Writing tip: Doing dashes right



One of the dead giveaways of a non-professional book is misusing the poor hyphen instead of a dash.

Let’s clear something up right away: a hyphen is not the same thing as a short dash, which is distinct from a long dash. They are three different punctuation marks, each with their own uses and rules. They are not interchangeable.

What they’re for

For example, a hyphen can combine two words into one, as in “long-term effects” or “father-in-law.” A hyphen helps avoid confusion in phrases like “high-school students,” which can be very different from “high school students.”

Hyphens also join numbers when they’re written out, such as “forty-two.”

Finally, hyphens indicate that a word is broken at the end of a line of text, when a word is too long to fit on a single line of text. Remember that you break the word between two syllables, with a few exceptions like “ther-apist.”

Dashes: the short and the long

There are two types of dashes. The short dash, also known as the “en dash” is twice as long as a hyphen. It’s also called the en dash because it’s the same width as a letter N. It’s used to indicate a range, most often in numbers, such as “pages 25–35.” It can also be used to indicate a range in space, like “a Toronto–Montreal flight.” However, most style guides recommend that use more for tables and illustrations, but in body text, to write “Toronto to Montreal.”

En dashes can also join words that already have hyphens (which is relatively rare), as in “private-sector–public-sector cooperation,” or when joining two things where one is two separate words, such as “pre–Second World War era.”

The long dash is also called the em dash because it’s the same width as a capital letter M, itself usually the widest letter in the alphabet. An em is twice as wide as an en.

The em-dash is used to link phrases and sentences, or to indicate an abrupt change in thought or logic. Here’s an example from my upcoming new book, Wildfire:

She had seen a question in her green eyes—was she really going to apply for a job in a restaurant?

It can take the place of parentheses or a colon, as in these examples from Wikipedia:

The food—which was delicious—reminded me of home.

Three alkali metals are the usual substituents—sodium, potassium, and lithium.

How to do it

Part of the problem with en and em dashes is that they don’t appear on the standard typewriter keyboard. Those of us who learned to type on typewriters—back in the day—learned to use multiple hyphens when we wanted a long dash. There was simply no other way to do it.

That limitation has survived, even though with our word processors, there’s no reason for it. Seriously, there are keys on the main part of my computer keyboard I almost never use, while getting the dash which I use frequently requires pressing three keys at once. Why a pipe symbol? Why curly brackets?

The way to geta an en dash in Microsoft Word on a Windows computer is to hold down the Ctrl key and press the minus sign at the top right of the number keypad.

On a Macintosh, again using Word, it’s done by holding down the Option key and pressing the hyphen or minus sign.

You can also type the alternative character code: hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) and type 0150.

Insert an em dash by adding the Ctrl key on Windows: Ctrl-Alt-Minus. On a Mac, it’s Shift-Option-Minus. The alt key code is Alt 0151. On a Macintosh, hold down the Option key.

On-screen typing

Tablets have made this easier. All you have to do is hold your finger down on the hyphen “key.” In a couple of seconds, you’ll get a menu of choices. Select the appropriate punctuation mark.

Spaced out or not

Some people like to put a single space on both sides of em dashes — like this — while others like them tight—like that. Whichever you choose, be consistent.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but hyphens and dashes stand out on a page or a screen, and they clearly signal someone who doesn’t appreciate the difference—and that a professional editor had not seen that page.

It’s almost as blatant as misusing quotation marks, but I’ll write more about that in another post.

How to format your book for e-publishing



I have found that a lot of independent authors feel intimidated by the process of e-publishing. In the past few posts, I showed you how to use Styles to make formatting more efficient and consistent, and how Styles also help automate other processes you’ll need to publish your book.

Your word processor has a number of other nice features to make it simple to format a book, whether for print or electronic publishing. Here are some of my favourites, based on the word processor I know best: Microsoft Word.

Elements of professional formatting

Start by getting your favourite print book off your shelf. There are some elements that you have probably taken for granted all your life, but getting them right in your own book will make the difference in making sure it looks professional.

  • Title page—a pleasingly designed page that tells you the title, author and publisher of the book, and the city or cities the publisher is located in. It may also list the series, if the book is part of one, or a subtitle.
    Sometimes, print books have a “half title” or “semi-title” page preceding the title page. This usually just includes the title, in smaller type than on the main title page. The reason for including this has to do with the fact that the number of pages in a paper book has to be divisible by four, which is also why there are sometimes blank pages at the end of a paper book.

    half-titletitlepages

    The half-title (left) and title pages

  • Copyright page—on the back of the title page, listing the copyright notice, date of publication, the warning not to copy the book, the publisher’s address, Library of Congress or Cataloguing in Publication Data information, ISBN and other information. It may also list the editor, designer and other contributors to the book.
  • Acknowledgements or dedication page.
  • Table of Contents.
  • Headers and footers—information at the top (header) or bottom (footer) of every page. Often, the left-hand header will have the author’s name, and the right-hand will have the title of the book. Non-fiction books may have the title on the left (verso page) and the chapter title on the right (recto).
  • Folios—the page numbers, on the top or bottom of the page, in the middle or on the outside corner. One way to tell that a book has been properly formatted: left-hand pages have even numbers, right-hand, odd.
    Notice that the title, copyright, dedication, acknowledgement and any blank pages at the front of the book do not have folios, headers or footers. Often, tables of contents are numbered in lower-case Roman numerals. Also notice that the first page of every chapter, part or section has no header or footer, and the page number is usually at the bottom, centred, even if the folios are on the outside top margins of other pages. This is an old convention in English-language publishing.

How to make your elements look professional

Word has a number of neat features that allow you to easily format a professional-looking book.

Page set-up

You want the first page of every chapter to look different from the rest. Word makes it obscure to set this up.

Double-click in the top margin or header area (or the footer) of any page. The ribbon changes. Select Different First Page and Different Odd & Even Pages. This allows you to put the folio in a different place on the first page of every chapter or section, and also to put them in the opposite, outer corners (when it comes to print books).

The Page Setup menu, where you set the size. Don't forget to click the menu beside Apply to: to make sure the whole document has the same size of pages.

The Page Setup menu, where you set the size. Don’t forget to click the menu beside Apply to: to make sure the whole document has the same size of pages.

If you’re going to publish only as an e-book, don’t worry about margins or page sizes. But if you are creating a paper book, you have to know what the page dimensions are. Amazon’s CreateSpace service offers pages of 5 inches by 8 inches, 5.25 by 8, 6 by 9 and others. Choose one, and set up your pages. Click on the Page Layout tab in the menu, opening that ribbon, and click on the triangle under Size to see the options available. If the size you’ve chosen isn’t in the list, click More Paper Sizes and enter the Width and Height. Make sure you apply it to the Whole Document using the drop-down at the bottom left. Click OK.

Adjust the margins, now. Click the Margins button, and set them for smaller—probably half an inch, or maybe a little more. Don’t set them too narrow.

The Gutter measurement adds space where the pages come together at the spine. Have you ever noticed that your paperback pages curve there? Add a little more space to keep text out of the curved part, which is harder to read.

Make sure you Apply to Whole document again.

Design your title page, or get a qualified graphic designer to do it for you: a large, attractive font for your title, smaller for the sub-title or series, large but distinct for your name as the author. At the end of the text, as long as there is room, insert one more blank line (Enter or Return key), then click on the Page Layout tab in the word processor and click on the Breaks menu. Select Next Page.

Decide whether you want to have a half-title page or not. If you do, hit Enter for a blank line, then choose a page break. Then repeat the above process to create a new page for your main title.

Enter another page break. On this page, you’ll put all your copyright information. Insert another page break for your dedication and acknowledgement pages, and any other “front matter” you may have.

To find the breaks menu, click the Page Layout tab in the ribbon at the top of the Word window.

To find the breaks menu, click the Page Layout tab in the ribbon at the top of the Word window.

Do you want to have a table of contents? Go to the Page Layout tab. Under Section Breaks, select Next Page. This makes the next page the First Page of a new section, which means its page numbering, header and footer characteristics will be different from following pages.

Because the First Page of each new Section (in Word) is distinct, you can have no page number on the first page (the ancient standard), or place it in a different place compared to other pages. So, for example, if you put the page numbers in the bottom outside corners as described above, for the first page of each new chapter, you could put the page number in the middle of the footer (bottom margin).

linktoprevious

It can be tricky and confusing to get to this menu. The easiest way is to double-click in the header or footer area of the page. If that doesn’t work, do it again.

Double-click in the footer. The Ribbon will change. From the centre of the ribbon, unclick Link to Previous, so that what you do to this section does not affect the title page.

The Page Number button is third from the left. Choose Bottom of Page, then one of the centred options. The page number will appear there. If you want to use Roman numerals for the front matter, right-click on the number and select Number format.

Scroll down so that you can see the next page. You’ll notice labels called Odd Page Header -Section 2- and Odd Page Footer -Section2-. You can put your author name on the Odd/right pages and the book title on the Even/left pages, or whatever you want. Since you’re creating each chapter as a separate section, you can also put the title of each chapter in the header or the footer, as you see fit.

That’s enough for this post. If you have any questions, leave them in the Comments section.

Happy writing!

#Writing tip: Take your Styles to the next level



don-draperIn the last two posts, I explained how you can use your word processing application’s Styles feature to help make formatting your document more efficient, consistent and professional looking. But the Styles feature can do more than just apply several formatting choices to your text with one click. Today, I’ll explain how you can use Styles while writing to make it even more efficient.

Following Style

Microsoft Word allows you to specify the style for the following paragraph. Unfortunately, this only works when you specify the Style first, then type it and hit Enter/Return. It doesn’t change the Style of something that’s already in the file.

When you design your sub-heading, for example, you could specify the following paragraph to be your First paragraph. The following style for your First paragraph should be Body text.

Shortcut keys

Specify a shortcut key for each style, so that you don’t have to move the mouse to select your Styles from the menu. I use Opt-b or Alt-b for Body text, -F for First paragraph, -a, -b etc for chapter headings and sub-headings, and so on.

You can save all these styles in a template in Word. While this seems unlikely, you can start writing your book in this template. You could write the title of your first chapter, and before hitting Enter or Return, hit Alt-a to set it in your Chapter head style. When you do hit Enter, the next paragraph will already be set up as First paragraph style. Write that, and then the next paragraph will automagically be in your Body text style.

However, most likely you will write your book before you decide on the graphic design and format. Still, with these Styles set up and with shortcut keys, you can quickly go through the file. Because Styles in most word processing applications apply to paragraphs, you don’t have to select the whole paragraph. Just place the cursor anywhere in the line, hit the shortcut key, and voila!

On the other hand, you can select a series of paragraphs and set them all in Body text with one keystroke. (Okay, an option-keystroke).

Beau Brummel by Wikimedia Commons

The Styles you’ll need

When you write a long document, such as a proposal, a report or a book, you’ll need at least these styles:

  • Body text – the basic text for most of the document. This should be an easily readable font. See the earlier post about the type characteristics you have to decide on, but also, set up the Paragraph characteristics. Decide whether you want to double-space paragraphs (good for reports and other corporate documents) or to indent the first line of every paragraph (standard for fiction and non-fiction books). Never do both.
    Tip: Add some extra space between each line. This is the word processor’s equivalent of what typesetters called leading (pronounced “ledding.”) This will make your text easier and more inviting to read.
  • First paragraph – the first paragraph in each chapter, as well as after each heading or subheading, or after each sub-chapter break. If your body text has an indented first line for each paragraph, the first paragraph should not be indented.
  • Chapter heading or title

    chaptertitlestyle

    The window for setting up spacing for your Styles.

    Tip: Put more space above every heading and subheading than below it. Use the Spacing, Before setting. For example, for my books, I like to have the first paragraph of each chapter start about half-way down the page. For a 5 x 8-inch page, that means three and a half inches, or 252 typesetter’s points, below the top margin. In that space, I put the chapter title and subtitle, which in my case are 24 points and 14 points, respectively. After the main title I put 10 points of space, and after the subtitle, 12 points (one pica), equivalent to one line of body text. That’s a total of 60 points. That leaves 192 points of space, so in the Chapter title Style window, I can set 192 points of spacing before the heading.

  • Chapter sub-heading or section heading—not always necessary for fiction, but non-fiction such as reports, proposals and textbooks benefit from multiple subheading levels as signposts for your organization. However, you rarely need more than three levels of subheadings.
  • Visual headers—These display  the titles of your tables, graphs and pictures, if any.
  • Captions—the explanatory text below tables, graphs and pictures. It should be smaller than your body text, and ideally in a different typeface, as well.
  • Tables—If your document has a lot of tables or graphs, you will need a text style for labels, column and row headings and so on. This is where you’ll benefit most from the way that Styles enforce consistency.
  • Header—the text in the top margin of each page
  • Footer—the text in the bottom margin of each page
    Tip 1: Header and footer Styles should be smaller than your body text. You can also use a distinct typeface; for example, if your body text is Times or another serif font, use a sans-serif like Helvetica or Avant Garde for your headers and footers. If it’s a good deal smaller than the body text, you could also use boldface. However, I don’t recommend italics for a page header or footer. They’re usually too hard to read at small sizes on a screen.
    Tip 2: Word has a large number of pre-set styles for headers and footers that include folios (page numbers). These are useful for corporate documents. Choose a simple one. You don’t want to distract your readers from the body text.
    For fiction, stay with very simple folios. A number will do.

Explore

There is a lot more to Styles. Explore the options and tell me if you discover other useful tips.

Writing tip: The cascading benefits of Styles



Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of using Styles in your word processing program to make your writing more consistent, efficient and professional. This week, I explain some of the resulting efficiencies that come from understanding how to use Styles.

I am using Microsoft Word as the example, but the same concepts apply to most word processing applications.

Table of contents

Once you have set up styles for your chapter and section headings, you can use them to generate a table of contents. In Word, choose the REFERENCES ribbon, click on the arrow beside Table of Contents (first button from the left) and select Custom Table of Contents. In there, you can build your ToC from the styles you created.tocmenu

Another way to do it is to customize the pre-made heading styles built into the program, and then you can select the automatic ToC. Either way, you can choose to have multiple levels of headings and subheadings in your ToC. For fiction, you probably only need chapters, although if you have Parts, as well, you’ll need to add them and their styles to your Styles menu. In the main window, select 1 Level.

For non-fiction, where you have several levels of sub-headings, choose the number of levels you want to appear in the ToC. Usually two is enough.

Also choose the “tab leader”—whether you want dots, dashes or nothing at all between the heading and the page number in the table.

When you have selected what you want to appear in the table of contents, click OK.  The program then creates the Table of Contents, with the page numbers correctly listed.

If you change something, like add a new chapter in the middle or extend one of the them so that the new content pushes the following content onto further pages, all you have to do is click on Update Table in the ribbon, and the program corrects the page numbers.

Cascading effects

There are even more benefits to this. When you want to publish your book through Amazon or any other e-book service, the programs recognize styles. They may transform the typeface selections from, say, Times to Times New Roman, or Futura to Avenir, but at least the selections will be consistent.

This also works for blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger. If you use Styles, such as Normal and Heading 2, WordPress recognizes this and replicates it in your blog post. Again, WordPress will change the type font, but will preserve the fact that it’s a Heading 2, and assign it size, weight and position according to its own system.

Use Styles throughout

Now that you’ve seen how Styles make your writing and publishing faster and more professional, use them throughout your work. I set up a Body Text and a First Paragraph styles, and modify the style for headers and footers to my preference.

The same idea applies to pages and sections. In a future post, I’ll explain how to start new chapters with their own styles for the first page. In the meantime, try out these techniques.

If you have any questions, put them in the Comments.

Happy writing!

 

Best post-writing tip: Use Styles



Want to publish your writing more efficiently? Make sure you use the Styles function built into your word processor when you write your manuscript.

oswald_achenbach_von_ludwig_des_coudres_001

Wikipedia

I have just finished editing or proofreading two manuscripts by fellow authors in Independent Authors International. And while both are excellent novels, both were just typed in, with all formatting applied individually to each chapter title.

This is inefficient. I took the time to apply Styles from the word processing program. This has three main effects:

  • automating the production of a table of contents, required by some e-book publishing platforms
  • ensuring chapter titles, sub-headings and body text remain consistent
  • making it faster to make changes and convert your word processing file into e-book format.

It’s easy to do, and there are lots of extra functions that make the whole process even easier, and it really pays off in the re-writing, editing and publishing processes. Here’s are my favourite post-writing tips.

Styles in your word processing program

Microsoft Word is the word processing program I know best, so I’ll use it as an example. It’s also the most popular, and most other programs work in analogous ways.

For example, let’s say you want the title of each chapter to be in big, bold letters, centred on the page. Most people write the words, then format them with

  • typeface
  • size
  • case — upper/capital letters or lower-case
  • weight — bold or lightface
  • style — italic or roman, strikethrough, etc.
  • alignment — justified; flush left, ragged right; flush right, ragged left; or centred
  • colour

You can save all these characteristics in a Style in Word. Then all you have to do is select your subheading, for example, and then click on the Style in the menu. One click to set all those characteristics. Faster, easier and consistent.

There’s more you can save in a Style, though.

  • indent — for example, whether you want the first line of each paragraph to be indented
  • line-spacing — you can control how much space should appear above and below each paragraph, or chapter title, or heading or subheading
  • borders—whether you want a box or a border around the paragraph
  • Shortcut Key — you can even set up a Ctrl- or Alt-character for a swift shortcut to invoke your style without taking your fingers from the keyboard.

For example, I like to have each chapter start on its own page, with the first line of text about half-way down. So that means I want about 8 lines of space above the title, which in my case is 24-point Futura Medium, flush left.

Instead of hitting the Return key eight times before typing the chapter title, I set up a style I called “ChapterHead.” I wrote the first chapter title, defined it with the cursor and set it for 24-point Futura Medium, flush left.

stylesribbonIn Word, I selected the heading, then selected the New Style button from the Styles pane. (Click the tiny arrow that points down and to the right in the lower-right corner of the Styles section of the Home ribbon to open the pane. The button I mentioned is the bottom-left icon of that.)

That opens up a window called Create New Style from Formatting. This will show the type characteristics of the selected text: 24-point Futura Medium, Bold, flush left with single-line spacing.

stylesmenuNote the Format button with the little arrow in the bottom left corner of that menu. Clicking that allows you to choose different controls, including Numbering and Paragraph.

Paragraph is the next one to choose. Here, you can decide how much spacing you want between lines. It gives you choices like 1.5 and double spacing, but you can pretty much choose as much as you like, like 1.1 or 1.2 lines. That opens up the spacing between lines in a paragraph — what typographers at one time called “leading” (pronounced “ledding”). I like to set my display text, like headings, at single, and my body text at 1.1 or 1.2 because it improves readability.

So, to get my chapter title to begin half-way down a new page, under Spacing (third section of the menu), I set Before to 96 points. With 12-point line spacing/leading (1.1 spacing for 11 point type), that’s eight lines. On a 5 x 8-inch page, that’s about right. You can play with it until it looks the way you like.

After is 0, but in my case, I like to have a subheading, like this:

firstpage

I called the Subheading “Subhead,” and set it to be 14 point Futura Medium, bold, flush left with no space above, and 12 points or 1 line below.

And you may have noticed that the first line of the first paragraph of that chapter is not indented, but the next one is. That’s deliberate, but the subject of another blog post. (By the way, if you prefer to double-space between paragraphs, all you have to do is edit the style so that there is 6 or 12 points of space after the paragraph.)

Then, at the end of every chapter, I insert a New Section break. That forces the program to create a new blank page, and when I type the chapter title and set it for ChapterHead style, I get exactly that white space above it that I wanted. Easy-peasy.

In a future post, I’ll write about how to use Sections to help get exactly the format you want in your book.

Efficiency

The problem with doing all of this to each individual chapter heading, sub-heading, first paragraph and so on is that it’s time-consuming and, worse, invites errors. You could easily forget to add the right amount of space above or below the heading or to not indent the first line of text, or to indent every following paragraph.

Another advantage is that, if you want to change the typeface for your chapter title or subtitle, or the amount of indent for each paragraph of text, or any other characteristic, all you have to do is go to the Styles pane (or the ribbon), right-click on the style in question, select Modify, make the change, and the program will apply it automatically to every instance in your document, no matter how long.

There are lots of cascading benefits of using Styles intelligently. I’ll write about them in the next blog post.

Till then, happy writing!

Writing tip: When “inappropriate” is inappropriate



Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Last week, someone wrote racist comments under a story on the Ottawa Citizen’s online edition, about the death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook. Charles Bordeleau, Ottawa’s Chief of Police, called the comments “inappropriate.”

“I can tell you that the comments are inappropriate. They don’t reflect the values of the members of the Ottawa Police Service, they don’t reflect the values of this organization, and they certainly don’t reflect my values,” he said in an interview with the Ottawa Morning CBC radio program.

That’s the standard response when we’re confronted with expressions of racism or sexism, or any other sentiment that goes against the values we claim to espouse: “That’s inappropriate.”

But is it? What does “inappropriate” actually mean?

According to the Oxford dictionary: “not appropriate, not suitable.”

Which takes us to “appropriate”: suitable or proper

Is that what the Police Chief meant — that racist comments are not suited to the occasion?

Why not say they’re “objectionable,” “offensive” or “wrong”?

A living language

Every so often, we notice that words have changed meaning. Sometimes it’s through appropriation, like “gay” or “tweet.” The Internet — or more accurately, marketing people at companies that transact primarily via the Internet — is responsible for most of the recent examples, from “spam” to “friend” to “cloud.”

Words not only shift meaning. They also drop out of the common vocabulary. Often, we stop using words because they feel old-fashioned, like “thither.” Sometimes, we stop using words because they seem associated with ideas that we no longer agree with. No one calls anyone a “blackguard” or a “handmaid” anymore.

A living language changes over time, for many reasons.

Inappropriate is a weasel word

I think the impetus behind calling objectionable ideas or statements “inappropriate” is weaselism. That is, the urge to weasel out of responsibility for your own convictions.

To avoid confrontation, we’ll tell someone their actions or words are “inappropriate,” instead of “racist” or “sexist” or just plain wrong, of stirring up evil.

Saying “inappropriate” gives you a way out, too, if for whatever reason the argument goes against you. It gives you an escape route.

It’s a form of cowardice.

It’s weak. It’s inappropriate in itself as a response to racism — not suited to the need. Like a cardboard goalie mask.

Courtesy Wikipedia.org

I’m not going to use “inappropriate” inappropriately anymore. If I object to a statement or an action, I’m going to say so, and say why.

What about you?

How not to miss an issue of Written Words: subscribe!



For my first post of 2016, I’m going to ask all of you to subscribe to get the Written Words blog by mail. All you have to do is fill in the box to the right with your email address.

Subscribe to receive Written Words by email

Mail Icon by VectorOpenStock.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Why subscribe?

You’ll still be able to read it in your Web browser, but with a subscription you’ll get an email to remind you when a new edition is out.

This way, you won’t miss:

Free stuff

You’ll also get a free info-graphic detailing my Get a GRIP writing process. Print it out and tack it up over your computer monitor so you’ll never forget the four steps to help you write well and quickly.

And if you sign up by January 10, I’ll also send you a FREE e-copy of my occult-paranormal-thriller short story, Dark Clouds, Part 1: The Mandrake Ruse.

So there: lots of reasons to subscribe. I promise that I’ll never spam you, nor give nor sell your information to anyone else. And you can unsubscribe at any time. Even after you download the free stuff.

Why am I doing this?

I’m trying to build my “author platform,” of course—to increase the exposure I get and ultimately, sell more books. But as I said, I won’t spam you, and if you’ve read this far, you know I’m not a hard-sell kind of guy. This is just my way of gently letting you know about books and other things from authors, artists and smart people that I think are worthwhile.

What do you think?

Of this strategy? Of the blog? About email? Or about anything else on this website? I always welcome comments (from real people).