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[Comments] (4) Manuscript Formatting: The unofficial document format for SF/F manuscripts seems to be RTF. Printed manuscripts are supposed to be formatted in a very simple style that looks like you typewrote it, but the style is far enough from plain text that I can't edit it in Emacs, because it includes relatively complex things like numbered pages. RTF again.

What to do? There's the de rigeur Emacs RTF plugin, but all it can do right now is read some RTF documents. I've found the process of manuscript conversion is pretty automatic as long as you distinguish poetry from prose. That means I should be able to write a script using Ruby RTF to do the conversion. (It's missing some features but I can just hard-code the corresponding markup.)

I'm mainly posting this to find out if anyone else is in this same, admittedly only slightly leaky, boat.

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Posted by Zack at Mon Oct 22 2007 01:39

I am told that people have had good luck with latex2rtf and sffms.cls [included in texlive-latex-extra in debian unstable, or can be had from CTAN].

Posted by d at Mon Oct 22 2007 14:35

If you don't already use latex, how do you organize notes on the text? I haven't submitted anything anywhere for years, and never had anything published when I did, but FWIW as I'm starting to write again I can't imagine not using latex. For example, in a file that represents one scene I'll have notes on the key plot points, longer descriptions than actually go in the text to help me visualize the scene in detail, etc. I even sometimes write out pre- and post-conditions for a scene when I'm working through the details of a somewhat intricate plot, just to help me think about how everything fits together. (Admitting that I think about scenes in terms of pre-conditions and post-conditions probably proves immediately that I am forever a computer geek and not a real writer. But in my defense, I've never tried to diagram a story in UML.) And so then in that file I have all of those notes in various latex macros, and the text when I get around to writing it of course, and also comments to myself within the text about things I want to come back to later and so on.

Then I can format the text by itself, either in the format I prefer to read or (should the need arise) in the right format for submission. I can generate the output with all of the scene notes in boxes and/or with small comments in the margins. I can even generate a file that just has the plot summaries, if I want to take a step back and think about the story at that level. I'm only writing longer fiction at this point so I'm finding that sort of thing very valuable. And should a publisher actually need an electronic copy of something I've written at some point I would expect to use latex2rtf, although I haven't actually tried it. I'd write my own converter if that's what it took to allow me to use emacs/latex.

But then you're the published author, and I'm just the wannabe, so what do I know? I'd be very interested in hearing about the tools and techniques you use for keeping a large writing project organized.

Posted by Leonard at Mon Oct 22 2007 19:22

I transform my notes into text rather than keeping them around. For nonfiction, I'd say it's actually bad to keep your original notes around because you need to make sure all the information in your notes gets into the text, either as text or as cross-references.

Not even David Foster Wallace puts cross-references in his fiction, though, so in fiction it makes more sense to keep your notes around. The only downside I can think of to keeping them in the text is that you might subconsciously rely on them to explain things not in the text.

For each of my stories I have a "slop" file into which go 'deleted scenes'. Also in there go my notes on theme (eg. "an AI is a broken human") which I can use later in essays or if I need to revise the story. I'm collecting notes towards a novel which, if the novel ever happens, will be maintained in a parallel file as a plot outline/character bible and which I'll eventually distill into the outline I send to publishers.

So, basically, I keep everything that's not a scaffold for text in semi-structured plain text files with naming conventions. To justify anything else I'd need to have more discipline or a worse memory.

I think the vast majority of writers keep everything in a Microsoft Word file. On the VP list people were talking about how they organized their work. A number of writers (inc. Laura Mixon, I think) said they used a spreadsheet to structure their stories.

Posted by Nathaniel at Mon Oct 22 2007 19:40

The use of RTF is sort of weird, actually -- as an interchange format between MS Word and OO.org Writer, RTF is actually *worse* than .doc. (For instance, as far as I can tell it is impossible to have an RTF file with page numbers that display correctly in both.) I know part of the reason to prefer RTF are all the writers who use StarPerfect 3.18b for DOS 5.0 or whatever, but...

sffms.cls is perfectly nice, esp. if LaTeX is your thing, and it has the advantages that the source code is pretty much straight text with minimal straightforward markup (\emph{}, \newscene, pretty much), and you can hit a button to get a normally typeset version of your story in addition to that weird typewriter format.

latex2rtf is not particularly clever about sffms.cls, though; I have a hacked up version that fixes the worst offenses, so that cleaning up the resulting document is O(1) instead of O(n) (i.e., you still have to fix the margins and insert your header; you don't have to go through and fix every scene break), which you'd be welcome to if you want it.

RTF is a very simple format to write, fortunately, so hacking up your own producer for it would not be too hard.

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