Thursday, 25 February 2016

Ink Tips: Be Your Own Gutenberg, Formatting Your Print Books

From the moment he invented the printing press, I like to imagine Gutenberg being driven nuts by requests for special font and layout requests.
You want your Bible all in small caps?
Now authors can pick from a huge variety of fonts and layout options at the touch of a drop down menu.  What do you pick?  There are plenty of sites which will give you a step by step process so I'm not going to replicate that.  Instead, I'm going to talk about what some of the standard options are, what options authors should be considering and mention a few of the more common oversights.
First up, font and spacing.  Most default fonts are Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial, none of which look good in a print book.  The most common fonts used for novels are Garamond, Caslon, Minion, Janson Text and Palatino.  However those aren't the only options.  Using a common font will give a reader a sense of reassurance and professionalism, but perhaps a writer wants to use the font as part of the reading experience.  I read one book which was entirely emails and the author used Calibri, which is the most common email font.  It added to the authenticity and illusion.  Try a number of different options and decide which looks visually best.
Standard spacing is 1.15 with the first line of each paragraph indented 0.3 inches (or 3 spaces) with no additional blank lines between paragraphs.  (For the curious, paragraphs which begin with a left-flush line and have a gap between them is the standard format for web content.)  Having a gap between paragraphs is a visual disruption and is usually used to signal a scene or point of view change.  Using 1.5 or double spacing makes your manuscript look as if it is still in the draft phase.  Using a different indentation will just look odd to an experienced reader and may end up throwing them off.
Next, page formatting.  The standard for novels is full justification, with an even line down both sides of the page.  It looks neat and smooth but can sometimes end up with odd internal spacing.  Make sure to check the defaults for hyphenation and widow-orphan protection.  Hyphenation will automatically break up longer words to avoid odd gaps, which you may or may not want.  (Personally, I don't like it.)  Widow-orphan protection ensures that a manuscript doesn't have a single line or two on one page, keeping paragraphs together.  This can lead to odd spacing at the top or bottom of a page.
Now we can get into some of the more flexible options.  Page numbers, chapter headings, headers and footers, and what to include in the front and back material.
Print books have page numbers but not necessarily on every page.  I recommend checking a number of books similar to your own to decide what the best options are.  Very few novels use page numbers for front or back material.  Some won't use them on the first page of a chapter, or will have a different placement (bottom instead of top).  Deciding where to put your page number (top, bottom, left, right, centered, mirrored) is a personal aesthetic choice.
Some authors like to use a different font for chapter headings, some use special graphics, some like a chapter to start halfway down the page, others prefer a continuous run where one chapter can end and another can begin on the same page.  Some won't start a chapter on the left hand page of a book, adding a blank page to ensure it starts on the right.  Each option creates a different experience for the reader.  A strong break for each chapter can increase the sense of tension and enhance end-of-chapter hooks.  Using a graphic or special font creates a stronger visual break.
Some authors include information in headers or footers (text which appears at the top or bottom of each page).  The most common is to have the author name on one page and the book title on the other, usually at the top.  It is less disruptive to a reader to have that information on the top of a page than at the bottom.  Some authors say including a header or footer distracts readers, some say it provides subconsciously reinforced marketing.
Your front and back material is the non-story information which is included.  Most books include a legal disclaimer and publishing information (year of publication, copyrights, etc.) at the front, as well as an internal cover page with the title and author's name and a dedication (the "To X, Y, Z").  Others include lists of the author's other books, excerpts from reviews, reading order of the books in the series, lists of characters or foreign language word definitions, quotes or other mood setters, or an overview of what has happened in previous books in the series.
The back material usually includes an "About the Author" biography, acknowledgements for those who have helped with the book, and a promotional excerpt from either the next book in the series or another popular work by the author.  Sometimes several promotional excerpts or ads are included.  Some authors will include research notes, particularly for historical or science fiction works.  Some will include a personal note to the reader, talking about their favorite parts of the book or the writing process.
Each choice a writer makes will create a different experience for his or her readers.  Decide what kind of experience you want to create: intimate, informative, invisible or something else entirely.
At the end of the day, we have a flexibility which would make Gutenberg tear his beard off in frustration.  Like the official writing "rules", all the formatting rules can be broken, provided they are broken with purpose and deliberate understanding.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Weekly Update: Feb 14 to 20

Weekly word count: 4100

February 14th was release day for Metamorphosis, which was quite exciting.  A few complications to deal with though.  I had a delay getting my mailing list up and running (my own fault for procrastinating) and Amazon is showing the print and the ebook as different for some reason (I've contacted them to fix the issue).

Releases are always a little surreal because by the time a book is released, I'm already well into the next one.  But at the same time, it's still a big deal.  This is my second novel released into the world to make it's way.  I'm much more nervous this time around, though.  People liked the first one but will that translate into liking the second one?

Another issue is one I've been debating back and forth in my head since I first got the idea for Metamorphosis.  I'm a big believer in diversity and have a wide multicultural social group.  I don't want to be locked into writing only one particular cultural experience.  However, I also recognize that writing for a social, cultural or ethnic group that a writer doesn't personally belong to can be a touchy issue and there are understandable concerns that a writer can't "get it" unless they've lived it.

In the end, I decided to go for it, even though I know it may cause problems.  I'm not a psychopath, yet I can write a serial killer villain.  I'm not a drug user, yet I can write about a character with addiction issues.  I'm not a superhero, but I can write about people with powers and the challenges they would face.  Writers don't necessarily have to directly experience something in order to explore it.

I've done my research.  I've read every book I could get my hands on that seemed to touch on the native experience.  I've talked to people who have lived up North in isolated communities.  I've read blogs and articles.  I've been respectful and done my best to work within my limitations.  But I know that there will always be those who are upset because my story doesn't reflect their own experiences and understanding.

No one story can hope to encompass every aspect of a culture.  That's why we should be encouraging as much diversity as possible, from writers both within and without.  I don't want my story to be definitive.  I want it to be one of many possible voices and options, creating a rich and varied depth that reflects the complexity of real life.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Unlikeable Heroes and How to Fix Them

I'll admit that I'm the first one to root for a sarcastic, aloof, sometimes even violent, leading man.  The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Gregory House and Wolverine are all some of my favourites, even though any intelligent woman would have to seriously question her life choices to actually enter into a relationship with any of them.

So why do those characters work?  Why do we like them despite their meanness and occasional homicidal tendencies?  I found myself pondering this question as I read several books over the last week with heroes who didn't manage to cross over to the likeable side of the equation.

We've all read heroes and heroines we had a hard time connecting to.  And then there are the ones we just plain don't like.  I have two prime examples: a hero from a Victorian historical romance who spent the entire novel divided between his proper fiancĂ© and the lively and passionate lower class heroine; and a heroine from a contemporary romance who spent the first two thirds of the book demonstrating her shallow narcissism by insulting people and focusing exclusively on how everything affected her and her aspirations of fame.

Heroes and heroines are expected to have some flaws, but authors need to take the timing into account.  By the time the halfway mark of the book rolls around, we need to see the main characters making some psychological progress.  In the case of the historical romance, it would have been perfectly acceptable for the hero to have some romantic conflict between his fiancĂ© and the heroine in the first half, but having him continue to actively pursue both women throughout the course of the novel makes him into a cheater rather than a hero.  For the contemporary romance, the girl can be shallow and narcissistic but she needs to start showing signs of redemption for the reader to connect with her.

When Roxanne St. Clair came to speak to ORWA, she mentioned a rewriting challenge she'd had with one of her books.  Her beta readers kept telling her they didn't like her hero and she realized it was because of a moment two thirds of the way through when he left the heroine in a difficult situation to pursue the bad guys.  She explained that she could have had that scene in the first half of the book but by the second half, she couldn't have her hero acting unheroically.

So how does one achieve the balance to create a flawed by likeable hero.  There are a number of techniques to get the audience on a character's side:

1) Put them in danger.  We all root for the underdog.  Even an unlikeable character can garner sympathy if he or she is in immediate danger.  However, if a character is too unlikeable, then the audience can begin hoping for the danger to finish them off.  For example, Ioan Gruffudd's character in San Andreas is a jerk throughout the movie, which makes us hope that the earthquakes and tidal waves are going to kill him.

2) Make them funny.  I have a button which says "Tact is for those who haven't the wit to be sarcastic" at home.  Characters like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. House are enjoyable in part because of their incomparable wit and eloquence. 

3) Show their elite skills.  We can admire a highly skilled assassin, thief or gangster even though those aren't generally skillsets we encourage.  Arrogance isn't as offputting when a person really is as good as he or she thinks.

4) Sympathetic backstory.  Sherrilyn Kenyon does a marvelous job of this with several of her characters.  She introduces them as unlikeable secondary characters and villains and then gives them their own books and turns them into heroes.  We discover the pain hidden behind the arrogant masks, how they became unlikeable to keep others from hurting them.

5) Touches of humanity.  Robin Hood is a thief who uses violence to rob travellers, but we like him because we see him taking care of the abused peasantry and protecting them from the corrupt nobility.  Context is everything and showing that a character isn't all bad makes it easier to accept their flaws, particularly if those flaws are addressed through out the course of the story.

The more of these techniques an author uses, the more he or she can get away with in creating a potentially unlikeable character. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Weekly Update: February 7 to 13

Weekly update: 3900

So close but not quite for my word count this week.  I've also been working hard on getting my new website ready.  And rediscovering that my brain does not work at all like a coder's.  Wordpress is not intuitive for me (like most programs).  However, after much trial and error, I think I have something functional.  It should be ready to go live sometime later today or tomorrow.

The new site is simpler than my old one, but should be easier to navigate.  I'm of two minds about it.  On the one hand, the new one is cleaner and more professional looking.  On the other, I liked my landscape background.  For now, I'm going to keep the old site for reviews, my blog and upcoming events.  I haven't decided yet whether or not to redesign it to match the new site.

I've also been having quite the inspirational burst for the next Spirit Sight short story.  I did over 2000 words in just over an hour.  It's going to have a direct tie in to the third and fourth lalassu books.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Heroine Fix: Joan Wilder, A World-Class Hopeful Romantic

I first saw Romancing The Stone at a friend's house during a sleepover.  There was much giggling that there was (gasp) kissing and naked people in it, which gives you an idea of how old we were.  I remember having a crush on Michael Douglas but Kathleen Turner's portrayal of Joan Wilder stuck with me and definitely influenced my outlook.  I love Romancing the Stone and its sequel, Jewel of the Nile.

Joan is bookish (and a professional romance writer!) but it doesn't stop her from boldly going into the terrifying jungles of Columbia to rescue her sister from treasure hunters or venturing into the Middle East to research a would-be dictator.  She was always optimistic.  When her editor accuses her of being a hopeless romantic, Joan corrects her "I'm hopeful.  A hopeful romantic."  She never gives up, no matter how daunting the odds and is actually the one figuring out most of the clues and strategies that keep her and her hero, Jack Colton, alive.  She doesn't hesitate to give him her honest opinion, telling him that "a real man doesn't have to draw attention to his actions ... he's honest, forthright and trustworthy."

Rewatching the films, I found myself vicariously enjoying and sympathizing with her life as a writer.  From the opening sequence in Romancing where she's sobbing over her own ending as she types up her manuscript to her confession that she writes as a "way of living in another age", I identified so strongly that I started wondering if I owed the screenwriter money for copyright infringement.  (Since my life does not have a rough-around-the-edges man with a shotgun squiring me from shootout to shootout, I'll assume I'm still good.)  I also loved when she got frustrated enough with her characters to throw her typewriter overboard in the opening sequence of Jewel.  I've had days like that, although rarely a convenient body of water with which to dramatically express my irritation.

I love how she and Colton keep getting saved by enthusiastic Joan Wilder fans.  Someday I hope that my books are popular enough that I can avoid being killed by a drug cartel because the head honcho loves my stories.  I love how she uses events from her plots to figure out what's going on (figuring out where the treasure is hidden from her first book, Treasures of Lust and trying to scrape free of prison bars, inspired by her biggest seller, Angelina's Savage Secret).  And how the bad guys are always able to identify her from her book cover photos.  (For some real amusement, check out the back blurb for this prop from the movies.  As a writer, I found it hilarious.  Maybe I should try it for my next book.)

Joan is not a Buffy-type heroine who kicks butt and takes names, but no one can doubt her strength.  She defies kidnappers, drug lords, dictators, her editor and even the love of her life, Jack.  Not once does she back down when she believes she's right, no matter how much she has to lose.  Her personal integrity is both impressive and unshakeable.  I'm not sure that I would have the guts to tell a man with a shotgun that he is not being a gentleman when he is my only shot at getting out of the jungle alive.  She insists on expecting the world to live up to her own idealized version of itself rather than becoming cynical with compromise.

And after all of her trials and challenges, she finds herself with everything she could have hoped for.  She hasn't compromised herself, her goals or her integrity but still managed to find romance and happiness.  She is still a writer, a hopeful romantic and ready to ride into the next sunset.  She hasn't given up anything which was important in her life and she's gained everything she hoped for.  So many romantic comedies end with the woman deciding that what she wanted isn't as important as her love for the hero (which can be a good sign of character growth but still grates on me somewhat) but Joan never has to make a choice between her dreams and her heart.  And that, to me, is the perfect happily ever after.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Weekly Update: January 31st to February 6

Weekly update: 1200 words

I had to wave a flag of surrender this week as my family and I got hit by a nasty bug.  It left my brain more suited to rote repetition than creative expression.

I did still manage some achievements.  I got my registration in for the annual Romance Writers of America conference.  It's overwhelming to contemplate.  I'm a quiet, sit at home kind of gal for the most part and now I've signed up for a major professional conference with over 2000 attendees.  I'm determined not to be a mouse-in-the-corner and take full advantage to learn and have fun.

I also learned that RWA accepted my workshop proposal, which definitely helps financially, since it includes a discount on my conference registration fee.  And I've got some roommates lined up to help with the hotel bill.

I also got in touch with Pub Craft and we're going to get started on a promotional campaign.  And I got the print proof in to Createspace, despite some frustrating challenges with their digital reviewer.

I also finally began training my assistant for my day job, which should help with a workload which has been steadily creeping past my usual hours. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Friday Quote Cards: Doc

I think we've all had the experience of not quite fitting in, of believing we were meant to be somewhere else or someone else. 
Hopefully, all of us can find the homes we were meant to have.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Tips for Affordable Research Opportunities

I'm probably not the only one who has a little spark of jealousy flare when I hear about an author taking a research trip.  Scotland, Japan, Savannah, Alaska, Rio... I could keep going but the point is that the world is full of great locations which would make awesome settings for novels.  Nothing creates authenticity as much as being able to absorb and take in the atmosphere, particularly if an author is fortunate enough to be able to make repeated visits.

For those of us who are still more in the budget-conscious income bracket, we're not stuck with writing about settings based on a fifty mile radius of our home.  There are some great research options which don't require a big financial investment: only time.

First recommendation: real estate listings and Google Street View.  The first serious novel I wrote was set in New York (and once I rewrite it to get rid of my obvious newbie mistakes in plotting and character development, I will share it with you all, promise).  I needed a location which would be affordable for 3 girls to share an apartment on relatively low incomes.  I spent three days going through sublet ads and real estate listings for different areas in New York until I narrowed down on one in particular.  Then I spent another few days using the Google Street View to look at what was in the area.  I found the local bodega, an amazing street mural, the route to the subway station, all sorts of details to help create authentic local colour in my writing.  I even found a floorplan for the apartments in one of the buildings.

Second recommendation: reality shows.  Hold on, before you groan and turn off your screen, I am aware that there is a dramatically low amount of "reality" in those shows.  But I've found them to be invaluable tools to pick up regional dialects and speech patterns.  Listening to the participants speak and interact can give you the rhythm of the words.  Do they tend to give longer answers or shorter ones?  Do conversations tend to be one-side monologues or more even exchanges?

Third recommendation: YouTube.  Take advantage of our "every moment documented" culture to explore different areas and cultural groups.  And not just for big events like major festivals or disasters.  Even a child's birthday party can be a great opportunity to pick up on scenery and dialogue inspiration.

Fourth recommendation: bloggers.  I wanted to know what issues native women faced in the North and I found a number of blogs talking about concerns which wouldn't even have occurred to me, such as subtle pressure to have children to repopulate tribal numbers or feeling torn between wanting to explore the world and supporting a traditional way of life which seems to be vanishing with each generation.

Fifth recommendation: friends and family.  The theory of six degrees of separation might be a little exaggerated, but I was surprised to discover how wide my reach extended when I asked for help getting in touch with correctional officers and prisoners.  You never know whether your friend might have an uncle who spent years teaching in Korea or a cousin might be friends with someone who works with veterans who have PTSD.  When I can't go in person, the next best thing is to find someone who's already there.

Someday I hope to be able to afford to do research trips to all the places which have fired my imagination.  (I'm still holding out hope for a time machine of some kind.)  But for now, my budget doesn't have to limit my inspiration.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Weekly Update: January 24 to 30

Weekly word count: 4100

It's been a crazy week but I got the final version of Metamorphosis in to Amazon.  And I've almost got the print version ready to go to Createspace, so maybe we'll be lucky enough to have both ready at the same time for release on Valentine's Day.  (It will still take an extra 6-8 weeks for the print book to be available on the site.)

I've also contacted Pub-Craft about doing some promotional work.  And found a contest to enter Revelations in.  And talked to people about rooming together for RWA in San Diego.  And dealt with a sick husband and kids (knock on wood for me getting to avoid it).

This week is going to be another crazy one.  Registration opens for RWA.  I have to get the print formatting done.  I'm also working on a promotional booklet for ORWA to showcase the books published by our members in 2015.  Oh yes, and I still have my day job.

I sent a sneak peek of my first five chapters of Inquisition to my ever-helpful sounding board (thank you, Chris) and she has confirmed that it's coming together well.  It's really nice to be composing at the keyboard again instead of just editing.