Writing tips: What is style?



Creative Commons: dbdbrobot

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing style lately. Actually, I’ve thought a lot about it for a long time — as long as I’ve been writing, which is most of my life.

I find that my response to a book or to a writer, no matter what the subject is, depends a lot on style. I like an author who is original, who does not just try to copy a best-seller or the current trend in books you can pick up at the drug store.

But there is also something else that determines how well I like a story, something about the way the writer uses language.

I’ll give you an example: Margaret Atwood is generally accepted as one of today’s greatest writers. She has written a great many books in of a range of types — I am trying to avoid using the word “style” in different ways here — and, it could be argued, in different genres. Alias Grace could be called “historical fiction,” set in 19th century Upper Canada and based loosely on real events. The Handmaid’s Tale is a set in a dystopian future and, while it doesn’t have a lot of sci-fi tropes, it won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best science fiction.

Atwood is both accomplished and unarguably a master of the writing craft, but while she writes about many different subjects, there is something about her manner of writing that puts me off a little. The only word I can use to describe it is heavy. Her writing is heavy — I don’t read it quickly or easily; on the other hand, I can’t put it down once I start, either.

One writer whose style I really admire is Mark Helprin’s, particularly in his Winter’s Tale, a fantasy set in New York City. In addition to his ability to meld fantastic elements, humour and action into a setting simultaneously believable and fantastic, Helprin also manages to be very descriptive as well as economical with prose. It’s as good an example of magical realism as any I’ve ever read.

But what is it that determines the style? Word choice? Sentence length? Description? Active voice? Those are just a few items in the writer’s toolbox. Also critical are creating realistic, believable and interesting characters, pacing, mixing action and pathos and so much more.

The accepted good

There is a tension between popularity and what is accepted as “good writing” by the publishers and the leading literary critics of any time.

For instance, today, “good” writing is usually characterized by lean prose, active voice, realistic dialogue and sparse description. Writing coaches keep advising us to avoid adverbs in favour of more precise verbs, except when it comes to describing dialogue. We should only use “said,” and not try to change that around with “exclaimed,” or “replied.”

Crime novelist Elmore Leonard came out with ’s 10 rules of writing a couple of years ago; he admitted that he was at least a little facetious at the time, but now he says he seriously believes them. Okay. And Leonard is a great writer, and changed the literary world, and sells zillions of copies, okay, okay — but is he the arbiter of the English language, now? What if something happens in a sudden way? Elmore, what is wrong with the word “suddenly”?

The exemplars of great writing are still supposed to be Fitzgerald and Hemingway. I love their work, but again — should we all try to emulate their styles?

On the other side of that tension is writing that flies in the face of those rules, yet sells millions of copies. The current target of criticism is EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. Here’s a passage:

I watch José open the bottle of champagne. He’s tall, and in his jeans and T-shirt, he’s all shoulders and muscles, tanned skin, dark hair, and burning dark eyes.

Descriptive, yes. Also clichéd — it’s been done so many times. “Burning dark eyes”? While we can all imagine what those must look like, couldn’t the author have thought of something original?

And yet, millions of readers ate that up, burning eyes and all. Did the burning eyes cause heartburn, I wonder?

Description

Writing coaches also tell us not to use too much description. Hemingway and Fitzgerald did not describe what their protagonists looked like. Okay, but Dashiel Hammet did.

I agree that too much description can get in the way of the story. There is a lot of material for people to read, that communication of any kind must compete for an audience’s attention with so much more material than there ever was before, so we writers should always try to get as much information across as efficiently as possible — fewer words, more information. I get that.

Efficiency is the goal! (Photo: The Pug Father/Creative Commons )

But we do need to describe some things, some times. And occasionally, an adverb is the best way to do that. See?

Who says so?

Watch this space. Last week, children’s- and middle-grade author Roger Eschbacher opined about writing style. In future, other bestselling authors will weigh in on the subject. So watch this space, and leave lots of comments and questions for the guests, please. Maybe we can finally determine exactly what writing style is, after all.

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!

Secrets in an old wallet



mauriceI have been stuck for quite a long time in the writing of the third installment of the trilogy based on my father-in-law’s life, Walking Out of War.

Until I pulled a little slip of paper out of a tattered, old wallet and broke the logjam by putting the subject of my story, Maurice Bury, into a real time and place.

Writing this trilogy that began with has taken a lot of research. I don’t want to begin estimating the number of hours, but literally, the effort has spanned more than
10 years.

It began with Maurice’s stories about the war. Then, we sat down to serious interviews, where I took extensive notes.

His wartime experience fell into three phases, the first two of which I have already published in Army of Worn Soles and Under the Nazi Heel.

ArmyofWornSoles-smaller

The third part, Walking Out of War, covers Maurice’s experience as a private in the Red Army from 1944 to 1945. And while I still had those interview notes, Maurice passed away 12 years ago, so I cannot ask him about questions that come up only when you try to write a story like this.

So I had to turn to historical records. Thank you, Wikipedia and Professor Orest Subtelny.

Bringing the story to life

Anyone who has tried to tell an accurate story about the Second World War can tell you how confusing it can be, with many different forces acting in several
different theatres of war at the same time.

I used a range of sources, including some of Maurice’s personal effects. They included a tattered, battered old wallet containing some fascinating documents:

  • alliedtravelpass-tovienna-inside Allied Expeditionary Force D.P. Index cards, signed by Maurice in Cyrillic script
  • a notarized affidavit from Maurice’s aunt in Montreal, mentioning Maurice as a Canadian citizen living in a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Displaced Persons camp in Landeck, Austria
  • Allied Travel permits authorizing Maurice to go from Landeck to Vienna in early 1947.

These and other documents supported Maurice’s story and my notes about going from Berlin to Ingolstadt, Bavaria, and then Landeck, Innsbruck and finally Vienna before coming home to Canada.

But I was still having trouble getting Maurice’s journey clear in my own mind.

 

The final clue

tdbnletterMonths later, I saw a thin pocket in the old wallet that I had never noticed before. From it, I pulled out a thin slip of yellowed paper. Typed with an uneven manual
typewriter was the following:

 

Recen. Co. 692 T.D.Bn.

July 7, 1945.

To whom it may concerns:

 

     The following two men, Maurice Bury, and Tkacz

Bazyli , have been working for us as K. P.s for the last

xxxxx month, and we have found there  work to be very

satisfactory.

We recommend them very highly.

signed,

John Gardner

1st Lt. W.A.

commanding

 

I was very excited. I showed it to a retired Canadian Armed Forces general, who explained some of the abbreviations at the top. “T.D.Bn” stands for “tank destroyer battalion.” And the reference to “K.P.” indicated an American unit.

Maurice had told me that, following the war, he had worked for the American Army, first helping out in the kitchen and then as a translator—he spoke English, German and Russian as well as Ukrainian.

A Google search for the 692nd Tank Destroyer Battalion told me that it indeed had been formed in 1942, arriving in France in September 1944. It was attached to the 104th Infantry Division, and then to the First Canadian Army, which it supported in its attack on Antwerp, Belgium and the crossing of the Maas River.  The 692nd repelled the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, and in February 1945 its accurate artillery fire preserved the Regamen Bridge over the Rhine, allowing the Canadian troops to cross, saving lives. It was also the only unit called upon to break the Siegfried line more than once.

This was the unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

At the end of the war, the 692nd took on occupation duties in an area around the Bavarian-Austrian border.

At last, I had corroborating evidence putting Maurice Bury in southern Germany on a specific date shortly after the end of the war: July 7, 1945. It gave me two other names, as well: Lt. John Gardner, commanding officer of the 692nd on that day; and “Tkacz Bazyli.”

That’s just one of the mistakes in the letter. You’ll notice the other typos, too. “Tkacz” is a Ukrainian surname, and Maurice was friends with a man named Basil Tkacz in Montreal.

Why is this important?

This little slip of paper helped me put the end of Maurice journey out of the war into order.

This little slip of paper makes an anchor. He was in southern Germany, or maybe norther Austria, on July 7, 1945.

It gave me a timeline.

And that has allowed me to finish writing the story.

I know that I promised to release Walking Out of War before the end of 2016, and I’m sad to say that I won’t be able to do that.

I have written the draft and completed the re-write, adding all the little details. But now the manuscript has to go to an editor, a proofreader and some beta readers. It will also need a cover design before I format it and publish it as an e-book and a print book.

But know that it is imminent. All the pieces are in place, anchored with historical detail. So don’t despair, readers. The final installment of the trilogy will be in your hands soon.

 

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?

Written Words interview the reviewers: Sue Devers and Amina Giraldez



CatReadingThis week, Written Words turns the tables on book reviewers by asking them few questions about what they’re looking for in the books they review.

Today, we have two avid readers whose have carved out a broad platform on Amazon and Goodreads: Sue Alexander Devers and Anima Giraldez.

What genres do you review?

Sue Devers: Almost anything that isn’t Romance, Western, or Zombie.

Anima Giraldez: Anything and everything.  I prefer a suspenseful mystery or crime novel with a hint of romance.

Why do you prefer those genres?

Sue Devers: They are exciting and they are good at helping me escape my boring everyday life.

Anima Giraldez: The idea of trying to solve the mystery or figure out the plot is the most intriguing.  As a stay-at-home mom with a LEO for a husband I just don’t have that much excitement in my world.  I get to visualize a beautiful country I’ll never visit, learn something new or experience danger I would never get to otherwise.

What do you get out of them?

Sue Devers: I get to visit different places–real or not–some of which I would love to go to myself!!!  LOL  Also meeting new friends and enemies.

Anima Giraldez: The idea of trying to solve the mystery or figure out the plot is the most intriguing.  As a stay at home mom with a LEO for a husband I just don’t have that much excitement in my world.  I get to visualize a beautiful country I’ll never visit, learn something new or experience danger I would never get to otherwise.

What do you look for in a book that you review?

Sue Devers: Continuity, a good story and well-rounded characters.

Anima Giraldez: I look for that thrill that keeps me reading past bedtime, while my kids are playing so I can ignore them or keep me on the elliptical longer while I forget I’m exercising.  I look for a book that can put some zing between the sheets without making it raunchy or too frequent that I lose interest.  I also need to have at least two weeks to adjust for others on my calendar or having to read others in a series first.

What is the worst mistake that an author can make in a book?

Sue Devers: Something that pulls me from the story, sends me back to the “real” world.

Anima Giraldez: Timelines are tricky.  When dates are splashing about and ages are mentioned I have a nasty habit of trying to make it sure lines up right, when it doesn’t I’m the first to call it out.  Guess that’s my OCD coming out.

What is the worst mistake in your opinion that an author can make when trying to promote a book?

Sue Devers: Not describing the book accurately in the blurb.  I hate picking up books thinking they are one style and they are something totally different.

Anima Giraldez: Sending a book out to reviewers far too early, which can get forgotten. Sending it out not early enough, which means a speed read or it’s not read in time for release. Promoting is tricky enough but I would think a few solid reviews could really help a release.

Which is more important to you: the plot/story, characters, or the writer’s style? 

Sue Devers: The plot/story—unless it is labeled fantasy, then make it at least mostly believable.

Anima Giraldez: Man, that’s tough. Characters that are memorable in some way is important to me.  The banter they flirt or tease with will either have me laughing in stitches or cringing with distaste. Chemistry is important in romance or murder mystery, in the normal world we have to get along and normal feel good vibes are important.  I feel like the plot could be anything as long as the characters are people I could hang with and actually have some intelligence.

Name a classic book in the genre you favour most that you think today’s writers should aspire to equal. 

Sue Devers: Well, Lord of the Rings by Tolkien; The Godfather by Puzo; Laurell K Hamilton for vampires, shifters, zombies, and such.

Anima Giraldez: I can’t say that I’ve read a classic book in ages, probably since my AP English classes 20 years ago and they weren’t in my fave genre.

Desert island question: name three record albums you would take with you if you were stranded on the island from Lost (where they had vinyl records and diamond-stylus record players). 

Sue Devers: The Eagles—best of 75 thru 79; any of the a cappella group Home Free’s albums; and I don’t know for a third—maybe Enya.

Anima Giraldez: Anything by Dean Martin, Van Halen (if a record was available) and Billy Joel. 

Thank you, book reviewers!

meSue Alexander Devers has lived in St. Joseph, MO most of her life. She’s been an avid reader since a very young age, and drove a school bus for 10 years, then a semi for about a year. She’s also been a truck driver, then dispatcher and supervisor until she became disabled. Now, reading and reviewing books take up much of her time.

 

 

10151396874681448Amina Giraldez lives in Salinas, CA about 15 minutes from Monterey and beautiful Carmel with her husband, a 20-year law-enforcement officer, and two young children. Her full name, Anima-Christi, is a Catholic prayer that means “spirit of Christ.”

“My parents felt the creative bug, I guess,” she says.  

“I became an avid reader after reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and followed it up with the 50 Shades series, then I grabbed whatever I could.  When my husband works the midnight shift, I have plenty of quite time in the evenings to devour books.  After making some contacts with favorite authors on Facebook I began getting early releases for free and realized how important reviews are to the author.  I pride myself on getting reviews posted on release day and supporting the author through my ratings.”  

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/7011603-anima.

 

 

 

 

Knee injuries and communication



KneeBrace smallerIf you follow my communication on Facebook, you’ll know that last week, I injured my knee pretty severely in a mundane household accident. (My older son, The Blond Ravin’, says that’s proof that no one should undertake home improvements, but that’s another post I’ll have to figure out how to connect with “communication.”)

I ended up spending two days in the hospital — not two solid days, but two interrupted days, requiring several trips back and forth. The experience provided me with several observations about communication in action. And as you probably figured, ample time in waiting rooms, which afforded opportunities to get some writing done.

What happened

I simply slipped on the stairs as I was taking down some dangling glass plates, about 9 x 22 cm, in preparation for replacing a chandelier. I have taken down those plates for cleaning many times without incident.

But last Tuesday evening, when I had about five of the plates in my hand, I thought that was enough to carry down in one load for fear of dropping them on the stairs. I was standing on about the ninth or tenth step at the time. I turned, my heel slipped over the edge of the stair, and as I started to fall, all I thought was “Don’t drop the glass!”

I don’t know whether I went down one step or two. But when my heel hit the lower step, my right knee bent the wrong way. I felt a pain in my kneecap that made my vision go completely white.

And I dropped the glass plates, hearing at least two shattering on the hardwood floor below.

(“See?” my younger son, Super Nicolas said later. “That’s the trouble with hardwood. It’s super slippery, and it’s hard.)

The whole family came to see what had happened and my sons helped me down the remaining stairs. I limped to a couch and sat, as the family cleaned the shattered glass.

That was the end of my home renovation work for the day. And as it was already getting late, I decided not to seek medical attention at the time, as that would require going to the hospital emergency room. And you know what that means: hours of waiting.

So, I took some Tylenol and iced my knee, and then went to bed.

swollenKneeThe next morning, I saw just how swollen my knee was. I found a pair of crutches we had bought for Super Nicolas after he injured his ankle in some kind of sport (I don’t remember whether it was cross-country bicycling, rock climbing, hiking or what) and managed to adjust them so they were short enough for me. Then I went to work in my home office, interrupted several times:

  • the arrival of the contractor who came to replace the chandelier
  • his dropping and breaking of at least on more of the glass plates that I had left dangling on the old chandelier after my mishap
  • the arrival of a repairman for the clothes dryer
  • calls to and from two different IT specialists to figure out why a client’s computer would not connect to my home WiFi network.

As you can understand, I didn’t make a lot of progress that day. But all the limping across the house on a crutch sure didn’t make my knee feel better.

By the end of the day, despite aspirin and icing to reduce swelling, my knee wasn’t smaller. Super Nicolas compared it to a large grapefruit.

(Actually, he said “Dad, you should go to the hospital for your knee.”

“Why?” responded.

“Well, it’s the size of an apple.” He went to the kitchen to fetch an apple. “Oh, knees are about the size of apples. Okay, it’s the size of a grapefruit.”)

He was right. I resolved that if the swelling did not go down after another night of aspirin and ice, I would seek medical attention.

The next morning, the knee was no better. I managed to get an appointment in the afternoon with my family doctor. (She’s great. Shout out to Dr. Anne Fraser at the Westend Family Care Clinic!)

In the late afternoon, my wife drove me to the clinic. Using Super Nicolas’s crutch I limped in.  Dr. Fraser described my knee as “spectacular. The red colour and the size — spectacular!” She also said that in her 30 years of practice, I was the first to walk in, even using a crutch, with that kind of injury. (I told you I was badass.)

She advised me to go for immediate x-rays. On the requisition chart, she wrote “In case of boney trauma, send patient to emerg. immediately.”

Well, I decided to go home for supper first. Roxanne then drove me to the hospital for x-rays. I told her not to wait — I had my iPad, and I discovered that the hospital near me has gotten over its irrational fear of cell phones and actually installed a free guest WiFi network!

The x-ray area had no waiting, and the technician called the radiology doctor, the one qualified to interpret the results, at home right away. Within 40 minutes, the radiology department receptionist told me to go to emergency.

“Do I have boney trauma?” I asked her.

“I’m sorry. I’m not allowed to pass on that kind of information to patients. But your form says to refer the patient to Emergency immediately if any bone damage is found.”

In other words, add two and two, idiot. I mean, patient.

The communications lesson

In Canada, at least, and probably in the U.S. and most of the world that has adopted the Western medical philosophy, medical professionals seem to have a policy of not sharing information with patients. Have you ever tried to look at your own chart? I did once and the nurse in the ward yelled at me for it. (Not this time — that was some years ago, in a different hospital and a different city.)

Creative Commons

Non-medical people cannot dispense medical information in a hospital. And doctors are notoriously hard to talk to, because they’re just so busy. So the person with the least information is the patient — about his or her own health!

The next step was to crutch-walk to the Emergency department, which offered more observable moments in communication. But I see that I’ve rambled on for quite long already, so I’ll tell you that whole story in my next post. I will say here, though, that I was very impressed by the courtesy and care I received at the Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa.

But I will end by saying that I spent long periods over the next couple of days sitting or lying in a number of different rooms in the hospital. I finished the last chapter of my next book, Dead Man Lying: A Lei Crime Kindle World novella. So something came out of it.

Kathleen Valentine, a wonderful writer and good friend, tagged me in a Facebook “7-7-7 Challenge,” where I post seven lines from page 7 of my work in progress. You can read that here.

How to use characters’ emotional frustration



A guest post by Scott Justin

ScottJustinAbout a month ago, a young writer named Scott Justin sent me an email, offering a guest essay for Written Words. Here is his observation on a tool that writers can use to bring audiences into their stories and bond with the characters.

What do you think? Leave a Comment for Scott.

Emotional frustration is a powerful tool for authors to create strong characters and move a plot along. Because it’s a link between the inner self and external circumstances, emotional frustration is a very common theme in novels and plays.

In general terms, frustration is a nervousness that derives from not being capable of doing what we wish to do. Obviously, most of the time, humans fall short of doing what they wish to do. The same thing is obvious in a fictional character. When writing a script, story or novel, portraying emotional frustration within characters is essential. Emotional frustration within characters brings originality and genuineness to your fictional work. But the main benefit of including emotion and frustration is that it can boost the writer’s imaginations, expression and creativity.

Why frustrate emotions?

Frustration arises when a person fails to get what he or she desires. Love, hate, rage and desire are most common emotions writers use to create emotional frustration in their characters. Love for a person or desire to accomplish an aim drives most plots in movies and novels. But in a good story, characters cannot attain their goals and love immediately, giving rise to emotional frustration.

Frustration makes a story work. William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet brought to life the emotion of frustrated characters. The lovers’ lives are sacrificed to end the dispute between two powerful families. The main characters fail in their plans and become one through their death. By portraying emotional frustration of two lovers, Shakespeare could ensure that Romeo and Juliet’s love grips a stimulating and deeply united notion of love.

Romeo & Juliet_Henri_Pierre_Picou

Wikimedia Commons

If Romeo and Juliet met, fell in love, got married and lived happily for years with no obstacles, there would be no story. Shakespeare used the lovers’ frustration to create a tragic love story that is compelling, moving and immortal. He used the themes of hostility, love, hate, family dispute, violence and friendship to show the characters’ emotional frustration. Romeo and Juliet reminds us the importance of building emotional frustration within characters in order to make a superior plot.

Frustration draws audiences

Building emotional frustration within characters is crucial for a writer because it draws the attention of audiences. The emotionally engaged moment in a novel or movie will also draw an audience into the experience. If you fail as a writer to show emotional frustration within characters, the audience will turn away from the story because it offers them no experience. Without emotional frustration within characters, the plot can feel be a dried up or empty.

Emotional frustration is is easy to perceive, because it bonds a reader to the story and its characters. The success of every writer lies in depicting character’s frustration to best advantage as, for an example, Emotional frustration within characters creates story and how your character manages frustration will decide main components of your plot.

Frustration as an expression

Death of Romeo & Juliet - Frederick Leighton

Wikimedia Commons

Writers can use emotional frustration as expression. In a play, frustration can present substantial energy and feel tangible to an actor. For that reason, emotional frustration within characters can make the plot more engaging.

All successful stories, regardless of what genre, use the two elements of emotion and frustration as powerful tools to create a bond between their characters and the audience, to better express themselves.

About the guest author:

I am Scott Justin. I have been working as a freelance writer for the last 15 years. I appreciate this calling since it helps me to draw out the best in me inevitably. I have written articles for journals, blogs, and many other online publications. I have a graduate degree from St. Joseph’s University. Educating is another calling expert that I cherish. I have been working with a professional cheap essay writing service for ten years. I find it rewarding to present the best thoughts appropriately in formal and scholarly structures in different fields.