Sunday, October 25, 2009

Do It Your Way

Just got back from Icon in Iowa City, Iowa. Actually, this year, it was in Cedar Rapids, half an hour from Iowa City. The Author Guest of Honor was James C Hines, who writes very funny stuff, has just had his fifth book hit the stands, and who was a nice guy. I like comedy. I hoped to learn a lot about writing comedy from him. I didn't get to as many panels as I wanted. I didn't learn how to be a comedic genius. But I did learn a few things.

The first panel I went to was 'what aspiring authors should know'. This small group became a discussion. Some of the other up-and-coming writers started bemoaning that they had to work according to the format demands of the market they are aiming for, and if they send it to another market later, they have to go through and change things, like underlines to italics, or the tab at the beginning of each paragraph to five spaces… Mr Hines asked if they were working with Word, because it is possible to use the Find and Replace function to make those changes. I added my 2 cents to that by saying that I work in MY favorite font, MY favorite font size, My favorite color … until I was ready to submit, then I highlight everything, change the format to whatever the editor wants, even save it as an rtf file, if that's the kind they want. In other words, work the way you want, and learn the easy ways to change the formatting so that submitting isn't onerous.

I'd like to go a little further than that, and explain a bit more of how I work. If I do an outline, it's probably in the form of a table, using black 12-pt Arial letters. Column 1 will have the number of the chapter, column 2 will have what I expect to accomplish in that chapter – discovery, where they learn some important clue about the story plot or the characters; or danger, where they have to face something that could end their story (and these tend to get worse as the story progresses). The third column is a thumbnail of what I expect to happen in that chapter. Of course, once I start writing the rough draft, the outline is merely a guideline. Something I thought would only take one chapter winds up taking 3, so what part of the outline will I ignore?

The rough draft is done in 14-pt, probably Arial, and each day's work is a different color. I really like colors. Plus, if I open it up and find the last color was lime green, and only has 3 lines to it, then I know I need to push to get a larger chunk done this time in sky blue. Second (B) draft is 18-pt, Bookman font, in bright red. This is where I add every adjective in the book, where I explain everything in minute detail, so that everything that might possibly need explaining is explained. Draft C is 16-point, Comic font, in true green. I do a universal Replace to highlight pronouns in yellow, 'to be' verbs in pink, 'ing' verbs in cyan … That acts as a reminder to look hard and make sure this word is used properly, is the best word I could chose, and so on. This is also where I start trimming my word count, removing obvious redundancies and such. Draft D is 14-point, blue, and since my computer doesn't have a font that starts with 'D', I just pick one. This is where I try to tighten my prose as hard as I can.

Draft E is my 'final' polish, and comes out in 12-pt, double-spaced (for the first time), black, and Times New Roman, which is acceptable to most editors. If I get some idea that it still needs work, Draft F goes back to 18-point, a different font, and another color. I really like color.

But that's me. Other people don't bother with an outline, can't stand color, whatever. Whatever works for you is the way you should do it. Be yourself.

Which is basically the same idea that was presented in the other panel I wanted to talk about, but I've run out of time. It's going to have to wait until next week. See ya then. Trudy

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