"Cleaning" a document prior to editing with MSWord

It really doesn't matter what text editor or wordprocessor the author used to create his manuscript. Before editing I always have to clean it, map it and format it as I like it to appear both on my Kindle and on screen.

My aim is to finish with a document that has no more than three different character/paragraph formats, has no manual page breaks, has numbered chapter headings with an outline level, a table of contents, and page numbers.

To do this, these are the stages I have to go through:

Redundant characters are mostly in the class of characters called "print controls". These are tabs, multiple paragraph marks, new line (and sheet feed), manual page and section breaks.

a. remove the tabs. Manually, this is done using find/replace (ctrl+h). In the search box you enter ^t, and you leave the replace box blank. And you click replace all.

b. replace any new line or sheet feed characters with paragraph marks (see below). You can enter these characters by accident with certain key presses, and they can creep in when switching formats from other software. I could go into why, but I won't. Also some users have noticed that paragraph styles don't get automatically applied to the paragraphs that terminate with a new line character, and so use them as a sort of workaround. The sort of workaround that you discover you don't need if you read the manual.

find/replace (ctrl+h). In the search box you enter ^l and in the replace box you enter ^p
click replace all

c. replace section and page breaks with paragraph marks.

find/replace (ctrl+h). In the search box you enter ^m and in the replace box you enter ^p
click replace all
find/replace (ctrl+h). In the search box you enter ^b and in the replace box you enter ^p
click replace all

d. remove multiple paragraph marks. I will explain this.

find/replace (ctrl+h). In the search box you enter ^p^p and in the replace box you enter ^p
click replace all
repeat until it stops finding them

e. reserve italics.

reserving italics is creating a begin block and end block for italics, and putting it around every instance of text in italics. I use the BBCode for italics, so that any text currently in italic will be surrounded by [i] and [/i].

find/replace (ctrl+h). leave the search box blank, but from the "formatting" button select font, and from the dialog box, select "italic". In the replace box put [i]^&[/i]
click replace all

f. delete headers and footers.

go to "file/page setup" and open the layout tab (in Word 2010 this is the design tab under Header and Footer tools) and make sure that "different first page" and "different odd and even pages" are unchecked.

Open the header on the first page. Select all (ctrl+a) and press delete. Go to the footer, select all, and press delete. Close the headers and footers (doubleclick on the page).

g. clear all styles and formatting from the document.

there are a number of ways to do this, but the most sure is as follows:

anything up toWord  2007: from the style selector in the formatting toolbar, OR from the menu format/styles and formatting, select EITHER "clear formatting" to remove all styles, formatting and decorations from the text OR "Normal" to apply the default style to the whole document. The former will strip decorations (bold, italic) from the text, but the latter will not.
anything from Word 2007: from the Home menu select "clear formatting" or "Normal" from the styles section.

Wait until MSWord has finished "repaginating". You can force this by scrolling to the end (ctrl+end) and then waiting for the last page, complete with page number, to appear.

In all versions, you can add a button to the formatting toolbar to clear formatting or to apply Normal style.

If the "Normal" style applied in the document is not your "usual Normal" you will still have to cut and paste the entire text into a new blank word doc. If you didn't write the original document with the copy of word on the computer in front of you, I advise you to do this anyway.

AT this stage I now have the body text formatted exactly as I want it for editing; Times 11pt, first line indent of 1.27cm, 6pt spaces between paragraphs, 1.5 line spacing, justified. Three stages remain:

H. put the italics back in.

this has to be done in two stages. first we find the marked blocks and italicise them.

find/replace (ctrl+h). In the options, check "use wildcards". In the find box type \[i\]*\[\/i\]. In the replace box type ^& and then click "formatting", select font, and select italic.
click replace all

find/replace (ctrl+h). In the options, uncheck "use wildcards". In the find box type [i]. leave the replace box blank, and BE SURE to click "clear formatting" while the cursor is in the replace box.
click replace all

find/replace (ctrl+h). In the options, uncheck "use wildcards". In the find box type [\i]. leave the replace box blank, and BE SURE to click "clear formatting" while the cursor is in the replace box.
click replace all

I. style the chapter headings.

Not all authors even put chapter headings. If there's nothing there but a manual page break, I will have numbered them before I got rid of the manual page breaks! In that case it's dead easy, I do a find replace for "paragraph-mark any-digits paragraph-mark" and apply my custom chapterheading style. In any case I usually have to do this manually. The chapter heading style has two critical elements: Outline Level 2 (so that it can be mapped for quick navigation and the table of contents can be inserted),  AND Page Break Before: this is found in the paragraph properties. In Word 2003 you go format/paragraph/line and page breaks, and check the box "page break before" when defining the style. I don't know how you do it in Word 2010.

J. finally I insert a table of contents at the top.

Paragraph Marks

MSWord uses the traditional symbol ¶ to indicate that a paragraph has been terminated. In fact, word concatenates a carriage return with a line feed to make a special character (the infamous CRLF). In order to use Word as it is intended, you need to know that this symbol, visible when you click the "Show/Hide ¶" button on the toolbar, exists to tell the wordprocessor that a paragraph has been ended. It also tells it that all style and format applied to the should be applied to the whole paragraph.

(In MSWord, styles can apply either to characters or to paragraphs. You will not normally need to know about styles that apply only to characters - unless something goes wrong!)

The is inserted whenever you press enter on your keyboard. So whenever you press enter, you are telling MSWord that you have just finished a paragraph. THIS IS WHY you should not press enter multiple times to create space.

Space between paragraphs is achieved through the "spacing before" and "spacing after" options in the paragraph properties (format/paragraph). This is exactly the same as the fact that tabs do not exist so that you can indent the first line of a paragraph. First line indents are achieved from the same paragraph properties dialog.

There are good reasons for this, the main one being that (as you will soon discover), it is very easy to change the layout and format if there are no unnecessary print controls - like multiple ¶s or manual page breaks.

What about laying out my title page?

Lots of people use multiple ¶s to space out the text on the title page. This is exactly the wrong way to space out the text. Text with big spaces between should be done using "text boxes". Text boxes are drawing objects which act like mini documents within a document, so they can be formatted individually and moved around as needed without affecting the rest of the document.


The best Blurb.

Watch the video. Then read the review.

I have strictly nothing to say about the Mortal Instruments books, just as I have strictly nothing to say about the Twilight books. I haven't read either and (as my clients will attest) I don't give a tinker's cuss about originality. I only care about whether a book works.

Disclaimers out of the way, I intend to make a serious point about communicating with your audience. We'll see if I succeed.


I was looking for a movie to go see with the boy. We're pretty catholic in our tastes, so I look at the trailers of pretty much whatever is on at the nearest multiplex (Saint Dizier). I think we'll probably go see the new Cruiser vehicle. Since the absurd (but not wholly dreadful) Knight and Day (2010) and the even less dreadful Tropic Thunder (2008) where the presence of the consistently terrible Mr Stiller is more than mitigated by Messrs Black, Downey Jnr, Nolte and indeed, Cruise, I have discovered that I actually don't hate Cruise any more. Feel free to miss Knight and Day, but if you haven't seen Tropic Thunder, rent it even if you hate Stiller as much as I do. Which is a lot.

Excuse my digression. So I came across the trailer above, and was so impressed with how little I wanted to see the movie that I decided to do a little research which resulted in (the above disclaimer, and) the discovery of the Guardian review linked above. This is actually a review of the trailer, and is, I think, intended to be "light-hearted". Poor fool. Does not know not to mess with teen fandom. And here is a movie made from a book by a writer who started out writing fanfic, and who has a significant following as a fanfic author.

I rather enjoyed the review, as much for what the comparison with the Twiglets says about the Twiglets, as for what it says about this movie. But the Guardian review of the trailer of a teen movie made from a series of teen "dark, urban, edgy teen fantasy" written by an author of fanfic (about whom there may or may not be a pre-existing controversy) is entirely by the by.

Go back, watch the trailer again.

That is the essence of a great trailer, which is also the essence of a great blurb. Less than 10 seconds into the trailer I knew beyond doubt that I wasn't going to go see the movie. Not even if the boy wanted to. (He doesn't.) 

A good movie trailer makes you think: "hmm... I might check that out." But only a great movie trailer tells you in no uncertain terms "man, this movie ain't for you."

And that is exactly what a great query letter does. And that is exactly what a great blurb does.

In your Blurb you DO NOT WANT to convince everyone to try your book. If you succeed at that, you know what you're going to get: one star reviews from all the folks who hated it. Who were disappointed. Who feel you failed to deliver on your promises. Who wanted a romance. Who wanted a thriller. Who wanted a dark, urban, edgy teen fantasy

If you get your blurb exactly right, then the ONLY people who read your book will be the ones who love it. Will be the ones who give you gushing five star reviews or sensible four star critiques.

Each line of your blurb should pare away some of the wrong readers, so that the only ones who read the blurb all the way to the last line will be the ones who will love the book.

Here's the blurb to In Our Hands the Stars (1970) by Harry Harrison.

The key to the stars?
A weapon of mass destruction?
Klein knows he is on to something big when his test bench disintegrates.—Too big to leave in the hands of a nation at war.

But even in a neutral country the terrible secret becomes the focus of

This blurb excludes the following readers in the following order:

readers who...

... don't like made up science
... don't like spaceships
... don't like doomsday devices
... don't like scientists as heroes. don't like male scientists as heroes 
... don't like national and international scale jeopardy
... don't like having to save the Earth... again.

Of course, I'm not saying this is the only way to do a blurb. Maybe it's a bit too defensive for you. But don't forget, the blurb is supposed to help the potential reader to choose his next book. It isn't supposed to convince him to read it.


Just finished editing: Atonement (draft 2.0) from Jack Shilkaitis

Going through the second draft of Jack Shilkaitis' sequel to ApostasyAtonement.

After the first draft got Jack nearly 200 comments and corrections in the manuscript and some fairly aggressive general remarks from me ("nothing happens!", "completely pointless") he has taken several months to make a fairly substantial rewrite.

There was an awful lot that was good in that first draft, but this second draft is for me exactly why I do this job. Jack has gone away and worked hard, been very creative and thoughtful, and shown exactly what he is capable of. The new draft has momentum. You will be swept up by a chaotic helter-skelter of events with barely time to think. There are some "big reveals" on some of the mysteries of Apostasy but most of them serve only to deepen the mystery - while at the same time hinting at an underlying coherence. That second part is what the big popular TV dramas of recent years completely failed at (yes, Lost and Heroes, I'm looking at you.)

With Apostasy, Jack convinced me that he can write a solid, convincing, thoughtful and inventive story. With Atonement, he has convinced me that he can deliver excitement, and that he can put real conviction behind his ideas.


Currently editing: The Downtown Deal by the consistently awesome Mike Dennis.


P.S. yes I am intending to gush more about my authors.


Willing Suspension of Disbelief? I think it's a bit more than that.

The Lakeland Poet and Infamous Eighteenth Century Junkie is credited with coining the term "suspension of disbelief" - usually rendered today as "willing suspension of disbelief". Fantasy authors and those who have studied theatre, film, poetry or literature will likely already be very familiar with the term.

I was talking to a new customer yesterday about the relationship between storyteller and listener, between author and reader, and the discussion led me to call into question the idea of "willing suspension."

Certainly, some curious cognitive effort is going on when we are presented with a fantastical story. Somehow we are quite happy to accept that Enterprise is hurtling through space at Warp factor 9 (despite Scotty's insistence that this canna be done), provided that the behaviour of the bridge crew is consistent with our understanding of the characters. Why do we accept the unreal along with the real? And why are we happy to accept the unreal as an equal part of the plot, the action, even of the active agents of the story, along with what we know to be real or possible?

It is said that we are willing to suspend our disbelief if the rest of the circumstances of the story are sufficiently convincing. Honestly, I don't think any such willing choice is being made.

Indeed, there are different ways in which we will accept the fantastical.

Throughout the world, there are fantastical stories told to children, and many of these have transcultural elements. The strongest of these is the idea of magic - that a person can manipulate reality directly through secret knowledge or a carefully trained will. But the elements of fairytales extend beyond the conceptual. Most cultures have their versions of dwarfs and giants, elves and fairies, trolls and goblins. And of course, Dragons.

When we encounter these fantastical creatures in stories, our reaction to them is as if they were real. This is because they are so strongly a part of our cultural heritage that they have a familiarity that places them in a special world: the world of the fairytale (and increasingly, the modern, Post Tolkien, Post Robert E Howard Heroic Fantasy) is a shared imaginative space. It has its rules and conventions, and storytellers who observe those rules and conventions can tell a story with no more effort to convince a reader to suspend his disbelief than they would if they were writing a history or a biography.

The conventions of fairytales also extend into the very structure of stories themselves. Take Pterry's famous observation that whenever the youngest of three sons sets out on a quest that has already claimed the lives of his two older brothers, it is almost impossible for him to fail. Most readers will accept this, and many will revolt at a story where narrative convention like this is contravened.

When, on the other hand, we encounter a fantasy that is completely new, we react differently. Admittedly, the completely new is rare. Star Trek itself derives not from science fiction but from boy's adventure fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And most viewers probably understand as much about the technology of naval canon as they do about quantum torpedoes. It's actually quite difficult to come up with an example of a fantasy that forces the reader to confront a new type of story or new types of challenge.

Time travel was once a good example of this. But (to the British), Dr Who has the same status as Robin Hood - a folk hero - and therefore part of the imaginative space of the fairytale - and time travel is a cosy familiarity.

So if it isn't willing suspension of disbelief, what is it?

In thinking about the relationship between the storyteller and the listener, and how it feels to be both, the word that I found myself thinking was surrender. Far from an act of controlled and conscious will - "I choose to act as if those fantasy things are real because the rest of the story is good enough" the listener surrenders control of his reality into the hands of the storyteller. It is an act of trust that weighs heavily on the teller as you will know if you've ever done this live. If you get off to a good start, you soon start to feel the weight of expectation from your audience.

What the reader does is to willingly surrender control of his imagination to the author. To do this, he has to trust the author. Think of all those one star reviews you've had where the reviewer showed a feeling of disappointment often spilling over into betrayal. You failed to deliver on his expectations. To the reader it feels like a betrayal of trust. Think of all those five star reviews where the reader gushes about how you delivered on your promises.

And as a reader, think of how much easier it is to try the new book of a familiar writer than to try a writer that you do not know.

In calling it "willing suspension of disbelief", Coleridge (against, I suspect, his intent), placed the responsibility in the hands of the reader, in suggesting that the reader had to "choose to suspend", and that if he did not make this choice, then in some way the imaginative effort required to engage with the story would be missing.

I am calling it Willing Surrender of Imaginative Control; it is still an act by the reader, but it is an act of submission and trust, which places the responsibility firmly in the hands of the storyteller.


I don't really think that "disbelief" is an action, anyway. I don't think it can be "suspended". It suggests that we exist in a constant state of disbelief that we have to suspend in order to respond to fantasy. This is . . . odd.


How to break a story.

What we want to see from the next Deus Ex

Regular readers (to whom I must apologise for irregular posting recently) will know that I am a bit of a gamer. Not a hardcore gamer. I'm devoted to a few specific titles:

  • Civilization (which for me peaked at Test of Time), though V was quite good)
  • The Battle for Wesnoth
  • Nethack (which I have been playing this afternoon as I often do when I am unwell)
  • Assassin's Creed
  • The Elder Scrolls (Skyrim in particular; I came late to the series, starting from Blivvy)
  • The Total War series (so affected have I been by this, the apogee of strategy games, that I vividly remember buying Shogun Total War (the first title in the series) in WH Smiths in Chipping Norton Highstreet).
  • Deus Ex
Deus Ex is the title I'm going to talk about this time, but before I do:

For me, gaming is about two things: the learning curve and the story. The durability of Nethack derives from the sheer number of variables in each playthrough. It's learning curve is pretty sharp, and very, very long. What gave Civ its durability is the combination of story with strategy with learning curve, and according to what strategy you start with, the middle game can vary enormously.

The Elder Scrolls is fantasy roleplaying WITH dressing-up. There are huge numbers of stories to explore, quests to fulfil, tasks to complete. I still haven't done all of them and this is partly because I always refuse some quests because they don't sit well with my personal morality. That is a measure of how immersive it is.

For a storyteller and reader, the standout title is Assassin's Creed. Where other first person roleplaying games (like The Elder Scrolls) put the emphasis on freedom, open endedness and encourage the player to build and develop his own character, Assassin's Creed is linear, indeed even the game's main conceit (that you are reliving memories of someone from the past) are linear and fatalistic. And you "die" if you deviate too far from the historical record!

I've already gushed about Assassin's Creed on this blog, so I'll leave off there.

Deus Ex is by no means in the same league as Assassin's Creed. True, the first title received considerable critical acclaim and (apparently) "cult" status. As a story it's pedestrian at best, though as a game, pretty good for it's time. What's impressive from my point of view is the amount of backstory, local colour and culture. If you take the time to play through slowly it reveals a remarkably deep and detailed world, which the sequel "Invisible War" refers back to and builds upon.

The latest title in the sequence is "Human Revolution". This is as close as I've ever played to an interractive movie. It's essentially linear, though there are some (limited) choices to make, but the weapons available make it possible to complete many sequences without killing anyone (or even being detected at all).

So you make your way through a series of morally ambiguous missions where you can choose your own morality but the outcome is essentially the same: you succeed or you fail. If you succeed, you advance the story. This is an experience very much like playing Assassin's Creed or indeed, reading a book. You discover the story through discovering the proper path through missions, by speaking to the right people, by reading the right messages, etc.

In addition, to a certain extent, you can determine your preferred "style" of play. Since this is essentially about completing objectives while everyone around you is trying to prevent you from completing them, style is about choice of general strategy, on a spectrum from "ghost" (leaving no trace of your passage, not even the occasional unconscious guard or displaced shipping crate) right through to "tank" (heavily armed and armoured killing machine). You can choose whichever suits you, and even develop and evolve your style as you play.

All this gives the story a personal feel; you can become immersed because both the main character's tactical, ethical and moral choices can be aligned with your own.

And then the break it completely.

With something called a "boss fight".

In a boss fight, you are sealed into an arena with an excessively overpowered adversary and you have to discover the narrow range of tactical choices that will make it possible for you to defeat him. Doing so usually involves key mashing - pounding on the Fire, Reload, and Heal buttons until the boss eventually goes down.

The history of Boss Fights (in video games) can be traced back to the original Space Invaders arcade game, where after resisting several waves of mini invaders you then have to defeat a mothership that drops huge bombs, and that you can only chip away at little by little with your feeble ground to air laser.

Outside of videogames, Boss Fights are common in action movies. Before that, they can be found in traditional literature worldwide, however some cultures have exaggerated them, the most notable being in Japanese strip cartoons (manga) and animated cartoons (anime), the latter of which include the frequently mocked gem "Dragonball Z" where the heroes have to keep getting forever more powerful in order to fight ever more powerful bosses.

Boss fights certainly have their place, both in literature and in videogames. It is a very good way of providing a sharply focused and distinctive climax, and some stories seem to require a (series) Big Bad to act as an ongoing antagonist through a sequence of stories. Yes, I am thinking of Buffy.

The Boss Fights in "Human Revolution", on the other hand, destroy all the hard work and effort that has gone into the immersive an ambiguous game world. Outside of boss fights, you are free to explore, go back, repeat, search again, look for a new or better path, scout out for better hiding places, plan your route or the order in which you will stun mooks or pop heads. Your strategic, tactical and moral choices affect your approach to each mission map.

In the Boss Fights, all this is thrown out of the window. You're locked in a room where someone has conveniently left ammo and medical supplies lying about the place, and you have to mash the keys until it's over. Or (as I did), cheat. Both key mashing and cheating destroy the sense of a carefully built-up story, and protagonist who although he's railroaded into situations can make his own choices as to how to resolve them is reduced to a mobile gun turret.

Now for Human Revolution there was a DLC called "Missing Link". I'll let PCGamer tell it:

Bosses like the Missing Link

Eidos Montreal have already figured out how to make a great boss fight in a Deus Ex game, and they did it: just the once. The final bad guy in the Missing Link DLC is just a guy. The challenge is all in getting to him: he’s in an office at the back of a large hangar crawling with powerful guards and security systems. But if you can get past them, there’s nothing to stop you just knocking out the final boss in a single punch. There’s nothing to stop you tazering him, chucking a gas grenade into his office, or anything else that works on normal enemies. There’s even a way to steal his awesome custom revolver before the final confrontation, leaving him with a crappy standard issue one when you fight him. More of that, please!

Exactly. You don't need a story development editor to tell you that a "boss fight" should fit seamlessly into the rest of the gameplay. In fact, you don't even need PCGamer. You only need Assassin's Creed

Time for the tenuous link to writing stories. Should be pretty obvious really, but I have observed in a large number of stories a plot structure and story arc that really looks as if the writer said to himself:

"An exiting story starts of slowly, gradually builds up to a climax and it then followed by a denouement" and has then  proceeded to shoehorn in said climax by means of a protracted boss fight. (I should perhaps mention that boss fights are not limited to thrillers and heroic fantasy. If anything, you get a lot more of them in chicklit.)

The boss fights in Deus Ex Human Revolution are positively neanderthal. You can almost hear a game designer saying "then we have a boss fight. You gotta have boss fights, right?"

Wrong. Like every story, you gotta have what the story requires. You can't write a story by numbers.