Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MS Word for the Novelist - Revisions, Part One

This is a document that I originally wrote for my co-workers. Since it's so long, I'm going to tackle it in at least two parts. This first part introduces revisioning in general.

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As writers, we often take part in online critique groups, where we swap documents back and forth and provide helpful comments and suggestions. If both you and your reviewer have Microsoft Word, you can save a lot of time by using the Reviewing toolbar. With the Reviewing toolbar, you can automatically apply or reject a reviewer's suggested changes to your document.

By using these features, you save time both as author and as reviewer. As a reviewer, you save time because you are entering your comments and changes directly into the document rather than juggling another document or printing it out. As the author, you save time because you are free to accept or reject any changes with the click of a button.

Reviewing Toolbar

Regardless of whether you are the author or reviewer, you will need to use the Reviewing toolbar. To bring up the Reviewing toolbar, right-click the toolbar and select Reviewing from the dropdown menu. Here is a segment of what that menu looks like:

Once the Reviewing toolbar is up, it looks like this:

Turning on the "Track Changes" option is quite easy. Just push the second button from the right. It will turn orange, like this:

And you're done. The document is now ready to send off to your reviewer. The reviewer--as long as he doesn't tamper with this button--can make all the changes he wishes, and once you get it back, it will contain both his revisions and your original text.

The rest of the Reviewing toolbar is discussed in the rest of this article and my next installment.

Revisions Displayed

The first dropdown in the reviewing toolbar contains options that control how a reviewed document will appear. "Markup" is Microsoft's words for revisions. When someone makes a change to your document, the changes are considered "markup".

  • Original - This shows how the document appeared before any changes, hiding all revision markups. This is handy if you want to print your original document and retain all revisions.
  • Original Showing Markup - This shows how the document originally appeared, along with revision markups showing all changes made since then.
  • Final - This shows how the document will appear if you accept all current changes. It hides all revision markups. This is handy if you want to print the final doc, yet retain all revisions.
  • Final Showing Markup - This shows how the document will appear if you accept all current changes, but it also shows everything that changed within the document.

If you select either Original or Final, Word will hide all revisions from you. However, they are still present in the document! These features have made national news when a sender inadvertently distributed a document with hidden—and embarrassing—revisions. Also, if you think you lost your revisions, check this dropdown and make sure you have selected an option that shows the markup.

To avoid sending out documents with embedded revisions that you do not know about, always keep "Final Showing Markup" selected.

Revision Markup Options

Other options control how the markup in the revised document appears. You can use either the Balloon method or the Reviewing pane method.

Balloon Method

By default, Word shows deletions and comments in balloons off to the right, and insertions within the text. When the right margin no longer has any room for new balloons, Word will open the Reviewing pane.

If the Balloon method is not already set up, you can set it up by selecting the following options from the Show dropdown on the Reviewing toolbar.

  • Place checkmarks next to Final, Comments, Ink Annotations, Insertions and Deletions, and Formatting
  • Click Balloons, then place a checkmark next to Always.
  • Click Options and select "Always" from Use Balloons (Print and Web Layout).
  • Then, click OK.

When you click a balloon, Word will highlight the text to which the balloon applies, or it will attempt to point to the deletion point. If there are many deletions, they will become difficult to locate.

Word constantly adjusts the size and positions of the balloons as the reviewer adds revisions. There is no way to move the balloons manually. When the balloons take up all the space along the right margin, Word will compress the balloons and open a Reviewing Pane along the bottom of the page. It will also attempt to merge the contents of several balloons into one, using ellipsis (…) between revisions. Click on the balloon and the Revision pane will display the complete text.

For these reasons, the Balloon method is only useful if you have occasional changes here and there. For sweeping changes, use the Reviewing Pane.

Reviewing Pane Method

Older versions of Word used the Reviewing Pane rather than balloons. The Balloon method is the friendliest and easiest method to use. However, when the document has many revisions, the Reviewing Pane becomes more useful.

The Reviewing Pane sorts revisions according to their position in the document. Most of the time, your revisions will show up in the Main Document area.

To turn off the bubbles and turn on the Reviewing Pane, bring up the Track Changes option box and select "Never" in the Use Balloons (Print and Web Layout) option.

Deletions will now show up as strikeouts and comments will appear in the reviewing pane. The text that the reviewer commented upon will appear highlighted and labeled. If you move your mouse over the highlighted text, the comment will appear in a bubble.

The image below has examples of how a line of text appears with insertions, deletions and comments.

The Reviewing Pane automatically comes on when reviewing changes in the Normal layout.

Hybrid Methods

The Track Changes option box gives you complete control over how tracked changes will appear on your computer. You can italicize your changes, make them bold, or format them in any manner.

However, no matter what method you use, keep the following important fact in mind:

Track Changes options do not save with the document!

The options that you choose apply to every document with revisions that you open on your computer. However, if your reviewer were to open the same document on another computer, it will appear according to the options that the reviewer chose.

Don't let all this daunt you. Ordinarily, you don't need to do anything to set up revisioning. The default settings work wonderfully.

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That's all for this installment. Open up a document and play around with revisions. As usual, I'm ready to answer questions in the comments. The next installment will cover how to actually make revisions or insert comments.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Starcaster Readers?

I'm going to be looking for readers for Starcaster in the next month or so, and I wondered if any of you are interested. It's short for a fantasy (85,000 words at present). I am serious about finding readers, so I want to make it as easy as possible for you. For that reason, I want to actually mail the complete manuscript to interested parties. I'll send the return postage, too, along with a bonus red pen for easier mark-up. Why do I want to do this? I know first-hand how difficult it is to read a manuscript on the computer, and I would not inflict that upon my readers. Kristin sent me her novel when I beta-read for her, and I thought it worked out very well. Hopefully it did for her as well!

Before I send it to you, I'll email the first 20 or 30 pages. I only want to send the complete manuscript to people who are enjoying it, so you could read as much as you want and then let me know if you want to read more.

Here is a crude blurb, to make your decision easier. This blurb is by no means final.

UPDATE: also please note that this blurb is highly experimental.

Tory is a starcaster, a wielder of a weak form of magic available only on clear, starlit nights. Tory is also a spy for His Majesty's Royal Intelligence Service.

When Tory attempts to deliver a prototype of a mysterious film to Mr. Carter, her delivery attempt goes awry with the interference of two foreign spies. She has no idea that the spies have asked her superior, Mr. Bradburn, for political asylum from their cruel dictatorship of a government. And the defectors do not realize that Bradburn is using them unlawfully for his own purposes. And Mr. Bradburn has no clue that two other foreign spies are busy tracking down the defecting spies. And the hunting spies are not aware that Victoria has convinced Mr. Carter to fabricate a device from the film that will enable a starcaster to suncast as well. And Mr. Carter suspects that Mr. Bradburn might be behind the false imprisonment of his brother, who is accused of espionage. And Mr. Bradburn has no inkling that his thug and toady, Mr. Crowley, has fallen for Tory. And Mr. Crowley is fully aware of the fact that Tory's partner Julian was once in love with one of the defecting spies. And the defecting spies have no idea that Mr. Bradburn is playing a deadly game of government against government to protect his lady love, who has fallen under the power of political operatives with their own agenda.

Starcaster is an espionage fantasy that takes place in a pre-industrial, Londonesque setting. It runs about 85,000 words.

If you are interested, please either leave a comment here or send an email to tia dot nevitt at gmail dot com. I will reply from my personal address (which I never put online). Thanks in advance! Oh, and query suggestions welcome in the comment threads.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Novel Arcs

I've written a five-book arc for the Starcaster series. Ambitious? Nah!

Anyway, I've come up with some simple themes and decided what I want to do with them in each novel. For example, I've come up with a Career Arc and a Romance Arc for Tory, along with a Politics Arc for the political situation of her world. These arcs seemed to suggest certain titles. Therefore, I've named all five of my novels, and I have written a one-paragraph synopsis of what each one is about.

For each arc, I try to do something different in each novel. For example, in the Career Arc, I've decided that Tory needs to spend some time as an illegal spy. She's an outlaw spy for most of the first book, but for the third book, she's not a spy at all, but ends up spying anyway. In the Politics Arc, the benevolent king gradually turns paranoid over the progression of the novels, and becomes repressive toward the end. As he grows more repressive, a certain organization grows more powerful.

I think five books is enough to plan out for an unsold series. When (think positive!) those five are published, I'll see if I want to continue it through books 6 thru 10, or if I'll just give Tory a Happily Ever After and let her retire.

Just doing all this while I relax during my post-draft slowdown. I imagine I'll be back to serious polishing by the weekend.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Starcaster: A Post-Mortem

Yes, I work in business (I am a computer programmer disguised as a business analyst), and at the completion of a project, we sometimes do a post-mortem where we ask questions like, what went well? What could we have done better? What did we learn? So here is an informal post-mortem for Starcaster. (Yikes! That word makes it feel like my novel is dead!)

WHAT WENT WELL

1) The voice. I tried three times to write Starcaster, and something was wrong each time. It just didn't flow. Then, I tried it in first person. It worked perfectly. The voice for Starcaster is somewhat Jane Austenesque, however I was careful to avoid terms that sound strange in the modern vernacular. And, I was not afraid to spice things up every now and then. My "biology briefing" where my spy learned about the facts of life is hilarious, in my own humble opinion.

Throughout the entire novel, the voice never failed me, and I only occasionally felt constrained by the first-person viewpoint.

What did I learn here? When you know how your novel is going to open, experiment with writing it in both first and third person, and experiment with different viewpoint characters, if you're not sure which viewpoint to write from. Go with the one that feels the most natural. I did this for my cowboy science fiction story, where I again went with first person. I seem to be using first person a lot these days, but my Hollywood romance will definitely be third person. As will my Christian thriller.

2) The action. I never tried to write a nonstop-action type of novel before, and it was really fun. Acting on the advice of my critique partner, I was careful to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. Not that I really use chapters at all in this novel. I just note time and places with a space before and after. I wanted it to read like a thriller.

What did I learn here? Keep piling on the trouble. When your protagonist deals with one situation, ask yourself, "what's the worst thing that could happen?" And then do it. But make sure it works for your plot. Otherwise, you'll end up throwing out a lot of scenes.

WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER

1) Planned the ending. I wrote three drafts before I wrote an ending that I was satisfied with. Three drafts of the entire novel, not just three drafts of the ending. This seems very typical for me. The only novel I wrote where I stuck to my original ending was my first one. My short stories always seem to change as well.

In the end, I finally just wrote out the ending the way I wanted it, without consulting the rest of the manuscript. It worked out better than I expected. And, when I looked at the rest of the book, I realized that I would not have to do as much re-work as I anticipated.

What did I learn here? Just go with your gut. Don't worry about what you're going to have to rewrite. You're going to have to rewrite anyway. Embrace it and write an ending that really rocks. The last thing you want to do is disappoint the reader with the ending.

2) Planned the opening. Oh, I had a devil of a time with this opening. I must have written five different openings. I liked my original opening, but an early beta reader pointed out that it wasn't nearly dangerous enough for the accolades she got later. Finally, I wrote a scene that had only been referred to in the book--a scene that had nothing to do with my previous openings. It practically wrote itself. I also was able to write two of my leading men into the opening, along with the villain who Tory ultimately must defeat.

What did I learn here? You have to do a lot with your openings, but you must do it in such a way that sucks in the readers without bogging them down in backstory. Focus on the scene at hand and let the backstory come out in tiny little chunks throughout the rest of the novel. Remember your goal is to engage the reader--make them want to cheer your characters on.

True, I'm not yet a published novelist, but I hope I've learned a thing or two after twenty years of writing and three (yippie!) completed novels.

Have you ever done a post-mortem like activity for your novels? Try it! It's enlightening.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

And We Come to the End!

No, I'm not going anywhere. BUT I did write the magical words, "The end" today at the end of my manuscript of Starcaster.

WooHoo!
(happy dance time)

(BTW, I never would have finished this quickly if it had not been for my Neo.)

I've gone through most of the book at least three times now, and rewrote the sorry excuse of an ending that I had before. For this ending, it's Tory alone against her nemesis, with a nice gun battle. Oddly enough for a fantasy, there is no magic used during the ending at all, although there was an abortive attempt to use magic. The magic system in Starcaster is extremely limited.

And, the finished draft is only 85,000 words! That gives me a lot of room for fleshing out, because fantasy novels are often over 100,000 words. This is a new thing for me. For each of the previous novels, I ended up having to cut. This time, I'm definitely going to have to expand. The ending is decidedly sketchy. Even so, I don't see going much over 90,000 words. I hope that doesn't turn out to be a drawback!

I hope to be querying by the end of October at the latest. I can't wait to try to write the synopsis. That ought to be a BLAST.

Yay!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vacation Time and a Question

I'm off on a short vacation until Thursday. Yes, I'll be taking my Neo with me. I have it all set up with the ending of my novel and two unfinished short stories.

Have not been doing much other than writing on my Neo. I'm frightfully behind in my blog reading. Must be because of all the time I'm not spending on my computer. I've untangled some plot knots that had me in fits in Starcaster and I'm trying to smooth out my very rocky ending.

I keep meaning to write another Word for the Novelist post. I have actually already written an article on Revisions that I want to post, but I need to rewrite it for the Novelist audience, rather than the Business Analyst. (I originally write it to help out my co-workers.) I have several such documents, but they're rather long and I'll probably have to handle them in chunks here on the blog.

I'm actually considering self-publishing this whole "Word for the Novelist" concept. I've looked into Lulu, and I can sell a 30-40 page 8.5 X 11 booklet for less than 10 dollars. I would write two versions, one for Word 2003 and the other for Word 2007. I suppose, before I self-publish, I should probably see if I can't get a proposal package together and sell it the old-fashioned way. However, I don't think I have enough material for a full-sized book, and I think it would be more useful to the reader in the booklet format anyway.

If I were to self-publish this thing, would you be interested in purchasing it, if I kept the price below 10 dollars?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nifty Device: Neo by AlphaSmart

I'm writing this review on a nifty little device called the Neo by AlphaSmart. What on earth is it? It's kind of like a word processor, except it's laptop-sized. It's designed for one purpose--the entry of text. Well, maybe two purposes, if you add the transmission of the text to and from a computer to its function as well.

Think of it as a $219 no-frills laptop. It's /wonderful/ if you need a way to write away from your computer, but you don't want to spend the money on a fragile laptop.

I discovered the Neo via Kelly Gay, who is happily using her own Neo as well (and who calls it her "precious"). It allows me to write in the La-z-boy. No more sitting hunched over my computer all night after spending all day hunched over my computer at work. I actually prefer writing this way. My husband is going to get awful lonely in the computer room.

It's tough. Supposedly, it will withstand being dropped, and I believe them. The thing is made of hard plastic. It has a 700 hour battery life. That's right, 700 hours. On 3 alkaline AA batteries. I haven't even put a dent in the battery life.

The file system is a bit strange, but it's quick to get used to. There are eight file positions, each accessed by the push of a button. To get to this file, I push the "file 5" button. That's it. With one button push, I'm working on my novel. And it remembers where I was when I last entered text. Not even Microsoft Word does that. As soon as you enter the text, it's saved.

You can have any number of files at each position by giving them a name. I have not named my files so far; when I'm done with them, I simply upload them to my computer and clear the version on the Neo.

The drawbacks? There is absolutely no formatting. That's why I used slashes above, where I would usually use italics. I also have not found any way to remove some applications on it that are designed for teachers. Also, each file has a hard limit. I found that I need not bother transferring files that have more than 8000 or so words. Otherwise, I don't have room to actually work in the file, which holds about 10000 words, max. You can adjust this maximum file size, but so far I have not bothered. 8000 words seems a comfortably large chunk for me to work with.

It reminds me of the word processors of the 80s, except it transfers files instead of typing them out right away. It emulates all the same key combinations that Windows uses, so you can still copy with Ctrl-C and paste with Ctrl-V. There's nothing like a mouse or a touchpad; navigation is done entirely through keys.

There is another version called the Dana, which blends the Neo with a full-featured PDA, including a touch-screen. However, it seemed to have more functionality than I needed and I really wanted the toughness of the Neo. This thing looks to be as tough as a calculator.

Ok, now I'm going to upload this into Blogger and write about that experience. Ciao for now . . .

Done. I plugged the Neo into my computer using the USB cable, and hit the "send" button on the Neo. It typed the file directly into this Blogger window. That's actually a slow way to send files; I usually just use the software that came with the Neo to just send the whole file as a chunk. But it's kinda cool to watch it type the text onto the screen.

It's easy. It's fun. I'm going to take it with me on vacation next week. I think every writer should have one. Check it out.