Tag Archives: writing


It’s a holiday weekend and I want to keep it short so I will weigh in on the subject that causes weapons to be drawn and blood to run in crimson rivers on writers’ forums. Formatting. It is unbelievable how upset people get on this subject. Well, actually it is believable. It is, after all, one of the few things we much put-upon writers actually control.

I have a theory about what format we should use: The one that professionals use. Not the one that (according to a certain website I won’t name) makes you look or at least feel “hip.” (Formatting makes one “hip”? Oh, reeeeaaaly? *snort*)

Not the one that is prettiest. The one that is professional. Do you really want to look unprofessional to the people you are trying to convince to pay you money–preferably lots of it?

Now, if that isn’t what you care about, you will disagree with much of what I am going to say. That’s all right, too. My name isn’t going on the title page, so I’ll do it this way and you do yours in a Wingbat font or whatever you fancy. All is good.

There are reasons why a certain format has been long been used by professionals. It is not because it looks like the manuscript was written on a typewriter. It isn’t (very definitely) because it looks pretty–because it doesn’t. It is because it makes life easier for editors. We want to make editors happy, darling little creatures that they are.

I will include the usual caveat. Read the guidelines of anyone you are sending a submission to. If they say use Wingbat, then use Wingbat–for them only though. Thankfully, in the world of today with computers, you can change with the press of a “Select All.”

Here is how I format a novel manuscript:

Margin: 1 inch all around although you can go up to 1 1/2 inch.

Font: A MONOSPACE font, which means do not use Times New Roman or, Jove help us, something really fancy in a script font. I use Courier Dark. No, it isn’t pretty. I’m not submitting because it is pretty. It is easy to read AND easy for an editor/agent to mark-up. There are other monospace fonts if you care to look.

Spacing: Double space.

Indent: The first line of every paragraph 1/2 inch.

Header: Starting on page one (not including the title page) right justified including writer’s last name, title and page number.

The title page should include legal name and contact information in the upper left-hand corner, single spaced. Centered your title just above the middle of the page. One double-spaced line beneath the title, centered, put “by” and your name or pen name. One double-spaced line beneath your name put the word count rounded to the nearest thousand.

If you don’t have an agent, that’s it. If you have an agent, your agent’s contact information, including name, business name, mailing address, phone number, e-mail address should be left justified, single-spaced, bottom of the page.

That’s it.

Oh, not quite. Chapter heads. A third of the way down a new page in whatever way such things take you except don’t get fancy with your fonts. Whether you spell the number out or put in a chapter name doesn’t matter. There actually is something that is up to you. This is your chance. Go crazy with it.

I didn’t make all this up on my own. Of course, I got all this from someone or several ‘someones’, so I should credit them. They say pretty much the same thing.




Now, we only have to write stories to go in that format. Do I really need to mention that having a great, well-written story is more important than the format it goes in?


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Review of The Storyteller’s Tale by Omair Ahmad

I would like to include an occasional review my blog. I will try to concentrate on novels that bring something a bit unusual to the genre. I consider The Storyteller’s Tale by Omair Ahmad (published in 2009 by Penguin Books India so you might have to look a bit for it) to be a novel — or perhaps more correctly a novella — in that category.  Perhaps, as a storyteller myself, I simply identified with the storyteller of this story:

But when he had opened his mouth to speak, the words had come out all wrong, all of them, in every which way. They had tumbled out of him, heavy with longing, wrapped in a fire that is a stranger to the light laughter of the city. The unexpectedness of speaking his own truth had stunned him.

Almost twenty years had passed, and in the end he had exactly what he had when he first arrived: his stories, his freedom and the open road before him.

Part of what is unusual about this novel is its length. It is a slender 120 pages. Don’t be put off by the short length. It is a rich story of the storyteller’s escape after the forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali destroyed the wondrous city of Delhi. A day’s ride from the city at an isolated casbah, the Begum  invites him to stay and share a story. The tale he tells, that of Taka and Wara—brothers who are wolf and boy—explores the tragedy of unrecognized love.

To his astonishment, the Begum responds with a tale of her own, the tale of Aresh and Barab and a love that transcends death. For the first time, the storyteller has met his match–and his love, a love that is forbidden, not only because she is married and of a different class, but because her husband is one of those looting and destroying his beloved city. So to share this forbidden love, they duel with their stories that blend and reinforce something from each of the preceding tales, drawing on the elements of love, loss, betrayal and anguish in their lives and our own.

I cried twice (a rarity that I cry at all in a novel of any length) reading this short novel as, with his exquisite prose and imagery, the author explores the meaning of love, of life, and of storytelling. Indeed, who of us as a storyteller has not had our words come out wrong “in every which way”. If mine are not always wrapped in fire when they tumble onto the page, perhaps it is that on that day, in that hour, I was not speaking my own truth. And in the end, we storytellers have only that: our stories, our freedom and the open road to share them with someone who will listen.


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DO Sweat the Small Stuff!

It is often the “small stuff” that loses me in historical novels. Just once the author writing that a character in 13th century England used a spinning wheel or that the knight left the castle riding his destrier is likely to find a novel hurled at a wall. (They used a distaff and spindle and it’s like riding a Sherman tank to the grocery store) If you throw in that a longsword is so heavy a normal woman couldn’t lift it, I’ll probably stomp on the novel, also.

Well, maybe I’m more emotional than some readers, but a lot of people know the difference. If you get the small stuff wrong, it doesn’t matter how right you are on the big stuff, you’ve lost your credibility with me.

It is hard to research, I admit, and writing historical a historical novel can take on a life all its own. I advise always at least handling a weapon you are going to write about. The Society for Creative Anachronisms and reenactment societies can be very nice about letting you pick up their weapons which are generally good copies. You can also find classes in using swords which is, by the way, quite different from fencing.

Otherwise, here is where I do sometimes depend on the Internet. It doesn’t take much of a search or much time to find out when spinning wheels were introduced in England, for example, or what spinning methods were used. There are blogs devoted to horses, although I might argue–as a horsewoman–with some of their ‘facts’, you will sound a lot more credible. There are also some books aimed at writers on these topics which can be a good investment if it’s something you include a lot in your novels.

Sometimes the search for details can be rather amusing. In my recent novel (still unsold *sigh*) about the Scottish hero Andrew de Moray I wanted to refer to the smell of gorse which grows quite commonly in Scotland. To me it smells very much like–coconut. In 12th century Scotland, he would NOT make that comparison. I posted on a forum (mainly with US members) asking for help and received the reaction: What the heck is gorse?

Visualize me as bemused. I finally decided to describe it as a “spicy” scent. But I could have said it smelled like coconut if I hadn’t sweated the small stuff. Hopefully, an editor (my agent is a fiend for such things) would have caught it. But if they let it slip through–like the idiot on his destrier which could have easily ridden down the children in the village square not to mention was about as expensive as a Ferrari–it is me who would have looked both lazy and ignorant, not the editor.

Because SOMEONE would have noticed.


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