Monday, February 23, 2015

Text to Speech and Editing

Wow. I just had my Kindle read a Work In Progress to me as I followed along in my word processor. If you haven't done that, or better yet, read it aloud to yourself, do it! The Kindle text to voice has a few quirks, but it helped me find about one significant typo or grammar issue per 1000 words.

It's pretty easy to set up, too. I just use Calibre to convert my MS Word document to an e-book. Since it's just for audio proofing, there's no need to get picky about formatting. Just the raw conversion will do.

Calibre menu
Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Click on "Add books."
  2. Select the Word document.
  3. Plug in your Kindle or other e-reader, In my case, it detects it and connects, which activates some new menu items.
  4. Convert the document. You can do this via a right-click menu, or via the "Convert books" button. Be sure to select the right book format in the upper right corner. I use MOBI for my Kindle conversions, but you can use well over a dozen formats.
  5. Wait for it to finish the conversion. Full books will take a lot longer.
  6. If your device was recognized by Calibre, you will have a "Send to device" button. Select your story and click it.
Now that your story is on your device, set it to read the story aloud. On my Kindle, this is an option on the menu you can open from inside the document. It's the same menu where you can turn on wireless, shop the Kindle store, and work with bookmarks. Select "Turn On Text-ToSpeech."

And Bob's your uncle. Listen as you read, and figure out where it sounds clunky, and where you have those editing typos that seem to pop up all the time.

You may not see as many issues as I did depending on your skill level, but I'd be glad to hear about your results.

Edit: Windows has a Narrator app to read text to you, but it's a lot more difficult to configure since you have to tell it all sorts of things like whether you want it to read your keystrokes and a bunch of stuff like that. The Kindle text to audio is easy to set up, and takes no real configuration.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Clean Formatting

There are plenty of posts out there on content editing, and how to polish words. That won't stop me from doing my own post on that some other time, but this time it's all about the low level formatting and things that can mess up the text layout. Here are some rules which will make your editor happy because they will have less cleanup work. If you do your own print layout, you can be happy with yourself instead.

Double spaces

Perform a search and replace of two spaces with one space. The only tricky bit here is that you will need to repeat it until it gives you zero matches found. This will remove all those pesky double spaces after periods, as well as those you add by accident in the middle of a sentence. Don't think you have any? Try a search in one of your works in progress and see what happens.

Space at the end of a paragraph

If you use Microsoft Word, this is where things start to get fun. You can put special characters into your search and replace. Use ^p to represent the carriage return at the end of your paragraph. This means you will search for "^p " and replace it with just "^p".  <= Note that I purposely put the period outside the quotes, breaking convention, just for clarity. Sometimes I'm just a rebel like that.

If you use a different editor, you'll have to look up how to enter special characters into your search and replace dialog. One panel at the Life, the Universe and Everything symposium for 2015 did a quick survey and it looked like about 50/50 between Word and Scrivener, with one odd outlier who, if I remember right, liked notepad.

Space at the start of a paragraph

Just like the last one, but this will get rid of accidental spaces at the beginning of a paragraph. These usually creep into your text when you decide to break one long paragraph into two. Search for " ^p" and replace with "^p".


Word also has a special character for tabs since you can't type the tab inside your search and replace dialog, but those are pretty easy to add to the dialog with cut and paste as well. Just replace every tab "^t" with nothing.


When you add an ellipsis, you should make sure that the space before it is a nonbreaking space. If it isn't, then you could get text where the ellipsis flows down to the start of a new line of text, which will look really goofy. Entering an ellipsis search is trickier. The easiest way I've found is to copy the ellipsis, paste it in with regular spaces, then use ^s for nonbreaking spaces in the replace portion.

If you turn on inline formatting, this is the difference between regular spaces and nonbreaking spaces. The nonberaking spaces look like little circles as shown in the second line.

If you prefer the long format that looks like this , , , then just replace all five spaces. The only thing to look out for is that your word spacing may look better if you use a regular space after the ellipsis. You shouldn't be too concerned about that that unless you're doing your own printing layout.

In summary

So there you go. Now you can use a set of simple searches to clean up things that could end up throwing off the final formatting of your document in print form.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

LTUE Report, Day 3

Keynote Address: Toni Weiskoph – Know the theme of your story. She used the song “Margaritaville” as an example of something which contains all the necessary elements of theme and story, and is even done in acts with character progression. Too much fiction is missing the part called “story.”

Tracy Hickman, Sarah Seeley, and Karen Webb

Modern Fantasy & Its Relation to Folklore and Myth – This was a fun panel. I’ve heard a fair amount about Tracy Hickman, and have gotten to know Sarah Seeley through Xchyler Publishing. The ideas within folklore and myth can be powerful, but the source of ideas can also come from and depend deeply on your own personal beliefs, which can lend depth to your writing. There was talk of pulling from scripture, such as retelling the story of Samson and Delilah. Another thing I learned was that Tracy Hickman is an avid supporter and protector of women against abusive relationships. It was actually very applicable to the panel since it came up in context of fiction making use of myth, but presenting it through broken and abusive relationships. Tracy also said he considers mythology to be stories with some truth trying to return home.

D. J. Butler, Eric James Stone, Brad R. Rogtersen, and Daniel Craig Friend

The Ramifications of Fictional Religion – This was the second panel I attended on religion in fiction. As you might expect for a writer’s symposium in Provo, Utah, every member of this particular panel was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The interesting part was the variety of how and why they’ve used religion within their stories, which range from Steampunk to Science Fiction interacting with aliens. One thing I’ve seen that wasn’t limited to this panel was the inclusion of religious overtones where it was seen in a positive and constructive light. It’s pretty easy to use religion in a positive light without coming across as preaching.

Putting Technology Ramifications into Your World Building – Discussions ended up crossing over a bit into things covered in the super villain panel, unless they just happened to merge in my brain. The trick in world building is to think it through carefully enough that you don’t get buried in angry fan letters telling you how your device on page two would completely ruin the entire story/world/universe if abused in a particular way.

That's Scott on the right.

Publishing with a Small Press – The moderator of this panel was Scott Taylor, who has a self-published collection of short stories in addition to several anthology contributions. I've spent some time talking with him during the symposium, and he’s a down-to-earth guy who is a lot of fun to be around. Like the other small press and indie self-publishing panels I went to, a lot of the same things came out. One was do not ever pay money to a publisher. Money should always go to the author on a publishing contract.

How a Military Unit Works in Real Live – The panel consisted of veterans with a wide range of experience. They talked about things that are missed by a lot of stories, including chain of command, delegation, communication, individual initiative, standing orders, discipline, order, conduct, the difference between competence and experience, the difference between garrisoned or deployed troops, and a host of other similar topics. When asked what their greatest fear was, it was never for self, but they feared that something they did would cause the loss of a life for someone on their team. Pet peeves included portrayals of a unit as stupid grunts just following orders, a highly informal group that fraternizes freely, a lack of discipline being portrayed, and showing things running smoothly. None of those happen in real trained military units.

Monday, February 16, 2015

LTUE Report, Day 2

From Start to Finish – This was a three session panel which went over ideas and preparation, then drafting and revision, then ended with publishing and promotion. The panelists were a mix of self-published authors and small press so we got a good cross-section of the process no matter how you want to end up getting into print.

Economics of Super-villainy panel

Economics of Super-villainy – This was a lot of fun since the panel talked about the costs, limits, and restrictions you need on super villains within a story. There was discussion about how you can break your universe if you introduce the wrong sort of technology without considering the ramifications.

Rules for Writing Magic (Howard Tayler moderating, was off to the left)

Rules for Writing Magic - This was an interesting discussion of magic in books. An author should be able to describe step by step exactly how their magic system works, but should never actually present it that way to the reader. You need to know how it works without boring people with the details.

Publishing in Today’s Market – Publishing today is much different than it used to be. L. E. Modesitt Jr. was there to give the perspective of the traditional publisher, a model he’s been part of for lots of years. We also had self-published and small press folks there describing who owns what part of the process, and how to succeed and what to expect on the path you choose.

Pitching Your Novel – This was a good overview from several small press publishers (some of whom are also authors) on how to prepare to pitch your novel (to a publisher, not into the trash). Conventions are a good option, since many times there are slots you can sign up for to present your pitch, or even to have a publisher give you an individual or group critique. In a personal conversation, the consensus was that you wait for the editor to ask you what your story is about. If they don’t ask, then you can use your conversation with them as a springboard when you send in your pitch via email later. There was also discussion of the difference between a short pitch with one quick emotional hook, and a longer pitch which details your hero, goals, obstacles, and the consequences if they fail.

Using Magic Talismans panel

Using Magic Talismans: More than a MacGuffin? – First, a MacGuffin is a plot device in movies which is a focus for choices made, but doesn’t actually do anything itself. A talisman is more a special object with some transformative power. It’s a tool that is used to change something rather than a prop to drive choices.

Michaelbrent Collings on Amazon – Michaelbrent is a lot of fun to listen to. He's the middle person of the picture for Rules for Magic Writing, shown above. He reviewed some of the challenges and pitfalls of working through Amazon  when self-publishing. One was how to get into all the right subcategories. You can only specify two categories, but your keyword selection will be used to automatically place you in more specialized slots so it’s important to choose those keywords carefully. Also, if you’re not an expert at HTML formatting, pay someone to do it right.

Me flanked by authors Scott Taylor and Scott Tarbot with Penny Freeman in the corner

Mass Book Signing – This was a lot of fun Friday evening. I didn’t have any fantasy or science fiction on hand to sell, but it was a lot of fun to rub shoulders with the Xchyler folks for the evening and talk to lots of people as they wandered around buying books.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

LTUE Report, Day 1

I arrived around 8 AM on Thursday, and helped set up the Xchyler booth. I have a story coming out toward the end of May in one of their anthologies. My notes for the first day are a little thin since I didn’t have my composition book with me, but here are some of the panels I attended.

Writing and Mental Health – It was interesting to see the correlation between being artistic or creative and having some sort of mental health issue. It’s a longstanding thing where the greatest of our artists have faced demons of some sort. It’s not limited to the great artists, but those are the ones people see. It comes down to identifying coping mechanisms, whether through medicine or cognitive therapy such as mental exercises like meditation.

Toni Weisskopf

Baen Travelling Roadshow – Toni Weisskopf went through a long series of PowerPoint slides showing the artwork and covers for books, and told stories about them. She discussed how they select their artists for a consistent look between all of their covers.

Using History and Folklore to Enrich Your World – This was interesting because of the tie-in to existing stories we’ve all heard. The idea that there are no original story concepts came into play, and it’s more a matter of retelling the base story in an interesting and compelling way.

Howard Tayler moderating a panel

Living with Mental Illness – Since I didn't take notes at this session, this one and “Writing and Mental Health” sort of blur together in my head. The subject interested me because everyone has varying degrees of challenge and difficulty in their life, so it’s merely a matter of whether it’s severe enough to require outside help and monitoring. Who do you choose while things are going well to assist you when things are not going well?

Crime: What to Get Right? – When writing about crime, details matter for realism. The challenge in my mind is that you don’t want to give idiots clever ideas to exploit just because you wanted to describe how to do something dangerous or stupid in your book. We want to create good criminals in fiction rather than cardboard cutouts who twirl their mustaches, so it turns out that it’s best to concentrate on motivations rather than specific details of how they do what they do.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr on a panel about religion in fiction

Religion in Science Fiction – This was the first of a couple different panels on similar a similar subject. How do you create an appropriate, believable religion in fiction? or how do you incorporate a real religion into your work? Based on what panel members had published, there’s clearly plenty of room for a positive view on organized religion in fiction.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chronology Anthology on sale

I just picked up the kindle version of Chronology, an anthology with some big names in it. I picked it up because James Wymore announced that it was on sale for a few days. I'll have to put a review up once I've read it, but it's a really big book so it may take a while.

  Curiosity Quills: Chronology