“White Space”: What It Is and Why It Matters

Big dialogue bubble in a blue sky with a red question mark inside.Over at Writers in the Storm, an extremely useful writers’ site, Ellen Buikema touches on a topic I’ve seldom seen addressed in the many blogs I follow: how writers can use “white space” to make pages more inviting to readers. These pointers apply both to fiction and non-fiction (though, of course, there’s that anomaly, the academic article, with which I am very familiar and which I personally enjoyed practicing and responding to).

Maybe you need some white space now? Okay.

Paragraphing decisions and, as a comment mentioned, dialogue contribute to white space. I do notice, though, that too much white space can create a page that feels jumpy and encourages skimming rather than reading for nuance. I say this because I’ve just finished a book in which almost all the paragraphs were one or two lines with runs of short dialogue between. So I like Buikema’s response urging “balance in all things.”

Page 1 of King of the Roses in Adobe InDesign

I kinda like my balance here!

I find that I like books at both ends of that balance. Sarah Waters’ novels ask me to find my way through rich, dense detail, while many of my favorite mysteries, especially noir, choose the terse, keep-moving option.

What are your favorite examples of these choices?

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What is head-hopping, and is it spoiling your fiction writing? – by Louise Harnby…

More good help from Louise Harnby, via Chris the Story Reading Ape. This piece on point of view contains some excellent, clear examples if POV gives you fits.

No names shall be mentioned, but I’ve been seeing an awful lot of “head-hopping” in works by some well-regarded authors; I’ve learned not to gripe when it’s clear writers have built up faithful followings for whom what bugs me doesn’t even register.

Still. It DOES bug me. The minute your reader stops to scratch their head, you’ve lost them, even if for only a moment.

So I say, be purists about point of view!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Are your readers bouncing from one character’s head to another in the same scene? You might be head-hopping.

This article shows you how to spot it in your fiction writing, understand its impact, and fix it.

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Here’s a List of Online Pitch Fests for 2020!

Book publishing success--butterflies hovering over an open book

Interested in trying out an online pitch via Twitter? Some people find this process rewarding. Here’s a list of pitch fest dates I just discovered on Victoria Strauss’s Writer Beware site (check out her warning about due diligence when responding to an agent or editor after an online pitch).

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If You Do Online Pitchfests—Writer Beware!

Here’s a warning from Victoria Stauss’s Writer Beware about the kinds of publishing predatorsmeeting an oncoming car on a dark road with a full moon overhead--navigate online pitchfests safely you may encounter at #PitMad or other digital pitching events. The sponsors of these events always encourage writers to check agents and editors carefully before submitting. Strauss’s example here contains plenty of red flags, but not all may be as transparent.

Thanks again to Writer Beware for keeping our eyes open.

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5 Things I Relearned Starting a New Book

Poor little car loaded with baggage on a tangled highway, like a writer starting a new book!

The right turn has to be here somewhere!

It’s been a while since I started a book from scratch.

One of my two latest ventures is the third volume in a mystery series I’ve been working on for some time. But the other is new—premise to hand-written scribbles to first keyboarding. I’m about 15,000 words in. And it’s taking off.

By taking off, I mean every time I finish a scene, the next one’s shaping up in my mind. I’m excited about sitting down to the draft every day. Zoooom.

Both of these plunges into new writing confirmed a few things I thought I remembered about starting a book. Other writers might find these experiences resonating with theirs.

Here’s what I know.

1) You must WRITE.

A lot of people advocate detailed outlines, but if the outline isn’t coming or not a natural move for you (I’m a pantser), I argue that you need only one element of your new book before you start putting words on a page: an idea. Something that’s been kicking at the edges of your mind to get out. You can carry this idea around, stroke it, dunk it in your morning coffee . . . but to give it body and breath, you must start to write. Writing teachers share an adage most credibly attributed to Flannery O’Connor: “I don’t know what I think until I read what I wrote.” For reasons beyond my pay grade, the physical and mental process of actually writing triggers something that no other process can.

A writer with light bulbs overhead--and one going off!

2) Accept your “shitty first drafts.”

Listen to Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird. I have to remind myself of this every day. This tolerance for failure applies both to the whole novel and to those early “thinking” notes and stabs at dialogue or description. Not a word you write at this stage has to be good enough to go on the finished page. A lot of it is for you to know but never tell your readers (e.g., that your MC loved runny eggs when he was eight). You’re world-building, poking into corners you didn’t know were there. You’ll leave a lot of what you find behind, but it’s the finding that makes your world come alive.

A weird, writer-built world!

3) Set doable goals.

As much as I love writing, I personally do NOT need disincentives to do it. Nothing disincentivizes as much as feeling that I MUST complete a whole chapter at a sitting. People have different tricks to fend off procrastination. Sometimes I commit to filling a single notebook page. Or I set a timer for thirty minutes. During that thirty minutes, I must focus on the book. I’m allowed to reread the last session’s work or play with plot points, but before that timer goes off I must write something. Usually, when I stop, my mind’s at work, words still packed inside my pen for next time.

 

4) Allow incubation time.

This point goes with #3 above. Short sessions over the course of a day or a few days leave blank spaces in between for amazing things to happen. That perfect word you couldn’t find, that twist in a planned scene where your characters surprise you, that metaphor you just couldn’t sort out—when you come back from doing other things, they just fall onto the page. Don’t try to force this. Incubation is a mysterious process. Actually writing (see #1) gives it a place to do its thing.

A mysterious scene of ruined stone piers stretching into a foggy sea.

5) If a scene tells you it’s not working, listen.

Inevitable! Here are some strategies that have worked for me when a scene freezes up:

  • Make sure you’re writing a real scene. If you’re just lecturing your readers on a bunch of stuff you think they ought to know, you can get just as sick of the droning as they will. To get your blood rushing, toss your characters in a pile and let them thrash around.
  • Write sticky scenes or passages from multiple viewpoints or in multiple voices, just to see what happens—you’re not stuck with the fails. In my new book, I’d struggled to fire it up, but then, without warning (see #4), up popped a different voice, and the character who’d been stumble-tongued suddenly started talking. The whole book began to spread itself before me, just from that discovered voice.
  • Start at a different place in your story. Maybe you’re trying to pile up too much backstory rather than getting on with the chase. Or use the common device of starting at a crucial moment, then returning to the past to tell readers how your folks got themselves into this mess.
  • Start with conflict, not crisis. (This is the single best piece of fiction-writing advice I ever received.) Okay, your characters are about to go over a 100-foot waterfall in a leaky barrel. But once they hit the rocks below, you still have to figure out who the survivors are and what their story they’re living, and that’s where the work is. Jump-start with their argument the day before about why they’re doing it, whether they’re doing it right, and whether they should do it at all. Their answers to those questions are the story, and the waterfall is just a device to slam them into their reasons for answering those questions the way they did.

A beautiful Florida river

I used to compare starting a book to finding my way into the center of one of those Florida cypress stands I liked to explore: you try what looks like a path, only to find your way blocked; you try another, ditto. Then, abruptly, the trees part before you, and you’re at the secret heart. The innards of a new book can just as hard to push into. It was nice to find these strategies working to clear the path once again.

What works for you when you’re starting a new book?

 

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“Ah, That Was Easy!” — A Quick, Simple Trick to Make Your Quotes Stand Out – by Anastasia Chipelski…

Here’s a thoughtful discussion of an issue that confounds a lot of us: how to add “attribution” to quotations and dialogue. In other words, how to clarify who said what.
Fiction writers, I know, sometimes feel hemmed in by admonitions to stick with simple “says” and “said.” Anastasia Chipelski shares some thoughts on how to handle nonfiction attributions. Fiction writers can remember to use “action beats” to escape ponderous repetition of “said.”
“I’ll try to answer your questions.” Derek shifted in his chair. “If they’re not too hard.”
And exchanges between two people won’t need an attribution on every line.

On my other blog, collegecompositionweekly.com, I summarize articles from research journals. One rule I follow is always to attribute claims to the source, which prevents me from implicitly endorsing them as truth. So I rely on “argues,” “claims,” “contends,” etc. Sometimes I fall back on “writes” or “states,” which leave the claim in the source’s corner when he or she does seem to be offering a verifiable fact.

These decisions always take a lot of thought. I personally think colorful attributions should be used sparingly. Let the dialogue and the action do most of the work. Thanks to the Story Reading Ape, as always, for sharing a useful piece!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

on The Write Life:

As an editor, one of the first pieces of feedback I give to writers is to vary word choice and sentence structure. But there’s one place where I go in the complete opposite direction: quote attribution.

When I started managing a local alt-weekly five years ago, I inherited their style guide. I could change it, but I decided to give it a little test drive first.

A simple “subject says” is the best format for quote attribution

That style guide recommended that writers almost exclusively use a simple “subject says” format to attribute quotes. I bristled a little. Taking all the wonderful varied ways to frame a quote and jettisoning them in favor of “says” felt wrong, sparse and cold.

But …

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How to add categories to your book on Amazon

Big word "book" in "letterpress."

Wow! I’ve been waiting for this information for ages. Join me in trying it, and let me know how it works for you!

deborahjay

Have you ever noticed that some books seem to be in lots of Amazon categories, and not just the two KDP allows you to choose when you publish your book?

Did you know you can add your book to more categories simply by contacting KDP support? You can have it in up to 10 categories, making it much more likely people will come across it when they search their Amazon site.

But why would I want my book in more categories?

Put simply, the more categories your book shows up in, the more people will see your book on Amazon.

Your book will show up in every step of the category pathway, for example, if one category path for your book is:

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks>Science Fiction and Fantasy>Fantasy>Action & Adventure

your book will show up in each of the categories mentioned. Ideally, you want your book to…

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