Monday, August 31, 2015

Writing Tip #17: Self-Editing for Writers

Today we'll be talking about how you as a writer can prepare your piece of writing for an editor. This concept has been briefly looked at in Writing Tip #5: Your Voice and Writing Rules and Writing Tip #6: Words to be Wary of. Don't give me that look. Yes, you have to do a bit of pre-editing before slapping your editor with your manuscript. Why? Well, you want your work to be as solid as it can be before someone else mercilessly rips it apart.

No, you don't have to be the best at grammar. Word (or whatever grammar checker you're using) will catch most of your mistakes. Word will also catch your spelling mistakes. It'll even determine if you're using the wrong word sometimes. Don't trust Word.

Why? Because con is still a word even if you mean can. Bee is still a word if you mean be. There is a distinct difference between definitely and defiantly but they're both still words. There's also a huge distinction between six and sex. Word won't catch repetitiveness like constantly using "that", "just", "really", "thing", "in order", or any other word on the Words to be Wary of list. It doesn't even know the difference between weary and wary. It might not even notice you've left the "r" out in "your." And there are some instances when Word is wrong when it comes to grammar.

Yes your editor will catch all the above mistakes and yes it is what you pay them for. But you don't want your editor to get caught up in minor mistakes YOU could have caught when you want them focusing more on the larger picture. You want them to take your manuscript BEYOND your capabilities. You want them to tighten sentences and make suggestions with your voice or showing and telling. You don't want them focusing on minor mistakes. Pay them for being a second set of eyes, yes, but let them be a set of eyes used to their full potential.

So, how does one self-edit? Read over Words to be Wary of. Then go into your document and hit Ctrl+F or "Find." A window will appear. Now type in the word "that." When it finds the first "that", read over the sentence then REMOVE THE WORD or REPLACE IT. Repeat this process with the words:
  • very
  • really
  • just
  • only
  • in order
  • thing (usually replaced with an object the "thing" is describing)
  • quite
  • get or got
  • -ing words
  • then
  • suddenly
  • smirk
  • quirk
  • like
  • as
  • feel
  • think
  • a lot
  • kind of/sort of
Your writing will AUTOMATICALLY become concise and make more sense. Now, go back to the beginning of your document. If you want to: print it out. Read the entire story from top to bottom OUT LOUD.

Why out loud? Because your brain will force you to pay attention to every word. You won't automatically put in a word that might be missing and you're "hear" if something doesn't sound right.

Go back to your document and correct any changes. Go back to the top of your document and hit the "Show/Hide hidden characters." This button will show paragraph marks, spaces, tabs, and every other hidden character in your document. Why is this important? Sometimes at the end of a sentence you'll have hit a "soft" return instead of a hard return. So, instead of a new paragraph with a line in between, you'll have a new paragraph with NO space. You cannot visually see the difference until your book goes through formatting to be put on Kindle, Kobo, or any other website. The paragraph tag that should be at the end of every sentence looks like this:

You should also only have ONE space between each word, not two. The space between words is shown by a dot running along the middle of your word, kind of like a strike through. It looks like this:

If you have two dots then take one out. Besides your paragraph tags and space tags THERE SHOULD BE NO OTHER hidden characters. If there are: delete them and fix your document accordingly.

Go back to the top of your document again and read it from the beginning. This time make note of the story itself and anything you may have accidently changed like a character's name or eye color. Make sure a character wasn't holding an object and suddenly wasn't holding it (without putting it down) in the next sentence. Make sure a character isn't defying the laws of physics as in taking a seat on the edge of the desk when she was all ready sitting in a chair. Look for any awkward turns of phrases or sentences. Repair it all.

Now, leave it ALONE for a week or more. Go plan for your next novel, start a new one, edit something else, or read. Binge watch a show on Netflix, ANYTHING but DO NOT read your novel for at least a week. Once the week is over: start from the beginning of your document and read through it YET AGAIN.

How many read-throughs should you do? One for spelling. One for grammar. One for the words on the Words to be Wary of list. One for misused or improper words. One for sentence structure. One for hidden characters (as in the symbols not actual people in your novel). One for consistency. Once out loud. One more time after a period of time that you've left it alone.

That's nine times. I know it seems like a lot but your editor will be able to do a MUCH better job if you've read over your manuscript before sending it to them. Plus you won't have to pay them three or more times because they need to read over your novel nine times. Remember, the less they have to do, the more they can focus on your actual STORY.

Yes, it is a lot. But you can combine the read-through for spelling and grammar. If you're great you can also combine misused words, sentence structure, repetitive or unneeded words, spelling, and grammar. If you're excellent: you would have all read done those five while you're writing.

That's the key to self-editing: KNOWING the rules so well you can correct your mistakes AS YOU ARE WRITING. You will get to the point where the words on the Words to be Wary of list no longer exist in your writing vocabulary. You will get to the point where you'll know you've used the wrong word but you know to correct it before moving on to the next sentence.

What's this mean? You're working with your Inner Editor and NO it's not a bad thing. I know a lot of people say to turn off this inner critic when working on the first draft but why bother? If you're constantly shutting it off than you can't learn to get better and make a tighter, more concise first draft. I've got a whole blog post about the Inner Editor. I know the post is old but I still agree with everything there.

We've reached "The End" multiple times in our document. Now what? You find an editor to do the rest. How do you find an editor? I've touched on it briefly here. Read that whole post. Yes, it IS what you're getting yourself into.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Short Story: Why

A little something different this time around.

So back in May there was a contest run on the site Avalora is posted on. Basically authors got to submit a short story of any subject to win various levels of subscription to the site itself which was pretty cool. The only limitation was the short had to be under 4000 words.

I didn't place in the top 12 which is fine.

For kicks, here's my entry. Critiques welcome and please remember this has only been seen by two sets of eyes thus far: my own and whoever read it at Channillo. I don't have money for an editor, hardly enough to keep the billed paid so...yeah.

ANYWAY, here's the story:


Let me explain why I killed them.

My parents were great people. Dad was some kind of business man. I’m not sure who he worked for or what he was exactly. All I really remember is that he had to wear a suit all the time and he made a lot of money. This allowed us to live in a big house and go to Disney World every summer for as long as we wanted.

Mom stayed at home with me. I remember her smile the most. It was bright, loving, and always made me happy. She had a lot of friends who came and sat with us, always telling me what a cute little boy I was and saying I’d grow up to be a heart breaker. They had that right.

On the night my life changed it was dark. Rain sluiced against the windows of the white truck dad drove and he had to keep his high beams on. He guided the immense beast of machinery carefully, a little under the speed limit, and making sure to check around every corner for any kind of oncoming traffic.

Funny how it works, the one who’s always careful is the one who ends up at the mercy of someone not so careful. All I remember is one moment mom was smiling back at me and telling me we would be home soon. The next moment the truck had filled up with bright white light and the sound of a horn blew through my ear in a warning which was too late.

I woke up alone, scared, with tubes in my arms and a machine beeping beside me. It terrified me and I started screaming. I tried ripping out all the tubes but I had been four and not exactly dexterous enough to do as needed. It did not take many nurses to stop me and I remember I kept shouting for my mom and dad.

The looks on the nurses’ faces went from panic and worry to pity. I didn’t exactly recognize pity then as no one had looked down at me and thought “the poor child.” One of the nurses sat on my bed beside me and hugged me. She explained my dad’s truck had been hit in the driver’s side, dad’s side.

The impact had sent the truck spinning and the passenger side, mom’s side, had hit a light post so hard it snapped under the pressure, tore down electrical wires as it fell and crushed the hood of dad’s truck. The rain kept a fire from starting. The driver of the other vehicle had been rendered unconscious from the blow. A passerby in a white car had called the police. It had all happened a week ago. Dad and mom had not made it out of the truck alive.

Coincidences are strange. I remember at the time I had an intense infatuation with Batman, the superhero who had no parents. Now I was Batman. I had no parents.

The solace I was given by the nurse was the man in the other car had broken his spine and would never walk again. It did not provide me with comfort but gave me anger. Why should he live when both my parents, good people, had died? The little comfort I did get from the information was at least he could never make another Batman.

My stay at the hospital was boring and the anger left. The nurses tried to entertain me but not much could be done for a child barely out of toddler-hood who suffered such a devastating blow. Who barely understood why mom and dad were not coming back. Who kept asking why this had happened and received no answers.

No one had an appropriate answer to give.

A week went by and I was approached by a woman from the government. She said she had contacted my mother’s sister and the woman, my aunt, would be taking care of me. I did not know my mom had a sister. It would not take me long to find out why.

The woman looked like my mother. She had the same dark hair and dark eyes with the same lips. She did not have the same happy smile, not even for her two children. She did not have a husband but when I asked her why she slapped me. Later my older cousin told me it was better without daddy as he had hit harder.

My aunt moved me out of the nice house my parents had and sold it. She had saved nothing from my former life except a suitcase of clothes. I had managed to sneak a picture under my shirt before we left and I have it to this day. It remained on my night side table to remind me of the life I could have had.

My aunt was given all the money from the house and the money my parents had saved in the bank. As I was four I could not access this money and it was supposed to be saved for me for when I turned eighteen. I did not understand the concepts at the time but I knew because of Batman I would get some kind of compensation. The issue was Batman did not have an aunt who liked to yell, hit, and drink.

I grew up in a house that had a sagging front porch, yellow weedy grass in the front and back, and shutters which banged in storms. I had to share a room with my older cousin even when she grew up and started high school. She was five years older than me and my nine year old self was always kicked out of the shared room when she had friends over.

When she turned sixteen my cousin was gone. No note but a suitcase of her clothing had gone missing and she had taken a couple thousand dollars from her mother’s bank account. My eleven year old self had been happy to finally have my own room but a small part of me wondered how my aunt who never worked had thousands of dollars in the bank.

My younger cousin, nine at the time and female had been upset her sister left. She began yelling at her mother a lot so I took to closing myself in my room to read. It had become a habit for me to look over at the empty bed and wonder how my older cousin was doing.

Life keeps going no matter what you do and I grew up. The women my mother used to speak with were right. I did grow into a heart-breaker. I had dark hair; dark “puppy dog” eyes with my father’s strong jaw and my mother’s high cheek bones. I had the good fortune to have clear skin and gain my father’s height gene. As I did not like my aunt or her home, I spent a lot of time after school in the gym so my body became toned. In the summer I ran, likely much more than any teenager should be.

Tall, dark, and handsome: every woman’s wet dream and I was it in real life. They swooned over me, the mysterious boy who hid in the library during lunch reading in one of the back corners and sat in the back of the class. I had all the answers for tests and did not act like the others boys:

The jocks with their minds full of sports, the nerds who to high school girls were funny looking and weird, the druggies who stunk of weed or booze, and the loners who were too creepy. I was part of the loner group but I had the benefit of being good looking. No one thought it entirely odd I had no friends. They assumed because of my outer shell I could do no harm and I used this outer shell as a sort of buffer.

When I was sixteen I spent the twenty dollars my aunt gave me weekly on some Batman comics. I read them with a passion during the evening hours after my homework was done and my aunt had left to go out with one of her boyfriends. I stayed away from the later issues when Batman had grown up and focused more on his early life as Bruce Wayne.

Nowhere in the comics did it ever say what exactly happened to his parents’ money. It had been left to him of course and in the end he had access to it. This was because he did not have an aunt whose name was on all the accounts until he turned eighteen and could be responsible enough to handle his money.

When I asked my aunt about the money she said I would get it and not to worry. This came in a shout and she almost hit me but I stopped her. For the first time in my life I saw what fear was in another person’s eyes. It made me let go of her hand and get a twisting feeling in my stomach. She avoided me for a week after that incident and I did not ask again because I did not want to see the fear.

The concept of someone being afraid of me was foreign. Everyone loved me at school or they were jealous of me. Some outright hated me but no one ever showed me fear. It made me feel like I had become the Joker instead of Batman and I did not like it.

Life kept moving on as it does. I graduated High School with honors and a scholarship to go to whatever school I wanted. I did not know what I wanted. My aunt had told me nothing of my parents so even if I wanted to follow in my father’s path I had no idea what it was. The scholarship would not expire so I decided to take a year off and travel wherever my beat up sedan would take me. First though, I had to get access to my money.

After graduation I did not leave on my trip. I waited until the day I turned eighteen two months later then approached my aunt in her dim kitchen. I had startled her and she showed the fear again. This time I would not let it overwhelm me. I wanted my parents’ money as now it was legally mine.

“It’s gone.”

Two words, one contracted. She said them in a low whisper and bit her lower lip after, eyes downcast and hands clenching hard at the counter behind her. The light from the window behind her shone off her messy dark hair and emphasized the bags under her dark eyes. She could have been pretty like my dead mother but cigarettes, booze, and a myriad of other bad habits had taken her youth and beauty from her.

“What do you mean it’s gone?”

She shook her head and kept her eyes down, not wanting to meet mine. The shirt she wore was skimpy and clung to her body like a sort of second skin. Her jeans were the same way and she did not wear shoes on her feet. I remember looking down at the floor to see the red nail polish on her toes and wondering if she was looking for chips in it to avoid looking me in the face.

“Gone where?”

“I spent it.”

Fourteen years of bill payments, booze, cigarettes, not working, expensive clothes for herself, holidays to Las Vegas with her boyfriends, and holidays to the beach had depleted the money my parents had left for me.

I had nothing. No mementoes to remember them. No memories or stories to know them. And now because of my aunt’s greed: no money to start my life with.

You have to realize I had never been an angry person. I took what life threw at me because I knew with time I would be okay. I had the brains, the looks, and the will to leave my aunt’s home and start my life once I could get what I had been promised. I had been driven by this fact so it curbed my anger and the worst off all my emotions and kept me level, cool, calm, and collected. Now the chain keeping the beast from rising was no more.

I cannot remember what I hit her with first though I assume since I was unarmed at the time it was a punch. I do not remember what area of the body I hit her in or when exactly I picked up the knife. I do not remember when my younger cousin had come home and began beating on my back to stop hurting her mom.

I’m not entirely sure when I pushed her to the floor and how I hurt her. The next memory I do have is of me standing in the kitchen with a steak knife in my hand. The blood dripped off the knife the same way the taps would drip into the sinks. There was a lot of blood.

It seeped into my shoes and slid under the refrigerator. It soaked into the cracks on the floor and turned the stained yellow floor deep red, the same red as my aunt’s toe nails. The blood stained my aunt and my cousin’s clothing, making my cousin’s dyed yellow hair turn a sort of orange-red color.

There were spatters of blood up the counters, across the tables and walls, even across the window and some on the ceiling. It had rained over the exposed flesh I did not cut through on both of them, marring it with little red freckles. Both lay at awkward angles and their eyes had no light in them. Neither took a breath. For some reason this did not bother me as much as it likely should have.

I walked out of the kitchen but do not remember dropping the knife. I do remember going into the bathroom and washing my hands. I stripped out of my clothes, realizing how bloody I was all over then took a shower. I dried. I dressed. I took the expensive jewellery my aunt had bought with my money and her purse.

I picked up my luggage bag and packed away all my clothes. I used my aunt’s luggage to pack away more of the belongings I wanted to take with me. Both went into the trunk of my beat up sedan. One of the neighbours asked if I was taking a holiday and I said I was. He waved to me as I pulled out of the driveway and turned away from my aunt’s home. It was probably him who called the police after a few days of not seeing my cousin or my aunt.

You know I lived free for a month. You caught up to me in Florida where I simply sat on the beach sipping a soda and watching the girls my age giggle over me. You know I went with you without argument. You know I did not change my name or appearance or attempt to hide in any way. I am a little disappointed it took you so long to find me.

Now you know why I did it. Why I stabbed my aunt sixty-eight times after beating her with my fists for so long she was hardly identifiable. Good thing for dental records, hm? You know why I stabbed my cousin three times, enough to kill her and in places which would incapacitate her and let her bleed out. I never would have hurt her if she had not hit me but this is not much of an excuse.

Now you can understand why the neighbours were so stunned to find the scene. Why they are crying because I had been a good kid. Why all those people I graduated with and my teachers seemed shock to hear about why you were looking for. Why all the lives I touched on my way to Florida were suspicious as to why you were looking for me.

I am not a horrible person. Circumstances made me this way. If I had not had a greedy aunt maybe I would have become Batman. But what is Batman except a vigilante who beats up the bad guys and lets them get away to wreak havoc again and again? If Batman actually dealt with the villains like I had then he would not have to keep chasing the same ones.

But heroes are not allowed to kill. Killing makes them villains. Funny isn’t it? The bad guys are allowed to deal with their problems with a sort of finality the heroes are never allowed to have. The heroes must toil again and again while people get hurt, their city gets destroyed, and the people they want to protect get killed. Yet they are still looked upon to save the city.

I saved no one but myself in killing my aunt and cousin. Perhaps I saved society a little because on less person living on booze and government checks might help overall. But she deserved her death like the Joker would deserve his if Batman would ever be allowed to kill the crazy bastard.

The regret I do have is killing my cousin. She is the reason I allowed you to catch me. She is why I did not try to hide. You can thank her later.

Now I supposed you have to finish processing me. I assume I get a lawyer and there will be a trial. If my lawyer is any good I will get a sentence of twenty-five years as in this state the death penalty is illegal and who can argue with snap rage especially when I showed no sign of it? Given the circumstances, I am as much of a victim as my aunt.

But I will take whatever punishment I am given because of my cousin. I deserve that. So. Let’s start the process, hm? No point in sitting here talking anymore. I will see you later, detective.

Have a nice day.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Why did I pick it up?
Final book to finish off the Harry Potter series. I finished it on March 12 which means I took a little less than two months from start to finish.
Funny story: right after I finished reading it and moved onto the trilogy I'm reading now I saw someone at work had started reading this one. Same cover and everything. It was fun.

The Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling:
Know how I've been complaining about the same pattern for the last six books? Well it's broken! Sort of. We do start out with a  scene of Voldemort torturing some poor soul who we later find out is Hogwart's Muggle Studies teacher.

Harry spends some time cleaning out his room at the Dursley's house and examining the paper which has Dumbledore's eulogy and an article with an interview with Rita Skeeter about her new book that apparently reveals the truth about Dumbledore. Harry's obviously upset over the paper but begins to pack his bags to leave.

The Dursleys are leaving too as the moment Harry turns 17 the protection on the house will be gone and the Dursleys could be in trouble. It was nice to see Dudley giving Harry a nice good bye. I was disappointed nothing further was taken with the Dursleys here. They could have been mentioned in the end but this is the last we see or even hear of them.

Harry is to be brought to the Burrow for safe keeping and a group of witches and wizards will be pairing off to make fake Harry's and hopefully distract from the real one. This is where the deaths begin. Harry and the group leave but are attacked because Snape knows when Harry's supposed to leave and obviously told Voldemort. Hedwig is killed in the ensuing battle but Harry does manage to escape after meeting Tonk's parents. He gets to the Burrow to find out Mad Eye Moody was also killed and George Weasley lost an ear.

The Minister of Magic comes to deliver the gifts Harry, Ron, and Hermione received from Dumbledore: the first Snich Harry caught, the Deluminator, and a book of fairy tails in that order. Harry was also supposed to get the Sword of Gryffindor but the Minister wouldn't hand it over. Yes all of these are important. ;)

The preparations for Bill and Fleur's wedding take place as normal and Harry is disguised. He does run into Krum who is peeved at Luna's father for wearing some kind of evil symbol. The wedding is broken up by the Death Eaters who have taken over the ministry. Harry, Hermione, and Ron escape to Sirus' old place (which he inherited) and camp out there for a while. Thanks to Hermione's quick thinking (and a convenience plot hole) she managed to bring all their things with them in a bottomless purse.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione live in the musty old house until figuring out Kreacher helped Regulus (Sirus' brother) destroy the original locket/Horcrux Dumbledore had died for. Harry starts being nice to Kreacher and Kreacher is kind in return. He brings them the dude who stole the locket and they realize they need Gryffindor's sword to break it. The trio leave the house but are caught on the way back and have to begin backpacking through England as they can no longer stay in one spot.

On their travels Ron ends up leaving the group because he had hoped Harry had a better plan in looking for the Horcruxes. Hermione and Harry continue on their travels and Harry's wand ends up breaking when the duo fall into a trap. Harry is lead to a pool where Gryffindor's sword is by a patroneous doe (important point) and almost dies but Ron saves him. They figure out what the Deathly Hallows are: the Elder Wand, Harry's invisibility cloak, and the resurrection stone. Harry knows Voldermort is going after the Elder Wand so he can beat Harry once and for all.

They end up getting captured by Death Eaters but Hermione disguises Harry and Dobby comes to save the group. Harry and Ron go to save Hermione who was separated from them (fun plot point so you can see for yourself) and in their escape they manage to steal two wands. Dobby is killed on their way out.
More happens here but Voldermort does end up possessing the Elder Wand. We also see Snape was the one who sent the doe patroneous to lead Harry to the sword. And Snape gives Harry the memories of what transpired in all of Snape's life after Voldemort gets his snake to kill Snape. Harry finds out the truth about everything. Oh, did I mentioned they've made it all the way to Hogwarts now and the school is where the final battle takes place?

It makes sense in a way. Everything began there and what better battle ground. Voldemort's death was anti-climatic. His killing curse bounced back on him and that was that. There is a bit of a death count: Lupin, Tonks (who were married and just had a kid), and Fred. Neville saved part of the day by beheading Voldemort's snake with Gryffindor's sword so that was pretty cool.

Then we hit the epilogue. We find out Ron and Hermione are married with kids, Harry and Ginny are married with three kids, and Hell, even Draco got married. Despite everything, the Malfoys are still a-okay to be out and about. Now, I do see why they weren't killed before (plot devices anyone?) but still. This family has shown a willingness to go to the dark side and they're walking around like nothing happened. Like they didn't help kill so many people and side with the bad guy. It's annoying. I mean, they didn't even get a slap on the wrist.

Again, no mention of the Dursleys. No mention on how George is doing without Fred or if he continued the joke shop. No mention of Hagrid, who the headmaster is for Hogwarts, nothing. After all the focus on the school over 7 books all we know is Neville is a teacher there. Also: Harry's worked up to be this decent wizard, said he was going to be a Auror (job's kind of mote without Death eaters anyway) and has a talent for Quiddich but do we know what he does for work? Nope. We don't know anything about the three except they got married and are sending their kids off to Hogwarts.

Even just one more paragraph would have answered all those questions. Yeah, great to know "all was well" but how well? Did George ever get married? How are the rest of the Weasleys? What about Luna and the other Gryffindors? The Dursleys? Kreacher and the House Elves?

The Negatives:

Besides those mentioned above, for a book pegged at young adults there is a lot of death in here. I find this holds true for Hunger Games and a few other popular series for young adults. I mean, I get the world can't be all peachy but Harry Potter is originally pegged for kids under 10. Yeah, they would've grown up by the seventh book but still.

Also: the neat little bow wasn't so neat. There are still points left uncovered after the epilogue which I guess is okay. Do we need to know who runs the school or what the trio is doing? I guess not but after seven books I would've liked to know something besides marriage and children. Hell, we don't even know what happens to Hagrid and his giant half-brother.

Were all the deaths needed? Not really. Hedwig, Mad Eye, Dobby, and Snape: yes. Fred, Lupin, and Tonks? Nope. Yeah people die in war but did we really need to make another orphaned kid right after Lupin finally becomes happy? Did we really need to rip apart the twins like that to show the horrors of this war? Not really. We knew the horrors. We saw the bodies in the Great Hall. We saw Lavender and Colin. Crabbe (though technically a bad guy) a bunch of death eaters, goblins, and the 50 dead Hogwarts students were all enough.

The other thing that bugs me is the way Harry treats the Deathly Hallows. He leaves the resurrection stone somewhere in the forest where anyone with enough balls can find it. He reburies the Elder Wand with no protection and he likely still has the cloak but we're never told. These are objects of immense power and he leaves them lying around. COME ON. Who's to say someone's NOT going to go grab the Elder Wand, come kill you with it, then take over the world?

That sucker should have been broken. The rock should've been tossed in the middle of the freaking ocean. And the cloak? Yeah, that's not as dangerous unless someone with the wrong ideas grabs it. I mean really. Most powerful objects in the world and just left around like nothing.

The book itself was quite dark and comparing this last one to the first one is like moon and sun. You'd never think book 1 could have developed into this theme-wise. I mean yeah, Voldemort would have eventually had to die and Harry would have had to suffer loss but not to this proportion, not in a book for kids.

Final Review: 3/5 for adults, 2/5 for the intended audience.

Until next time thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Writing Tip #16: Basic HTML For Writers

For those self-published authors who are doing it all I put together a handy-dandy cheat sheet for those thinking of formatting their own blogs, webpages, and whatever else without the help of a WYSIWYG editor. Let's start with the meaning of WYSIWYG: "What you see is what you get." You're going to be fine.

All HTML, CSS, etc is made up of TAGS. No, not the game you played as a kid. These are the end braces, brackets and other such do-hickies you've never had a use for. Depending on the coding language a tag can include: < > or ( ) or { } or [ ]. You'll mostly be using ( ) and <>. The first ( ) is mainly used in some internet forums. The second <> is used in actual HTML and websites.

The stuff that goes between those braces is the command for what you want your webpage to do. So <strong> means to make something BOLD. In word editing programs and WYSIWYG you hit Ctrl+b. If you're in Blogger or Wordpress and flip over to "HTML" instead of "Compose" then you'll see the tag in action.

Tags come in two parts: opening and closing. At the beginning of every bit of code you will see <command>stuff you want the command to effect </command> See the '/'? It tells the webpage to end the command. If you forget the closing tag, then whatever the command is will effect your entire webpage. Let's move onto some simple commands.

"Renna! I want to make something bold!"
Then you use <strong>Type in bold bits here </strong>

"Renna! I want to put something in italics!"
Then you use <em> Type in italized bits here </em>

"Renna! I want to underline something!"
<u>Underlined bits here</u>

"Renna! I want to strike-through something!"
<strike>Strike-through bits here</strike>

Not bad, huh? Of course, these can all be found at the top of any WYSIWYG editing platform. So, what about links and pictures? Links are usually at the top of your WYSIWYG editor and a little window pops up where you put your link and yay! all good. But, what happens when your link breaks or you've accidently included a word you didn't want to or, or you need to READ the HTML?

This is the body of a link:
<a href="#">Link text here </a>

The a href tells the website where to go. The # is the actual link. So:
<a href="">This blog's homepage </a>

YES, you need the quotes. YES you need the http:// No you don't necessarily need the 'www' YES you need to use an = sign. Anything missing from the tag and your link won't work. Fun fact: "a" stands for ANCHOR which is why in some WYSIWYG programs you'll see a little picture of an anchor instead of the word "link"

You want to look at an image tag? OKAY!

<img src="nameofimage.png/jpg/tiff" />

Confused? Don't worry, let's break it up. The picture tag is a self-closing tag and you can't see what it actually looks like until your preview your site. What's self-closing mean? You'll notice there's no ending tag and the / is INSIDE the >. That's self-closing.

img stands for image. src means source. You're basically telling the website "The image source is located between " "." Cool huh? Now, what's actually between our quotes? The name of your image and what format it's in: jpg, tiff, or png. Screw that up and your image won't display. You can host your images on alternate websites so your image tag might look like this:

<img src="" /> In which you have your website name and the name of your image. Nifty huh?

"Wait, how do you control the size of the image and where it goes?"

I'm glad you asked. The image tag can get complicated:

<img src="nameofimage.png" height="430px" width="430px" vspace="5" hspace="5" border="2" />

What's all this mean? The height and width are the height and width of your image in pixels. vspace and hspace are the vertical and horizontal space between your image and whatever else is on the page. Border is the border around your images.

"Wait, how do I center it?"

Oh, now we're getting complicated. USUALLY you can add align="center" in your self-closing image tag and call it a day. Mm, not so much in MOST web applications as you'll find out when you start fiddling.

See, every website you look at is controlled by a little something called div tags which look like this: <div> stuff </div>. What's a div tag? It's a DIVision of the webpage. What's in between those div tags is a small section of your website and yes, you can have div tags inside of div tags. It's how people get a website with a colored background and a white block on top.

If you've added images in your Blogger/Wordpress account via the little image...picture at the top of your screen, then lots of options come up. If you flip over to HTML mode, you'll see a <div> tag in action. This is what's used to make your image do what you want it to do and as someone who has coded webpages by hand: divs can be a saving grace and annoying as Hell.

The question of "How do I center this image?" depends on everything else going on in your page. Yeah, I know, it's complicated.

You know what's even more fun? You can make your images clickable! If you flip on over to my "Store Tab" you'll see all my book covers lined up in neat little rows and columns with a "Buy Now" button under them with text between the two images. Cool huh? Wanna see the code?

<tr style="height: 550px;">      

<a href=""><a href="" imageanchor="1"><img border="0" src="" /></a></a></center>
<div style="text-align: center;">
<i>Small Slice of the Undead</i> can ONLY BE BOUGHT in ebook form through Smashwords.
<a href=""><img src="" /></a></div>

<a href=""><a href="" imageanchor="1"><img border="0" src="" /></a></a></center>
<div style="text-align: center;">
<i>Apocalyptic</i> can ONLY BE BOUGHT in ebook form through Smashwords.
<a href=""><img src="" /></a></div>


Confused? Let's go through it. <table> and </table> create a you guessed it, table on your webpages. Fun fact: webpages used to be made entirely from tables back in the 90s. To make a proper table you need <tr> </tr> which is your table ROW. Inside that you need <td> and </td> which is your table DATA or columns. So, I have two <td> </td> tags inside a <tr> </tr> tag which means I have two columns in one row. That's not so bad, huh?

Hey look! There's our div tag! It's controlling the text that appears between my cover image and the "Buy now" image. What's that <center> </center> tag? It's what makes the cover image centered in the middle of the column in my table. See how there's a link tag wrapped around the img tag? THAT makes the image clickable. See that <i> </i>? That is the depreciated form of <em> </em> that makes something italics. It's still in use in some WYSIWYG editing programs and on some websites. 

What's the <tr style="height:550px;"> mean? That's telling the webpage to make my table ROWS 550px in height. Why did I use a table to make my store page instead of divs? It's way easier and keeps things neater, for me. It's personal preference really.

Now I know you're probably not going to use a lot of this information as most of you have a WYSIWYG editor for your blog and your website. Or you've hired someone. But, if it's the middle of the night and you've somehow gotten into HTML mode in your WYSIWYG, instead of panicking completely, you might be able to read the tags and figure out what to do.

If you really want to see some neat stuff, go to "View" and "Source" the next time you're on your favorite website. What will pop up in a new window is the coding behind that website. If you think the table was complex... ;)

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.