Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Two Spaces After a Period

Thriller Guy thought he'd step in here because he knows A. Appel doesn't have the stones to properly address this important topic: Those dinosaurs who are still putting two spaces after a period.

Berkeley Breathed has done a number of strips on his web page devoted to this topic. Over the years, TG has asked on these pages that those of you who are still doing this, please stop. As always, you're not listening. TG notes that for each of the strips Breathed has done on the topic, especially the Sunday strips, there have been 40 to 50,000 likes, comments, and shares. Yes, that is the correct number. And most of the comments are of the variety, "You can have my two spaces when you pry them from my cold, dead hands." That's a lot of people who are delusional.

People, writers, who do this should just tack a message at the beginning of their manuscripts that speaks directly to the YOUNG editors, agents and readers who are reviewing their query letters, partial and complete manuscripts or any other communications that has come across their desk, via email, snailmail or in any other written form. That message says, "I am old. I am clinging to outdated rules. My work will be old fashioned. My ideas are unoriginal. I am a loser."

Go ahead, howl with indignation. Gnash your self-righteous teeth. If you'd like a kinder, longer explanation why you have to stop doing this, read this web article.

Not long ago, one of the agent sites TG likes to look at on occasion ran a piece written by an agent about how he judges manuscripts. The sentence read something like this, "When I open a manuscript, and I see that the writer is using two spaces after a period, I throw it in the trash." You think that's kind of harsh? If you've got a slush pile of fifty manuscripts to work your way through, you'll use any shortcut you can find to winnow out the "bad" ones. Agents and editors don't have the time to read all the submissions that flood in on them every day. It's your job to write the best book you can write, and present it in the best possible manner. 

Years ago, TG used to do the two spaces thing. His son, TG Junior, laughed and gave him the scoop on the practice. TG quit. It took about a day to replace the habit with a single space. TG wishes he could say from that moment on his manuscripts found instant homes and the money poured in. They didn't, and it didn't. But you know what?

His writing no longer made him look like an old fool.

So keep it up if you think you must, there are thousands like you. You know who they are, they're called the unpublished.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


While guiding my skiff through the backwaters of cable tv the other night, I stumbled across an old movie I had never see before. Across the Pacific, starring Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and Mary Astor. I’m not recommending the movie as being fabulous, or even very good, but it did offer me a moment’s revelation.

It’s set in 1941 and Bogey plays a disgraced Coast Guard officer who is on a boat headed to China where he hopes to enlist to fight the Japanese. Also on the boat are Aster, who doesn’t seem to have any function in the story other than looking good, and Greenstreet, who isn’t very fat in this one, but who is an enemy spy. The ship is held up in Panama, and all go ashore. Some stuff involving perfidious Japanese spies occurs, and Bogey ends up shooting it out with Japanese soldiers who are launching an airplane whose mission is to bomb the canal. He is successful in stopping them.

At some point in the movie – I was beginning to drift off in my chair -- Bogey is being questioned about some action he has taken and he says these words to justify what he’s done: “A dame gave me a bum steer.” That snapped me awake. What a great noir line. I started listening to the dialogue, which was way above normal snappy:

Astor (to Bogey): “I can do without money.”
Bogart: “Stick with me and you’ll get plenty of practice.”

Bogart and Greenstreet both pull guns on each other at the same time: Bogart: “Mine’s bigger than yours.”

At that point I looked the movie up to see who had written it. Richard Macaulay, who was later a “friendly witness” in the McCarthy hearings, which I guess is neither here nor there, but interesting. Macaulay wrote some other noir movies, among them Born to Kill, which pretty much everyone agrees is both terrible and reprehensible. Sample dialogue: "You can't just go around killing people when the notion strikes you. It's just not feasible." You can read about Across the Pacific here on Wikipedia.

The point of my rambling isn’t the movie, it’s that line: “A dame gave me a bum steer.” I’ve been talking in this blog lately about where writers come up with ideas. It’s question that always gets asked because it’s so damn important. Some writers can crank out a story by coming up with a particular character, and some might fall in love with a place and craft a story that fits into it, but most of us need an idea, and the more original the better. This is especially true if you’re a thriller writer. But it strikes me that sometimes it might be better to start with a broader concept and hone it from general to specific. In this case the concept is, yes, you guessed it… “A dame gave me a bum steer.” How many noir books and movies have been grounded in that simple statement? And how many more can take flight from that one sentence?
So the next time you’re wrestling with an idea for a new project, start with a bigger theme and work smaller. (A man hates his father: Why? That might be a good take-off point for a time travel series.)

Let’s see… A naked, muscular man is being interviewed. In the background is a naked woman with an aggrieved look on her face. A snake hangs from a branch of a nearby tree.

Interviewer: “Adam, just how is it that you’ve come to be cast out from the Garden of Eden?”

Adam: “A dame gave me a bum steer.”