Monday, July 16, 2012

Seven Points to Consider When Presenting Your Work

Seven Points to Consider When Presenting Your  Work

I want to discuss the presentation of your work.  If you are into the swing of writing it’s quite possible that you might seek publication one day.  So it’s best to get into good habits now.  You need to format your work so that it’s reader friendly, in other words, so it makes the reader want to read on. 
Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way as a writer:

1.  Don’t use too many long words.  

Sometimes we feel the need to impress others, but if the language used is too elaborate it only seeks to confuse people and slow down the reading process.  After all, do you really want readers to have to pull a dictionary down off the shelf to translate?  

2.  Less is more.  

It’s easy to get carried away and repeat ourselves.  When we post to the group it’s more likely to be a first draft, but if seeking publication, it’s often a good idea to pare your work down beforehand.  Magazines, publishing houses and websites often have a specific word count and no matter how good your work is, they will reject it if it goes well over that count.

3.  Show lots of white space!  

This makes it easier on the eye for the reader.  Construct paragraphs.  Do you know when you need to use a new paragraph?  I always begin one when there is something new to say, or when a different person speaks.  I don’t indent paragraphs for online purposes, I just double line space.  I do the same thing when I submit to publishers.  These are known as ‘block paragraphs’.  Just the way I’ve written this!

4.  Avoid the use of ALL CAPITALS! 

Most of us have used all caps at some time or another, but it can give the reader the wrong impression, especially online as it’s associated with shouting.  As well as that, if you decide you want to submit your work for publication it becomes hard work as you have to rewrite the entire piece of work as editors will not accept work written in capital letters.

5.  Use speech marks.

When writing a short story, personal essay or novel, if you need to indicate someone is speaking then you need to employ speech marks, either “  ” or ‘ ’.  Various publishing houses use either.  I prefer “ ” for speech marks and ‘’ to emphasise a point.  For example:

“Hello Jenny,” he said. “It’s been a long time...”

Jenny stood, motionless.  Ten years ago Matt Webster had seemed ‘the next best thing to sliced bread’, now looking at him in his blue scrubs he looked like all the other staff in the Accident and Emergency department, overworked, tired and a little rough around the edges...

6.  Begin near the end... 

This might sound like strange advice but often people get so caught up in setting the scene that they forget to get straight into the action.  Immediate actions helps to hook the reader and makes them want to read on.

 For example:
Sam rose out of bed and padded softly down the stairs.  He switched on the kettle to make himself a cup of tea. It was going to be an exciting day, his stomach churned at the thought of it.  He popped a tea bag into the awaiting cup all the while mulling things over, should he leave it for another day?  Were all his plans in action?  Could something go wrong?

The sound of the phone ringing diverted his attention.  He lifted the receiver.  “Hi Mum...”

His mother liked to phone him first thing in the morning.  She wanted to know what he was having for breakfast...  

Etc, etc, etc,

Sometimes writers luxuriate by composing several pages of inconsequential prose before getting right into the action.

How about instead:

“Stop what you’re doing...” Sam hissed at the counter clerk.  “I have a gun in this rolled up newspaper pointing straight at you... and I’ll blow your fucking head off if you don’t do as you’re told...I want all those notes beside you bundled up and placed in this bag.”  He slid a black cloth bag across the counter.

The clerk’s eyes widened with terror, his face a deathly shade of grey.  Sam watched the man become putty in his hands.  This was going to be like taking sweets from a baby and he took great satisfaction in that.

See how more exciting it is to get immediately into the action? Sam had planned to hold up the post office.  Do we need to bother telling readers about him getting out of bed, making a cup of tea, taking a phone call from his mother, etc? Why bore readers with mundane facts and actions before getting right into the nitty gritty of the story?

7.  Avoid text speak.

With modern technology we are used to abbreviations, especially when it comes to our mobile phones, but that kind of thing doesn’t translate well for the reader.  ‘Wat U up to en?’ Isn’t going to work in a short story, essay or novel, not unless one of the characters is reading a text message.  It’s hard work for a reader to decipher text speak and publishers will definitely not publish work like that.
Presentation is important it can mean the difference between publication and rejection and more importantly, whether we hook the reader in!