Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

One of the most tedious parts of preparing the paperback print-on-demand version of a book is fixing up the formatting to minimize hyphens, widows and orphans (single lines at the beginning or end of a page), and dangling words on a single line at the end of a paragraph. This is particularly difficult if you’re formatting on the cheap with a word processor rather than a proper page layout tool like InDesign.

Fortunately, LibreOffice includes some useful features which can make your life easier. I would assume other programs like Word will have similar options hidden away in their settings, too.

For example, I added a missing comma to this paragraph which used to be two lines, and it suddenly became three, leaving a dangling word at the end, and creating an orphan where it pushed the final line of the final paragraph on that page onto the next page.

Three-line paragraph

Too many lines

So, how do we fix this? Changing margins would work, but would impact the entire book. Changing font size would work, but would stand out if we reduced it by even half a point. Revising the wording would work, but it’s already about as sparse as it can be.

The answer is in the character formatting:

Width set to 98%

Character format window

The LibreOffice Character Format window has a ‘scale width’ option, which leaves the font height the same, but makes it wider or narrower. If you change this by a few percent, it will change the position of the words, but not be obvious to the reader. In this case, we’re changing it to 98%, for a tiny 2% reduction in character width.

Now only two lines.

Scaled paragraph.

Job done. We’re now back to two lines, and you can’t even see the joins.

Now, let’s look at another option. Instead of scaling the font horizontally, we could scale the entire page vertically.

Here’s the original page, with the evil paragraph which caused all this fuss:

Page with no scaling, and evil paragraph highlighted

Full-size page

So, next, we select all the text on the page, and choose paragraph formatting. If there were some dangling lines at the top of the page where a paragraph was split across a page break, we’d skip them.

Window with line spacing set to 98%

Paragraph Format window

The Paragraph Format window has a line spacing control, which lets you specify spacing as a percentage. In this case, we can set it to 98% to slightly reduce the spacing on this page.

This allows LibreOffice to move the orphan from the next page back to meet the widow on this one:

Page with line spacing scaled to 98%

Modified page

So there’s an alternate way to fix the page, without changing the paragraph. Personally, I prefer the character spacing change as this page will have one more line than the facing page, so the two will seem misaligned. But, it may be useful in some cases where you can’t fix the formatting any other way.

Sold 600 books, or, more precisely, 603 with three returns. That was a bit of a shock, even after the 100+ I sold in the couple of months before.

I’ll be interested to see how February goes, I’ll be happy if I at least manage to sustain the 100+ of the last few months.

I’m twelve thousand words into the first prequel to Petrina. Originally the two were to be a single novel, but I quickly realised I had two different stories in the same book and had to split them out; hence two prequels instead of one.

One of the difficult things I find in writing is getting half-way through a scene and realising that it’s pointless and boring. You need something to go in the story there, but the scene you’re writing has no reason to exist other than filler. Do you throw it out? Do you rewrite it? Do you need to change the next scene so you don’t need to fill the gap?

The good part comes when you suddenly realize not only what’s missing from that scene, but that the element you’re adding is actually going to fill in some plot holes later where you couldn’t justify a character’s actions. Suddenly it all comes together and you can race through five thousand words to the next roadblock.

The difference between trade publishing and self-publishing reminds me a lot of the difference between Hollywood movie releases and the old B-movie method.

Hollywood puts the movie in hundreds of cinemas, hopes for a big opening weekend, then forgets about it because the next weekend’s movie is coming soon. If the movie doesn’t do well in the first weekend it rapidly disappears, even though the movie might have been a success if released a week before so it didn’t conflict with some other entertainment venue which kept people out of the cinemas that weekend.

B-movie producers would release the movie slowly, judge the reaction, see if any changes had to be made, and try to build up an audience over time. Unless it was abysmally bad, they could probably make a profit, but it might take a few years.

In a similar way, the trade publisher throws a book out onto the book store shelves for a few weeks until they’re returned, sells them as remainders and forgets about it. A self-published author might make very little money on their first novel, make more after they rewrite the blurb, change the cover and fix any issues early readers complain about, and sell thousands of copies a few years down the line when they’ve released other books that brought in some dedicated fans.

Last year I planned to release three novels and a dozen short stories. Due to slacking and tight deadlines in my day job I ended up with seven short stories and no novels, but I did learn how to create print-on-demand books as well as e-books, and I wrote over 200,000 words in half-finished novels and stories.

This year I’m going to aim for the same again, which shouldn’t be too hard as I have all those novels and stories to finish off and release. Let’s see how it goes.

Another good post on the subject:

Three good articles on the subject:

I think there’s something to be said for starting a story early and then removing the beginning. I’ve been struggling to find the right place to start Horror Movie and I think that’s achieved by cutting out the first chapter. The good parts can be put in the story later, while the boring parts aren’t required.

This way, the story starts with things in motion, and the characters are clearly doing things which result from the events of those deleted scenes. This is similar to a problem I’d often see when editing indie movies, where a scene would begin with actors standing there doing nothing. In the real world, they would have been doing something beforehand, but the director hadn’t thought of what that was. Often I’d cut the beginning of a scene and get into it when the action was building up.

An old article, but a good one. Elmore Leonard, Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.

Unfortunately it’s a New York Times link, but seems to work despite their paywall.

To summarise:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Like all writing ‘rules’, some of them are made to be broken, but I agree with most and understand why he suggests them as rules because I’ve seen all these problems in short stories I’ve critiqued.

Without even realising, I’ve passed 100,000 new words for the year. I’m well behind schedule due to life intervening and they’re spread across too many stories, but it’s still a good milestone to hit.

Temporary discounts for the Smashwords summer sale:

Get them while you can!

Inspired by some discussions on a writing forum.

Prologues can work, but I feel they’re very much overused. For them to work, they need to be something from the history of the main character in the story (which is probably better handled when it becomes relevant to the story rather than as a prologue), or obviously something that doesn’t include the main characters of the story, and the events have to become important later. The prologues I hate are included solely because the writer isn’t good enough to build the exposition into the story, or they’re back story with some interesting characters who I expect to be part of the main story and then they disappear at the end of the prologue.

Good examples of prologues, for example, would be many of Clive Cussler’s books where the prologue is usually years in the past, it clearly doesn’t involve the main characters of the novel, it will become important later if not the driving force for the plot, and it’s an interesting story in its own right. Bad examples would be many of the unpublished novels I’ve critiqued over the last few years.

Great PDF on why the old publisher slush pile system was such a disaster:

On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile

It’s an old one but I only just came across it.

I just read the opening of The One That Got Away on Amazon using the ‘look inside’ feature and realised that the tiny sample size there means that you can’t read much of the story in the ‘look inside’ sample; a story which doesn’t get to the point quickly isn’t going to sell well because readers need to be enticed by what is available.

Which isn’t so bad as stories should open with a bang and keep the reader’s interest. I’m going to try an experiment; I’ve rewritten the opening of The One That Got Away on Amazon to cut it down and enter the real story faster while leaving the original, slower, opening on Smashwords. Let’s see which of them sells better.

This is an edited version of a comment I originally posted on the Passive Voice blog.

Writers get far less respect in the movie world than written fiction. Yet many are happy to work for free to get any kind of credit, and hope they actually do get their credit at the end.

There’s a big difference between novel writing and screen writing. If you have an unpublished novel, you can at least show it to your family and friends, whereas if you have an unproduced screenplay they probably won’t even know how to read it. The only way for a writer to prove they can write a movie is to write a movie that’s actually produced.

The other issue is that the screenplay is only the beginning of the work. Once it leaves the writer’s hands, the actors will improvise and the director will change lines or rewrite whole scenes. When the shoot is complete and the movie is just a bunch of files on a computer, the editor will cut lines, move shots around or even cut entire scenes which don’t work. The director may record new off-screen dialogue or some extra shots to fill in plot holes.

So by the end of the movie, it may bear little resemblance to the original screenplay. After many other people have interpreted it and revised it, the writer may justifiably be unable to take much credit for what finally reached the screen. In my case I take no credit for the ending of the one feature-length movie I wrote which was actually produced because the director threw out my wonderful ending and replaced it with his own.

By the time the premiere rolls around the writer thinks the director is a dick for rewriting their screenplay, the director thinks the writer is a hack because they had to change so much to make it work and the editor thinks the writer is self-indulgent because he had to cut out half the dialogue and the director is clueless because he had to spend six hours looking for any two shots he could cut together to make the final scene work.

Which has given me a good idea for Horror Movie. Damn, got to rewrite part of it again.

Hey, I just got banned from Absolute Write for questioning ‘Global Warming’ 🙂 ! Which isn’t such a bad thing, I need to spend less time on forums and more time writing.

It also gave me a good idea for another short story that I’m going to try to get written in the next week or so, and some future blog posts:

“Deifying scientists” – which was the original subject of the thread until someone brought up ‘Global Warming’ and someone else starting posting paraphrases from the fake Heartland ‘strategy document’.

“Why are so many writers left wing?” – which is an interesting subject and I think it’s more complex than it might first appear.

“Global warming: scam or what?” – I’ve been following the ‘Global Warming’ circus for around twenty years now and I rarely enter threads about it because they’re so tedious and boring. But I really should write something about it one day.

Character names are one of the hardest things to get right in a story. In the past, I’ve agonised for hours trying to pick the right character name before even starting the story… and then changed them again after the story was finished.

Lately though, I’ve been trying something else. Instead of picking a name, I name them for their role in the story or their personality and pick a name to replace it at the end. This has the additional benefit that I don’t forget what they are supposed to be doing in the story, since their name tells me.

With War Show, for example, I have Cool, Beer, Nerd, Nazi, Girl and Granny as some of the main characters. Their roles are reasonably self-explanatory and I’m sure I’ll come up with some good names later.

Some interesting posts on book blurbs and story structure that were linked to on the Kindle boards:

This probably helps to explain why I’ve been going around in circles on Horror Movie for so long, as I started from a simple idea to see where it would go. Normally I write outlines, but I wanted to see how well that worked; I’m not sure that it did. I just trimmed out a few scenes that definitely won’t go into the final version, so the word count should now be approximately correct.