A Year’s Worth of Learning

May 28, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Posted in Bria, dialogue, editing, format, self-editing, Tina Ferraro, writing | 9 Comments

Somewhere — under the bed, behind a bookshelf, on a flash drive at the back of a drawer — you have the first draft of your first manuscript. Go pull it out.

No. Seriously. Go Pull It Out.

OK — If you’ve been following the Purple Hearts, you know I only began writing (again since college) a little over a year ago. Every time I turn around I feel as if I’m learning something new. I’m currently taking Margie Lawson’s ‘Deep EDITing’ course. Run as fast as you can to go take that class! Self-Editing is vital to success.

So, in an effort to see what I’ve learned, I pulled the first 10 pages of my first draft of my first manuscript. Pull yours out and let’s see, shall we?

1. OPENING: Amazingly enough, I started in the correct place – go me! Not as impressive, I opened in the wrong POV. I started in the POV of a secondary character watching the MC as a boy. It makes sense in a lot of ways BUT, it creates an incorrect view of who the story will be following and will easily confuse the reader.
2. POV: Since we’re talking POV, let’s look at that. Two Word: Headhopping (yes, I know that’s 1 word, but it’s a shout out to our girl Tina Ferraro!) I got dizzy following it. I’ve since learned how to pick out scene POV, stay consistent, and transition to the next one.
3. FORMATING: You’re supposed to format these in a specific way? Font? Margins? Spacing? WOW! What looked easy to read a year ago now looks like a train wreck of ink on paper. If you’re looking to see how to set up proper formatting, we did a post on it HERE.

4. TELLING: Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t as horrible as I expected. The opposite was actually true in many places – showing where I should have been telling. Sometimes, you need to just place a one line tell in there to keep the pace, flow and cadence of your story moving. I’ve learned a lot about how to balance that.
5. VAGUE: Just because something is clear to me, doesn’t mean it’s clear on the page. I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting those, at being a reader separate from myself as a writer when looking at my stuff.
6. PUNCTUATION: It’s true. Bad punctuation does distract from the story – no matter how good it is. Dialogue punctuation seems to be a specific problem the more people’s stuff I CP. HERE is a post on how to properly punctuate dialogue.
7. SENTENCE STRUCTURE: Often when trying to get the story on the page, my first attempt looks like this:

Brennid VERB. . . . He VERB. . . .DISCRIPTIVE SENTENCE. . .He VERB. . .She VERB. . .They VERB. . .

How boring! I had to move things around, shake them up and often make passive statements active. A great way to see your structure is to find replace your main characters’ names and “he” and “she” so they’re a bright, bold color. How many kick off a sentence? 


8. PASSIVE: Speaking of passive sentences – Not only does making your sentences active make the reader more involved and the pace quicker but it also forces a hard look at sentence structure.

So, that’s my first year Big Learnings. How about you? What’s changed in your writing this year.

Let us know so we can learn it too!


Random Writing Resource

January 28, 2008 at 7:56 am | Posted in format, Jessica, movies, writing | Leave a comment

A while back I posted an entry on making every word count. The entry more or less referred to screenwriting and it offered more commentary than it did information on the many pieces that go into a screenplay. But since I posted that entry on screenwriting we’ve had a number of people stumble across our blog in search of the average screenplay word count. As I am only in the kindergarten stages of my screenwriting learning curve I don’t feel all that qualified to offer advice or guidance on the subject. What I can do is share some information passed on by an industry insider, Skip Press. In his book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting, Skip has this to say:

    The general length of a Hollywood screenplay is 114 pages. 

    Properly formatted screenplays in Courier 12 (font) generally work out to a minute a page, in screen time.

    Properly formatted manuscript pages generally work out to a certain number of words per page, double-spaced (which is generally 250 words per page).

Screenplays, as opposed to novel submissions, are less to do about word count and more to do about length. As Skip mentions in his book, one page equals about one minute of screen time.

To help you organize your screenplay according to industry standards, there is invaluable software to guide you through the proper format. The two most talked about software packages are Movie Magic and Final Draft. Both are equally popular and both get the job done. (These links take you to most recent versions of the software. Should you choose to make the purchase, be sure to verify your operating system for the right compatibility.)

Your screenplay needs to have a wider left-hand margin — most use 1.5 inches. Screenplays are printed on three-hole-punch, 8.5 X 11 inch paper, and bound together by brads made of solid brass. Put the brads in only the top and bottom holes, and see that the prongs on the back side lie flat.

As Skip says, the idea is to conform to industry standards so that the reader(s) can focus on the content, and he goes into greater detail on margins (different for page 1 than for the following pages), and other formatting issues in the book.

As with writing novels, the best thing you can do for your screenwriting education is to read, read, read, and, in this case, watch, watch, watch. Best to have a movie’s screenplay in front of you while screening the film itself. There are a few online sources where you can find scripts – some free and some retail. A few of those sources are:

Drew’s Script-o-rama (free)

ScriptFLY (purchase)

Simply Scripts (free)

As I mentioned, I have just about everything to learn about writing a screenplay, but these are a few things I think a newbie might find helpful – and just the tip of the iceberg for where the form differs from a novel’s. If any of you more experienced screenwriters have some more resources or advice to add, please share!

And whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, keep up the good work! The writers’ strike proves how much we need writers and, better yet, good story-tellers. And as stated in this Funny or Die video, without writers there’s just reality . . .


Look back and Laugh

October 31, 2007 at 9:07 am | Posted in Bria, character, creativity, dialogue, Fast Draft, format, hero, inspiration, self-editing, writing | 2 Comments

I’m away at a week long writer’s retreat and so this week’s blog is my top ten of my own posts – feels like cheating, except I’m looking over my own stuff, so it’s a good review for me, right?

1.        The Grand Gesture
I love this post. The childhood story really happened, I love to think about what makes a good hero and, best of all, Elizabeth Boyle commented – I mean, seriously.
Which brings me directly to #2

2.     Too Perfect
It takes a look at how having a perfect hero isn’t perfect, it’s annoying and a little weak. A quick shout out to Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages helps to look at creating a more realistic character – especially the hero or heroine.
Sticking with heros and men is #3

3.   Sexy is as Sexy Does
Let’s take a look at what’s attractive AND what isn’t.

4.     Where the HECK is my Blog
Yet another reference to my own quirky-luck and self competitiveness.

5.     Dialogue and Punctuation
A writer’s rant turned into a public resource. LSU linked to us as a resource for how to punctuate dialogue — I’m so glad it was helpful to people. The basics should be what slow your writing down.

6.     My Blog Crush
More of my quirky look at life – I took the idea of a new inspiration and turned it into, apparently, a running joke online. The poet really is very good and one of the places I go when I need to re-think how I’m using words.  Right now that place is Tamara Pierce – how does she squeeze those stories in 55K words?

7.     The World In My Head
Yes, I’m one of those people who can be alone in a crowded room creating my own world. Especially during Fast Draft time such as this post fell into.  I KNOW some of you are doing NaNoWrMo, so you must know how I feel forced to focus all my energy in that one story for 2 weeks straight. 20 pages a day, what was I thinking – Thanks Candy Havers!

8.     What I Can’t/Won’t Write
This post got a lot of attention from people commenting off the blog about my willingness to throw this idea out there. Thanks for supporting my stand with my own personal values.

9.     Story Serendipity
Thank goodness for it!  That’s all I have to say.

10. Formatting Your Baby
It caused controversy in the comments and the FlanTastic chat, but the info there was checked by two print editors so I’m standing by it.
Well, this was fun. Hopefully right now I’m at the retreat writing a masterpiece — or at least not embarrassing myself too badly. 

Let me know your thoughts — I always love to hear feedback, positive and negative (yes, I said negative screw the “constructive.”)

Go Write

Formatting: Gift Wrapping Your Baby

September 26, 2007 at 10:08 am | Posted in Bria, format, writing | 8 Comments

So an agent has my first partial from my first query – talk about nerve racking! Getting it ready was painful – like salt in your eyes painful.  So today, I’m going to lay out how to layout. 

Formatting your manuscript correctly may not be a make or break deal, but it does show professionalism and preparation that everyone desires in a business partner. So, open your Word document and let’s get started with the basics. 

Step One: Margins 

·    Under ‘File’ on your tool bar, click ‘Page Setup’
·    Click the Margins tab at the top
·    Ensure that you’ve selected ‘Portrait’
·    Enter ‘1’ in the drop down boxes for Top, Bottom, Left, and Right
·    Hit ‘OK’ at the bottom, right-hand corner 

Step Two: Font 

Personally I use ‘Courier New’ size 12. It’s easy for pages/word calculation. 

Anything you wish to be italicized in your manuscript, should actually be underlined. Do not italicize in your manuscript. 

There is a difference between hyphens and em-dashes. For an em-dash, Word will turn 2 hyphens into an em-dash  

Step Three: Page Format 

·    Under ‘Format’ on your tool bar, click ‘Paragraph’
·    Next to ‘Before’ and ‘After’ enter ‘0’ – ‘Auto’ will NOT do what you want it to.
·    In the drop-down box under ‘Space’ click ‘Exactly’
·    In the selection box next to where you just picked ‘Exactly,’ type ‘25’ – DON’T type ‘lines’ as was previously there, only ‘25’
·    At the top of the Paragraph Formatting box is the tab ‘Line and Page Breaks’ – click this
·    Ensure that all the boxes on this page are unmarked
·    Hit ‘OK’ at the bottom, right-hand corner Step Four: The Header 
·    Under ‘View’ on your tool bar, click ‘Header and Footer’
·    When they pop open, in the Header Type: 

BOOK TITLE IN CAPS / Last name                                                        Click # in toolbar 

·    By clicking the ‘#’ on the toolbar, each page will be numbered  

Step Five: Page Set-up

Starting a Chapter Each chapter should begin 1/3 of the way down the page. This helps editors and agents calculate book length.  

REMEMBER: When submitting, check the Editor/Agent’s website, they may have specific formatting guidelines and you should always follow those when submitting to them.  

These are the basics. I hope they helped.  There are some great resources out there. Here are two:  



Remember, the work is in the writing, the formatting is the gift wrap. 

Go Write

Dialogue and Punctuation

August 8, 2007 at 5:57 pm | Posted in Bria, dialogue, format, writing | 7 Comments

Check out my updated post HERE.


We here at the Purple Hearts blog try to stay relatively Rant Free, but I have to tell you the dialogue pet peeves are stacking up.  

I’m CPing for someone who cannot grasp the punctuation of dialogue, so I thought I would make the world a better place and run through the basics here. 

Making a statement: 

If the tag is first, a comma should be placed after the tag, before the quotation mark,  and the period is inside the quote.  If the tag appears after the statement, there is a comma before the second quotation mark. 

She said, “blah blah blah.”

“Blah blah blah,” she said.

Middle of the statement tags: 

If your tag is in the middle of the sentence, same rules basically apply. 

“Blah blah,” she said, “blah blah blah.”


“Blah blah,” she said. “Blah blah blah.”  

Asking a question or exclaiming: When you ask a question or exclaim with tags/beats, the entire thing is written as one sentence. The question mark stays within the “” and the tag is still part of the sentence just like with a statement: 

She asked, “Blah blah blah?”  OR  She shouted, “Blah!”

“Blah blah blah?” she asked.  OR  “Blah!” she shouted. 

These are the basics. If anything here surprised you or you want some more in-depth examples, check out The Writer’s Writing Guide. Rachel Simon has a great page on punctuating dialogue.  Also, if you EVER have a chance to attend one of Julia Quinn’s talks on dialogue, RUN, don’t walk, and get in line – it’s fabu!

And, Go Write


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