Where is my Creativity?

Creativity

‘The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.’

Oxford Dictionaries

Internal and external factors

Before delving into my own experiences, let’s look first at how we define creativity. The first things we think of are often, as in the definition above, imagination, ideas, and inventiveness. However, creativity is influenced by many factors, both external and internal. Internal factors may include personality traits such as being open-minded, adventurous, and experimental. External factors include whether you are in the right environment, an environment conducive to creativity, and what resources in terms of ideas, writing, inspiration, or people that are available to you.

Conformity

Creativity can be more prevalent in some people or places than in others. For example, it is often rooted in people or cultures who do not conform. Perhaps it is a wish to explore new avenues of thought and expression, rather than to be told how to think, work, or behave. As a result, it attracts a greater following, and is popular among those who see its value.

Who are creative people?

Some occupations are considered creative while others are not. Writing, music, and art are creative pursuits, but jobs that are considered normal, routine, or that involve tasks that leave little room for group innovation or personal development would not be considered creative. Sometimes there is confusion as to what would constitute creativity. Many writers of fiction wouldn’t think running a business would be creative. For many a business represents the antithesis of their creativity. Yet there are other fiction writers out there; some of whom have had previous backgrounds or relevant knowledge in the working world; embrace creative business practices and actively encourage creativity in their businesses. It may depend on how we define creativity and which type of creativity we enjoy.

Balancing creativity

Have you thought about how much you are using the creative part of your brain, and whether this can suffer if you spend too much time using the other parts of the brain: editing, running a business, etc.? Independent authors sometimes need to be editors and publishers too. Indeed the number of tasks expected of ourselves can be overwhelming. It affects our mindset, and it’s not out of the question to assume it can also affect our creativity.

My experience – author and editor differences

I find, as a copy editor and proofreader, the skills I need are quite different from those I use as an author. It can be confusing when you think of yourself as both, or combine job roles in order to succeed. In 2016 I went to Bradford Literature Festival and I was confronted with the problem, as if my brain was a hat and I could don the author or the editor one at will, and yet without having decided which one to use I was left with no hats on, confused, so to speak. Do I introduce myself as an editor and have business cards ready just in case? Or do I aim to take advantage of opportunities to improve the quality of my own stories and improve my publishing and marketing model? I didn’t know, and attended as an observer. If you consider yourself a professional at anything, you shouldn’t be going to a place where your target audience is only to observe or take a mild interest.

You need to prioritise in life, and that means deciding on a structure, and brain pattern, and sticking with it. Everything else has to be secondary, for a specified time. I chose to prioritise my freelance copy editing and proofreading, and there is a part of my mind that notices how differently I think now: planning, organising, targeting, and analysing. I see things through the lens of efficiency. I plan and research my novels more than I used to and only consider jumping in when all the pieces are in place. Patience and preparing quality become paramount.

When being an indie author was the priority my mindset was less calculating, searching for promotional events and literary opportunities or the next best thing, and making connections with readers, were the most important priorities. Having stalls and holding writing sessions helped too. In my experience, authors seek out approval and they have a real passion for their writing and the inspiration their writing comes from; they have a unique background and world view to share. Writing during this time revolved around my direct experiences of having Asperger Syndrome. The condition was an ideal research topic and this informed the attributes and struggles of my characters. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, without caring too much about planning or self-editing until I had drafts down. I was moving forward all the time without knowing exactly where I was moving, yet at the same time I was impatient, uninformed, and without having planned sufficiently, but these weaknesses are not necessarily characteristic of most authors.

Prioritising has helped me rectify some of the mistakes of one mindset, and has prevented confusion. As much as we humans want to have the ‘best of both’ it isn’t possible; you’d need two minds, and we can only aim for the ‘best we can’.

Have you noticed any differences between what you consider the creative part of your brain and the non-creative part?

Inkitt’s Writers Write Program

Ink - photo

To encourage more writers to complete National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), Inkitt are launching a program whereby writers take their ‘pledge’, which is like an acknowledgement by you that by entering the program it’s more likely you will finish your manuscript and that your first draft isn’t going to be perfect – such issues can be fixed at a later stage …

The program includes motivational tips from industry professional writers such as Andy Weir, Lauren Kate, and Gayle Forman. It helps you with getting feedback because they can match you with a writing buddy in a writing community, and there are special tools such as live chat and a public ranking to see how you compare with other writers. Useful, eh? Another valuable tool will likely be the reader demographics, which shows you who your readers are and may help you target them.

 

Is there an end goal?

For every one of you who completes the program, which I assume means 50,000 words in a month, you may write a one-paragraph pitch for entry into a Winners List. I’m assuming this is just for author publicity and not necessarily publication by Inkitt, but it looks like you’ll cross that bridge when you get there.

 

The press release

‘Inkitt launches a free program to help you turn your idea into a novel within 30 days

Have you ever thought about writing a novel? There are millions of people in the world who have ideas floating around in their heads that they want to write down but never find the time.

Inkitt, the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, will be launching their first ‘Writers Write Program’  on November 1st to help you turn your idea into an original novel. The 30-day program is completely free and filled with special benefits such as:

Free, 30 min private sessions with professional writing coaches (including the editor of The Martian)

Events and tips with bestselling authors like Andy Weir, Lauren Kate, and Gayle Forman

A variety of community features such as the choice to get a writing buddy who you can exchange manuscript feedback with

“Our intention is to enlarge the writing community by encouraging more people to become writers,” said CEO of Inkitt, Ali Albazaz. “The program is completely free so for us this isn’t about making money; it’s about encouraging talented and committed writers to keep going and finish what they started.”

If you are serious about taking on the challenge or want to finish (or start!) a manuscript then make sure to get your spot in the program now. There is less than a week left before it starts.’

Inkitt’s Writer’s Write Program

What is copy editing and proofreading?

In a nutshell
  1. Developmental editing is for authors who have an incomplete manuscript, and need help making it complete.
  2. Copy editing is for authors who have a complete manuscript, and need help making the writing ready to publish by making sure it is correct, consistent, logical, and suitable for intended readers.
  3. Typesetting/formatting is for authors who have a complete manuscript, and need help preparing it for publication in a specific format.
  4. Proofreading is for authors who have a complete manuscript ready to publish, and need a ‘final check’ for accuracy, inconsistency, error, and presentation of all necessary elements.

There are many different definitions used by editors or proofreaders for the same or similar services involved in book production. For example, sometimes developmental editing is synonymous with substantive editing, structural editing, or manuscript critique. The below are my definitions of the book production process, based on my experience and understanding.

Developmental editing

Developmental editing looks exclusively at the big picture aspects of a story: how the overall narrative works in relation to the structure, characters, plot, dialogue, themes, and concept of the story. It’s intended to make sure that it is as fully ‘developed’ as it needs to be, and can help give you guidance on where to take it from conception to completion. Developmental editors won’t read line-by-line, as with copy editors, but will focus on particular extracts or paragraphs within a given scene or chapter and will offer suggestions for improvement. In this sense, they work at the paragraph-level and not the sentence-level.

There are two main types of developmental editing: ‘substantive editing’ and ‘manuscript critique’. Substantive editing may involve substantial rewriting or restructuring, which can be taken as suggestions by the author. In this way, it is a heavy form of editorial intervention, for authors who may not be confident with their story or writing and could benefit from an expert editor. Some forms of substantive editing have differing levels of intervention. It could go on a scale that places it as a higher form of intervention than ‘line editing’, which looks more at improving the flow of writing at the sentence-level, and ‘copy editing’, which looks more at the technical parts of language than on improving the writing.

There is also a ‘manuscript critique’, which will offer a report in the form of an editorial letter, offering constructive criticism and feedback to guide the author by commenting on their strengths and weaknesses in structure, characters, plot, dialogue, themes, and concept. With this information, the author can then work on the problem areas themselves.

Copy editing

Copy editing involves making sure that the writing style is appropriate for the intended readership, the structure of the publication is logical and complete, and the writer’s message is clear. Some copy editors will offer suggestions on the structure and style of sentences where there is inconsistency, ambiguity, disrupted flow, or where there are issues to be raised.

Copy editors, as with proofreaders, correct and mark-up errors of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and use a style sheet and checklist to verify that all writing elements are consistent and make sense. However, copy editors are permitted to intervene more than proofreaders because they typically work on an unedited and unrefined version of the author’s manuscript, and there is therefore more scope for changes to be made. In situations where the manuscript requires more intervention, the copy editor will raise queries with the author to verify facts and better understand the author’s intention.

It’s the copy editor’s responsibility to make sure that:

  1. The writing is correct, flows well, makes sense, and is suitable for the intended readership
  2. Stylistic decisions are consistent according to standard conventions or preferred style
  3. Use of language is accurate such as word usage, repetitive or superfluous words, tense, and point of view
  4. The presentation is of the highest quality and consistent, setting the standard for readers’ expectations
  5. The writing of the manuscript is fit for publication and ready for designing, formatting, proofing, printing, and publishing

Copy editors traditionally work on a more incomplete version of the manuscript, before it has been designed and typeset/formatted. Proofreading comes in at a later stage, used as a final check that there are no lingering errors. The term ‘copy editing’ comes from when an editor, traditionally working for a publishing house, would glance at a ‘copy’ (unedited original manuscript) and work on a ‘proof’ (to-be-edited copy) side-by-side.

Proofreading

Proofreading requires marking-up errors of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, using a style sheet and checklist to verify that writing is consistent and makes sense.

Proofreading is a stage that traditionally comes after copy editing, and is used as a ‘final check’ to correct any lingering typographical errors, or even new ones that have been introduced if there have been multiple rounds of editing between editors and the author. Therefore, the proofreader reads for consistency and sense, and only intervenes when there is a discrepancy because they must keep in mind that they are working on a manuscript that is close to a published version and cannot afford to make any unnecessary or costly changes that could have repercussions.

Some of the textual elements a proofreader checks include capitalisation, hyphenation, spelling, style, abbreviations, time and date. Some of the design elements a proofreader checks include page numbers, running headlines, headings, tables, illustrations, captions, references, cross-references, widows and orphans, and footnotes.

  

Is my story ready to be copy edited?

In a nutshell
  1. Developmental editing is for authors who have an incomplete manuscript, and need help making it complete.
  2. Copy editing is for authors who have a complete manuscript, and need help making the writing ready to publish by making sure it is correct, consistent, logical, and suitable for intended readers.
  3. Typesetting/formatting is for authors who have a complete manuscript, and need help preparing it for publication in a specific format.
  4. Proofreading is for authors who have a complete manuscript ready to publish, and need a ‘final check’ for accuracy, inconsistency, error, and presentation of all necessary elements.
Before I hire a professional copy editor

Before you consider hiring a professional, it is helpful for you to read resources about how you can self-edit your story, to improve it to the best of your ability in terms of writing, characterisation, plot, overall narrative, and structure. A self-edit is not a substitute for hiring a professional editor, but it can help make sure your story is in the best shape possible; which will make the process easier for you and the editor, and is more likely to help improve the quality. Ultimately, time spent on self-editing your story will mean less money is spent on your editing, and it’ll be less likely that you’ll need the help of different professionals before publishing.

It’s also recommended before considering hiring an editor to get honest feedback on what trusted friends think of your writing. Join writing groups, online writer communities and forums, or find beta-readers to get an objective view of your story. These book lovers will help you see your story from the point of view of readers and it’s wise to take on board their advice, build on your strengths, and compensate for any weaknesses. It’s not always appealing for writers, at least in my experience as a writer, to listen to what other readers think, but the value of reader’s feedback and an outside perspective should not be underestimated or dismissed if you want to move your writing and your story forward.

When do I hire a professional copy editor?

Once the story is complete, in terms of the structure, plot, and overall concept, then it is time for the author to consider working with a copy editor. Some copy editors prefer the author to have had their story developmentally edited, self-edited, or beta-read before they accept to work on it. However, these are guidelines for new authors rather than strict rules. In practice, most copy editors will request to edit a sample of the story to get a feel for the writing, see how much editing is involved, and assess if it is ready to be edited; as well as such things as how suitable the story is for them to work on and how much the editing will cost.

Do I need copy editing?

There is no obligation for the independent author to hire a copy editor but it is recommended for ‘professional’ authors who are serious about working as a writer for a living, getting positive reviews, and writing for their readership. Many authors decide to work with copy editors based on the advice or feedback they receive from beta-readers or other writing professionals. Publishers use copy editors because they know that their expertise can help ensure that the quality of the story is in line with reader expectations. In this way copy editing acts like a bridge between the author and the reader.

If you only intend to publish for family and friends and you are not concerned what your potential readership thinks of your writing, then it might not be worth investing in a copy editor. Even though many independent authors begin by not writing for a readership, only writing and publishing to prove that they can and to hone their skills, later these same independent authors may easily want to appeal to a particular group of readers or are confident enough to publish professionally.

What is copy editing?

Copy editing involves making sure that the writing style is appropriate for the intended readership, the structure of the publication is logical and complete, and the writer’s message is clear. Some copy editors will offer suggestions on the structure and style of sentences where there is inconsistency, ambiguity, disrupted flow, or where there are issues to be raised.

Copy editors, as with proofreaders, correct and mark-up errors of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and use a style sheet and checklist to verify that all writing elements are consistent and make sense. However, copy editors are permitted to intervene more than proofreaders because they typically work on an unedited and unrefined version of the author’s manuscript, and there is therefore more scope for changes to be made. In situations where the manuscript requires more intervention, the copy editor will raise queries with the author to verify facts and better understand the author’s intention.

It’s the copy editor’s responsibility to make sure that:
  1. The writing is correct, flows well, makes sense, and is suitable for the intended readership
  2. Stylistic decisions are consistent according to standard conventions or preferred style
  3. Use of language is accurate such as word usage, repetitive or superfluous words, tense, and point of view
  4. The presentation is of the highest quality and consistent, setting the standard for readers’ expectations
  5. The writing of the manuscript is fit for publication and ready for designing, formatting, proofing, printing, and publishing

Copy editors traditionally work on a more incomplete version of the manuscript, before it has been designed and typeset/formatted. Proofreading comes in at a later stage, used as a final check that there are no lingering errors. The term ‘copy editing’ comes from when an editor, traditionally working for a publishing house, would glance at a ‘copy’ (unedited original manuscript) and work on a ‘proof’ (to-be-edited copy) side-by-side.

 

On Writing by Stephen King – 5/5 Stars

On Writing by Stephen King

‘When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.’ Stephen King.

On Writing is Stephen King’s semi-autobiography and writer’s tips book. For the first 120 pages, Stephen King summarises his writing history, from a small publishing enterprise with his brother when he was young to writing for magazines at university. We get a number of fragmented ‘glimpses’ into his family, jobs he has held, and some of his early writing successes and failures prior to first publication. These ‘glimpses’ showed what made him the writer he became. Stephen King has since battled through family death, drug addiction, and alcoholism. At the end of this agonising road he came to the conclusion that ‘art is a support system for life’ and not the other way around. It’s a quote I intend to keep in mind.

The second half of On Writing provided writing tips to the aspiring writer; tips King has learnt to use to edit his writing and keep readers engaged with his stories. There are even a few examples of editing at the end of the book. Whether it’s the use of adverbs or dialogue attribution, King keeps it simple and relatable, without assuming a profound knowledge of English grammar or creative writing. The tone of the writing wasn’t snobbish at all. In fact, it was a surprise to read about his background. Without knowing any different, I wrongfully assumed the situation once-a-bestselling-author-always-has-been-a-bestselling-author. While reading, I felt like King was teaching me straightforward lessons while having a conversation.

Criticism: I didn’t agree with the following statements: ‘it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a good one’, ‘equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one’, ‘if you’re a bad writer, no one can help you become a good one, or even a competent one’, and ‘if you’re good and want to be great fuhgeddaboudit’.

A lesson of note was that although King had been writing since a young age, it was his commitment, perseverance, and his willingness to listen to others that made him a successful person and author. On Writing is candid, evocative, and bursting with writer advice coming from experience and hindsight. King delivers with personality and humour. On Writing is more than a book, it’s an experience!

Stephen King’s website

Ice by Briana Herlihy – 3.5/5 Stars

Ice by Briana Herlihy

Ice is a sequel in the science fiction series Clarity, and is set primarily on the alien ice planet Seoorus populated by humanoids in a not-too-distant future; a future prepared by main protagonist Ren’s time-travelling mother Sanna Grant and her complement Alma Laine. Ice is a big departure from the first book The Watch’s setting: the post-apocalyptic ruins of Earth, rife with Doctors, Filavirus, and the ‘Union’. Instead of learning more about the fascinating world in The Watch, the author opted to expand the setting to include the Cryuuia Galaxy, controlled by the Lamsam-Eothern (Prime Minister) and therefore introduced a new problem for Ren and the crew aboard the ship Clarity: ‘acceptance’ into the galaxy by undertaking a ‘worth’ test.
As was the case in The Watch, Ren is an insecure, compassionate, and somewhat vulnerable character who is constantly assailed by fears. She has to struggle against forced technological synchronisation with the hated Captain Cecelia Laine, which assimilates her will with Cecelia’s and confuses her into trying to do what is best for her new ‘complement’. The synchronisation pairs the inquisitive and cautious side of Ren with the cold, determined, and commanding personality of Cecelia, which hinted to me that in order to grow Ren has to take measures that are averse to her instincts. As a result, her Moon-soul religion of compassion and her adventures with her ragtag friends on Earth may have to be abandoned by Ren, which is not a comfortable prospect for her.

When Cecelia’s infuriatingly accurate predictions go wrong, I read with anticipation an encounter with the superior aliens of the Cryuuia Galaxy. Here, I liked the sinister description of the aliens in the Cry’uuia assembly, and the commanding tone of the Lamsam-Eothern. It made me see the peril Ren and the crew faced if they failed to pass the ‘worth assessment’. They are given a chance to do this when they are exiled to the primitive humanoid planet of Seoorus under the care of the Soolt Tribe.

If I lost interest for a few pages, the author was consistently able to bring forward new ideas or subplots to fuel Ren’s experience on Seoorus. Ren was strongly in touch her with emotions, which gave her an insight into how her friends felt, connecting the lives of a number of distinct and not-so-distinct characters, and prompting her to act to help them all. This is where it becomes apparent that Ren finds it difficult to prioritise what is most important; she can’t save or manage everybody. Ren’s changing priorities and conflicts were fascinating throughout, and formed the backbone of Ice. There was a thread of continuity running through the series in the character Jasmine – who is a tempestuous fighter – and Ren’s growing realisation of her feelings for Rian Sloan, the leader of the group of her fellow vigilantes on Earth.

Criticism: some passages reminded me strongly of Dune by Frank Herbert, especially when Ren and the crew meet the Lamsam-Eothern, who calls them ‘witches’ and demands a test to determine worth; a concept that reminded me of the ‘gom jabbar’; and then exiles them to a barren planet. There were even some giant serpents in these scenes. Thankfully, the author didn’t dwell too long on these similarities and moved on to the story.

When the focus switched from Ren to the point of view of Tove Dunyenya and Oliver Booth, ch.21-22, my interest in the plot waned for those chapters. At 54% through, the pace needed to be turned up a notch. The nature and the presentation of the worth test was cryptic, and I couldn’t become interested in it. Beyond the tribal hunt and Ren’s concern for Jasmine’s sanity little else was happening. Ren’s amazing ability to know how the other main characters felt lessened the impact of events, making them reported rather than allowing me to witness what events were happening. The author can write action and plot scenes, as proven in The Watch, but there were far too few in Ice. Those I remember vividly because they are written excellently were the crew meeting the Lamsam Eothern, an altercation between Cecelia and Jasmine, a brief exciting encounter with another tribe, and the final chapter.

It was difficult to remember the individual attributes of the characters in the humanoid Soolt Tribe, whose names sounded similar and all began with ‘H’: ‘Holnom’, ‘Hsama’, ‘Hmyal’, ‘Hoonomlat’; to name a few. Personally, I found more excitement when the characters were preparing for the worth test, which I waited with bated breath for, and when they weren’t on Seoorus.

Overall, Ice had writing that flowed smoothly, meaningful emotions that are well described, and a main character that evoked feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. Ren grows, gathering an aptitude for learning, feeling anger, mustering confidence, and taking a massive decision to fight for her feelings. There are background histories that add depth to Soolt culture and reassure the reader that the author has taken the time to construct the culture and setting – Halmyiyo’s Cove to name just one. What do I want from another story by this author? A group of characters on an adventure as in The Watch, more close encounters between allies and allies–enemies, more ‘mystery’ and intrigue surrounding humanity’s technological development and its relation to Earth, the Union, the Doctors, manips, Jasmine, Cecelia, and Lamsam-Eothern. It looks like I want more continuity… Nonetheless, Ice was a great fulfilling story and is in many ways the ‘complement’ of The Watch. It would not be wise to underestimate author Briana Herlihy’s incredible writing ability, which I am sure will continue to sharpen as it already has.

Author Briana Herlihy’s website

Point of view and tense – first person and third person

Incorrect use of point of view and tense are commonly picked up by fiction writers and editors. Part of the confusion is that both point of view and tense are in many ways linked: first person with present tense and third person with past/past perfect tense. Untangling these concepts so that they can be understood by the writer or editor is the first step before careful implementation.

When point-of-view slips occur unintentionally, they momentarily confuse readers and can look out of place. These slips appear more often with inexperienced writers, but while working even experienced writers can occasionally forget who viewpoint character is supposed to be in a given paragraph or sentence and exactly what he/she should be thinking and experiencing. In other words, it can slip your mind.

Inconsistent use of tense can make the viewpoint character’s understanding of what happened when unclear, such as how this understanding of past events has developed, or is developing, into present circumstances.

I will cover the main types of point of view and the tense each is in, as well as how tenses are used in fiction prose. I shall focus on first-person and third-person point of view, how they are used and some of the important advantages and disadvantages. It should also help you decide whether you are using the correct point of view for your story.

Third-person POV

Tense

Third person is written in the simple past and past perfect tense.

Use

Modern fiction recommends one character’s point of view per scene, and usually in the third person (he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, theirs).

The third person is used to convey the main characters’ experiences, as if they are the narrators of the story and are reporting what has already just happened in the form of thoughts and relevant experiences.

Something to keep in mind when writing in third person is not to write anything else except the viewpoint character’s thoughts and experiences, so that the reader can only perceive events from the character’s perspective. Unless you’re using third-person omniscient, it could be a mistake to add other information about your story in between the character’s perspective to satisfy the reader’s curiosity, for doing so may take the mystery away from the scene and will interrupt the flow of the viewpoint character. And most of all, the inconsistency will be noticeable.

Exceptions

Third person is written in anticipation of building up towards present events, which are usually written in first person in the form of dialogue or internal dialogue (protagonist thoughts). First person is also used for italicised text in fiction, such as in the case of internal dialogue.

Advantages

One of the advantages of the third-person point of view is the flexibility to switch between tenses: simple past, past perfect, and simple present. The writer has the freedom to express a wide range of closely related circumstances that had occurred, have just occurred, or are occurring; and yet are written in the same scene or chapter. It takes skill for even experienced writers to master the tenses in such a way that is both correct and can relate a story’s events in an interesting way.

The disadvantages of the past perfect tense in third person

The past perfect tense can sometimes, when used excessively, become a platform for exposition and reader bombardment, which all writers should strive to avoid where they can. This tense can be rigid to read: ‘I had done’, ‘but when he had gone to the store’, ‘before he had thought about heading out he forgot to spend his money’. If you have to digress into background events, try to keep them at a minimum or at least directly relevant to what is happening in any given scene.

In this sense, try to limit the number of passages you write in the past perfect tense, or don’t use too many ‘hads’, which may hinder the reader’s enjoyment of the story. Instead, once you have introduced the tense with ‘had’, in a given paragraph, you are free to continue writing in the simple past and the reader should still understand what is meant. The same goes for background events that occur while the writer is already relating background events. As long as you introduce the tense with a single or a few ‘had’s’ to relate the most important immediate events in the first few sentences, then the reader has been informed of the tense and knows that what they are reading occurred in a time earlier than the time currently being discussed. It requires a bit of skill, judgment, and practice to use effectively, but that’s what writing is!

First-person POV

Tense

In contrast, the first person tense (I, we,) is commonly told in the simple present tense in fiction.

Use

Of course, the reader, as with third-person point of view, can only know what the viewpoint character knows – no extraneous background information should be added if the character wouldn’t already be thinking or experiencing it. It can help a writer think in terms of ‘showing’ the reader the story rather than ‘telling’. ‘Showing’ often makes it easier for the reader to invest themselves in the characters and events, while too much ‘telling’ can instead render readers as idle observers or magnets for excess information.

Advantages

It can grant a situation direct immediacy, and can be quite engaging and exciting to read. If the reader can develop a connection with the character or with intriguing events, it can prove to be effortless to absorb. If there are a lot of exciting events that are closely related to a single character or between one or two characters, then first person can deliver the message of the story concisely and directly, focusing only on the perspective of the character/s who matter, where lives come into contact. It’s good for putting the reader into the character’s shoes, and makes them feel as if they are there, watching events unfold.

Disadvantages

One of its disadvantages, in my opinion, is that it can be quite simple and one-dimensional. Readers can’t penetrate to the depths of a character’s thoughts or to past events with ease without breaking from the main narrative. When the author does break from the main narrative, it can often at first seem as if they are interrupting a perfectly absorbing scene with unnecessary information, which can be distracting. It can express a limited range of meanings, and only in the context of what is happening or what a character is thinking at any given time. It’s my belief that the restrictions of first person make stories linear A–B plots, but I’m sure there are many writers and readers who disagree.

Basic Story Formatting

Before publishing, hiring a professional copy editor or proofreader, or submitting to a literary agent or publisher, it is expected that basic story formatting conventions are implemented to help with ease of reading. Below I will outline the basic structure of a story, how to indent your paragraphs, how to start a new paragraph in a conversation, and how to use scene breaks to separate time, point of view, and events.

In theory, you can format your story any way you like regarding how you present your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes. It is your story after all. However, if you are planning on hiring a professional editor, publishing your story, or submitting it to agents then you will need to make sure your story conforms to standard formatting conventions.

What may be obvious to professionals familiar with book layout or the parts of a published book is not always easily apparent to some fiction writers, readers, or those unacquainted with the standard format of a book/ebook. When concentrating on your story, characters, and plot; which are where you should be concentrating as a writer; it’s easy to lose track of the required standard formatting. If these conventions are not adhered to then they may appear to be jarringly unfamiliar to readers, who are used to reading standard formats, and this may put them off reading your writing because the presentation may look unusual or unprofessional. As far as you’re concerned, as the writer you’ve done your job and in your own way you’re right, but when your story is complete it may be time to think of how your story will be received.

Not including preliminary matter or end matter (at the front or end of a story respectively), this is how your story should be arranged from the whole story down to its constituent elements:

1. Story
2. Sections
3. Chapters
4. Scenes
5. Paragraphs
6. Sentences

1. Paragraph: first-line indents

An indent is an unobtrusive short space typically positioned to the left of the first word of the first sentence, in a new paragraph within the same scene or chapter. The size of this short space will be determined by the designer or increasingly an e/book formatter that will either adhere to a typographic specification or simply implement best practice. It is standard in fiction to have first-line indents placed at the onset of each new paragraph but not the first paragraph of a chapter or scene, which should be set full-out to the left-hand margin with no paragraph indentation.

The indentation at the start of a new paragraph makes it easy for readers to distinguish the progression of the writer’s thoughts and helps them mentally absorb the smaller blocks of text one at a time. Writers can structure the length of their paragraphs how they please. However, I recommend keeping the length of the paragraph equal to how long a reader’s attention span would likely be sustained. All paragraphs should have a different focus or meaning, from the preceding and subsequent paragraphs. If you have sentences that don’t move onto a new topic, but add to the point of the paragraph, I recommend connecting them to strengthen it. That’s not to say that every sentence will add something of value to a paragraph, as in some cases cutting out unnecessary or repetitive constructions may be advised.

First paragraph of a new chapter or scene is set full-out to the left-hand margin, as in this sentence.
New paragraph is indented, at an acceptable size, as in this sentence.

2. New paragraph for new character dialogue

When another person is speaking in a conversation, it is standard convention to start a new paragraph to indicate to the reader that the person speaking is not the same person as the original speaker.

Original speaker: ‘Isn’t it a nice day today?’
New speaker: ‘Yes, the flowers are in bloom.’

This also helps differentiate who is speaking at any given moment in time, which can get confusing if the same person speaks again after they have already spoken. In this case, do not add an ending quotation mark after the first sentence spoken, as indicated below. This tells the reader that the same person is still speaking. Only add the ending quotation mark after the original speaker has finished speaking and somebody else speaks or the narrative continues.

Original speaker: ‘I hate being at his beck and call all day.
Original speaker: ‘He doesn’t even appreciate the work I do.’

3. Scene breaks to separate periods of time, character point of view, or change in circumstances of an event

Chapters can sometimes reach great lengths, where events occur at different times and from the point of view of different characters. Without an effective break or distinction between these point of views or different times, the reader has to mentally digest a jumble of unorganised information concerning exactly what main event is happening, who it is being perceived by, and when it is occurring. When the reader returns to reading your story they could be lost.

Using scene breaks is a helpful way to organise the structure of your chapter so that it is clear, logical, and easy-to-follow for readers. But just how do you decide where to start a scene break in your chapter? It requires judgement, your editor’s or your own, and perhaps even friends can help you.

Time

I like to add my scene breaks in when it is apparent that a period of time has passed from one set of paragraphs to another. Indeed, a scene may be considered to be a set of paragraphs following on smoothly from one to the next.

Point of view

Has the character whose point of view is important in a particular scene changed? Modern fiction recommends one character’s point of view per scene, and usually in the third-person (he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, theirs). There should be a good reason for a change in point of view, for example perhaps you’re trying to show the reader something new or interesting in your scene and you need another character’s perspective, or maybe you simply have more than one main character and their combined point of views are used to build the overall scene.

Events

Are you now focusing on a different, yet related, event or set of circumstances in your chapter? Consider adding a scene break to separate your events. Too many events in a short space of time can be overwhelming, so it’s important to provide the necessary breaks. It can also help you focus on what is important in your scenes and chapters.