Stef's Captivating Opening Comp 2015

Without a doubt, the most important component of a novel is its opening – for unless you get the reader immersed and on board from the get-go they will quickly move on to the next (free) preview available on book sites such as Amazon's. And this was the case even before the advent of electric publishing. In bookstores, readers absorb the blurb on the jacket, and then open the book and read the first few paragraphs before either opting to buy or putting it back on the shelf.

The 2014 competition revealed lots of exciting new and established authors and with this in mind Stef is re-staging this fun competition in 2015, the prize comprising a 3-month "Set and Forget" Twitter promotion package from our sister site (usu. $375) and also a special featured article on, which attracts around 65,000 readers per month. In addition to this, your book cover and link to your sales page or website will be added to our sidebar for three months (usu. $297) and will also be included in's Bookstore – for a whole year!

Update Feb 21: Wow! the competition is hot already, with some strong contenders, so I will be awarding a few other entries a prize of a 1-month "Set and Forget" promotion package.

The entry process is simple: In the comments field below, post the Book Title and Author name of your novel, or one you recommend, and Stef will read the opening, much like he would in a bookstore or when buying a novel from Amazon (by using their "click to look inside" facility). Also supply your Twitter username, if you have one. Previous entrants may apply. Just one book per author, please (Stef will only read the first one listed.) All genres are eligible.

There is no point in multiple posting, or even recommending one already entered, because the object is to get Stef to read the opening (this is not a vote-oriented competition). Closing date for submissions is 1st May 2015, the winner to be announced (here and on Twitter) in mid June and featured on in July. The "Set and Forget" monthly promotion package can be started any time during 2015, and will run for three months thereafter. For nominated entries, the prizes and adjudication are subject to the author's approval, of course.

The novel must be on Amazon Kindle to qualify.

Keep it simple in the comments field: just state the Book Title, Author Name, Twittername – Stef will ignore any blurb, including on Amazon, and will get straight to reading the opening in Amazon's preview.


No correspondence will be entered into, so no daft questions, please...and please don't post your email in our comments field unless you love being spammed by third parties. Stef will either contact the winner direct via Twitter or invite the winner to contact us via our email address when the winner is announced by @TweetYourBooks and @WriteIntoPrint.

Good Luck!

Please Tweet and g+1 the competition below :-)

Click HERE to read about last year's winner: Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel.


Top Typo-busting Tips

Using “Find and Replace” in Word is a useful tool for identifying common typos and homophones and formatting nits. All writers have their “pet nits” and it advisable to keep a list of your own so that you can run a check for them before the final edit. It’s much easier to spot a particular typo by searching through the document than reading it as a proofreader (the brain has an auto-correct facility, which is why proofreading is so much more difficult than one imagines.)

To instigate a nit search in Word, press the F5 key on your keyboard to get the Find and Replace window up:

Type in the search word and keep pressing the “Find Next” button until you have searched the whole document. You can also type the correct spelling into the “Replace” field, which is very useful if you decide to change a character’s name, for example.

This may seem rather tedious but it's well worth the couple of hours it takes, particularly if you are unsure of a word spelling. For example, “baited breath” is wrong “bated breath” is right – so look up any spellings you are unsure of in a dictionary, then add them to your search.

Below is a common nit/homophone check list – followed by a couple of tricks for spotting missing periods and uppercase errors in he said/she said dialogue tags (He said is wrong because the sentence has yet to end) and also how to fix “Yes Sir.” etc. to “Yes, sir.” (notice the added address comma as well).

advice advise
affect effect
aid aide
alter altar
an and
ball *bawl (*cry or shout)
bare bear
base bass
bated baited
begun began
birth berth
born borne (usually born)
brake break
breath breathe
breech breach broach
cant can't
chose choose
clamor clamber (ed) (ing)
compliment complement (ary) (ed)
conflicting conflicted
cord chord
council counsel
course coarse
creak creek
currant current
decent descent
de rigor = de rigeur
desert dessert (it's just deserts, not just desserts)
discreet discrete (ly)
disinterested uninterested
dominate dominant
draft draught drought
dual duel
dye die
each other *one another (*more than two)
elicit illicit
elude allude
exited excited
fair fare fear (ed)
flair flare
forbid forbade
form from
forward *foreword (*introduction in a book)
four for fir fourth forth
hanger hangar
hoard horde
hurtled hurled
if of or
its it's
jam jamb
knight night
know known
lay lie laid
leach leech
led lead
lessen lesson
lets let's
lightning lightening
lose loose
main man mainly manly
meat meet mete
mined mind
miner minor
misled mislead
mother lode (not mother load or motherload)
nit knit
of off
pail pale (it's beyond the pale)
pair pear pare
palate pallet
past passed
peak peek
pedal peddle
pour pore poor
principle principal
profit prophet
queue cue
quit quite quiet
rack wrack (ed-ing) (nearly always rack)
rained reigned
raise raze
ran run rub
retch wretch
rode rose rise ride
roll role
safe-deposit box - not safety
sang sung
she he
shear sheer
sigh sign
site sight (and cite)
slight sleight
spilt split
stationery stationary
straight *strait (*narrow water channel or difficulty--usu. pl)
Styrofoam (insulation block) polystyrene (cup)
suite suit
team teem
the they
their there they're
then than that
though thought through tough
to too two
vain vein vane
*vise vice (*clamping device - U.S. usage)
wet whet (it's whet your appetite)
where were we're
who whom
who's whose
wrung rung rang
your you're

F5 searches: To find and replace hyphens for en dashes: type into the “Find” field: a space a hyphen and a space and type into the “Replace” field: a space, then select “en dash” from the “Special” menu and then type in another space. It is advisable to click through using the “Find Next” button and replace them as you go through rather than all at once. You can also type in a space then ^= then another space as can be seen in the picture below.

The same can be done to replace double hyphens, usually with an em dash: type in two hyphens in the “Find” field and select em dash in the “Replace” field (or type: ^+).

To find He said She said uppercase errors use the “Match case” checkbox as in the picture below *but remember to uncheck this box for other searches*.

Use “Match case” to find uppercase errors of the term “sir”, which should almost always be in lower case, Type in: Sir – at the same time check for missing address commas, which are common in short dialogue; e.g. “Yes, sir.” is correct, not “Yes sir.”

Missing periods at the end of paragraphs are common and hard to spot; in the "Find" field, select "Any Letter" and "Paragraph Mark" from the "Special" menu, or type in ^$^p and search for them using the "Find Next" button.

Missing periods and commas at the end of dialogue: We have to make two searches ("Find Next") to identify these. To find them in the middle of paragraphs, type:  ^$" and a space character into the "Find" field.

To find them at the end of paragraphs type: ^$"^p 

The former search will also identify quotation-type instances (e.g. John said I was "fussifying" things but I was just being careful) so care should be taken. These two searches will not work if you use single speech marks.

Missing spaces after commas and periods:

To find missing spaces after periods, type into "Find":  ^$.^$ (or Any Letter then a period then Any Letter if using the "Special" menu).

To find missing spaces after commas, type into "Find":  ^$,^$ (or Any Letter then a comma then Any Letter if using the "Special" menu).

Compound number nits are common (e.g. twenty three should read twenty-three) and the way to check for these is to type: twenty and then a space character in the "Find" field; this will make them easy to spot (follow up with thirty thru ninety).

Backwards speech marks after dialogue intervention en or em dashes are common because Word requires that the closing speech mark is added *before* the en/em dash is inserted: e.g.:

“Sorry, James, but–“

“Sorry, James, but

To find these for en dashes, type ^="^p into the "Find" field (or use the "Special" menu to select the en dash and paragraph mark) and for em dashes, type: ^="^p

Once we find and fix the first occurrence in the search (by adding the en/em dash *after* the closing speech mark) we can copy it (Ctrl and C) and paste it (Ctrl and V) over any following reversed speech marks that occur as we use the "Find Next" button to identify them.

For advanced users of Find/Replace there is a trick to do it globally:

First, check there are no # characters in the document, if not, type into the "Find" field either the en or em dash characters and a speech mark and a paragraph mark: ^="^p or ^+"^p and replace with: #"^p

We then select the "Replace All" option.

The next step is to replace all the # characters we just put in with an en/em dash: put a # character into the "Find" field and an en/em dash into the "Replace" field (^= or ^+)

We then select the "Replace All" option.

I hope this article is of use to you, and if you have any tips of your own please leave them in the Comments box (or any other common typos you are aware of).

To clean up formatting nits, please see our Eradicate Manuscript Nits article first, which will result in a more accurate search of all of the above, and also our Layout Tips article, which has a free Word template download that is Kindle/epub friendly.

Self Editing for Fiction #9 ~ Sophistication

Sliding off of his bunk, Richard slipped on a dirty T-shirt that lay on the floor and hastily acquired a fresh pair of boxer shorts from his bedside table before circumnavigating the accumulated piles of junk strewn all over his bedroom floor to find out who the f*ck was bothering him at this ungodly hour. Ricky was not the tidiest of people, and certainly not a morning person.
As he looked at his Rolex Cosmograph Daytona wristwatch, he went into the kitchen and splashed some water over his pounding head. If only that f*cking jerk would stop ringing the doorbell! he thought.

This passage I cobbled together contains quite a few style sins. I will list them in order.

‘as’ and ‘-ing’ constructions: starting too many sentences with these is nowadays regarded as hack writing by some industry professionals – plus, the simultaneity they sometimes suggest makes many of them technically impossible. In the first sentence Richard dons a T-shirt and rummages in his bedside table *at the same time* as he slides off his bunk. Similarly, in the second paragraph he’s looking at his wristwatch all the while he’s going to the kitchen and splashing water over his head. There are, of course, instances where they are suitable, but be careful not to overdo their use, and look out for simultaneity paradoxes.

Word order: it is always worth checking for ambiguity: Richard ‘slipped on a T-shirt’ can be read two ways – he can put it on or actually lose his footing. ‘Slipped a T-shirt on’ is an easy fix here (though other fixes in the first sentence are also required).

Profanity: is usually best kept to a minimum and (generally) restricted to dialogue only. The reader soon tires of serial cussing for the sake of it – a single F-bomb in the entire novel can have far more effect on the reader than a hundred of them. Soft profanity is generally advised in Interior Monologue and Point of View, such as ‘heck’, ‘hell’, or even a more active adjective, such as ‘persistent jerk’ in the second paragraph.

Exclamation marks: avoid using them unless a character is shouting in dialogue – and never splice a load of ’em together!!!

Consistency: be careful not to confuse the reader by switching from Richard to Ricky – as a reader I’m often wrong-footed by contractions or nicknames given to the character’s name (usually in another character’s dialogue).

Overt explanation: any reader with a brain will infer that Richard is untidy and a late sleeper without being told as much – don’t make the reader feel patronized by stating the obvious.

Product placement: is even a sin of many iconic thriller authors – they seem to be unable to resist regaling us with Jimmy Choo, Rolex, and/or their favorite vehicle and exclusive resorts. The odd placement is acceptable but making the novel read like a Vogue magazine irritates more readers than it impresses. Here is an excerpt from the salient Self Editing for Fiction Writers courtesy Renni Browne and Dave King:

“… We once worked on a manuscript in which the hero drove a Porsche Targa. Evidently this was the author’s dream car, because he mentioned it every chance he got. After forty or fifty pages of “hopping in the Targa,” and “taking the Targa to the Hendrick’s,” and “running the Targa out to Long Island,” one of our editors took to writing “Just call it the car!” in the margins. …”

Other considerations:

Avoid using certain types of vernacular in your narrative – e.g. ‘Sliding off of his bunk’ does not need the of at all; always check for redundant vernacular as you edit.

Avoid using repetitive beats: I once became so tired of reading about an MC making coffee every other scene, I wrote in an edit where the coffee machine exploded…

Once is usually enough: try to avoid telling the reader things more than once – credit them with having a brain; check for repetition as you edit.

~ ~ ~

It’s hard to make the example above into killer prose, so I won’t bother – but here’s a less crappy version:

Ricky slid off his bunk, grabbed a dirty T-shirt from the floor and slipped it on. He rummaged in his bedside table for a fresh pair of boxers, then circumnavigated
the junk strewn over his bedroom floor. Who the hell could be bothering him at this ungodly hour?
He peered at his wristwatch, went into the kitchen, and splashed some water over his pounding head. If only that persistent jerk would stop ringing the doorbell…

~ ~ ~

There are many more aspects of sophistication and I welcome any feedback about them in the comments field.