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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

rules

The Oxford Comma

Another section of "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese" deals with matters  of editing.  Here's a bit of what I have to say about commas:

RULE: A NATURAL PAUSE INDICATES A COMMA.
Listen for the pauses. Add commas.

As an aside, academics sometimes argue over what is called the Oxford comma. That’s the one that appears before the final “and” in a series. When I read a series of terms (like pens, notebooks, pencils, and erasers), I hear a pause after pencils, so I always use the Oxford comma. In other words, I follow my own rule about hearing commas. You may, however, encounter an editor who thinks that extra comma is not only unnecessary but adds an extra expense--one likely to drag the publisher into instant bankruptcy. She will tell you that a comma takes the place of an “and”, so you never need both. My advice? Don’t waste your breath on an argument in which both sides are right. Gracefully bow out, taking your Oxford commas with you. (Because editors always win.)

 
Just today, I found this Infographic that offers an even better explanation:

The Oxford Comma
Courtesy of: Online Schools

Five Commandments from Elmore Leonard

While I’m mulling over my writing options, I’m taking a refresher course from some experts.  About six years ago, when I was just setting out as a writer, I came across Elmore Leonard’s  “Ten Rules for Writing.” The essay had appeared in The New York Times, in a series of articles called “Writers on Writing.”  The points he made have stuck with me ever since, although I re-read them periodically.  I thought you might enjoy them, too.
 
Being A Good Author Is A Disappearing Act.
By ELMORE LEONARD

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
.
 
We’ll look at the last five tomorrow.

Ten Fonts You Can Use in Your Book -- and One You Should Avoid

Here's some more wisdom from Helen Hollick about choosing the correct font for your book.
My UK books published by SilverWood Books are set in Palatino, which is a nice rounded serif font created in the 20th century. Very readable!

Helen Hart says: "Most book publishers will have a pallette of tried and trusted fonts which are selected for their readability. Among them will be Palatino, Sabon, Garamond, Baskerville and Swift. These fonts have one thing in common - they're simple, effective and lead the reading eye over the words so that the content can be easily absorbed by the reader."
So what are the Fonts?

Serif:
  Serif fonts have a little line at the end of each stroke. Some examples are:

  • Book Antiqua
  • Bookman Old Style
  • Garamond
  • Times New Roman
  • Palatino

Serif fonts can be used for every part of your book. such as title, chapter titles, main text, contents table - everything. It is easy to read large blocks of Serif fonts printed text, and should be the only type of font used for the main body text of your book.  Except for Times New Roman, which was designed for newspaper printing presses in  the 1930’s 1932 and is not suitable for modern printed books. It can make your book appear unprofessional.

Non-serif fonts: There is no little line at the end of each stroke in non-serif fonts.

  • Arial and
  • Helvetica the most basic of the sans-serif fonts
  • Tahoma
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Verdana

These are appropriate for the title, chapter headings, headers, footers, subheadings and short lines of text, such but they are not ideal for use as the entire chapter of text or large blocks of text, such as an introduction because the font is not easily readable in a printed format

Text on the Computer Screen:
Note – reading text on a screen is very different to reading text in a printed book. If your text looks pretty good on screen in a sans-serif font, it’s readability could be very different when it appears in your printed novel (or submitted MS!)

Decorative fonts:
Are for design and artwork -  for the titles on the cover, and maybe sub titles Part One, etc. Be careful – what may look good on your computer can look terrible in your printed book.

Bold and Italics:
Need bold or italics added to your text? Make sure you use a true bold or italic font – i.e. that the font has a different font set as a normal, bold, and italic face. If it doesn’t have this capability a “fake” bold or italic will be applied and the quality of print in the final actual version could be corrupted.


Comic Sans:
So what is wrong with Comic Sans?
The word “comic” should tell you all you need to know.
It is a perfectly adequate design for children, comic books or cartoons, but it has no place in professional work. It is ill-suited for large amounts of text.
Two very good articles which will tell you more:


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11582548

Eight Ways a Font Can Ruin Your Life

Recently, my friend Helen has been writing about fonts.  Because she knows what she is talking about, I'd like to share some of what she has to say with my readers.

As the Historical Novel Society UK editor for Indie published books I have had several of my reviewers on the team comment about incorrect fonts used by Indie authors. And I recall a Tweet by an agent who rejected a submission because it was in Comic Sans font.

I thought that a bit harsh of the agent – does it matter if a submitted MS (be it an e-copy or hard copy on paper) is presented in Comic Sans?

Well apparently, yes it does, because regardless of the content, the ability of the writer, the agent didn’t even look at it, for the simple reason  (I have since discovered) that many people find it difficult to read Comic Sans. Although as I pointed out at the time, dyslexics and people with reading/sight difficulties prefer this font as it is easier for them to read (see below).

But yes, the type of font used when producing your book is very important – it can be the difference between accept or reject as far as your book is concerned.

The font sets the readability of your book. It attracts attention – or shuns it if you are using the wrong font. It defines the feel of the page.

You dress in your best clothes if you are attending a job interview – you want to impress, create the right image, show yourself as a smart professional. The same applies to the text of your novel! You want your reader to think (albeit subconsciously) “This is quality.”

To be honest, they probably won’t because avid book readers are usually not aware of the correct fonts used in traditional published books. They will, however, very much notice an incorrect font!

The correct font is important as the right typeface can encourage people to read what you have written. The wrong font can leave your hard work unread.

The font should be appropriate for the job it is doing, and is there
to serve the text.
The words should be easy to read.

The Accepted Rules
(and yes I know rules are there to be broken – but some rules are there because of common sense and because they are tried and tested – and are the best option. We drive on the one side of the road because it is the Rule. If we didn’t there would be chaos.)

Fine, don’t stick with the rules, but expect your self published novel to be rejected by reviewers because to most readers it will look out of place, unproffesional and without that “quality” feel.

  1. The text should be between 10 and 12 point.
  2. Use the same typeface, type sizee for all of the main text (chapter headings etc can obviously be different).
  3. Don't make your lines too short or too long. Optimum size: Over 30 characters and under 70 characters.
  4. Make paragraph beginnings clear. Use an indent - except for the first line of a chapter. That should not be indented.
  5. Use only one space after a full stop, not two.
  6. Text should be set as fully justified in printed books – i.e. the margins on each side are straight, not ragged. (Websites, blogs and MS are usually left justified though.)
  7. Don't underline headlines or subheadings. Use italics if you need to draw attention.
  8. On a website or blog, don't set long blocks of text in italics, bold, or upper case because this is hard to read.