Sans Forgetica

Here, read this poem. When you’ve finished, read the stuff I’ve written below and answer the question. This is going to be goooood!The font

Earlier today, when writing that previous blog post and searching for ‘fonts for writing memories’, I came across a font called Sans Forgetica. It was absolutely in no way related to what I was looking for, but interesting nevertheless. And so, in the interests of not doing what I was supposed to be doing, I read more.

Sans Forgetica is a font ‘designed using the principles of cognitive psychology to help you to better remember your study notes’. It was designed (by scientists, no less!) to be harder to read than most fonts because that extra difficulty forces your brain to work harder to extract the meaning in the words, and that extra effort means you better remember what you read.

RMIT university have released Sans Forgetica for free and are saying it’ll help students remember more of what they study before an exam period. They have done research to back this up (though it may not be published yet–I can see any published papers on it).

More importantly, though: I am in the middle of my own experiment. Inspired by this unforgettable font, I downloaded it and wrote the poem above in Sans Forgetica. If it really works, then tell me:

What is the third word on the fourth line of the poem?


Punctuation & fonts for speech & thoughts

Below are some rules I have adopted as my own standard for punctuating/formatting speech and thought. I had never had problems with this while writing shorter stories, but with this book (now around 100K words), I have too much variety of narrative style to handle organically.

  1. Direct speech = ” ”
    (Speech occurring at the time of the narrative)
    This is actually opposite to the standard British style of using ‘ ‘, and more in line with North American style, but I don’t like the use of ‘ being the same as apostrophes, especially as it result in nasty sentences like:
    >  ‘Those sweets are the kids’.’
    >  ‘It’s Al’s.’.
  2. Quotations = ‘ ‘
    (When a character says or remembers what another character said)
    Worth noting that if you use ‘ ‘ rather than ” ” for direct speech, then this rule is reversed.
  3. General thoughts = standard font
    (Thoughts/opinions ascribed to a character, but not presented as ‘direct thoughts’)
    By ‘general thoughts’, I am meaning things like:
    >  Tom thought she looked tired.
    >  She looked tired, Tom thought.
    But not:
    >  She looks tired, Tom thought.
  4. Direct thoughts = italic font
    (Basically, direct speech, but in a character’s head)
    This is where it gets tricky. By ‘direct thoughts’, I mean things like:
    She looks tired, Tom thought.
    In this case, the narrative aim is to have the thought appear directly as if thought by the character, rather than the narrator reporting it. I have toyed with: i) getting rid of these entirely in favour of always using ‘general thoughts’–but there are times when direct thought feels right; ii) using standard font instead, but then you really can’t use present tense–it just looks like a mistake.
    Here’s a little article about it.
  5. Memory sections/flashbacks = italic font
    (Whole sections of the story that appear as memories ascribed to one character)
    Here’s the reason I had to think about this whole thing more formulaically. I have one chapter where various things the character does evoke memories. The structure is like: A, B, A, B…, where A=a section at the time of the story and B=a memory section. However, each of these sections includes multiple paragraphs, so I couldn’t just say ‘He thought: ‘ or ‘He remembered a time when…”.
    I have found places that say that italics are not the way to present flashbacks, and I can’t say that I disagree. But for what I’m writing now, it seems the most appropriate. That said, I agree with this piece, which says use of flashbacks is something to be avoided when possible! So, the next thing I do: no flashbacks!

Novel lengths

In a cafe finding reasons not to be productive, and I think doing a blog post could be a really good one!

After a relatively long period of relatively high writing productivity, my mind flits back to the length of what I’m writing (in blog terms, it’s not so far back I was thinking of this). Now ‘the novel’ is up to 96,000 words and I estimate I’ve got about 30% left to write, so the final, unedited first draft will probably be about 130K words. As I have, at various points, thought it would be a 1000-word flash story, a 14K-word short story, a 40K novella, and 80K shortish novel and a 100K-word novel, I’m now wondering: i) Is 130K appropriate, and ii) How much editing do I need to do to get it within acceptable bounds?

Here’s a good blog that gives the reasons why knowing and hitting the appropriate length is important (and here’s another with a similar view). In short, firstly, it’s a throwback to when all books were published on paper and had to be wide enough that the information of the spine could be seen but not so wide as to take up too much space or cost too much money to produce. More importantly, though, people judge & choose the books they buy by how long they are.

Mine is somewhere between general, mystery and science fiction, so appropriate lengths are:

  • General Fiction – 75,000 – 100,000
  • Mystery – 75,000 – 90,000
  • Science Fiction– 90,000 – 120,000

So, 75-120K is the range, but ideal should be towards the lower end of that, and, really, anything over 100K must be well justified.

Drat! I’m going to have to do some hardcore editing for length!

It interested me to see the list of lengths of well-known novels in that first blog. Here are a few that stood out to me, plus a few more I added:

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – 561,304 words — I read this years ago and it took AGES!
  • Ulysses by James Joyce – 262,869 words (source) — This is sitting on my shelf at home, but I haven’t read it yet… because it looks too long!
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling – 257,045 words — The longest of the Potters… though it was a breeze to read.
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King — 152,270 words — I just re-read this last month and it was so easy to read that it felt much shorter.
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – 95,356 words — I’ve always thought of this as a really short book, contrasted with Brave New World, for example, which felt really long to me, but is only 65K.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – 85,141 words
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – 76,944 words — The first two Potter novels, both around the 80K recommended length, and, interestingly, already showing the trend of getting longer with subsequent novels.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – 64,531 words
  • Carrie by Stephen King — 60,718 words — Far shorter than is typical for King, but it was his first published one.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – 46,333 words — Gosh! So short for a sci-fi!
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – 29,966 words — Such a surprise that this is so short. I used to recommend this to my English (as a foreign language) students because it’s easy to read but with a tremendous story.

Looking at lengths of famous books, the thing that strikes me is that some of the shorter books that I didn’t enjoy much (Brave New World, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby) felt longer than longer ones I did (The Hobbit, The Dead Zone, Harry Potter). I guess it is important to write well!

I’m also surprised that my story has already gone beyond a standard first novel length. I never thought it would be a long book… there’s a lesson in brevity to be learnt here.

To conclude, I’m going to avoid concluding and leave myself a link to another page by the same blogger that provides a checklist of things to consider while editing your book.

Collecting robot stories

I love robot stories (as you might gather from some of the things I’ve had published). The other week I was in the local bookshop after a robot book and found a collection of classic A.I. short stories. Unfortunately for the publishers, it struck me it would be cheaper to take a picture of the contents page then look them up myself, so here we go (along with some others I’ve dug up in the process):