Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MSWord for the Novelist - Manuscript Templates

I'm starting a new series today, one that I hope you will find useful. I am a power-user of Microsoft Word, and I have long used a custom-designed manuscript template that suppresses all the more writer-unfriendly features of Word.

How would you like a document template that never forces the issue with "smart quotes," never auto-hyphenates and never mucks with your lines-per-page count? How would you like to be able to start up a fresh document all ready with your font of choice, be it Times or Courier, set up to 12 point, with 1 inch margins (not 1 1/4!), and even double-spaced? Well, here it goes!

These instructions assume Word 2003, which is the version I use both at work and at home. If I have enough demand for it, I'll rewrite the instructions for 2007. It may seem like a lot of steps, but you only have to do this once. I advise you to print this post for easier reference.
  • First things first. Bring up Tools, then Options. On the View tab, in the Show box, clear the Smart Tags checkmark. You may also want to check Vertical Ruler under Print and Layout Options.
  • Click Tools, Language, then Hypenation. Make sure the "Automatically Hyphenate Document" is unchecked.
  • Click Tools, then AutoCorrect. Click AutoFormat. Clear the boxes that begin with Straight Quotes, Ordinals, Fractions and Hyphens. Click AutoFormat As You Type. Uncheck everything. From now on, you will have to hit the Tab key at the beginning of each paragraph. This is useful for sending document chunks (such as via email when sending partials and fulls). You will not have to re-tab everything if the tabs are already gone.
  • Bring up Format, then Font. Select the font and size of your choice (12 point Times New Roman or Courier New).
  • Click Format, then Paragraph. Under Spacing, select Double. Click Line and Page Breaks. Unclick everything here except Don't Hyphenate. This stuff is only important for business and legal documents when you have headings that you want to stay with the text that they go with. And you don't want automatic hypenation.
  • Click File, then Page Setup. Adjust your margins to 1 inch all the way around. On the Layout tab, click Different first page. This will allow you to have a title page without headers and footers. Click the Default button and then click Yes.
Ok, by this point, you will have a nicely-behaved document. But you're not done yet. When you move on to the next document, you will have to do this all over again . . . unless you convert the document to a template.
  • To do so, click File, then Save as . . .
  • Drop down the Save as type box, and select "Document Template (*.dot)".
  • Name it Manuscript (or something meaningful to you) and click Save. Word will automatically append the ".dot" to the end and save it in the Templates folder.
Ta da! You now have a Manuscript template.

To use the template, click File, then New. Over on the right side, the New Document taskbar will appear. Click On my computer . . . and the Manuscript template should appear in the General tab, which is the first tab. Double-click your template and it will load.

You're done. Begin writing. The beauty of this approach is that it has absolutely no affect on your default template.

Next installment: Custom Word Styles for the Novelist. Believe me, Word Styles are worth taking the trouble to learn.

I'd love to know if you were able to use these instructions with success.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Starcaster, Chapter One

I am polishing up a kick-ass new Chapter One of Starcaster. I don't know how many times I started this novel, and was never satisfied with my openings. Then one day, I decided to write out some backstory. I had alluded to the backstory before, but I had never actually written it out. Therefore, I wrote it out even though I didn't know what I would do with it. I just wanted to get it out.

Once I wrote it, I knew I just had to find a way to open the story with it. And I did. I introduce most of the principal characters along with some principal villains.

Here's a scene from a later chapter, where Tory describes this mission to another character:

"Well, I was supposed to deliver a decoding disk to an operative who was working out of the Tarquil Embassy as a domestic servant. He was a Gold Corps operative. He didn't keep his appointment to meet me, so I snuck into the Embassy, located him and delivered the disk."

"You were starcasting?"

"No. This was during the day."

"How did you do it?"

"Well, I speak fluent Tarquillan. I disguised myself as a servant and talked my way inside. He was working as a footman, so it was not difficult once I was inside."

"How did you get back out?"

"I tried to talk my way back out, but I had not considered that they would not let me out again. I was told to get back to work. So I busied myself with chores until nightfall, and managed to steal a battle map in the meantime. It detailed plans to ambush a ship in the Straights. I was almost caught, but I managed to get away. Later, our navy was able to ambush the ambushers."

It's action-packed, with high stakes and narrow escapes. I'm having lots of fun with it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tall, Dark and Handsome, They're Not

I've been thinking about recurring themes in my novels. One thing that I noticed is that I tend to avoid the "tall, dark and handsome" type of man. I figure I can't top Fitzwilliam Darcy, so there's no use in even trying. So here are some short descriptions of some of my leading men.

  • "Tall, blonde and balding." Yup, I have a balding leading man. There IS such thing as a good-looking bald guy, after all--we've all known them. Why should the leading man always have an incredible thatch of thick, luxuriant hair?
  • "short, beefy and badass." Same goes for tall men. I happen to have a tall man for a husband. But there are plenty of worthy short guys out there. And some short men are incredably tough. My husband's favorite football player is Maurice Jones-Drew, a running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Maurice helped inspire my own short leading man.
  • "Not-quite-tall-enough, dark and charismatic." Ok, so this guy is tall, but the girl is taller. (She's taller than almost everyone she meets). This guy isn't very good-looking, but he has a charisma that is almost unearthly, and which gets him into all kinds of trouble.
  • "Tall, dark and handsome." Unfortunately, this guy doesn't get the girl.

Do your leading men fall outside the Fitzwilliam Darcy phenotype?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Point System

Over at Sandra's blog, she detailed a point system that she had told me about a couple of months ago. I wanted to blog about it then, but I didn't recall all the details. Here's how it works:

Query or short story out there - 1 point
Requested partial on agent or editor's desk - 3 points
Full manuscript on agent or editor's desk - 8 points

I have 19 points. How many points do you have?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sundry Subjects

I'm back in the swing of things with Starcaster. I've worked in my new opening scene, and I think I've smoothed out all the plot wrinkles. I'm now on the fourth chapter, which is the second chapter I've had to rewrite.

I'm now on my third official draft. Forging a Legend took five drafts (or maybe six), and I expect to be able to take one fewer with Starcaster. I could be wrong--the plot is much more twisty and complicated.

Backspace is interesting, and the boards are inactive enough that it is reasonable to visit one time each day. You can easily catch up on all the threads that have changed since then, which usually are about twenty. The writing crowd is not as diverse there as at Absolute Write--they seem to have a more literary and mainstream crowd. There's a query workshop coming up with some well-known agents; it might be worth joining just to take part in the workshop. I plan to submit a query for Starcaster, since one of the judges has already responded positively to my query for Forging a Legend.

I finished a debut that just blew me away. It's called Elom, written by William H. Drinkard. Sometimes when I read someone's writing, I'm just awed. He came up with some really great stuff for Elom--what an imagination! He's an older guy, judging from his picture, and you can tell from the depth of his writing that he ain't no young thing. If you're interested in the review, just click the Fantasy Debut link, over there to the left somewhere.

Goals for the week:
  • Resubmit "Spin" (carryover from last week)
  • Get halfway through rewrite of Starcaster
  • Send more queries

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Zapping Myself with the Inspiration Gun

I've been feeling icky, which has made me feel somewhat uninspired. When I'm feeling uninspired, I turn off the radio on my way to and from work, roll down the window, and just think. My thoughts go something like this:

First, I use my mental Plot Hole Prod to find weak points in my plot. Then, Real Life intrudes when spot a gas station and note that the price of gas is now 3.59 a gallon. I wonder what our electric bill will be come July.

I shove the thought aside and try to dream up connections between characters. My stomach growls and I wonder what we'll have for dinner. I drag my thoughts back to my plot. I stop for a red light. Big truck rumbles up beside me. I get in a groove, imagining a great new twist. Then, with a deafening hiss, the truck's air brakes blast the twist right out of my head. With an annoyed glance at the truck, I roll up my window and put on the air conditioning. Once I clear the intersection, I turn off the AC, let the cool air run out and then roll the window back down. In the meantime, I try to recapture the great twist, which now lingers like a ghost in my mind. It was once there for real, but now it lacks substance. As I approach the last big intersection before home, I ponder whether I should take the railroad bridge or the shorter route, where I risk getting stopped by an incredibly long, Florida train. I thank God that my choices are so mundane. I gamble on the shorter route. It's a lucky day.

I'm so unfocused!

This week's goals:
  • Make my new Starcaster opening make sense.
  • Work on downgrading poor Sam.
  • Send "Spin" to another market (you know what that means)
Many thanks to Katie, who read "Spin" and found a few small yet significant problems with it.