And for writing competition news, pop over to Sally’s Writing Calendar here and Patsy’s blog here.
I get about a bit, sat here on my not inconsiderable bum and I’ve noticed a few recurring questions popping up and I thought I’d tackle a few of them.
But be warned. This is going to be Daily Eekish – you know, you get all excited when you read, “Earth to have two suns next year” and when you read the article you find out we might have two suns sometime in the next million years - perhaps.
I’m going to tell you what I know and what I do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that what I do is right, okay? That I believe is what is known as a disclaimer. So when you see my headline up there “That’s the way to do it” – it might not be. With me?
I can’t tell you how to write a story, but I can tell you how to present it – at least for magazines.
First of all I’ll cover what I know and I’d call these the golden rules. A4 paper, clear print Times New Roman 12 on one side of the paper only, wide margins, double spacing and right hand margin never justified.
So set up your story like that and you won’t be giving fiction editors headaches and that is always a good start. Make your work easy on the eye, easy to read and you’re over the first hurdle.
This is where the uncertainty creeps in. Do you indent paragraphs? Not if you’re writing for My Weekly you don’t. But if you write for them, you’ll know that anyway.
I always indent. I can’t help it. I think it looks better and I can read it back easier, but that little Format facility up there on your top bar means you can do it however you like and change it when you’ve finished. Just remove the tabs.
Speech marks. Double or single? I’ve always used double for speech, single for thought or speech within speech. But Take a Break and Fiction Feast do it the other way round. I don’t think they like indents either. Rather than chopping and changing how I do things, I do it my way then Edit Replace and Format Tabs.
So you’ve submitted a story with the wrong speech marks. Should you panic? No (but you probably will because that seems to be the nature of most writers - we're all Corporal Jones at heart). Most magazines, once a story is accepted, will ask for an electronic copy and if your set up is wrong, they’ll ask you to change it.
However, if the magazine in question has produced guidelines which specifically state how they like a story to be presented and you do it differently – ssseeeess (sucking breath through teeth – ouch, shouldn’t have done that) – you are in effect saying you haven’t read their guidelines.
Title page? Should you or shouldn’t you? I know some very successful writers that don’t and some that do. I’ve always done a title page when submitting hard copy. On it I put the title, my by-line and my name, address and the word count.
If you don’t do a title page, then you need to put that information on the story itself. Adding your email address is a good idea too.
At the end of my story I put the word count again and the copyright sign © I don’t know if it’s necessary to do the ©, but I do. From the first time I sent something off that little © made it real for me.
Covering letter? Again that seems to be a matter of choice. I know writers that don't and writers that do. I do. I doubt there is a fiction editor out there who will say "I'm not reading that story - they did/didn't send a covering letter, pah!"But what about the little details? One space after a full stop or two? Well I always used to put two, but these days I just use one. And if it’s a problem, as I said before – edit, replace – well it works if you’re changing two spaces to one, but perhaps not so well the other way round.
And to show something in italics do you underline it or actually use italics? That is a difficult one. Usually it is clear which words need to be italicised without doing anything, but I tend towards using italics if I feel it needs to be shown.
Do you need a row of *** between scenes? Sometimes. I know that’s not an answer, but it’s the best one I can give you. I think if you are jumping through time, the *** or whatever you choose to use, can be useful. Generally I leave an extra double space.
I was once told off by a fiction editor because of my over use of exclamation marks. She said she was sure fiction editors in the UK would thank her for pointing out to me the error of my ways. Was I miffed? Yes I blinking well was. Did I stop using so many exclamation marks? Yes I blinking well did.
What you do need to be is consistent in your use of speech marks, spaces, font etc. You don’t want to do anything that will distract an editor from your story by annoying them with sloppy presentation.
For a while many years ago (pre-computer) after my ex-office golfball (oh how I loved my golfball) typewriter went to god, I used a cheap portable typewriter. I couldn’t afford a new ribbon for it and I was sending off appalling copy. I’m pretty sure some words were topless. But some of those stories were taken.
I’m not saying that if you send in rubbish copy now you’ll get published, but what I am saying is that if you have written a good story that a fiction editor and the second readers like, the fact that you’ve used the wrong kind of speech marks or too many spaces after your full stops isn’t going to stop them buying it.
I’d be interested to know how you do things.