Builder of Worlds

I received a new toy the other day:  the beta version of Scapple for Windows.  Scapple is a mind mapping program, a very simple system that allows you to diagram your thoughts and working out plots, characters, locations, anything your heart desires.  I’ve waited for this software for a while, since it’s made by the same people who make Scrivener, and on the Mac version of both programs it’s possible to drag notes from one program to the other when you’re in the mood to think things out in the middle of a complex story.

When I posted this link a discussion came up about the uses of software for writing, and I mentioned that I’ve used mind mapping software before, and that I’ve used a number of other programs, too, when building a world that is my story.  The question came back, “What software do you use, Cassie?”    I sent a PM to the person who asked, then started thinking last night, “Hey, maybe someone else will be interested to see the sort of tools I use when the writing madness strikes.”

If you’ll allow, I’ll show the thing I use, and maybe you’ll find some of this information useful.

Shall we begin?

First off, I use Scrivener for writing.  I’ve wrote about Scrivener many times, even going so far as to post pictures of SA Startmy projects–like the one at right which comes from December of 2012.  Lets get this out of the way right now:  Scrivener is not simply a word processor, it’s a project management tool.  The idea is to have all the things you need for your story in one place, and eliminate the need to bring up multiple files onto your desktop and flip back and forth looking for something.  If it were “just” a word processor, it wouldn’t be worth the $40, but it’s more than that, and that makes it well worth the price of admission.  Plus I have a fifty percent off code from Camp NaNo, and you never know who might end up getting that little gem.

Since Scapple is in beta mode at the moment, and will likely not be ready for full-out production until right before NaNo 2013, I use FreeMind for all my mind mapping needs.  FreeMind is Java based so it’ll run on any computer that uses Java, and it’s open source, so it’s free, but kick in a donation if you’re in the mood.  It’s not a perfect tool, but once you learn the ins and outs of how it works, you can build mind maps in no time.  Another nice thing is that the saved mind map can be imported into Scrivener, and it’ll set up separate text cards for each point in your map, which means you only have to go and fill in the words.

Aeon Timeline isn’t available for Windows at the moment, though I’ve seen that they are working hard on a Windows version.  Time Line Blog 01Since it’s not available, I use Timeline, which is another Java-based, free program released under the GNU General Public Licence version 3.  I’ve written about this program and its use a few times as well, and thought it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Aeon has, if you are looking for a quick and dirty way to lay out your time graphically, it does the job.  The learning curve is minimal, and since it doesn’t have a lot of stuff loading up in the background, it runs fast on just about any machine.  It’s also great for plotting out all those stories you’re going to write about characters who’ll be around for a very long time, and figuring out where all the events of their lives take place . . .

I’ve said it before:  I like to make maps.  For some stories you need them, or at least I Pentagram Closeupdo.  There are a few programs out there that will allow you to draw up maps, but years ago at GenCon I bought Fractal Mapper, which was really designed for the gaming community, but works wonders if you want to lay out something for a story.  The shapes may not be exactly what you need, and the sometimes drawing roads and paths isn’t always easy, but once you figure out how all that stuff works, you can draw up towns and villages, or those secret government complexes that people seem to want to write about so much.

When I want to look at the layout of a building I use Sweet Home 3D, another Java-based, open source Main Hall 518program.  This program will not only allow you to develop the floor plan of a building, but you’ll be able to see it in 3D from both an aerial view, and a walk-through view.  This program came in handy, because for my last story i created the structure you see on the right, and I was able to figure out where action occurred when I needed it to occur.  Some might call it overkill:  I say I’m getting it right.

If you are of a mind to see how your worlds really look, Pentagram Southeastdo what I do:  get Blender and start modeling.  So far I’ve used it to create a space ship, and to lay out the school where my last story takes place.  Once you figure out how to scale your models, you can build something huge:  for example, the building on the right is five hundred fifty feel from front to back, so you can imagine the size of everything else in that picture.  This is a step most people will never take, but I’m one of those people who sometimes need to see their creations, and there’s few programs that do this better.  Blender is, if you haven’t guessed yet, free to all, and will run on Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems.

The last program I use from time to time is only for those of us who write science fiction and like to create real worlds–as in, I build solar systems.  I’ve done this more than a few times, both for stories and for games I’ve run/played.  The program I use for this world building is AstroSynithesis, which is currently on version 3.0.  I’ve Cymru Newydd Systemwritten about this software before, most famously in a post when, because I had a character speaking to a person he’d just met he guessed the world she came from orbited a K Class star, I decided I better design that world just in case my character was wrong about his observations.  You can see that world and its moons to the right, because the program not only allows you to lay out orbits and figure out the rotational periods of the worlds, but you can see what your systems look like the 3D.  I plan to get the newest version–I’m still on version 2.0, since I bought it at the same time as Fractal Mapper–because the next thing i want to map is The ‘Verse, which is something I should be able to do with the newest version.  Why do I want to do that?  I’ve an article I want to write . . .

It goes without saying that I also use Google a lot–everyone should try it, it’s like magic!–and there are a number of websites with conversion calculators that I’ll use from time to time, depending upon what I’m writing.

There you have it, the tools I use for building my worlds.  Maybe some of these are going to be useful to you, maybe not.  But you now know where they are if you suddenly have the urge to start time lining the life of one of your characters.

Oh, I forgot:  there’s one tool on here that I didn’t mention, one that I absolutely need for any of my stories–

My imagination.

Just try writing a story without one.

Melding of Minds

When there is no writing, then it’s time to write, yeah?

That was me last night.  The novel was in the can, so to speak, and up for sale.  No more to do there, so what’s next?  As someone may say to me, “Shouldn’t you be writing?”

I’ve spoke about doing this erotic fantasy story just for laughs–and money, don’t forget the money–so I figured, what the hell, might as well get my project started.  That meant firing up the Big Scrivener and setting up the story.  I do this all the time; it’s become second nature for me.

Therefor the project was created, the story named, and . . . well, this is where it gets to be fun.  Most of the time I’ll start plotting things out just a bit.  By “plotting” I mean I set up chapter cards and put some meta data on each card to give me an idea as to what’s going to happen at that point in the story.  It’s not like I’m deciding at that point what’s going to happen right down to the moment, but it’s a good way to figure out the main focus of the scene.

This time, though, I wanted to try something else.  With one of the recent updates of Scrivener came the ability to import mind maps into your project.  I’ve played with FreeMind, which is a great mind mapping tool, and I like using it to see if my ideas for a story–or, like the first time I used it, for a new chapter–are going to work, or if they’re way off base.

A few weeks back I decided to map out Fantasies in Harmony because I knew what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to make any sense.  So I did a couple of hours of thinking through what I wanted to in the story, and mapped the action out.  When I was finished I had a story, more or less, in mind mapped metadata.

Given that I had a mind map, and given that I could import that into Scrivener, I was curious to see what would happen.  I mean, if it didn’t work out well, I could always delete stuff.  So I found the Import option, selected Mind Map to import, and hit the Okay button–

All sorts of stuff appeared in the document:  lots of note cards with nothing written inside.  I was a bit confused, so I deleted everything and tried it again, getting the same results.  I’m expecting to see the visual map in my document, and here I’m getting all these note cards–

That’s when it hit me:  every card corresponded to an idea I’d placed in my mind map.  When I imported the map, Scrivener broke out every idea and turned them into their own scene–so now, if I wanted to elaborate on those ideas, all I had to do was write up what actually happened.

I’d just opened up a whole new world of possibilities for doing my stories.

All those notes have been moved under the scenes I was creating.  Given how Scrivener compiles scenes, I could actually write everything in short scenes and put it all together in the compile.  Which I’m considering doing–

Hey, I can have my fun while writing, can’t I?

Mindmelding Elements

Made it through a good day yesterday, one of the better I’ve had in a while, and today–well, that’s another story.  I’ll get through all the “The Forth Be With You” crap and probably remind more than a few people that my 4th of May involved hearing about four college students being shot to death.  Yeah, Yoda can bite my ass.

Where to go now, dear Cassidy?  How is your new project coming along?  Glad you asked–

Yesterday also dealt with the upcoming story, because I was talking a few ideas to some people, and though I’ve joked about how I’m going to just “write smut” so I can make a quick buck or two, I still want this to be a good story.  I can’t help it:  even my erotica has to be about more than just fucking.  I’m strange that way.Cabin Overview

For example, when I’m talking about the cabin where my story will take place, I bring up a cabin.  What does my cabin look like?  Gander to the right, if you will . . .  I was speaking with Annie (yes, she was around!) and we discussed how sometimes you have to see something in order to describe it.  I’ll admit, I never used to be that way, but when it comes to buildings and apartments and the like, there are times when I need to know how everything is laid out.

I created the interior using Sweet Home 3D, which is a fantastic open source modeling program (check them out, download, and drop them a few bucks for the effort).  I only needed a few simple templates to show me how everything is suppose to look, and with the split screen I can design and get a 3D look at everything in real time.  (One of the great things I liked was as I moved objects onto the design screen, I’d see them moving around in the 3D screen, and if I adjusted then in modeling, they’d adjust in 3D.  It’s like moving furniture in your house, only you’re doing it on a computer with a lot less back strain.)

So now I have a good idea what things sort of look like, so when the action gets hot and heavy, and I need to knock things over because of way too much Sexy happening, I’ll know where the knockage occurs, and how it’s going to break.

It’s not only the look of the story I want right, but I started wondering, late last night, if my mental flow is going the right direction.  So I brought up FreeMind and began mapping out my ideas into something logical.  This is another open source program I use from time to time, when I need to “think” about how I want a scene–or, in this case, a story–to flow.  It’s another great tool if you feel yourself stuck on something and you want to shake your mind loose . . .Mind Map Cabin

I have my thoughts and ideas collected here, as you can see.  I know how to read the flow of the picture to the right, and there are arrows to show me where I need to go from one set of ideas to another.  I’m not finished laying it out all–after all, I was working on this until about eleven-thirty last night, and the eyes were starting to burn a little–but I’ll have it all worked out and into Scrivener by this afternoon.

There was a point last night when two questions came to mind:  one, am I spending way too much time developing a story that’s suppose to be a short (for me), quick, tale of fantasy screwing?  Finally, two:  is there enough hot sex going down?  I mean, yeah, I do erotica, but I also write about characters, and knowing why you wanna get laid is just as important to me as getting there.

Ah, well, perhaps I’m over-thinking this story.  Then again, it is my story–

I can do that if I want to, you know.

Building the Soft Way

Years ago, I bought a program that would allow me to design houses and landscape around them.  It was like $50 at the time, which was probably 2002, and it was one of those things that, when I picked it up, I got looks like, “Why do you need something like that?”  My answer was, “You never know when I might need it.”

I’ve used that program a number of times.  The best time I had with it was last year, when someone was describing a house they’d imagined, but when it came to drawing out a floor plan, they couldn’t get it down.  So, taking their notes, I fired up the program and started building a three story house, as this person had described it to me.  When I showed the plans to this person, they said, “That’s exactly what I was seeing!”

And another satisfied customer goes away happy.

It’s no secret I use a lot of software for writing.  I use Scrivener to write; I’ve a program that helps me create solar systems.  I use FreeMind to brainstorm when I feel the need to get down and work things out before putting fingers to keys.  I’ve one program that helps me create maps . . . and I have this old program I just mentioned to let me build houses.

My Muse once told me, “I’m very visual.  I need to see something to know how it should look.”  My Muse also threatened to take a leather belt to my behind, but that’s another story . . . What Musey was getting at is sometimes you need to see thing before you describe them.  When you’re taking about the layout of a building, it doesn’t hurt to have a floor plan handy.  When you’re looking at laying out some property, having an idea of what your version of Hundred Acre Woods looks like is a good idea.  Maybe showing people what the layout of a space ship is a great idea, least they get lost wandering from one cabin to another.

I’m a great one for pointing out that software can make a writer’s life much easier.  I’ve been in computers for over thirty years–as in that’s my job, not that I’m Flynn–so software comes easy to me.  I don’t mind picking something up and playing with it, then figuring out how it will help.  Right now I’d love to get my hands on something that would allow me to design character’s features–so I could actually make my characters become more real to me–but I’m not about to drop $800 on facial composition software.  Just have to keep looking.

For my writer friends who are, shall we say, less than computer literate–use a notebook.  Draw stuff out by hand.  Doodle; scribble; make little comments.  It doesn’t all have to be 1’s and 0’s on your hard drive, it can just as easily be something you did on the back of a grocery list, and later tacked up on the cork board next to your writing space.

Expand that mind:  Lay things out so you can see even more.  Remember . . . if you can see, you can do.

And we do like to do, don’t we?