Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How to How-To: Part 5b - Using Callouts and Captions in Art

To describe the parts or the whole of an illustration, use callouts and captions. You do not have to include both in an illustration.
Callouts are brief (one to five words) labels or descriptions of each part of an illustration that you want to emphasize, or “call out,” to readers. You can place callout text close to the part of the illustration it describes (connected by a callout line), like this:
Or you can place the callout text in a table, and refer to corresponding numbers that you place in the illustration. A table is useful when the callouts are longer than five words, or when the callout text will be localized or translated for international audiences. (If the text is part of the graphic, the illustration will have to be recreated to display the translated callout text.)
A caption is a sentence or phrase that appears above or below an illustration to describe or label the art as a whole, like this:
Tire with a puncture
Note: Use an accepted or consistent style for capitalization and punctuation in callouts and captions throughout your manuscript.
Tips for using art
Take a few pages from a manuscript you’re working on. How and where you could enhance the text with art? What types would work best? As you begin to incorporate art into your text, keep the following points in mind:
  • Place the art in your text where it will help readers best. For example, place a photo of the Tour d’Eiffel directly below or beside the paragraph that mentions it.
  • For conceptual art that uses icons or symbols, include a key (either in the illustration or as part of the caption).
  • To identify people in a photograph, use either of these standard directions: front row first, left to right; or clockwise, left to right.
  • You do not have to draw the art or take the photographs. Find an illustrator or photographer to do that work. Most often, the publisher hires an illustrator, so be sure to describe the illustrations accurately, or provide sketches of your ideas.
  • If you’re working with a publication, publishing house, or printer, ask how you should deliver art files with your manuscript.
  • If you’re designing, authoring, and publishing the piece yourself, read the user guides or online Help of your software programs to learn how to create and incorporate graphics files into the manuscript.
Happy sketching!
Copyright ©2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to How-To: Part 5a - Combining Art with Text

When integrated correctly, art enhances the text, and text illustrates the art. Working together, art and text become one dynamic duo.

Have you ever tried to explain something to another person and, after several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts, said, “Let me draw you a picture”?, and suddenly the proverbial light went on?

Can you remember one illustration from a beloved childhood storybook that still evokes the essence of the story?
When you ask for driving directions, do you prefer the text, the map, or both?
Art can be a powerful enhancement and learning tool for your readers. This post explains how to combine art and text to add value to your words and help your readers easily grasp what you want to convey.
Strolling through the gallery
You can use several types of art in your text, and each type serves a particular purpose. Here are some of the most common types of art and the best places to use them.
  • Photographs provide readers with accurate depictions of people, places, things, and events. When you include a photograph, be sure to identify it correctly, either in the surrounding text or in the caption. Spell the names of people and places correctly and, if appropriate, include dates and other important facts.
Marilyn at the beach
  • Screenshots appear liberally in software user guides to show readers the state of a computer screen during a process or task. As readers follow the steps, they can compare their computer screen with the screen shot in the user guide to see if they’re doing the task correctly. If they aren’t, they can correct the error before getting into more trouble. You can use a full screen shot, or crop the file to highlight a particular portion of the screen. Place screen shots where readers will need to see them—not too early and not too late in the steps. To help readers fully understand the point of a screen shot, use callouts, a caption, or both.

Your chart now looks like this
  • An architectural drawing provides an accurate, detailed rendition of an actual item. (Think of a drawing of a computer, or a dresser or table after assembly.) Unlike a photograph, which shows everything about the item, an architectural drawing highlights only the parts your readers need to be concerned with. To increase the drawing’s usefulness, include callouts, a caption, or both with an architectural drawing.

A relic: VCR
  • Conceptual art illustrates an idea or concept and can take many different forms. Often, concept art distills a complex idea, concept, task, or process into a simple, graphical metaphor that readers can grasp immediately. It can be a spare, single drawing of an idea, or a combination of photographs and architectural drawings that together explain an entire process.
Here’s an example of conceptual art illustrating the evaporation-precipitation cycle:

Notice how the conceptual drawing in the following example emphasizes the information about making meatballs:

Measure one rounded tablespoon of the meatball mixture for each meatball.

This conceptual drawing illustrates how ideas are sparked:
  • Blow-out diagrams area type of conceptual art that shows how something (such as a picture frame) is assembled. These drawings get their name from the exaggerated amount of space shown between each part—as if they’ve been “blown out” or “blown apart” from each other. Readers can study a blow-out diagram and understand how the various parts, including hardware, fit together.

  • Decorative art often appears in gift books and books for younger readers. Decorative art breaks up chunks of text and complements and enhances a book’s theme or personality. Hearts, flowers, birds, butterflies, stars, crosses, shapes, festoons, and patterns are just a few examples of decorative art.
Next time, I'll show you how to use callouts and captions with your art, and give you more tips for using art with your text. Until then, happy sketching!

Copyright ©2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to How-To: Part 4 - Organizing with Tables

Another way to organize information is with a table. A table contains columns and rows, which readers scan to find what they need.

Use tables to:
  • Provide details about general information in a step
  • Define glossary terms
  • Solve problems
  • Catalog information
Structuring instructions
When you write instructions for a task, here’s a great way to organize them:

1. Introduction. A paragraph or two that describes what readers are about to do. also, state what they need to know or have done before doing this task.
2. The steps. Go all out here with your lists and tables. Include one complete action in each step, and include up to seven steps for each task. (Readers can become disoriented after seven.) If your task requires more than seven steps, break the task into two.
3. Notes, tips, and warnings. Place extraneous information after the steps, unless readers need those details earlier.
Keep these points in mind:
  • You can use lists within tables, and you can insert tables within lists.
  • Use parallel construction (the same grammatical structure) within a list or table. In other words, don't make the first item a full sentence, the next a fragment, and the third a question.
  • Follow this general rule: If you have more than three items, use a table.
About style
You might wonder what capitalization and punctuation you should use in lists and tables. This question plagues every editorial group at least once a week, and here are some answers:
  • Ask the editor you're working with for a copy of the house style guide, a document that describes the preferred word usage, capitalization, punctuation, grammar choices, and formatting options to use when you write for that house. If you follow their style, you'll be the answer to your editor's prayers.
  • Create your own style guide, and follow it consistently. For help, buy a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press Stylebook.
Making it work for you
Try reorganizing your own paragraphs into lists, steps, and tables.

Happy organizing!

Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Saturday, November 05, 2011

How to How-To: Part 3 - Organizing with Lists and Steps

All your brilliant ideas, facts, figures, and solutions will go unread, unnoticed, and unappreciated if readers can’t find them. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to organize your information into lists, steps, and tables, to improve your readers’ comprehension and increase their chances of success. One you get the hang of using lists, steps, and tables, you’ll never write the same again!

Clustering information in lists
A list organizes complex information into one cohesive unit. Look at this recipe for preparing spaghetti:

To cook the spaghetti, fill a large pot with cold water, and put it on the stove. Turn the burner to high. (To boil the water faster, put the lid on the pot.) When the water boils, open the spaghetti package and put the spaghetti into the water. Leave the lid off, and cook the spaghetti in furiously boiling water until it’s done. (For firm spaghetti, boil for 7 minutes. For softer spaghetti, boil for 9 minutes.) Put a colander in the sink. When the spaghetti is done, take the pot off the burner and drain the spaghetti in the colander. (Remember to turn off the burner.) Then rinse the spaghetti. If you’re using the spaghetti in a hot dish (for example, with sauce), rinse it under hot water. If you’re using the spaghetti in a cold dish (like a salad), rinse it under cold water.

This paragraph explains the task correctly. But if your reader’s guests are due in three minutes, she’s still wearing workout clothes, and the dog just got sick, she’d have a hard time following directions in this dense paragraph.

This recipe would read better in a list. There are two basic types of lists:

• Ordered lists (steps), for items readers must do or understand sequentially. Precede items in ordered lists with numbers or letters. For example:

In an emergency, follow these steps:
1. Clean the floor.
2. Change your clothes.
3. Greet your guests with a smile.

• Unordered lists, for items readers can do or understand in any order. Unordered lists often contain options or choices. For example:

You can:
- Offer appetizers
- Tie on aprons and ask for help
- Order out

Although bullets (stars, dashes, or other symbols) normally precede items in unordered lists, you can use numbers. Notice how numbers verify the introduction in this example:

There are three ways to know your guests have arrived:
1. You hear voices outside
2. You’re still wearing sweats
3. Your dog looks green

Note: When you mention a number, be sure your list includes that many items.

Trying it out
Rewrite the recipe paragraph into lists. Your results might look like this:

To cook spaghetti:
1. Fill a large pot with cold water.
2. Put the pot on the stove, and turn the burner to high.
To boil the water faster, put the lid on the pot.
3. When the water boils, open the spaghetti package and put the spaghetti into the water.
Leave the lid off.
4. Cook the spaghetti in furiously boiling water until it’s done.
- For firm spaghetti, boil for 7 minutes.
- For softer spaghetti, boil for 9 minutes.
5. Put a colander in the sink.
6. When the spaghetti is done, take the pot off the burner, and drain the spaghetti in the colander.
Remember to turn off the burner.
7. Rinse the spaghetti.
- If you’re using the spaghetti in a hot dish (for example, with sauce), rinse under hot water.
- If you’re using the spaghetti in a cold dish (for example, in a salad), rinse under cold water.

Readers can now follow each step, stay oriented, learn details, and choose among options.

Happy writing!

Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Monday, October 24, 2011

How to How-To: Part 2 - Audience, Scope, and Chunks

What is my project all about? Who will read it? How much information will it include? These are a few of the questions all writers need to ask at the beginning of any writing project. This part shows you how to find the answers.

Determining the audience and scope
Before you begin any project, you should be able to answer two questions:

1. Who is the audience—my readers? Everything you write will be read by a particular person. A book on assembling model trains will be read by people who collect, build, and sell model trains. This is your audience. People who want to learn how to raise chickens won’t be interested in your book.

Before you begin any project, state the typical reader of your project. For example, if you’re writing a cookbook, describe who will use the book, their level of cooking skills and experience, what kinds of meals they’ll want to prepare, and what they will expect from your book. An example of an audience description is: “This cookbook is for single, busy men who know nothing about Italian cooking but want to wow their friends with their culinary flair.”

As you develop your audience description, be aware of secondary (and tertiary) audiences. For example, if you’re writing a book proposal, your primary audience is the editor or assistant who will read your proposal. Your secondary audience is the person who will buy the book (who might not be the person who’ll read it). A tertiary audience is the person to whom the book will be given or read (such as a child or someone unable to read).

2. What is the project’s scope—its boundaries? In addition to stating your audience, you should be able to describe the project’s content and boundaries. To help you find the answer, ask these questions:
  • What is this project?
  • What will it include?
  • And not include?
  • Why am I writing it?
Using the cookbook example again, with all the foods, meals, and cooking techniques available in the world (and more to be developed), which ones will you include and leave out? How much knowledge and experience should the reader have already? (Notice this question includes your audience.) You might describe the scope as: “This cookbook includes recipes for making simple meals unique to southern Italy. It does not offer wine suggestions. It assumes no knowledge of cooking.”

Determining your audience and scope before you begin the project helps you stay on track as you develop it. As you write, you’ll know how much information to include. For example, if your cookbook assumes no knowledge of cooking, you’ll know that you need to tell readers how to peel a potato and grease a pan.

Chunking information
We humans process information by becoming familiar with the general and moving toward the detail. When we read (or hear) all the information about a topic in the same place, we retain the information more quickly, easily, and completely.

The technique of placing all the information about a topic in one place and having it flow from general to specific is called “chunking.” (Not the most civilized name, but it gets the point across. Another name for chunking is “information mapping,” so take your pick.) One chunk includes introductory, conceptual, how-to, and optional (tips, cautions, and “gotchas”) information about one topic.

The easiest way to organize information from general to detailed is by using graduated section headings, with content to match. The following is an example of a chunk in our cookbook. (By the way, this is a great outline—imagine how easily you could add the content.)

A History of Vegetables
Types of Vegetables
Cooking Vegetables
Deep Frying
Gotchas for Cooking Vegetables
Storing Vegetables
(and so on)

Note: Chunking is different from the journalistic technique of the “inverted pyramid” (providing the urgent, immediate information first and then adding extraneous information), because chunking starts by introducing a subject, provides context, and then describes the details.

For example, think of how you might describe an address to someone traveling here from Mars, and you can understand the difference:

North America
Suffolk County
325 North Street
Apartment 15
Jody Hamster

Making it work for you
Try these techniques on your current nonfiction project. First, describe your audience and scope. Then, think about how to organize the information into chunks. Have fun, and happy writing!

Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How to How-To: Part 1 - Introduction

Today starts a seven-part series on writing how-to information, which will explain some techniques and give you examples of how to use them in your writing projects. You’ll learn how to:

  • Determine your project’s audience and scope—to help you know who you’re writing to, and what your project will and won’t include.
  • Organize information into “chunks” that readers can absorb and digest easily.
  • Group similar information into bulleted lists, numbered steps, and tables—and know when to use each type.
  • Enhance your text with art, and how to do it effectively.
  • For books, develop a leak-proof index that points your readers directly to the information they need.
  • Edit down to the bone for clear and concise text.
Well-written how-to information is organized and presented in a clear, logical, and organized format. By applying these techniques to your nonfiction books, articles, proposals, and queries, you can improve their readability, appeal, and value.
With the proliferation of “info bytes” and Web content, writers need to know how to organize and present information logically, to catch and hold readers’ attention and interest. Clear, clean copy also reflects a professional approach and can help you establish and maintain credibility with audiences, editors, and agents.

Here are some projects that you can apply how-to writing techniques to:

  • Book proposals
  • Queries and other business correspondence
  • Grants
  • Nonfiction books
  • Articles
  • How-to and self-help books
  • Cookbooks (an excellent example of a how-to book)
  • Other instructions
  • Indexes
Next time, I'll explain how to figure out who your audience will be (who'll read your how-to) and how to “chunk” information into bite-sized pieces.
Happy writing!

Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Sue Alexander Award and SCBWI

I'm still speechless, but thrilled and humbled that my manuscript, HOVER OVER ME, was selected to receive the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org) Sue Alexander Award for 2011. This award represents a wonderful opportunity for writers of children's literature to be recognized for their hard work and their courage to submit manuscripts for critique at the annual SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles. Many thanks go to the award committee and those who nominated finalists, and many congratulations go to runners-up Pati Hailey and Karen Bonner, and all the nominees!
This past year has been one of amazing growth for my career as a children's writer. Shortly before the 2010 SCBWI conference in LA, I received word that I'd been accepted into the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program for 2010-2011 and that I'd be working on my manuscript, EVERYTHING THAT BREATHES, with the wise and wonderful Emma Dryden of drydenbks.com. If you are a "pre-pubbed or lightly pubbed" writer of children's literature and would like to be part of an intensive mentoring program that will improve your writing and bring you into an intimate and supportive community of children's writers (and grant you status as an honorary Nevadan), I encourage you to apply to this program. The Mentor Program is accepting applications now for its 2012 session.
Shortly after finishing the program, I signed with Josh Adams, agent extraordinare at Adams Literary. This agency specializes in children's literature and represents authors whose books were already on my shelves. I'm so happy to be part of this agency.
And then the astounding news of the Sue Alexander Award came earlier this week. When my husband called my cell to tell me there was a message from a member of the committee on our home phone, I knew there would be some kind of news, but until I spoke with her later that evening, I had no idea how wonderful the news would be.
Do you see a common thread here? Each one of these events happened through SCBWI and the service of its members, who are all dedicated to the writing, illustrating, publishing, and promotion of literature for children. If you write for children, if you want to write for children, if you have a dream of writing for children, fulfilling that dream is well worth the modest annual membership fee. Its many regional chapters are all very active in teaching, supporting, and promoting its members.
So, maybe I'm not so speechless, after all.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Recollections of Summer Nights

It's been so hot here in Palm Springs that we've been spending most of the daytime indoors, as "cave dwellers." After the sun goes down, I go out to the balcony, which overlooks the pool, and watch the growing night. It reminds me of the year I lived in Kyoto, where in August the days were so hot and muggy that you could barely move during the day. Classes were over, but we international students were too poor to travel, so we stayed in town and did what we could to stay comfortable. Days were spent indoors sleeping, snacking, and reading. But when the sun went down, the few of us left in the dorm would walk to the little grocery store down the street, where the owner sat at the low doorway on her calves and said "O-kini" (a regional "Thank you") as she handed us our change, to buy dried snacks and a large bottle of Sapporo. Then we climbed up to the fire escape landing on the second floor of the dorm and settled in for the next several hours, as the nighttime cooled the air. The world felt so still. As I sat and hand-sewed a dress, the married student from Sacramento who remained so in love with his wife back home (I wish I could remember his name) read Thomas Hardy to us by the dim light of the hallway inside. Eventually someone began to sing, and then everyone would join in. Then sometime in the early morning we'd pick up and go to our rooms. I hadn't thought about those nights in Kyoto for a long time, until I sat out in the cool of the evening on my balcony here in the desert.