Grace's Mosaic Moments

Monday, May 28, 2012



I'm sure some of you will find it difficult to believe it’s necessary to state a few of the “No-no’s” below, but in the course of judging over 400 contest entries for chapters of the Romance Writers of America and perusing my editing work for Best Foot Forward, I’ve encountered some noteworthy errors. Some of the “DO NOTs” are general essentials. Others are based on actual errors I’ve seen in contests or in my editing work. They are all things you really do not want to do. I hope the list below will help newbies avoid some of the pitfalls of learning the craft of writing fiction.

1.    DO NOT try to write a romance until you’ve read extensively in the sub-genre of romance you want to write. That doesn’t mean you have to write exactly to formula, but understanding the tone of a line, or the feel of a publishing house, is essential to creating a saleable book.

2.    DO NOT try to get by with an inadequate word processing program. (MS Word and Word Perfect are the two giants of the industry.) And no matter what word processing program you use, you need to have a 2003 or later copy of MS Word for editing purposes. Word’s Track Changes is a fabulous editing tool used by almost every publishing house, and even a died-in-the-wool Word Perfect lover like me has to admit it!

3.    DO NOT use the formatting you used for college term papers. Use semi-colons and colons on rare occasions, preferably not at all. They are considered “academic.” Use automatic, not manual tab stops. And if you’re still writing in Courier at 25 lines per page, using underlines instead of italics, and a double hyphen for a dash, you are in danger of being considered obsolete before you’re ever published.  (For further details, please see my recent blog: Formatting Manuscripts for the 21st Century.)

4.    DO NOT throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Do not overload your story with three different sub-plots at the same time. Leave that for when you’ve become rich and famous and know how to handle it. Advice to beginners: keep it simple.

5.    Similarly, DO NOT write down the thoughts of each and every person in a scene. Even multi-published authors avoid all but the occasional “head hop.” Look at a scene through one person’s eyes at a time, usually those of the hero or heroine. Put your readers inside their heads. Let them see what the hero/heroine sees, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. Readers want to empathize with their h/h, feel their joy and sorrow, root for them to come out on top. To do that, you have to concentrate only on their point of view. “Side trips” detract from the story.

    Note: if you must change Point of View within a scene, try to do it near the middle, giving the other main character almost equal time. (This is not a general “rule,” merely a suggestion recorded here because it is one of the rules of a major e-publishing house.)

6.    To elaborate on Number 1 above, DO NOT obscure your narration, introspection,  dialogue, etc., in a waterfall of words.  Keep focused.  Readers do not want to know every last thing in your mind, in your research, in your characters’ lives. Write rich, not long. Write with color, but with clarity, not convolution.

7.    Conversely, DO NOT settle for “bare bones.” If you are the opposite of the author who drowns his/her story in a waterfall of words, one of those who rushes the story ahead so fast you end up with little more than an outline, STOP, take a deep breath; then go back and add the color (descriptions, settings, emotions, complexities of character, the “well-turned” phrases you missed the first time around.

8.    DO NOT use clich├ęs or other overworked expressions (example: "Bloody hell!"). Avoid anachronisms like the plague. (Anachronisms are those “out of era” zingers, such as having a zipper in a dress in 1802 or using 21st century slang in the early 19th c.)  

9.    DO NOT throw in a dialogue tag every time someone speaks. (A “tag” is: he/she said, asked, exclaimed, snapped, growled, etc.) If you have established who is speaking earlier in the paragraph, a tag isn’t necessary and just adds clutter. However, if the tag is needed for the rhythm of the sentence, then by all means use it. But do not feel you have to attribute every last quote. For example:

    Jed sat on the edge of his desk and tried to stare her down. “You’re kidding, right?”

10.    Conversely, DO NOT throw in half a page or more of dialogue with no tags at all. This leads to readers tearing their hair, going back to the top, counting down “He - She,” trying to figure out who said what. Just don’t do it!

11.    DO NOT use full sentences as dialogue tags. This is an absolute no-no for all authors, and yet it keeps cropping up.

    Right:    “Come on,” she cried as she ran down the hill.”
    Wrong:  “Come on,” Mary ran down the hill before the others.

12.    DO NOT put the words of more than one speaker in the same paragraph; i.e., start a new paragraph each time the speaker changes. Do not put the words of two different speakers in the same paragraph.

13.    DO NOT write a Third Person story without the hero’s point of view (in romance, writing without the heroine’s POV is unlikely).  And I mean, right from the beginning. Do not write three or four chapters without allowing the hero to have his say. Romance readers really love their heros. Ignore the hero’s POV at your peril. If you’re writing Women’s Fiction, okay, but not Romance. The hero and heroine don’t have to meet in the first chapter (except in short Category romance), but you need to introduce your hero early. (This is another rule you can bend when you’re rich and famous, but not as a beginner.)

14.    DO NOT turn an Exciting Plot into a Boring Book. Easier said than done, right? Here are a few things that might help.

    a.    DO NOT dwell on a lot of details that are irrelevant to the action. Focus on the story, on the emotions of your main characters, on the important secondary characters, on the characters’ interactions with each other and with the essentials of the plot. Every bit of narration and dialogue should move the story forward. Do not, for example, dwell on someone’s medical history, their extended social background, their great vacation last year - unless those things are important to the plot.

    b.    DO NOT fall into the trap of “Tell” instead of “Show.” If you play narrator, standing outside the story and “telling” readers what is happening, you’ve struck out. As mentioned in #5 above, let your two main characters (and sometimes the villain) “show” the story through their personal thoughts, dialogue, feelings, and actions. 

    c.    For a lot more on this subject, please see EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK, Parts 1 & 2. Also, my 2011 blogs, entitled Writing 101.   

15.    And lastly, DO NOT be so arrogant (or sensitive) about your work that you can’t accept criticism. (Yes, some will be wrong, but keep listening, you still might learn something.) Most importantly, learning to take criticism without freaking out is essential to success. Remember, if you give your editor too hard a time, it could be Bye-bye Career.

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As with all my Writing and Editing blogs, the above list only scratches the surface, but I hope some of you will find it helpful.

Thanks for stopping by. [And please take a peek at my books on Amazon Kindle, B&N's Nook & Smashwords (Smashwords offers a 20% free read.)]

Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft

Monday, May 21, 2012


A change of pace this week. I was editing one of my mysteries for indie publishing, and I realized the Prologue was an excellent mini profile of the town where many of my contemporary novels are set - the not-so-fictional Gulfcoast town of Golden Beach, Florida. The Prologue to Death by Marriage is a bit cryptic, but I hope those who are interested in my Romantic Suspense, Mysteries, and Thrillers will find it of interest. For those who have only read my historicals, maybe this peek at Golden Beach will intrigue you enough to want to try one of the following: Shadowed Paradise, Paradise Burning, Orange Blossoms & Mayhem, and (coming soon) Death by Marriage and Florida Knight.

Excerpt from Death by Marriage:


   Golden Beach is a Florida Gulfcoast town with miles of sandy beaches crested by heron, egrets, turkey-headed vultures, and snowbirds. The heron, egrets, and vultures are with us year-round.  The snowbirds are seasonal.  They migrate south by plane, train, and automobile between October and January and return to their northern habitats between April and June. A few—those less well endowed with green dead presidents—must sometimes confine themselves to a stay of one month. A sad circumstance, as unlike heron, egrets, and vultures, snowbirds are always in season. Hunted assiduously by both Florida natives and johnny-come-latelies for their fine northern plumage and their free-spending self-indulgence.
   Some say Golden Beach was named for the color of its sand, but, truthfully, ninety years ago it was one of the first planned retirement developments in the country. And I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion the town fathers were honoring a senior’s golden years rather than golden sand. Or maybe they were simply picturing the wealth the retirees would bring with them. Whatever. The town was named before the market crash of twenty-nine, the one that precipitated the Great Depression, and by that time it was too late to change the name to Deserted, Breadline, or Lost Cause.
   Golden Beach rose from the doldrums of hand-to-mouth existence only when the exuberant optimism of post-World War II exploded on the scene. And air conditioning. In two short months my grandparents (adopted) went from acres of oranges to a pink Mediterranean-style stucco mansion in the center of town.  Did Gramma cringe when the vast orange grove my family had owned for four generations was platted for the Gulfcoast’s largest trailer park?  Maybe. But after twenty years of hard times, she and Grampa probably just looked at their bank balance and smiled.
   I never got to walk the orange grove, smell the sweet scent of spring blossoms, or pick a rough-skinned orange off the tree. I grew up in that three-story stucco a block from city hall, four blocks from the library, and a million miles from nowhere. As a child, I was happy as a clam. As a teen, awareness struck.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, ever happened in Golden Beach. It was a dead-end far corner of the earth. I was young, young, young, trapped in a time warp where children should be seen and not heard. 
   Let me out of here!
   At seventeen I fled to the Rhode Island School of Design like a rocket into the wild blue yonder. Life glowed on the horizon like a great sun rising. Freedom was mine. The world awaited.
   Nine years later, emotionally battered, nearly down for the count, I came back. 
   Golden Beach. 
~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. Next blog (promise) - EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK - a list of "Don'ts"

Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft & edits as Best Foot Forward (

Sunday, May 13, 2012


The "Steampunk" I've been talking about for some time now is finally out, and I know some of you may be asking, "What on earth is Steampunk?" A quick, highly personal definition might be: alternative history set in a dark, gritty period c. 1875-1910. Stories are often centered around Britain & continental Europe and feature steam machines and intricate clockwork devices. The most well-known symbol of the period:  the airship (dirigible). The human attitudes, however, are more "punk." Modern concepts, such as female equality, exaggerated garb, communication devices, and even "computers" crop up in Steampunk.

Airborne - The Hanover Restoration, however, is a  Steampunk "What if." I asked myself how it all began, say, forty or fifty years earlier than most Steampunk novels. And since I was accustomed to writing Regencies, I extended the "feel" to the next generation and set my story in 1840. Basically, Airborne is a traditional Regency, set twenty years later, and with a bit of more drama than most trads. A 20% free read is available at Smashwords.

There is also a partial free read on Kindle.  Hopefully, most of my Regency fans will enjoy the Regency feel, and my Suspense fans will enjoy the drama of the restoration of the Hanoverian dynasty to the British throne.

Miss Araminta Galsworthy travels to the home of her new guardian, Baron Julian Rochefort, an inventor like her father, only to find herself hastily married, shot at, and attacked by evangelicals who consider her husband's airship the work of the devil. She is also expected to play hostess to a bevy of guests, all of whom seem to be engaged in treason. Their intent: restore the monarchy, which was seized eleven years earlier by the Duke of Wellington, now Lord Protector of the Realm.  Minta finds the concept shocking, as she was only ten when Wellington took over the government. Lord Rochefort's enemies are now legion:  rival aeronauts from the continent, rival monarchists who want to place the Duke of Cumberland on the throne (or possibly the Duke of Cambridge). And a wily Wellington, who has allowed an already autocratic nature to grow into despotism over the course of his reign.

Minta struggles to adjust to new friends, new enemies, a new husband. To the concept of being an integral part of a revolution. Not easy for a girl just shy of her majority. But she finds her way past all obstacles, to become an important part of the great day when Lord Rochefort sets down Aurora, the world's first airship, in Hyde Park. All does not go as planned, however, and Minta almost loses her chance to live a life where she, not Aurora, is the center of her husband's universe.

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Thanks for stopping by.

Coming next: another installment of EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK (a list of Don'ts)

Sunday, May 6, 2012


                                                             For Print & e-Pub

I never thought to get this basic in the EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK series, but the first thing any author needs before writing, let alone editing, can begin is a properly formatted manuscript. Yet the manuscripts I see coming in to the many contests I judge (and some of the manuscripts I get from my editing clients) reveal that someone needs to list the basics of formatting for today’s market. Authors are invited to use Comments below to add items I’ve left out. (Or e-mail me at

Please note that these rules are for manuscripts, not for books being formatted for indie publishing. The rules below are for:  1) creating manuscripts for submission to NY editors and agents; 2) creating a manuscript for submission to an e-publisher; 3) creating a manuscript, which can be easily read, edited, revised, and polished before you get down to the final step of formatting for indie publishing.

Classic Formatting Rules (which many newbies seem not to know):

1.    1" margins all around

2.    Double space - manuscript & synopsis

3.    Title and Page Number in the Header - usually Title flush left & Page Number flush right. (Wherever you put the title, the Page Number is always flush right.)  Note: if you are certain you will submit only to e-publishers, and if you never print your manuscript so you can edit hardcopy, then page numbers can be omitted. But I really don’t advise it. They’re easy enough to eliminate when you don’t need them any more.

4.    Put a Required Page End (Page Break) at the end of each chapter. (Frankly, I’m stunned by the number of authors who don’t seem to know this.) DO NOT use “Enter” to get to a new page. Besides making your manuscript look highly unprofessional, it messes up your editing. Every time you add or subtract words from the page, the chapter end will likely shift, making a real mess! (I bolded this header because so many authors seem unaware of this absolute basic formatting rule.)

5.    Location & Date Line - still flush left & in italics 
    Note: this means if you’re using Auto Indents, you have to highlight the Location & Date & remove the indent on that line. [Format - Paragraph -  By - change .5 to 0]

6.    DO NOT use a block paragraph at the beginning of each scene. For one thing, that’s BOOK format, not manuscript format and looks pretentious. Secondly, it’s really annoying to take the extra time and effort to do this when you’ve set up the Auto Indents that are required in contemporary publishing. (See below.)

7.    Long quotes, such as letters (3 lines or more). Indent .5 from each side. Use italics (no quotes).

8.    Single quotes are only used when INSIDE double quotes (as in dialogue). If there is a quote in a narrative passage, use double quotes.

9.    A single space after each sentence. This is nothing to get upset about if you were taught, as I was, to use two spaces. Don’t agonize over retraining your fingers. Type the way you always have. At the end of the book, simply run a Search and Replace. Search for: space space. Replace with: space. (You make the “spaces” by hitting the spacebar.) In a matter of seconds a vast number of spaces will have disappeared.

Relatively Recent Rule Changes - some much too long in coming!

1.    Times New Roman, 12 or 14. (And I really don’t advise using anything else. For example, you might be sending your ms to a computer which doesn’t support the type font you chose.)

2.    Use Italics, not Underlines where italics are needed.

3.    Use computer word count (which means forget all that malarkey about 25 lines to the page!)

4.    Auto Indents only (in MS Word, this is done by Format- Paragraph - Special - First Line Indent - By .5) For indie authors, in particular: be sure you have NO manual tab stops anywhere. (For MS Word users, click on ¶ in the toolbar and look for the icon that looks like a sideways L with an arrow point. Get rid of every one of them!) [For instructions on converting manual tabs to auto tabs in both MS Word and Word Perfect, please see the archives of this blog: - Tab Conversion]

5.    Use M-dashes and N-dashes instead of a double hyphen or space-hyphen-space.
    In general, use a M-dash for a true dash, the shorter N-dash for a “stutter.” (For example, when someone is stumbling over what to say.) You can find both dashes under Insert - Symbols. Faster & easier are the old ASCII codes. Use Alt + the numbers on your keypad.
    M-dash = Alt + 0151      N-dash = Alt + 0150

6.    Ellipses are a genuine puzzle. I’ll stick with the classic ellipsis in the Chicago Manual of Style, which is three periods with a space before, after, and in between each one . . .
    Some E-publishers, however, have arbitrarily decided to take out the periods...making the implied pause into a hiccup. A better compromise, I would suggest, is the three periods with a space before ... and after. Frankly, why anyone would want to change the standard ellipsis is beyond me. Whatever style you choose, just be sure you are consistent. If you are indie publishing, the choice is yours. If you are submitting to a publisher, their copy editor will use the rules the house approves.

7.    Today’s manuscripts are submitted electronically in RTF.  (Rich Text Format) [This is a simple “Save As” function.] Read the agent’s &/or publisher’s guidelines (or contest guidelines) carefully before submitting. Each is a little different, and following directions exactly counts.

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Thanks for stopping by!
Coming soon: AIRBORNE - THE HANOVER RESTORATION, a Steampunk "what if" in Regency style.
More in the EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK series