Monday, July 30, 2012

Document Map, a Tutorial by Matthew MacNish

Document Map is a setting in Word that lets you navigate around a document quickly, and view the layout of a document at a glance. This is especially useful when dealing with a long document like a novel manuscript. Now that I know how to use this feature properly, I have no idea how I worked on writing without it.

Most of the Project Mayhem authors probably already know about it, but when I learned about the Document Map recently, and then shared about it on Facebook, I was amazed how many writers I know didn't know about it.

So, I'm going to write this post based on Microsoft Word 2007, which is what I own, and what I write in, but my understanding is that the feature exists in everything since Office XP (Word 2003), and is even better in Word 2010. Enabling and using the feature might be a little different in the different versions, but I'm sure you can Google the settings for whichever version you use.

For MS Word 2007, here is a screenshot of how you enable the function:

So that's VIEW on the banner, then click the box next to "Document Map," to place a check mark in it, and then the Document Map pane will appear to the left of the document itself (that dropdown menu can also show thumbnails).

When you're ready to create your first heading (in a novel this might be the title), which is like the highest level in the tree directory of an outline, you need to switch back to HOME on the banner. That will allow you to select style, as seen here:

The default format is probably not how you want it to look in a novel, but we'll get to customizing it in a moment. For now, light blue 14-point Cambria works fine when creating an example outline. I'll show you what this does to the Document Map pane in a second.

For now, you'll need at least one sub-heading to create a directory tree. This is what that looks like:

Keep in mind, that these styles only appear with these default settings when you open a new document. I have found that when trying to add these setting to a manuscript I first started years ago, the styles are all kinds of wonky. You can edit them manually, but I've found it much easier to create a new document, build the headings exactly how you want, and then paste the rest of your text in.

So, now that you know how to enable Document Map, and how to create the first two headings, this is what an example outline looks like, with four levels of headings, and then what that does to the document map pane on the left:

That's a little blurry, so here's a closeup of the map pane:

Isn't that convenient? Imagine a manuscript with 3 sections, and 34 chapters. It is so much faster to be able to jump around the document using this feature, expanding and contracting your headings on the left, and then clicking on whatever section you need to jump to. This feature is amazing during revisions. I have a friend, Adam Heine (who also actually taught me this feature), who even uses a level 5 heading for each scene within his chapters. I haven't found this necessary yet, but the fact that the option is there is pretty nice.

Now, you probably don't like light blue 14-point Cambria to show up in your novel manuscript, so how do you edit the formatting of these headings, so that it fits the style of your writing? There is apparently a way to do it by right clicking the text and then clicking on the paragraph settings, but I've found it much easier to right click the style, and the "modify," like this:

Which will bring up this window, that allows you to customize how you want the style (heading) to look:

Note the outlined font color of "Automatic," (which is basically black), the outlined centering of the paragraph, rather than "aligned left," and the font changed to "Times New Roman," which is the default in the majority of the publishing industry, rather than "Cambria." Now, I didn't change the font from 13-point to 12-point for this example image, but in a novel manuscript, even for a chapter title/heading, you probably should. Some agents and editors may ask for something different, and you can certainly Google, "default manuscript formatting," for better expert opinions than mine, but I keep the entire text of my manuscripts in 12-point Times New Roman, automatic color.

You might not want to center your chapter headings, and that's certainly fine if you don't, but the point is that this window is how you control those formatting options for every single piece of text that uses that style (heading). Modifying Heading 2, for example, will change the formatting for every piece of text that you assigned the style "Heading 2," to.

Does that all make sense? I certainly hope so, because I'm pretty new to this, and am definitely no expert. If you have any questions, please be sure to ask them in the comments, and if I don't know the answer, I'll try to find it for you.

Friday, July 27, 2012



This has been an amazing year. Revolutions aside, I have been on the road a lot. Classroom visits have been awesome. In the throes of editing BOOK 2, getting to hear thoughts about the book and the story has been great. Coming to schools and talking about writing is standard, as you know. It has been such an honour meeting some really insightful readers all over the world. But working outside the realm of language arts and literature has been very cool, indeed. I want to share a couple class visits that each left an impression.

In May, I came back to the US and visited Frelinghuysen Middle School in New Jersey for the second time. In the months between September and May, Matt Daly, the curriculum coordinator, as well as an author himself, stayed in touch and we discussed some ideas for creating a cross curriculum project using the Young Inventors Guild as the guiding force. Throughout the year, I had done school visits, talking to language arts and social studies teachers, as well as math and science teachers, about invention and creativity. Matt took it a step further and put together a project with the science teachers. Sine the books are about young inventors and the magic of science, it made sense.

I spent the day in an eighth grade science lab with three different classes, one after the other. Using an epic snowball fight event that is coming in Book 2, we had the kids make their own inventions. The kids were given a collection of limited materials (rulers, rubber bands, sticks, weights, etc) and, divided into three teams. The teams had to each build a snowball-throwing machine. As it was almost summer, snow was unavailable so we used giant marshmallows. It was A BLAST!!! (In the future, I want to be sure the kids have only items like wooden spoons and rubber bands- items that could have been used in Victorian times so they are confined to what the Young Inventors Guild could build.)

In Cairo, I visited graduating seniors at one of the British schools. Since three of the classes were world culture classes, they asked if I had anything I’d like the students to do before I came. I did. The teachers had the kids select someone from history and find three facts that I would not know. I didn’t want birth and death and major accomplishments. In those classes, I found out that Mao had been a librarian and Hitler would never leave the house without a jacket and that Alexander the Great’s parents fought constantly, demanding he choose sides leading his father to try to kill him. Each of those interesting facts was like a seed for an interesting piece of historic fiction that might give us a clearer impression of that person than textbooks that provide events and dates to memorize.

It has been a thrill, sharing history, science, and stories with kids. I plan to hone the cross curriculum ideas, making them more fun for everyone. I look forward to more adventures in the classroom!


Eden Unger

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Weird Crap"...A Chain Story

One thing I do occasionally in the classroom is chain writing, which asks different writers to write different sentences, or paragraphs, one after another. There are variations to the activity, like, for example, doing it blind, which means everyone has a number on one side of the paper, and then they write the sentence or paragraph on the other side. After all the sentences/paragraphs have been written, you use the numbers to put everything together (it's "blind" because you write your part without knowing anything else that has been written). It's a cool activity, and the students usually enjoy it. 

So that explains what a chain story is. Now let me explain the "weird crap" part.

A while back, a critique partner of mine read something I had written, and he commented that it seemed like I was writing what someone else wanted me to write, not what I enjoyed writing, and not what I was "great" at. He commented, "You do well with high-concept MG, and you're great writing about weird crap. So why this?" I laughed out loud, because I knew the dude was right. Not only was the project a forced pile of dung, but he was also right because the crap I write is rather weird, and I have fun with that sort of thing.

So here is what I want to do. Let's take the weird crap idea and throw it in a bowl with the chain story process, and then let's flush it all out and see what we get. In other words, let's write a chain story...and hope it doesn't end up falling in line with the aforementioned metaphor. I'll start the story below, and volunteer writers (you) will continue the story in the comments section. Here's the process.

1) Read the opening below to get a feel for tone, POV, characters, etc.
2) Where I left off, comment number 1 will write the next paragraph in the story.
3) The next comment will include the paragraph after that.
4) Next comment, next paragraph. 
5) When I see that the chain story has gone as far as it will go (no more paragraphs/comments for a couple days) I will combine everything and post the final product at a later date.

You game? Come on, let's have some fun.

"Weird Crap" OPENING 

Spill Joseph had always thought of himself as a stand-up kinda guy. A good friend. A pal. A dude. A bro. That’s how he saw himself, even after he’d been forced to tell his parents who had tied Kitt’s tail to the ceiling fan and flicked the “super speed” switch. Nick Gname, for the record, had done the tail tying and cat hanging. Sam Chowder, the switch flicking. As he had explained to his parents, Spill had just been “…in the room, like, coincidentally. You know, just hangin’ out. Chillin’. That kinda thing.”

It wasn’t until Oracle, his pet parrot, started chanting, “Rat! Ahhh! Rat! Ahhh! Rat! Ahhh!” that Spill realized what he’d done. That’s when reality hit Spill like a three-hundred-pound linebacker.

The reality was, when he went to school the next day and all his classmates, including Nick and Sam, knew he’d ratted out his two best friends, well, that’s when the Kitt was gonna hit the fan. Again.

To be you!

Okay, go at it. New comment, new paragraph.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Death Comes to the Manuscript

If you're from New Mexico, you probably had to read Willa Cather's DEATH COMES TO THE ARCHBISHOP in high school, the historical novel about the Catholic church coming to this part of the country.

If you're an author, you've probably experienced Death Comes to the Manuscript, that sad but necessary moment when you close the door on an old piece of writing.

For me, Manuscript Death struck twice recently: novels two and three in my file cabinet have been laid to rest (As an aside -- Novel one was horrendous and needs to stay locked away. Novel four is the one that sold. I'm hoping novel five will also see the light of day).

These two fought the good fight. I revised both for years. Number two I started when my now eleven-year-old was born. It's gone through a POV change, a timeline tightening, and dozens of major overhauls. It received a "champagne rejection"* from a lovely assistant editor at Bloomsbury in 2004. My agent loves it. My editor doesn't. But in re-reading it last week, I realized if I was to overhaul it one more time and try again, there was little I could salvage. It was time to let it go.

Number three was eerily similar to Sarah Weeks's PIE, right down to the dueling siblings, the baking contest, and the stolen recipe (there's more, but I don't want to give too many plot points away). The two differences? My story was about snickerdoodles and wasn't half as good as Sarah's. It was time for this one to give up the ghost, too.

I thought it would be hard to walk away from these manuscripts, but somehow it's oddly freeing. They both taught me a lot about writing; both story lines will continue to remain dear to me. They're just not stories for the world at large. And you know what? That's okay.

Has Death ever come for one of your Manuscripts? What was the experience like for you?

*A rejection so positive it's worth celebrating.

How many cliches have I used in this post? Count them up and leave your answer below. One commenter will win a packet of MG and YA bookmarks.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Published March 27 2012, Random House Children's Books

Remember Hoot? As far as I can remember, that was Carl Hiaasen's break-out middle-grade novel, Newbery Honor and all. He'd been writing a couple of other single-title middle-grade novels dealing with the environment, like Flush and Scat, so I grabbed this one from my library when I saw it.

Summary (adapted from Goodreads):
Wahoo Cray's father Mickey Cray is an animal wrangler, so he's used to dealing with all sorts of unstable critters. But when they sign on to supply wildlife for a reality TV show called Expedition Survival!, Wahoo's not certain he'll be able to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the obnoxious star with a fake Australian accent who actually believes he can manage the menagerie of gators, snakes and snappers. Shooting on location in the wilds of the Everglades doesn't help -- and within a day Derek's been bitten by a bat and is lost in a storm. With Wahoo providing shelter for a girl named Tuna hiding out from her abusive dad, the search for Derek isn't going exactly well... and then Tuna's dad shows up toting a gun. It's anyone's guess who'll actually survive Expedition Survival!...

 At first, I didn't remember Carl Hiaasen's writing style being so idiosyncratic. Using third-person, writers always run the risk of not getting the reader right into the protagonist's head; however, once I got into the rhythm of the quirky narration, Wahoo endeared himself to me, and the best quality of Hiaasen's style becomes apparent: his punchlines. This book is funny, and it's obvious that its author isn't afraid to go over-the-top. While Derek Badger is somewhat too annoying (it's hard to imagine anyone like that in real life), Wahoo's father is a realistically flawed man with firm morals, while Wahoo himself is practical, pragmatic and wise, making him and Tuna the perfect pair to track down the runaway adults.

The side characters are just as amusing: from older sister Julie studying law to the mercenary owner of the grounds which the film crew rents for the show, each personality adds to the novel's vibrant atmosphere. As well, the setting is lush and excellently incorporated, seeing how it's vital to the book's plot. Speaking of plot: Chomp boasts fantastic pacing, with a wacky, amazing climax and the perfect denouement that's sure to speak to middle-grade readers.

Basically, this book is everything we've come to expect from Carl Hiaasen. Rigorously satisfying.

(Also: who doesn't love a book with alligators, snapping turtles and snakes? :D)


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bookstores of the Future

I adore bookstores, and I'm sure almost all booklovers do. But we all know they are facing tough times. What can bookstores do to survive? I can’t imagine a world without them, but it’s clear that most traditional bookstores are searching for ways to stay in business with the rise of ereaders and the ease of ordering books on the internet. It’s been fascinating for me to check out various independent bookstores and their websites to see how some have adapted. Some are really community centers, those with the space to allow groups to meet and talk books or listen to music and poetry readings. That’s a good thing, because I’m sure once people are in the store, it’s hard to walk away without a purchase. I love meeting my critique group at a bookstore, because what better place can someone go to be inspired to write?

I know space is a limitation in many bookstores. If they use some of the room for people to meet, that's less room for books. I have not yet used an Expresso Book Machine, but I'm excited about this idea. It is a print-on-demand contraption that can print a 200-page paperback book or less in just a few minutes. They have full color covers and black and white interiors. Right now they are only in a few bookstores in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Here's a picture of one at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington: 

 No matter what, I’ll continue to do much of my shopping at bookstores instead of ordering online, but what will draw other people in, those more casual readers? All of us traditionalists say we love the feel of a real book, but we are fast becoming the minority. Our family has two ereaders and we all read books on them even though it's not my first choice, but it is very convenient for traveling.

Some physical bookstores do sell ebooks though Google, and I hope more follow. A customer with a google account and an ereader device that reads epub versions (not Kindles) of books can purchase the book through the bookstore website or by simply linking the bookstore to their google account. This gives the bookstore a percentage of the sale. The book can then be downloaded to a computer and transferred to the ereader by a usb cable, or if you have an ereader with access to the internet, it can be downloaded right to it. Here's link to explain this process:

Even with ereaders, I still go to bookstores so I can browse. I want to look for new books I haven’t heard about, and find out enough about them so that I can decide if I want to buy them. Again, space limitations are a problem with this. Bookstores want to sell books, so it is hard for them to stock a huge range of books.Some of you will cringe at this next idea, so I apologize in advance. Should bookstores become more high tech? What about display walls with computer screens that show book covers you can touch to get more information, like the back cover blurb, a read-inside and the book trailer. Reviews don’t influence my particular buys, but if people are interested in those, they could be available as well. Essentially it would be like the Amazon model, but in a store atmosphere. We all know Amazon is very successful with their model, so how can it be adapted to the physical bookstore? Physical inventory would be cut down, so more books could be shown, including those of newer authors who might not get a place in the bookstores of today.

It might help with grouping books of a similar type as well. For example, I’d love to see children’s books grouped more by type of book rather than just alphabetical by author’s last name. I have a daughter who loves animal stories, so it would be convenient to see a section of middle grade books about animals. You could browse historical books, adventure books, school settings, and on and on. With computer screens , books could be in more than one category too. Once you found a book you liked, you could download it right there. Somehow it seems easier to browse when you see the larger images in front of you, rather than trying to get around on a small home computer screen.

A high tech bookstore would of course be very expensive to configure, but we can dream, can’t we? So I’d love to hear comments from others about why they go to bookstores and what they would like to see in the bookstore of the future.

~Dee Garretson

Friday, July 13, 2012

Books for Fifth Graders

So, I just accepted a job teaching fifth grade next year. Besides working as a naturalist for five years with elementary students, my sixteen years of classroom teaching have all been in junior high and high school. I have a pretty nice collection of young adult novels for my classroom library, but obviously I'll need to create a new library that will better match my new students. Even though I write both young adult and middle grade I feel much more competent in the young adult realm when recommending books for students.

So, I'd love a little help here.

What are some titles you'd include on a classroom shelf for fifth graders? I'd love to hear about some recent titles, titles in the last ten years, and some classics too. I'm talking about books that you think fifth graders will connect with and read independently. (I already own several of the Project Mayhem authors' books so I've got a start on my library.)

I'd also love to hear about titles that lend themselves to reading out loud to a fifth-grade class.

Thanks for your help. I'm really excited about teaching in an elementary school!! Should be tons of fun!!! :-) :-) :-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An Agent and an Editor Riff on Middle Grade

Michael Bourret
Molly O'Neill

A couple of months ago, Molly O'Neill (editor at Harper Collins) and Michael Bourret (an agent at Dystel Goderich Literary Management) hosted a three-part chat about middle grade on their blogs. I enjoyed their insights, and I thought the readers of Project Mayhem might like a summary of what went down.

On Problems:

Michael Bourret: Too many times, I get a submission and it’s clear that the writer is writing to a specific market or reader. A symptom of this problem that I see very often in middle grade submissions is “writing down” to the reader. This is can take the form of trying-too-hard dialogue (“Zoinks, bud! We need to skedaddle out of here before our ‘rents come biz-ack.”), narrator-as-character (think Lemony Snicket done badly), or message-driven novels (books written only to teach a lesson)... One of the mistakes I see all too often is a mismatch between the age of the protagonist and the intended reader. A 12 year old doesn’t want to read about a protagonist who’s 8 or 80–they want to read about someone in the same general age group.
Molly O'Neill: Speaking of problems you often see, I think one of the most common ones I run across in middle grade is “low stakes.” I think this can happen as a result of writers wanting to make a story feel familiar, but when I was a kid, other people’s lives always felt more interesting than my own, so why would I want to read about everyday, average things like homework and piano lessons and third-period math class all over again? I guess I’m trying to say that there can be a fine line between stories that feel familiar and those that feel, well, dull. This is a big reason I often encourage my authors to push past their initial ideas and explore the unknown creative wilds beyond the very first idea/solution/problem/mystery/story point/etc that they think of – because often the really fresh ideas live deep in writer’s minds, not at the very forefront.

On "Quiet" Stories:
Michael Bourret: One question we got (perhaps from a client of mine) was, is there room for a “quiet” middle grade novel? I’d argue that the best books, even when they’re not deal with the end of the world or magic, aren’t really “quiet.” They may be a smaller story, with very real, relatable stakes. But if the story is constructed well, and the voice is strong, the writer can make us care very much what happens in these more everyday struggles.

On Trends:
Michael Bourret: One of the great things about middle grade is that it seems much less susceptible to big trends--you don't have the same sort of vampire, werewolf, dystopian waves that you see on the YA side. Because middle grade typically gets less media attention (more on that in a second), I think there's a lot less groupthink and a greater degree of creativity and, dare I say, effort. To me, middle grade always seems so open and full of possibility; is there anything you can't do? In particular, I'm taken by the many books that combine realistic, relatable stories with the fantastic. Kids are so open to that, and it allows the writer to tell a story about real kids that also has high stakes.

On a "Sense of Wonder":
Molly O'Neill: Middle grade readers are miles away from being English majors, and are rarely interested in the author's bold stylistic choices or the reasons behind them...they just want a story that satisfies them! My own inner middle grade reader is drawn to the sense of wonder that can be found in so many great middle grade books. Sometimes that's the sense of wonder that rich friendship and powers of imagination can bring about, like in the classic Bridge to Terabithia or in the more recent When You Reach Me or Breadcrumbs. Or it’s the awe and wonder of otherworldliness that fantasies like Shannon Hale’s deliver, or it’s the wonder of a kid who gets to experience the utterly fantastical that's also somehow reminiscent of the world they know, like the cat clans of the Warriors books that aren't so very different than the cliques of middle school, or The Mysterious Benedict Society, which gives kids an opportunity to put their ordinary-seeming talents to use in extraordinary situations. And sometimes the wonder comes from a simpler place, like the “ahhhh” of recognition that comes from pitch-perfection depictions and articulations of the universal experiences and emotions of being human, and growing up: like the stories of Deborah Wiles, or Lisa Yee, or Gary Schmidt.

On "Creative Potential":
Molly O'Neill: I think writers rarely get the chance to be as creative as when they’re in the creative stages of developing a new story – so don’t short-circuit your own creative potential by rushing to get to market too fast; in the end you could end up cheating yourself and your potential readers. And the great thing is, especially for middle grade writers, that there will always be new readers emerging, waiting for great stories.

The whole conversation is chock full of these kind of great insights. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety. (Links to Part I, Part II, Part III) What resonated with you?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Historical Help

I recently stumbled across a website I thought was rather neat, and it struck me that it would be very useful to writers of historical fiction or anyone researching a particular time period.  I’d thought I’d share it here.  It’s called Writer’s Dreamtools, and it features overviews of history broken down by decade from 1650 to 2000.  I especially like that these overviews don’t focus solely on large historical details, but also on little ones such as what kind of dance crazes were sweeping the population and what foods were popular.

For example, according to the information provided for 1650, “to burn the midnight oil” became a new slang phrase during this period, black shoes with gold ribbons were “in” for men, lace caps under wide-brimmed hats for women, Harvard College accepted the theory that the sun was at the center of the solar system, hot chocolate was popular in London, the air spring and balance pump were invented, the first traffic laws were passed in New York, and King Charles the I of England was a current “bad guy.”

Interested in the 1920s?  Rin Tin Tin was in.  Al Capone and Bugs Moran were resident baddies.  Eight Chicago White Sox players were indicted for throwing the World Series.  The hair-dryer and Milky Way candy bars came into popularity.  The first Academy Awards went to “Wings” and “The Broadway Melody.”  The Great Gatsby was published.  Chanel No. 5 and mascara became popular.  New slang terms: “the cat’s meow,” “go fly a kite,” and “for crying out loud!”

I really like these handy lists, and they can be accessed here: History by Decade.

Writer's Dream Tools also has some additional services available by subscription.  I can’t attest to these, but if anyone has tried them out, please let us know in the comments.

And do share—what are your favorite resources for writers?

photo credit: antonychammond via photopin cc

Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Independence Day from Project Mayhem!

Have a safe and happy Independence Day 
from all of us at Project Mayhem!! 
We will be back on Monday the 9th with fresh new posts! 
This week, we are celebrating...and writing! :)