#WritingTips- Use Your Microsoft Word Doc Tools to Make Writing Easier!

When my Muse wakes me up in the middle of the night, or I have an epiphany of a new scene to add more life to my manuscript, the first thing I do is search for any means of recording my thoughts. Paper and pen, notes on my iPhone, voice recordings if I’m driving, or sometimes I just grab my laptop, open up a blank word doc, and let my fingers fly over the keys. Then I file it away until I’m ready to work on it again.

I am a plotter with a hint of panster. I take my time when I write, letting my stories marinate as I decide what trials to put my characters through. I spend even more time discovering who they are. When my research is complete, my outlines written, and I’m ready to add dialogue, the last thing I want to do after spending hours bringing my story to life, is have to go back and reformat the entire manuscript before editing it.

Let’s face it, authors, the mere thought of the words edits, editing, or editor are daunting, especially if you are new to writing!

I remember those days! But, have no fear! Since then, I have learned when you put in the work, the editing process can run so smooth, it’s nearly as fun as watching your story come to life from the blank page!

Okay, okay, stop laughing!  Let’s keep it positive people! 🙂 I’m about to share a tip that will have you grinning from ear to ear! (If you had no idea about it, that is!)

Did you know there are tools built into Microsoft Word that can cut down the amount of editing you or your editor need to do if used while you write?

I learned this while working on my first manuscript, (A Heart Not Easily Broken), and my dear friend and fellow author enlightened me to these amazing settings. I can’t lie; I am NOT a tech savvy person. What I’ve learned to do with my laptop, be it building my webpage, (the one you’re visiting now), or surfing the web, all of this has been because of being pointed in the right direction by people who discovered these shortcuts and shared them with me, or by taking the time to keep hitting buttons and trying over and over again until I figured it out. In other words, HOURS of frustration mixed with patience, coffee, and chocolate!

Now it’s my turn to reciprocate!  If any of this is new to you, I hope you find this information useful, and that it makes writing easier!

***NOTE: The following directions and screen shots are based on Microsoft Word 2010. Similar functions can be found for 2007, though they will not be as detailed. For more advice, I suggest searching Google or YouTube for instructional videos on how to use your editing/proofing features.***

Unknown tricks to Word 2007 and 2010 to avoid unnecessary editing issues (AKA – Quick Access Tool Bar). Let’s face it, we all didn’t sit down to read the manual…

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Screen shot of the steps below. Daunting, but well worth the work!

Use of this function will allow you to set up Word to point out common editing issues as you type, allowing you to rethink your sentence before you continue, or make it easier to find some of the editing issues that make your writing passive. To customize this feature, follow these steps:

  • Open up a blank Word Document
  • Select the REVIEW tab at the top of your screen; Right Click and select CUSTOMIZE
  • Select PROOFING. (Here you can choose what kind of typing issues you want Word to ignore or point out to you).
  • Look lower in the box marked: WHEN CORRECTING SPELLING AND GRAMMAR IN WORD
  • Select WRITING STYLE, then click on the drop box, choose GRAMMAR & STYLE, then click SETTINGS. (From here you can have Word point out EVERYTHING!!! From punctuation issues, misused words, fragment and run-on sentences, to the use of cliches phrases, and so much more. Using this feature to help point out issues you need to correct before submitting your manuscript to an editor will make the editor quickly fall in love with you!)
  • Be sure to select OK before exiting to save your settings.

***By the way, once these settings are saved, they stay that way  for every document you create, until you go in and reset them.***

I touched on this a few posts ago when sharing tips for writing query letters, but again, putting this simple step into practice BEFORE you write one word will make the rest of  your writing experience pleasant.

The Universal Settings for your Manuscript (or Prepping you MS for Query Letters and you Editor)

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Your screen should look like this when selecting your font type and size.

Set your Font:

  • Open a blank document.
  • Select the HOME tab.
  • Choose TIMES NEW ROMAN Font with a 12 Point  size.
  • Save and exit

***Check these settings for each new document created! They do not always stay the same!***

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This is the easiest fix!

To Set Page Borders/Margins:

  • Select the PAGE LAYOUT tab.
  • Choose MARGINS.
  • Set to NORMAL. (1 inch border on both sides and top and bottom)

***This usually the normal setting, but it never hurts to make sure it’s set correctly. Technology is funny, and can revert back to the original settings  without warning!***

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Set your page to automatic indent and line and paragraph spacing.

  • From the HOME tab, select PARAGRAPH.
  • In the INDENTION box, choose HANGING.
  • In the SPACING box, choose DOUBLE, and change the  AFTER PT to ZERO (O)
  • Check the box below to avoid  spaces between paragraphs
  • Select OK to save changes.

***Again, check this feature with the start of any new document. The default settings are not the same as what you need when writing. Any new document created will not have your new settings.***

 Other Advice:

Here are a few more things you can do to make your writing cleaner:

  • Make sure you have clean chapter breaks. In other words, when Chapter 1 ends halfway down the page, Chapter 2 should start on a fresh page. The final page of Chapter 1 should not have the first part of Chapter 2 .
  • Italicize words meant to stand out for emphasis, do not highlight or underline.
  •  When inserting a scene break in a chapter, use ### or *** to show the break in time, or the start of a new scene and/or location. Which ever one you use, stay consistent throughout the MS, do not flip-flop.
  • If you have already written you MS and have not used these settings, there’s no need to type it over again! Simply go to page one, hold down the CTRL + A buttons; it will highlight the entire manuscript, from page 1 to 1000+. Follow the steps to set PAGE MARGINS and FONT while highlighted, and it will fix all of your work. Be sure to scroll through in order to separate your chapter headings on fresh pages, or else, some of them may find their way into the previous chapter. Don’t forget to save and back it all up when you’re done!

I know, I know, if you are technically challenged, the whole idea of learning how to properly format your work is daunting. But believe me; editors appreciate working with authors who take the time to learn how to use their writing programs. It cuts down on the amount of tedious stuff they need to do to get your work up to par, and allows them more time to focus on the real work, the mind-numbing technical side. And who knows, less work may end up saving you money!

Happy Writing!

MJ

 

Protagonist and Antagonist Are People Too!

Protagonist and Antagonist are the basis of every story. No matter what genre you write, the way these figures are developed can make, or break, your manuscript.

Is your story a comedy, mystery, chick-lit, historical, paranormal, or sci-fi? Depending on the type of story you are telling, the amount of work needed to make these characters realistic is up to you. I write Contemporary Romance and Women’s Fiction. The subjects I tackle delve deep into character emotions and motivations. I also write in first person. So, the more work I put into getting to know my characters, the better I can bring my readers into their head and allow them to feel the emotions they feel. Understanding why a character makes the decisions they do – both good and bad – are best done when the author truly understands them.

For me, writing each character is like becoming an actor. I don’t sit down and just write what they say or do, I figuratively shed my skin, step into theirs, and let their words and emotions flow.

As Shrek said, “Onions have layers…Ogres have layers.

We have layers to our personalities. Some of them are obvious, such as our temperament, external wants, desires, and needs. Are those the only things that define us? Not by a long shot. An internal layer defines us as individuals and makes us who we are. We pick and choose who is allowed to see that deep inside, beneath that extra ‘onion layer’.

The same is true of our characters. What are the layers that make them who they are? What experiences made them change their outlook on life? What plot in the story is going to shake their world, make them question their core beliefs, and push them to change, or send them on that quest to find happiness? Before that can be determined, we have to know what mindset the character has before life knocks them off balance. If we don’t know these things, then the reader will not know, and your character will be one-dimensional.

That’s a lot to think about isn’t it?

What exactly does having those layers mean?

No matter how great a storyline you weave, if your characters aren’t real, then the plot won’t matter. Readers should be able to relate to them and feel the love, hate, fear, and joy they experience. The characters are what drive a plot, pull the reader in, and make them want to know what happens next, even if the plot stinks. The way the character responds to the situations thrown at them are what define them and make them relatable. Your reader should be able to look at the situation they face and think, “I would have done the same thing,” or “Are they crazy?” Those types of reactions are what draw them into a story.

Think about your favorite book. What was it about the story that grabbed you the most? Was it the characters reaction to the plot? What about their strengths? Vulnerabilities? What part of the character did you relate to most that made you invest countless hours of late nights staying up to finish a chapter, or sneaking in a few minutes to read while in the bathroom? Was the characters quality a focal point of the storyline, or something in a backstory that explained why he or she choose to react the way they did?

A few months ago, I wrote about building real characters, and shared the steps I take when developing mine. This time I’m going to strip away a layer and delve deeper into that technique. One of the best books I’ve come across is, The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, 2nd Edition, by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph. D. This book helps writers distinguish personality types. The book is a hidden gem. It delves deep into the human psyche and breaks it down. The likes, dislikes, how they think, emotional responses, and so much more. The beauty of this book is that it is about real people. As you read the breakdown of each personality type, you will literally see yourself. Using this book as a base to develop your characters will make them more realistic.

I’m going to share with you a few of the character traits and descriptions listed. For more information regarding the external and internal facets of the personalities, I strongly urge you check out this book!

The Boss: They want to be in the limelight at home, work, or play. The theme in their lives is control of themselves and others around them.

The Conformist/Conventionalist: In favor of compliance to nearly everything around them.

The Creator: Life gets meaning from the ability to produce new ideas or products (very artistic)

The Dependent: Their world revolves around having their needs met by others.

The Loner: Life seems directionless. This person has little strong attachment to anyone.

The Man’s Man: This character is very one-dimensional.

The Passive/Aggressive: They try hard, but always feel misunderstood.

The Resilient: They have the remarkable ability to recover from life’s disappointments.

Do you see your character here? This is only a prototype of what your characters could be. Now you have to fill in those blanks. This is where the handy character outline comes in.

Are those creative juices flowing yet?

The key to all of this is time. Not everyone feels the need to delve this deep into character development in order to tell the story. That’s fine, because everyone writes in his or her own way. My intention is not to tell anyone how to write. I am not a master, nor am I a published author. My goal is to share what I’ve learned on my writing journey with anyone willing to listen. The method I use may not be for you. I hope that you will find something useful to guide you in developing your writing style, or at least give you the extra encouragement needed to get over that writing hump.

So, planners, pansters, what is your technique for stripping away those onion layers? Please share!

MJ

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The Kreative Blogger Award – An Honor of Distinction

 I can’t believe I received a blog award! I am so honored!

When I began this blog two years ago, it was a way to practice writing. I wrote about random stuff, funny events that happened in my life. After a while, I ran out of things to say. When I decided to take my writing career seriously, I delved back into blogging. I realized, not every aspiring author has family, friends, or access to other writers to help keep their dream afloat. Not everyone is able to participate in the big writers conferences, or find a local writers or critique group to guide us in the right direction. Since then, I have made it my goal to blog about my experiences. I hope to help others learn something new, give helpful tips, and offer support to those in need.

For that it seems, I have been given this award.

To Ashley Barron, aka, @dcPriya, the lovely woman who has given me this award, I say, THANK YOU! You say that I “move so fast you have to fasten your seat belt,” lol, I guess it does seem that way, huh? When my characters are in my head, demanding to have their story put on paper, it’s nearly impossible for me to focus on even the minor details of my life. Which of course means the moment my family is out of the house, my laptop is on, and my fingers are burning up the keys! You have no idea how encouraging it is to have someone like you constantly RT my tweets and reply to my FB comments. Thank you so much for your support! I hope to continue to be an encouragement to you and anyone else I am blessed to cross paths with. Everyone, please visit her blog, thepriyas.com, and show her some love and support!

Now, there are two requirements in accepting this award. First, I am to share ten things about myself that you, the reader, do not know. Hmm… So let’s see:

10. As a child, I never took the time to sit down and write a story of any kind, not even a diary. Reading was my favorite thing to do.

9. My two biggest followers are my Pit Bulls, Vader and Ivy. No matter where I go, they are there. In fact, I can’t even leave the room without them jumping up to stand in front of me, waiting to discover where we’re about to go. It’s impossible to do though since they are blocking the way!

8. My first writing attempt was in 2005, a Fanfic of the television show, Lost. It was based on a character created to take part in the popular show. That character has since evolved, experienced two name changes, and become the main character of my first novel, A Heart Not Easily Broken, the book I am currently submitting for query.

7. I have read over 50 books in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Yep, I’m a Star Wars nerd. Since diving into my writing career, I haven’t had time to follow the new books in the series.

6. Before writing, I spent a lot of time playing Xbox games with my oldest son. I was known as the ‘coolest mom’, by his friends. Together, we spent two days beating The Return of the King video game.

5. Speaking of games, I am a Sims addict! I have more fun constructing and decorating the houses than playing with the characters. My hubby banned me from that game because it took up time…such as making sure my house was clean. LOL!

4. I am an excellent chair dancer! Put on the right song and I rock! Ask me to stand up and dance, and well, let’s just say I can do the Cha Cha Slide pretty darn well!

3. I dance in my car with the music blasting and my kids providing back up.

2. My father, Warren Kelly, was the first African-American Fire Chief in the state of Georgia. He held that position for nearly three years before his death in 1985.

1. In 2006, I experienced a stroke and spent two weeks in ICU, and nearly died. My right side was paralyzed for nearly a week. I regained control of my body before leaving the hospital and have made a 90% recovery. My life and family to be a blessing, and I do my best to get better at my craft and make them proud. Writing has become a way for me to continue to heal in many ways. My ability to use my imagination to tell stories has fueled my desire to become an author. My experience has also helped me add an extra layer of heart and emotion into the stories I tell.

So, that’s all there is to know! Now for the next part: nominating six talented people who have encouraged me and I hope will do so for you as well.

@Carmen DeSousacarmendesousa.com – Romantic Suspense- She has recently published her first book and has been a constant source of encouragement to me in pursuing my publishing dream.

@Minnie BalaguerLahongrais.blogspot.com – Romantic Suspense – A comment she made about negative feedback from friends about her writing is what got my attention. Since then, I have enjoyed every opportunity to talk to her. She is proof that despite what negativity you face, if you continue to travel your path, you will find success. She did!

@Abigail Tuniviel –  worldsbeforethedoor.wordpress.com -Aspiring Author, Urban fantasy – A great source of fun on Twitter in the morning. She and I have connected as aspiring authors and coffee lovers. She has an ongoing story posted on her blog. I wish my ‘coffee sister’ much success!

@Zee Monodeezeemonodee.blogspot.com – Romantic Suspense – One of my critique partners. Zee has always had an encouraging word. I love the fact that she can’t wait to read my second book! Her blog is a constant source of character information at just the right time.

@Chicki Brownsisterscribbler.blogspot.com – Contemporary Women’s Fiction – One of my critique partners. After connecting with her at a local writer’s conference nearly two years ago, Chicki has offered me great advice and encouragement to keep me going. Visit her blog for wonderful advice of an self-published author.

@Manuscript Proofing –  manuscriptproofing.com – Proof reading services – The name says it all! Always a constant source of encouragement and wonderful services. This is who I use to proof my manuscripts.

Enough said! Congrats to all my nominees! I wish you all continued success!

MJ

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