Interior Book Design

book design

Have you ever really looked at a book? I don’t mean just the cover of it, but the interior of it too. As a reader, much of the design of a book goes unnoticed, which is what you want as a book designer. You want the reader to focus on the story and not on the format and design of the book.

As I’ve delved into the indie author world, I’ve discovered that interior book design is a HUGE deal for the reason I mentioned above. You don’t want your reader to notice it on a conscious level. So what goes into the interior design of a book?

Font choice is only the beginning. Most people go with Times Roman, which is not a bad choice it is easy to read. Whatever you choose you have to stare at it for a long time, is it easy on the eyes for hours? Because I’d like readers to sit with my book for as long as possible and set it down for reasons other than the font giving them a head ache.

Other things you have to consider is where do blank pages go in a book? Which side of the book has the even page numbers? Is it okay to start a chapter on the left side or does it always have to be on the right? Should I use a header or footer with the book title or author name? how big should the margins be? How far down the page should the chapter begin? Are all of these things the same across genres?

The best way to learn about these things is to spend time in a bookstore and man handle some books. Look at different genres and multiple examples within each genre. There is also a lot of information online about book design and many companies are popping up to help indie authors with formatting.

http://www.bookdesignetemplates.com is one such site. You can purchase different templates to use depending on your personal preferences, genre, and licensing needs. Learning about all of this and how to do it myself has been an eye opening experience and a lot of fun, but it can be very overwhelming as well. If you find yourself getting too overwhelmed with all of it, it may be worth hiring someone to help you with it all.

The last piece you have consider when designing the interior of your book is how do these things change for an ebook verses a print book? Of course you can choose to only publish in one or the other, but as a reader there are books I’m all right with having on my kindle and there are others that I want in hard copy. As an indieauthor limiting yourself to one box is the worst thing you can do for any facet of the whole writing gig.

Thebookdesigner.com is an excellent resource for all things involved in designing books.

The Catcher in the Rye and Coffee

pile of books

As I drove to Barnes and Noble, I knew I had to have a plan and I went in with determination and a plan. I was getting a copy of Catcher in the Rye, a coffee, and leaving. No browsing, no other books.

I needed a classic book written in first person for ideas on sentence structure for the memoir I am working on along with the two others I have in progress.

The scent of books and coffee assailed me as I passed through the doors. I could easily spend hours here, drinking in coffee and words. But I have my plan Catcher in the Rye and coffee. Focus.

I stopped at the biographies, looking at covers, font choices, and title length. Before I knew it, I was flipping books over to read the back and perusing snippets from chapters. I totted a couple books around to the next shelf and noticed a book, I knew was at home yet to be read. Hmmmm.

Focus, damn it, Catcher in the Rye and coffee!

I hung my head in shame and placed the two books back on the shelf, caressing the cover and whispering next time and a long sigh escaped my lips.

I took the long way around the store to the fiction and literature section. Dangerous I know. I ran my fingers over some covers, stopped at the new release table, and flipped to the back cover to read a bit. Nothing really sang to my soul, so I gently placed them back with their brothers and sisters. I breathed in the aroma of the coffee and glanced at all the free souls sitting at tables sipping and turning pages.

I found Catcher in the Rye and was heading toward the coffee counter, but to get there I had to go through the fantasy and sci-fi section. Like a drug addict, I had to walk the isles. I smiled at the new book covers on Terry Brooks, Sword of Shannara. I loved those books. I looked over the new books in the Dragonlance Sagas.

Books appeared in my hand and I was obligated to read their covers and flip through sampling their words. Reluctantly, I returned them to the shelf and committed their titles to memory for further exploration later. The cover art on fantasy novels usual depicts the protagonist in an epic battle against some beast or the antagonist. Some of them are taking a more cartoonish or animated look, which I don’t especially like. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series does not do this. The cover is very simple the hilt of a sword, a crown, or a goblet. It is not flashy but catches your eye because it is different among the color of the other covers.

I look down, more books are in my hand. How did that happen? Hmmm. The pile of books to be read in my bedroom is rather higher than I would like, if you add in the ones on my kindle, it really is a sad state of affairs, which I must address before purchasing more.

I get in line for coffee and continue my mantra Catcher in the Rye and Coffee. As I left the bookstore, there was an emptiness inside. Maybe I should find a book anonymous support group…

Hook your Readers

hook

Five to ten pages, that’s it. If you don’t hook them into your story within that time, most readers will put the book down. In order to hook a reader, you have to grip them emotionally with action and a specific character.

Throw them into the middle of some action. It doesn’t have to be something intense, but intriguing. It needs to get them to ask a question, such as what is going to happen next? It is better if it is more specific, which is why you use a character in action. Opening with a character gives them someone to connect to, someone’s eyes to see through.

Keep your prose tight and description light. You don’t want them to get lost in your big fancy words or trying to create a very detailed picture in their head. Readers are going to connect with a character more easily than multi layered description of the weather and setting. Don’t completely eliminate description, but don’t overdo it.

Many writers want to open with explanation of who a character is and what is going on in the story, but readers will wait for explanation. It is better to start by throwing them into the mix of the story and attaching them to a person/character.

Here are some articles to help with hooking readers with strong opening lines:

Avoid boring opening lines

The all important human element

Hook your readers

 

Here’s the opening to my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream. What do you think?

This house is a cage. “I’ve got to get out of here,” I whisper to my reflection in the mirror. A thin eyeliner pencil glides around my hazel eyes in an Egyptian fashion. The walls push in around me. The pencil follows the smooth curve of my lips like smoldering coals surrounding a fire.

I push aside my lace dress, skull leggings, and long skirts. The hangers screech across the metal bar. Black velvet leggings slide off the hanger. Pulling them on, I decide on my burgundy velvet blazer. I untuck the ruffles of my antique white shirt and slide my feet into my combat boots, lace them up, tie them, and tuck the laces.

My fingers close around the strap of my velvet gothbox, which is like a purse. Flicking my bedroom light off, I step into the dark hallway and wait for a few seconds listening to my mother’s light snoring across the hall. The dog’s tags clink, as she raises her head. The moonlight catches in her golden eyes. We stare at each other across the empty expanse.

Thanks for your thoughts in advance!

 

When is your WIP ready for publishing?

I am Writing

Let’s admit it, you could change your work in progress (WIP) endlessly. Sentences can be rewritten in a bunch of different ways. You can spend days choosing the perfect word to describe one moment. Paragraphs and scenes can be reordered, added, deleted, and amped up on crack.

So how do you know when your book is ready to publish either traditionally or independently? You look at your WIP and you know it is the best you can make it. There is no little voice in your head saying, “You know you should look at your dialog and spruce it up a bit,” or saying “You should rethink X, Y, and Z.”

There are always changes that can be made, there are in the best works, but the little voice in your head, your inner editor, does go quiet with satisfaction eventually. If an editor has reviewed your book and your inner editor is quiet, it’s time to publish and stop fiddling and tweaking.

I have going over my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream, again. I am focusing on POV and targeting sense words (smell, taste, hear, saw, touched). I am also watching sentences that begin with “I.” Fighting for a Chance to Dream is written in first person present tense, so I am careful to vary the sentences, so they don’t all start with I did this or I did that, which gets very annoying and boring.

When editing, it’s important to pick one or two things to focus on as you go through the manuscript. If you don’t, the task becomes overwhelming. After completing a first draft, the first round of editing focuses on major structure and story development. I read the manuscript start to finish (I print it out because it’s easier to keep notes) and make notes in the margins about those two things.

The second round of edits focuses on each scene making sure there is a goal, conflict, and disaster and in the sequels making sure there is a reaction, dilemma, and a decision.

The third round of edits focuses on Motivation Reaction Units making sure at all levels (scene, paragraph, and sentence) I have set the MRU up like a row of dominos.

The fourth round looks at character arc and development of the main and minor characters. Characters need to change and grow throughout the story not just at the climax. Changes and realizations need to be initiated by something with enough weight to actually make the change in a person. A change to a person’s beliefs and values is a process not an instant reaction.

The fifth round focuses on POV and senses making sure that I’m showing where I should be and summarizing/telling when I should be.

Once I’ve finished all of these, I send it out to beta readers asking if there are any holes in the story or major questions that go unanswered. I ask them to mark parts that are boring or confusing. I usually take the manuscript to an office supply story and have it spiral bound, so my reader can go through it like a book.

I make more changes based off what my beta readers suggest. I try to take an objective stance when I get feedback from others about my writing although it can be r hard to hear. Sometimes it is best to just listen, keep notes, and allow yourself a day or two to mull it over. I have found that their suggestions are worth listening to and much of the time taking even if it means killing parts of the manuscript that I love. I just save them in a separate file that way my darlings are never dead.

Tri-Writing

A triathlon is composed of three parts: the swim, the bike, and the run. As a triathlete, you have to train in all three of these areas to prepare for the goal, a specific race. Most people have their strong areas and their weaker ones.

Writing can be broken down into three parts as well: the first draft, the editing, and the publishing. As a writer, you have to learn about each of these areas to prepare your novel. A novel is similar to a specific race. It is the goal of all your prior work and training.

The swim is like the first draft. Most of what you do stays below the surface, your body rotation, kicking, and most of your arm stroke. In writing, most of the work a writer puts into the first draft remains unseen by others. In fact, you probably want your first draft to remain unseen by others. Research, backstory, character profiles, it all remains below the surface of the novel. In swimming, technique is essential. Understanding structure is critical in completing a first draft. It’s your road map to the finish.

The bike is like editing and revising process. The bike is the longest portion of the triathlon. Revising and editing take a long time. You have to let your manuscript rest for at least a few weeks before editing and sometimes for months.  Riding a bike for hours can cause various body parts to become numb and editing can cause mind numbing. Riding the bike and editing are both a pain in the butt. The only way to get through either, the bike section or editing, well is to spend a lot of time in the saddle.

The run is like the publishing process. In a triathlon, you make or break it on the run. It’s the final stretch before the finish line. You can’t give up and just relax, you have to continue to push forward even though you are tired and your mind is screaming to stop. Once you get to the publishing stage of writing, you want to just hand your manuscript over to others to finish it: formatting, cover design, and distribution. But you can’t you have to remain invested and oversee these aspects too and push through by promoting your novel.

For both of these life-changing events, you must be constantly training, learning, and improving. It takes months and sometimes years to reach your goal whether it is a specific race like the Ironman or seeing your novel in print. Dream big. Fight for your dreams. Never give up.

Three keys to keep the creative flowing

keys

There are three keys to keep the creativity flowing, the boys in the basement active, and the muse at the quill. First is to read, read, and read. Second is to learn as much as you can. Third is to write even when it sucks.

Reading in the genre that you write in is important. You learn new tricks of the genre. You keep up on what is trending. You understand the themes and structure of the genre. It is also important to read outside of your writing genre. By reading outside your genre it flexes your creative muscle. New ideas pop into your mind because it combines with the ideas you already have going. It adds a special twist in your novel. I’m not suggesting you combine genres, but you could. What I’m saying is that different genres do certain things better than others and you can learn to be better by reading outside the lines.

Continue to learn about structure, characters, dialogue, and every other area of writing. Strive to improve over your career as a writer. I have found that I need to keep a notebook near at hand when reading about the ins and outs of writing. Ideas for new stories and current ones spring into my mind as I discover new ways to look at things whether it is scenes or sentences.

Write as often as you can. For some this is every day. For others it is every other day. Whatever it is for you, keep doing it and do it regularly. It might be total crap that you are writing, if it’s a first draft it is total crap, but keep doing it. You will get better. However, if you stop you will not get better. Quitting is the end of the line. The chance of success drops to zero. Write all kinds of things. Don’t box yourself into one type of story. Write poetry, short story, novels, non-fiction, fiction, and in any genre that calls to you. I find it easier to have two projects going at the same time, that way, if I get sick of one I can still be productive on the other.

The balance between the three keys ebbs and flows, depending on where you are in your journey. Stagnation and loss of creativity is a sign that you have misplaced one of your keys.

Are all stories horror stories?

fear one

The themes of our stories tackle tough issues. More often than not, they deal with conquering fears: Fear of the unknown, fear of others, and fear of ourselves.  The novel may be packaged as a romance, mystery, fantasy, or adventure story, but at its very core it’s about facing the things that make us tremble, sweat, and run the other way.

Few writers start with a theme when they begin a story. Usually, one of the voices in our heads (AKA characters) demands that we tell their story. Their story is, of course, intricately and impossibly entwined with our own.

The theme is discovered along the journey to the climax of the book. It is woven in your character’s arc and the challenges faced throughout the book by any character. The various decisions that are made about each challenge shows a different facet of the theme. The character’s turn it every which way as the plod along trying to figure out what it is, and how to ultimately deal with it.

Someone famous once said, a writer only writes one story. The characters, setting, and plot all change, but the theme is the same. The theme of a story is what resonates with readers. It draws them in because they see themselves in the characters or they see their life in the challenges and decisions made.

I don’t have a degree in literary arts, but my guess is that if you look at a group of books written in any particular generation or era you would find similar themes running through all of them. The challenges and achievements of a culture or particular people.

Books create a safe space. A place where writers can express their darkest rational or irrational fear and readers can feel validation and companionship in their suffering and pain. How often do we come across a line in a book or just a few words and say to ourselves, “Yes, I know that feeling. It is an old friend of mine.”

fear three

I look at my own writing and reading, and I see patterns that match with the patterns and journey of my life. Overcoming adversity, conquering what appears to be overwhelming odds, an indomitable spirit, issues surrounding trust, and discovering who we are as individuals and within the world as a whole.

Within my stories, I am safe to relive the lessons again and again until I finally figure it out.

What are the themes of your life?

fear two

Text to Speech

AI

A useful strategy for editing your manuscript is to read it out loud. By doing so, you focus on each word more and can catch mistakes in your writing whether it is a missing comma, a misspelled word, or an auto-correct that is not correct.

Another tool that writers can use is text to voice programs. NaturalReader is a program that will read your manuscript back to you. They have a free version with a male and female voice, and they have a paid version where you get two more, higher quality voices and a few more options for $69.50 U.S. One option I am interested in is turning the book into an MP3 audio file giving me the ability to listen to my manuscript as I do other audiobooks. Granted the electronic voice is a little weird, but if you can get over that issue, having your manuscript read to you is a great way to find extra sneaking mistakes. NatrualReader has multiple languages options such as German, French, and Spanish.

I’ve looked at the IVONA text to speech program too. It’s an Amazon product. IVONA has a thirty-day free trial of their program. You can buy different packages of voices. It’s $59.00 U.S. for one voice and the ability to convert into an MP3. You can get three voices for $119.00 U.S.

yWriter is a free writing program that you can download. It helps with structuring your novel and keeps track of location, time passage, characters, and any other object you put into the program. You can input as little or as much information as you want into the program. It also has the ability to read the scenes to you (you have to be in the Scene page).

Another way of having your manuscript read to you is by changing it to a PDF document and emailing it to your kindle and having your kindle read it, which makes it more portable than a laptop.

Having another voice read my manuscript adds another layer of objectivity, at least for me. Separating myself from my memoir has been difficult. I’ve waited four month before going back to edit it, and I still find it hard at particular points to step back and experience the book as a reader.

Has anyone else tried any of these programs and have a favorite?

 

Structuring Your Novel: Part Three

Structuring-Your-Novel

The motivation-reaction unit (MRU) helps writer’s structure sentences and scenes alike. It is a way of thinking about the cause and effect relationship of incidents within your story. Many writers place the effect before the cause, which makes readers slow down and think about what happened. Even a seconds slowing can distract and/or confuse a reader, so it’s best to keep things in the right order.

Here are a few examples:

Effect then cause:

The cat scratched Simon’s face because Simon pulled it’s tail.

Cause then effect:

Simon pulled the cat’s tail, and it scratched his face.

Effect then cause:

Gertrude slammed the front door, after seeing a man with a shotgun running across the lawn.

Cause then effect:

A man with a shotgun was running across the law. Gertrude slammed the front door.

Each of these examples is more powerful when the cause comes before the effect. The reader has to think less about what just happened when the motivation (cause) come before the reaction (effect).

Sequencing your reaction in the right order is also important. A person reacts to a stimulus in a very specific way. When you get things out of order, it slows the reader down. Reactions occur in the following order:

  1. Emotional and thoughts
  2. Action including involuntary actions
  3. Speech

If you stop to analyze how you reaction to various things in your environment, you will see that you have an emotional response or thought first, followed by an action, and finally speech. Keeping things in the right order helps readers suspend their disbelief and reduces the acrobatics their brains have to engage in to understand what is happening with your amazing characters.

If you want to learn more about structuring your novel, I highly recommend K.M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel (picture above).

Part one of this series can be found here.

Part two of this series can be found here.

Happy Writing!

Structuring Your Novel: part two

Structuring-Your-Novel

The Scene is the basic building block of a story. A Scene has two parts: the action part and the reaction part.

The action half of a scene consists of a goal, conflict, and disaster.

The goal of a scene is usually a small piece of the overall plot goal or it can be a major piece of the plot goal. The goal of a scene must make sense in the overall plot of the story. It cannot be something random just to add something interesting to your story. It must move the plot forward. The goal of the scene has the PoV character (generally the protagonist) trying to obtain or avoid something physical, emotional, or mental. The goal must directly affect the PoV character, if it doesn’t you may what to switch to a character who has a higher stake in the scene. The goal should also lead to a new scene.

The conflict within a scene must flow from the goal. It should be about something that matters to the PoV and threaten the PoV’s ability to achieve the goal. It must be logical or your reader will not be able to remain in the story. Not every scene has to be a major battle. It can be something small that gets in the way of what the character wants.

The disaster should answer the question driven by the goal of the scene and prompt a new goal for the next scene. It needs to be flow logically from the goal and conflict. The disaster needs to raise the stakes, but not be melodramatic.

For example if your protagonist has a goal to obtain information from another character. The question is will he get the information. The conflict could be a million things but for this example, it is that the character with the information is intoxicated and doesn’t make any sense. The disaster is the protagonist never getting the information he needed because the character dies in a car accident on the way home.

The reaction half of a scene consists of reaction, dilemma, and decision. The reaction half can be very short, just a couple sentences, or it can be much longer. At times, it is interlaced within the action.

The reaction needs to correlate to the proceeding disaster. The reaction must make sense in the context of the story and be true to the PoV character’s personality. Reactions are important because they create the bond between the character and the reader. Don’t skimp on the reaction half of scenes.

The dilemma of the reaction portion is where the character reviews what happened, analyzes it, and plans his/her next step. The disaster of the action part of the scene influences the dilemma of the reaction portion. Be as clear and specific as called for in the story.

The Decision must be an organic result from the dilemma. It also needs to lead to a strong goal for the next scene and advance the plot. As will every piece of the scene it must be an important logical step in the plot of the story.

All the scenes of a story should line up like dominos. Each triggering the next in the line.

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