Friday, February 4, 2011
I had a not one-, not two-, but rather a three-part epiphany about why writers attempt to include various no-no's to their manuscripts format (as I once did).
Epiphany: Part I
Writers simply don't know any better. They're new to writing and submitting and don't realize that manuscripts for novels, short stories, screenplays and poetry should be submitted according to certain guidelines.
Epiphany: Part II
Word processing programs invite creativity. They overflow with font sizes, colors, types. They allow the inclusion of graphics, photos and interesting borders. They invite writers to turn text sideways and otherwise wow agents and publishers.
What's not to love!
Epiphany: Part III
The urge to use such gimmicks to "sell" the story is usually a direct reflection of a writer's confidence. The lower a person's belief she's got the ability to convey her story through words, the more likely she is to use various means to aid her endeavor.
I've fallen into all of these traps, partly out of ignorance and partly because I didn't understand the reasoning behind guidelines I found to be uncomfortably restrictive.
So here's my attempt to provide that reasoning:
Martha' List of What Should NOT Be Included in a Manuscript and Why
• fancy fonts (anything other than 12 pt. Courier or Times): hard to read
• colored fonts: hard to read
• anything other than white typing paper: hard to read, especially if the paper is colored or has borders
• any spacing other than that described in proper manuscript guidelines (take a look at William Shunn's proper manuscript format for a short story): hard to read
• cute symbols used at chapter headings or to separate writing segments: visually distracting and possibly off-putting if the reader doesn't share the writers taste in such decorations
• graphics/photos that demonstrate what the writer has explained in the text: implies the writer is not confident about the description he's given (any graphics/photos that are necessary should be submitted as an addendum to the manuscript)
• the word copyright: implies the writer doesn't know his/her work is copyrighted at the point of conception (Understanding Rights and Copyright)
• underlining and ALL CAPS: italics convey emphasis without shouting at the reader
The Reasoning: Condensed
The reasoning for axing all the "fun stuff" from manuscripts comes down to two points:
1. The manuscript has to be easy to read.
2. The manuscript has to sell the story through words. If you can't do that, you won't convince the agent or editor you know how to write.
Now that you know what not to include, here are a few resources to help you do the job right:
Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript, Cynthia Laufenber
The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style, Christopher Riley
The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, Anita Silvey
Sunday, January 30, 2011
In the past I've highlighted new words that enter our vocabulary, proving again that language is a living thing and needs the freedom to morph as needed culturally, emotionally and intellectually.
Here are some of the more colorful words to begin our new year, via Mirriam-Webster's New Words:
• mouse potato: a person who spends a great deal of time using a computer
• soul patch: a small growth of beard under a man's lower lip
• polyamory: the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time
And from WordSpy: The Word Lover's Guide to New Words
• mom cave: an area of a house that a woman can decorate to her tastes and be alone to pursue her own projects and interests
• gallery rage: extreme anger displayed by an art gallery patron when a visit is marred by huge crowds or rude gallery staff
• cheapuccino: an inexpensive, low-quality cappuccino, particularly one from a vending machine; a cappuccino made from brewed or instant coffee
• garden-to-fork: describing or relating to food grown in a person's own garden. Also: garden to fork
• flunami: an overwhelming number of flu cases in the same area at the same time. Also: flu-nami
And from Double-Tongued Dictionary:
• sorry gift: "Because guilt over spending is playing a big role in the sales downturn, he teaches salespeople to suggest a “sorry gift”—of another timepiece—for a wife who might be disappointed that her husband just dropped a sizable sum on his own wrist."
• hair crush: "OK guys I am not going to lie here, I do this thing that I like to call my “hair crush.” My hair crushes are people with fab hair that I personally would kill to have."
• seagen: "A vegan that eats seafood."
Long live language, our word-oriented means of communication that changes as necessary, whether we want it to or not!