in your document. Is it a top-level heading? Subheading? Body text? Quote? Caption? Apply a style to match that role. There are several built in to Word that you can use or modify, or you can create your own.

The second task is to decide how that type of text should look. To do this, you modify your style, either by right-clicking on the style in the style list and selecting Modify, or by modifying your text and then right-clicking on the style in the style list and choosing Update Style to Match Selection.

In Word, you can create paragraph styles, which affect the whole paragraph, character styles, which affect only the characters the style is applied to, or a combination of both.

For example, Emphasis is a character style that applies italics to the selected text. Using Emphasis style rather than the Italics button means that if you later decide to change the font in the whole document you don’t risk losing your italics.

Setting a document up with all formatting done through styles rather than direct formatting is just a tiny bit more work than formatting directly, but with any substantial document it’s then so much easier to amend if needed.

Another advantage is that you can use the styles to check your structure and to move around your document easily, by using the Navigation Pane.

The styles may also be used to generate an automatic Table of Contents.

Indenting paragraphs

If you look inside any printed book, you’ll see paragraphs are indented. But how and why is this done?

The why is easy. There are two ways to visually signal the start of a new paragraph. One is to leave white space between paragraphs – a blank line or half a line is the norm. But this spreads the text out more on the page. A more compact way is to indent the beginning of the paragraph a little, which gives the same signal but takes up less space.

As to the how, there are a few ways to achieve it, some good and some not so good.

The worst way is to use spaces, because spaces can vary in width visually, and because you would need to be very careful to always add the same number of spaces to give a consistent look.

Then there’s tabs. Another way that works, but isn’t very efficient. What if you change your mind? You would need to remove – or add – tabs throughout.

A better way is to use the paragraph formatting. In Word, click the little marker at the corner of the paragraph formatting section on the Home tab.

This opens the paragraph formatting box.

Why set to 0.5cm? Anything bigger risks gaps in the text.

See how one line finishes short and looks like it’s floating out of place? Smaller indents are your key.

The best way to apply indents is to use the paragraph setting in the Styles. Apply your style to the text, and then right-click the style name and choose Modify.

Use the Format button at the bottom, select Paragraph… and then make the adjustment as above. This will then be applied to all text set to use that style.

Should you later want to adjust your indents, then all you need to do is modify the style again.

So much easier than trying to delete extra spaces or tabs!

Writing Books – Creating Character Arcs

What is the lie your character believes? What do they want, as opposed to what they need? How are they going to travel from their starting point to their end point?

These are all questions this book will guide you through asking, as you plan out your character arcs. The link between character arc and story arc is studied carefully, and examples are given from several sources, including Toy Story and A Christmas Carol, so that there’s bound to be several that you recognise.

The positive arc, negative arc and flat arc are all discussed in detail, in relation to the standard three-act structure. An FAQ offers answers to such issues as subplots, minor characters and impact characters.

If you’re looking for a way to make your characters more meaningful, and to integrate character into plot, then this book will prove a helpful guide.

Rein or Reign?

These two words are often confused. Rein is related to horses. Reign is related to kings and queens.

So where does the confusion lie?

In a phrase like reining in – he reined in his activities because he was exhausted – reining in refers to holding the horse back, restricting its movement.

In a phrase like free rein – he was given free rein to organise the office as he wished – free rein refers to slackening off the horse’s rein so that it can move more freely.

But confusion can arise when you consider that being given free reign could also refer to being free as the ruler to do what you want.

So consider whether you are talking about rein as in a horse-related metaphor or as in a king-related metaphor. There are places where either would be suitable, but there are definitely places when only the horse one makes sense!

Scrivener project targets

With nanowrimo coming up fast, it’s useful to know how to use the targets option in Scrivener. Please note: these instructions are for the PC version, but the process should be similar in Mac version.

To add the project targets option to your toolbar, click on Tools>Customise toolbar.

 

Choose the Main Toolbar as the destination, find the project targets button in the list on the left, and then click the right arrow to move it into the list. You can move it up or down to get it exactly where you want it.

 

If you don’t want the button on your toolbar, then it can be accessed at any time Under Project>Project targets.

 

The project target window looks like this – set up your draft target for the total number of words you’re aiming for overall. Tick the box for documents included in compile only if you don’t want to include any project notes you add.

 

The session target will count the number of words you add in any session – the session ends when you shut the file down. So if you jump from scene to scene, this will keep tally for you.

 

There’s also a document target. Click on the little circle on the bottom right of the window, and you’ll get the option to set a target for that specific scene, or document.

 

Once you’ve set up your targets, you’re ready to go!

 

 

 

The benefit of styles

When typesetting for print or ebook, styles are important. But what are they, and how do they help?

 

Just imagine the structure of your book for a minute. It’s probably something like

  • chapter number
  • chapter title
  • first para flush left with a drop cap
  • main text indented
  • divider
  • para flush left
  • main text indented

And repeat for every chapter, as often as necessary.

 

Now imagine that you want to increase the size of the chapter title, or change the font of the main text. Without styles, you would need to go to each small chunk in turn and change the formatting on it. If you have two or three changes to make on each chunk, it could take some time. Even using format painter, it’s fiddly and there’s the danger of missing something.

 

Now consider using styles. Styles come in two stages – tell the text what style you want it to use, and tell the style how it needs to display the text. So you’ll set the Heading 1 style to the right font, point size and weight, and you’ll highlight the text and apply the Heading 1 style. You can do these two steps in either order.

 

Once you’ve been through the entire document, applying styles to everything, it’s just a matter of changing the settings for that particular style, and that will then be applied all the way through the document, wherever that style has been applied.

 

One additional benefit of using styles correctly is that an automatic Table of Contents can be generated, using the specified styles to pick out the links that are needed and automatically adding the correct page number. This can be updated as the layout of the book is altered.

 

It’s also possible to save a set of styles, so it’s easy to copy them over from one document to another, ensuring efficiency and consistency.

 

 

 

The different types of publishing

Traditional Publishing

A traditional publisher will choose to invest in your work. They will help you to edit and polish your manuscript, organise a cover design and publish the book. They might or might not pay you an advance – a lump sum. Once the book’s royalties earn out that advance (if it ever does), you will receive royalties on sales, but the publisher will take their cut as well. They will almost certainly do some marketing, although they will still expect the author, especially if a first-time author, to do plenty of marketing of their own. They will be very fussy about who they take on – their goal is to run an efficient business. The biggest publishers will only accept work submitted by an agent, not work submitted directly from the author. The advantage of traditional publishing is the power of the publisher to promote the book and get it into bookstores.

Be aware:

If going with a traditional publisher, be aware of their reputation. How much marketing do they do? What quality editing do they provide? What is their quality control like? How fussy are they about who they pick up as an author? The main danger is signing your rights over to a publisher who does very little for you. Using an agent might help with this, but the agent will take a cut as well for the privilege.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has a bad reputation, but it has its place.  With vanity publishing, you pay the publisher to prepare and print copies of your book. Ideal for those with plenty of money, limited time and the wish to produce a one-off pet project, they are less than ideal for those actually seeking to earn through their writing, as they make their money from their writers and not for their writers. They might charge high prices for their services, and marketing may well be minimal or non-existent. They will probably take a large chunk of any royalties as well. The advantage of vanity publishing is the convenience.

Be aware:

The main danger is paying a large amount of money for services that at best you could have obtained cheaper elsewhere and at worst are poor quality as well.

Self Publishing*

With the ease of publishing these days, some people will finish a draft and immediately publish it, particularly as an ebook, with no quality control and with a cover design that marks the work out as amateur. Unfortunately, these tend to make little money and damage the reputation of ebooks generally, as well as producing a raft of scathing reviews that hurt the author. The advantage of self publishing is that it’s quick, easy and free.

Be aware:

It’s important not to rush a project out with no quality control, damaging your reputation as a writer. All the best-selling authors will have gone through a rigorous editing and proofreading, and professional cover design. That’s what your writing has to compete with if you’re trying to sell it.

Indie Publishing (Independent Publishing)*

An Indie publisher will also publish their own work, but will treat the whole thing as a business, investing in their writing via editing, proofreading, formatting and a professional cover. There are many writers who have chosen to publish independently after being traditionally published. There are some examples (but nowhere near as many) of writers going the other way – of being picked up by a trad publisher after publishing their own work. The advantage of Indie publishing is that the author maintains full control over the project and the end result.

Be aware:

You will need to act as a professional, investigating different editors, finding a cover designer who produces quality covers, and mastering marketing and other ancillary skills. An Indie publisher is a business person, handling all aspects of the publishing trade. It is hard work, but can also be very rewarding. An indie author does not do everything themselves, but engages other professionals to handle aspects of the publishing process, ensuring that each section is handled by someone who understands the job and can do their best for the project.

*Please note:

Not everyone makes the same distinction in terminology between self-publishers and indie publishers. The difference is in the attitude of the author, not in the term itself, but I find the distinction a useful one.