Count your Lucky Length

Often when works of fiction are discussed, word and/or page count comes up. When you see books on a shelf, one of the first things you’ll notice, apart from the author’s name and book title on the spine, is how thick or thin they are compared to each other. Some people like J. R. R. Tolkien enjoy reading long stories. Others prefer shorter works. What is it about length? Does it matter?

Often when you look at a book’s title page, there will often be a subtitle saying “A Novel” or something similar. “A Novella” and “A Novelette” appear to be less common. Instead perhaps you might see “A Short Novel”. Furthermore, when it comes to defining types of writers we have novelist, poet, essayist, playwright, short story writer, and screenwriter. There are no set terms that I’m aware of for writers of novellas or novelettes. I sometimes feel novel is an umbrella term under which any fictional work longer than a short story can be labeled. Often, it seems word count is what it really comes down to, as I’ve seen so many sets of word count ranges that are used to define these works. Or is it?

In my senior year at St. Mary’s College, I took a high level creative writing class called “The Novella”. Some of the books we read felt like novels or long short stories. We each had to write a novella, and I started writing that story about neglected pets. It fit into a novella word count range. However, my classmates and the professor felt it should be expanded into a novel. I admit before that class, I’d first imagined it as a novel. Perhaps a work of fiction is what the author believes it to be, and subsequently calls it.

Writing for the stage and screen can be more restrictive, though it’s by page count rather than words. Once at a meeting of the MWA Annapolis chapter it was stated a page of a screenplay equals a minute of screen time. Thus an ideal film script should be 100-120 pages. A TV episode script would be 50-60 pages. Plays too it seems have page count limits these days. Audiences I can understand would rather not sit in a theater all day.

Some classic plays and films are long. Hamlet is usually abridged when staged or filmed. The 1996 unabridged film version lasted over four hours. Sometimes I wonder what Hamlet’s stage and screen history would’ve been like had Shakespeare written it as two plays, as he did with Henry IV (which has appeared onscreen only as TV films). I also wonder what the movie Gettysburg would’ve been like had it been a TV miniseries as initially planned.

Charles Dickens’s works were first published as a serial (like novelettes or novellas) before being printed as complete books. The serial versions were cheaper, making his novels available to the masses, whom, with a cliffhanger, would be enticed to buy the next installment. The novels of the Brontë sisters were published in “volumes” – but like Dickens’s books they’re are only published as complete works nowadays. Some people feel novellas and novelettes have difficulty getting published these days, and if they do they are usually combined with similar works.

In the end, it all comes down to the writer. It’s up to the author whether they want to define their work as novels, novellas, novelettes, short novels, or short stories. Length is applied in the public consciousness, but maybe it doesn’t have to. Does length and its description on the title page affect the customers decision to purchase or pass?  What do you think?

Further Reading
  1. Meer, Syed Hunbbel. Differences Between a Short Story, Novelette, Novella, & a Novel.
  2. Playwriting 101. Chapter 1: The Play’s the Thing.
Advertisements

Status of Mystical Greenwood

I’m sure many of you are eager to hear the status on Mystical Greenwood. So as a little treat on this Christmas Day I thought I’d share some updates.

To begin with, if you haven’t yet be sure to watch the book trailer!

Many thanks to Jamie Johnson of Mockingbird Lane Press for an excellent job, and also to songwriter Lee Chapman for the wonderful musical score. Some of you already know this, but Mystical Greenwood includes within its story the lyrics I wrote for two songs. Lee has composed music for both of them. The music in the trailer is for one of those songs.

I’ve gotten through the hard proof round of editing. It sure was a thrill to hold my book in my hands. I do not have an official release date yet, but it looks like Mystical Greenwood may be ready sometime in the coming months! I’ll make an announcement when it’s available. The cover art should follow on Deviant Art soon after the book’s publication.

As you saw from the trailer, when it’s officially released, it will be listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It will be available in both paperback and e-book (downloadable to Kindle and Nook). Be sure to check the Events page for future events. I definitely want to organize a launch party once the book is released.

I’m looking forward to the new year! Once again, I’m thinking of resolutions. Those pertaining to writing include completing at least one draft of a new book (specifically those two that are in progress), and of course making Mystical Greenwood a success. You can help me there by reading it, reviewing it, and spreading the word.

Happy Holidays!

Cover Art: Mystical Greenwood

I’m very happy to reveal the cover art for Mystical Greenwood! Many thanks to Jamie Johnson of Mockingbird Lane Press for her excellent design!

I’m also delighted to announce it will be available before long on Deviant Art, where items can then be purchased with the cover art on them!

Mystical Greenwood RGB

Formatting a Manuscript

Writers can certainly have visions of how they want their books’ interior to look when readers open them, with such things as drop caps and fancy-looking fonts for the title and chapters and body. For those who self-publish, it’s certainly up to them what design they want. However when submitting to agents and/or presses, they’ll rarely accept a manuscript that’s been elaborated as such. It needs to be easy for them to read and edit, similar to how play and film scripts must be easy for actors to read. Design for novels comes later. I’ve found it best to use a manuscript format while writing. It makes it a lot easier to focus on the story. A similar situation I think most people can relate to would be school papers; teachers and professors often give specific formatting guidelines to their students, based on their own preferences.

Agents and publishers will often have their own preferences that they specifically ask for or use later, but there are some commonalities I’ve found in advice and tips already out there, and from my own experience. What follows are some personal observations and recommendations based on some of these commonalities. Note: this discussion focuses specifically upon novels, as opposed to plays or screenplays (both of which I’ve learned have their own formatting guidelines), and using Microsoft Word.

Now, writers can go in manually and adjust, or modify text formats and headings so they can just be chosen. When it comes to the text, Left is preferred rather than Justified, and no hyphenating (both will come later, with the final layout). Tabs aren’t recommended; instead, format paragraphs so the first line is always indented. The only paragraphs which don’t have to be indented are the first in each chapter. With titles and chapter headings, I’ve learned it’s best to Center and Bold them so they stand out. Italics are used only when there’s a specific need for them, such as for internal thoughts.

When it comes to font, a small handful are generally preferred: Times New Roman, Arial, Courier New, and probably Calibri and Cambria now. Make it all size 12 (except the book title if you wish). I also turn off the Widow/Orphan Control when setting the paragraph format. Why? Say there are one or two lines left on a page for a brand new paragraph. It’ll automatically instead go over to the next page and you have an empty line. Turning off the Widow/Orphan Control prevents that, so a page’s entire space is used. 1″ margins and regular paper size (8.5″ x 11″) are also preferred. Old school would have two spaces after every sentence, but nowadays it’s just one. Some would have the book title on the same page as the first chapter. In other cases there’s a separate title page, which I personally prefer. I also make it a separate section from the chapters, so it doesn’t have page numbers like they do (which are typically centered in the footer).

In the end, I now think of manuscript formatting this way: it’s a book ready to receive edits as well as an elegant design, just as a play or script is ready to be read by actors. It’s beautiful in its own way, designed to be presented to the publishing world. If you have experiences and/or opinions of your own on formatting a manuscript, please feel free to share them.

Further Reading
  1. SMF – Standard Manuscript Formatting.
  2. Dacus, Kaye. Manuscript 101–Introduction & Basic Manuscript Format.
  3. Fogarty, Mignon. Two Spaces After a Period.
  4. Hill, Beth. Format Your Novel for Submission.
  5. Kewin, Simon. 16 Manuscript Format Guidelines.
  6. Klems, Brian A. What Are the Guidelines for Formatting a Manuscript?
  7. Williamson, Jill. How to Format a Fiction Manuscript.

Nom de Plume

Nom de Plume, pseudonym, pen name, whichever term you prefer to use, several writers have used one instead of their real names. Like fictional characters, a pen name in itself is a persona created in the writer’s imagination.

Your real name can in essence become a pen name, or what I like to call a “writer’s name” where nothing is made up (otherwise it’s a pen name). There are many options beyond your first and last names. You can include your middle initial, go with your full name, or use initials. If you prefer your middle name, you can use it alone or also include your first initial. If you go by a nickname, have a suffix, more than one middle name, and/or a maiden name, you have even more possibilities. Try saying them out loud, so you can hear how they sound.

There are many sources from which you can create a pen name. You can of course use part of your real name. You could pay tribute to relatives, friends or other people, places real or fictional, something special to you, or maybe it could be an anagram. Samuel Clemens came up with “Mark Twain” from working on the Mississippi River (from a phrase indicating the water to be two fathoms deep). Charles Lutwidge Dodgson took the Latin versions of his first and middle names, anglicized the spellings and swapped them to create “Lewis Carroll”. It could even be one name. Charles Dickens initially used the pseudonym “Boz”.

Usually, a pseudonym is used if a writer feels that he or she has a specific need for one. Some sought to distinguish themselves from someone well-known with a similar name. Others wanted to reflect their chosen genre. It can become a character within the story, like Daniel Handler and William Goldman did respectively with “Lemony Snicket” and “S. Morgenstern”. A writer with multiple works coming out simultaneously might publish some under a pen name and the rest under their real one, which Stephen King did for a while with “Richard Bachman”. If you simply desire privacy, probably your best option then would be something that doesn’t stand out, and even better, isn’t an obvious tribute to anyone or anything special to you.

Perhaps one of the most frequent historical cases has been female authors using male or gender-neutral pseudonyms to give their work a higher chance of success. Some continue to be used, like “George Eliot” (real name Mary Ann Evans). Others no longer are. The novels of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë appear today under their real names. However the sisters first published them respectively as “Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell”. Sadly this trend still seems to continue. Joanne Rowling‘s publisher apparently did not feel the target audience for Harry Potter (teenage boys) would be inclined to read books written by a woman. Rowling subsequently came up with “J. K. Rowling”, when in fact she does not have a middle name (she chose K in honor of her grandmother, Kathleen).

Often, writers become better known by their pen names. A friend who’s a teacher told me of a time when he asked his students if any of them knew who Theodor Geisel was, and no one could answer him. Had he used Geisel’s most frequent pen name (Geisel did use more than one, which you can certainly do), “Dr. Seuss”, they could have answered him right away.

At times I’ve thought about using a pen name. I came up with several possibilities (much like Eric Blair did before he settled on “George Orwell”). I also thought about how my own name could be written in various ways. In the end, I settled for my first and last name, which suits me fine. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that I might still use a pseudonym for something someday. Whether you use your name or a nom de plume is entirely your choice. If you haven’t decided yet, try not to take too long. Always remember, your creative work is your first and foremost concern.

Pronunciation

From infancy onward we learn how to pronounce words by hearing others talk and from reading books. When it comes to literature, often we find words invented by the author or ones that weren’t but we don’t frequently hear. They are often the names of people, places and things, but not always. In all cases, we are prone to mispronouncing them, out loud or just in our heads.

Names and words can be spelled the same but pronounced differently depending upon where and from whom you hear them. For example, the name Guy in French is “GEE” (not “JEE”) as opposed to the English “GIE”. In Ireland, Saoirse is most commonly “SEER-shuh” but in certain regions “SAIR-shuh” is more popular. How you say Cairo depends on whether you’re referring to the city in Egypt (“KIE-roh”) or Illinois (“KAY-roh”).

Some names have been anglicized in how they sound if not their spelling. For instance, Brian and Dylan, which respectively originate in Irish and Welsh myth, were “BREE-in” and “DULL-in” but have since been anglicized as “BRIE-in” and “DILL-in”. Ethnic background however doesn’t always guarantee a specific pronunciation. It ultimately rests with personal preferences. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas used the anglicized version of his first name. Actress Saoirse Ronan prefers “SUR-shuh”.

Not every name or word is pronounced how it’s spelled either, which many Irish, and Old Irish, names demonstrate. To use one example, a letter combination (known as a diphthong) of MH or BH sounds like either a W or a V; the name Siobhan is “SHIH-vawn” and the festival Samhain (which helped create modern Halloween) is “SOW-in”. Some Welsh names beginning with an I pronounce it like a Y. The examples go on.

Yet sometimes, a mispronunciation has with time become the correct one. Jekyll in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde today is “JECK-uhl” but was originally “JEEK-uhl”. The T in Voldemort was meant to be silent, but it was pronounced in the Harry Potter films. The surname of Dr. Seuss was supposed to be “ZOICE,” but after people kept saying “SOOSE” he gave up trying to correct them.

Mispronouncing a word when reading is nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all been there, including me. This quote/image has been shared frequently on social media:

mispronounce

For us writers, there are steps we can take to help readers pronounce words correctly. Here are some personal recommendations. First, make sure you know the proper (or your preferred) pronunciation, especially if you think people will likely mispronounce it. If you have several names and/or words you believe will be hard to pronounce (such as within fantasy or science-fiction), it might be a good idea to include a pronunciation guide. With works where there are fewer such words, an easier method could be incorporating the pronunciations into the text or dialogue (if you’re writing for the stage or screen, actors will be enabled to pronounce them for you – just make sure you let them know how you want them said). That way, incorrect pronunciations don’t become correct ones.

Pronunciation Sites
Irish Pronunciation Sites

A Contract has been Signed!

Yes! I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Mockingbird Lane Press to publish my fantasy novel.

I’m very grateful to all my family and friends for believing in me. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without your support.

Now it’s only a matter of time. Updates will be posted to this blog. Be sure to visit my Facebook page and YouTube channel if you haven’t yet!

Social Media

Social media is without a doubt one of the greatest technological advancements in modern times. Gone are the days when the only way to spread word by handwritten letters or word of mouth. Now in the computer age people can communicate with one another in the blink of an eye. For a writer, social media has become indispensable for informing prospective readers of theirs and their work’s presence, especially for the unknown writer trying to establish a foot in the writing world. Yet social media, like the writing world, is a vast ocean filled with fish. Each writer must find ways to make him or herself stand out.

When I first started writing I used word of mouth to talk about it. Still, I was young and woefully unprepared for marketing (I certainly was not ready for publication either). Throughout high school I was not on social media of any kind, and would really not get into it until after college.

In addition to this website/blog, I have a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. In observing site stats, I can see it has gotten far more referrals from Facebook than anywhere else. Several friends from the Maryland Writers’ Association created a public page that anyone can like and follow. I knew at some point I ought to create one of my own, but it was not until my first writing award in the MWA creative nonfiction contest and agreeing to read from it in Baltimore that I finally got around to that. I invited all my connections to like the page, and still do.

Almost instantly, inquiries were made on the page regarding my website. I hesitated to create one because I hadn’t published much, nor had I found a publisher for my novel. Nevertheless, I wondered if I should start early. At a meeting of the Annapolis chapter of the MWA, I talked about it with a friend. She encouraged me to start right away, so I did. Website building blogging, and specifically WordPress, were the topic of discussion at a previous meeting. So I decided to go with WordPress. I started with one visual theme, but another site I formerly followed already used it. Eventually I grew dissatisfied. I knew I needed to find something different. Eventually after looking at many other themes, I chose the one I have now. Like in all aspects of writing and social media, I have continued to learn through trial and error to refine my site’s image.

My site’s domain name was not my first choice. I originally hoped to use my first and last name, like many writers’ professional websites. Unfortunately it had already been taken. My first post appeared the month after I created my site. In future I hope to use my blog to make announcements about and market my work. For now, I have been discussing my experiences and beliefs I have formed about writing. I do sometimes wish there were more likes and comments, but I have learned it is not always easy to catch people’s interest. Sometimes to do so, the old ways like word of mouth are best. Still, not everyone you invite responds. Some prefer not to subscribe. It is something we all must learn to accept. No one can be forced to subscribe or even view a site. All you can do is invite them.

Social media has a dark side too. We all must strive to remain dignified and respectful when many others will not be, which is not always easy. In the past on Facebook I have at times written without thinking, or were distracted or having a bad day. Some friendships were broken as a result, despite my attempts to make amends. Lesson learned; we are all people with feelings, opinions, and flaws. At times I fear I might become trapped within my own creation. I have to do my best to restrict myself sometimes; to know to when to stop. Social media can be like public appearances in that you need to guard your private life outside of them. Sometimes it feels like I spend too much time on it, and I have to be mindful there too. It is good to unplug sometimes and get away from it all, to enjoy life and discover true inspiration.

As mentioned earlier, I am also using YouTube. I uploaded my first video back in April from the Open Mic I participated in that month. There have not been any more at the moment. In the future I hope to change that, with more appearances, book trailers, and other videos. I have created a presence on social media and acquired a following. I sometimes fear I will run out of ideas to blog about before a publisher accepts my manuscript. I can only hope this platform will continue to grow, and that I will continue to learn new ways to market my work and presence so they stand out.

Off the Page

Writers must play a role in marketing their work, so that prospective readers will know about it, and them as writers. Central to that role is taking their written words off the page by reading aloud. Sometimes there are full-length reads in person, or short clips meant to entice readers to want more. Writers also speak publicly about their experiences as writers. In all cases, it is important to give a strong presentation.

Before stories were written, they were told aloud. We still read them aloud today. As a child my parents read to me before bed, which I hope to do someday when I have children of my own. Some of my favorite TV shows were essentially narrations of the stories they were based on, from Beatrix Potter’s tales to The Railway Series by Reverend Awdry (these were narrated by George Carlin and Ringo Starr). The narrators I remember did an excellent job. I watched them over and over again. Those stories stuck with me. In recent years when I volunteered at a library annex on Ft. Meade, once in a while I read aloud to visiting children. Listening to and telling stories are a way we can connect to each other.

In school I read my work aloud, which continued at St. Mary’s. I listened to writers talk as part of the college’s VOICES reading series. Back in high school I participated in the drama club, where I had to memorize lines. Public readings and talks are themselves a dramatic performance. Therefore the writer is an actor playing a role. Charles Dickens gave numerous readings of his work (notably A Christmas Carol). He actually considered becoming an actor before he started writing. Nevertheless, he was a master of vocalizing characters. It has been sadly noted his time was before voices could start being recorded, so we can never hear what he sounded like.

My mother told me I could once recite Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat from beginning to end. I have no memory of that sadly, but I certainly have been able to quote works I have read. At work I’ve done so when people check out those works, such as Shakespeare. In my junior year of high school I participated in a Poetry Out Loud contest where I recited Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet XVIII: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”. Although I froze near the end, I managed to save my performance and ended up winning third place.

The first time I read from my work that was published was back in September at the Baltimore Book Festival, for my creative nonfiction essay on Asperger syndrome. In analogy to King George VI, that reading could be considered my Wembley speech. Though I dressed the part of a writer (someone there even commented so) right down to the Tweed jacket, I did not prepare well at all. I had to select which excerpts to read then and there. Also, in choosing I could see parts I felt could have been written better, and in the end I rushed through it, flustering.

People still enjoyed it, but I knew it could have been better. Pictures taken that day show me looking frustrated. To the superstitious, I guess it did not help that a black cat crossed the road as I was preparing to leave for Baltimore (no joke; that really happened). That day was a lesson to never be totally unprepared. The next reading I knew had to be better. When I agreed to participate in an open mic event back in April, I repeatedly recorded myself reading using an app on my iPhone. I listened to myself, noting where I needed improvement. After the final reading it and watching the video recording of it, I felt satisfied. I hope the next public reading will be better, and every one to come.

Author, teacher, speaker and voiceover artist Izolda Trakhtenberg discussed the importance of speaking well at the Annapolis MWA meeting last week. She showed us different exercises to help in preparation for reading aloud. In many ways they reminded me of Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech. She showed us a writer needs to have good vocal presence, posture, balance, breathing, and must connect with the audience by maintaining eye contact. Regulated breathing helps you speak better. Eye contact has always been difficult for me, with my Asperger syndrome.

I and others at the meeting read a few lines of dialogue from published or unpublished work. In my case, I read from an early scene in my novel, during the protagonist’s first meeting with his eventual mentor. Izolda mentioned I started strong but went softer and mumbled. Would that not have happened had I practiced? Perhaps. Still, I was complemented for using a lower pitch of voice for my mentor in contrast to my protagonist to show who was more confident and self-assured. She suggested to all of us that we record samples of different vocal tones so to remember them for specific characters.

Public appearances are important. Now I don’t want my presentation of myself to become my life. I hope to live a private life away from public eyes, so it in turn can truly inspire my work. Nevertheless I hope to do more readings, so people will know me and my work. I’m sure there will have mistakes, but I accept that. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. The best I can do is minimize them as much as I can.