Numbers on the Peninsula

I had a subject in mind for today, but that’s all changed because my mind is a swirling cesspool of my own scheming desires, which is a pretty good phrase that one might find in a Frank Zappa song, if you know what I mean.  So I’ll hold that off until–maybe tomorrow?  Maybe the day after?  Maybe Saturday, when I have time to stretch out.  I’ll get to it, just not now.

First off, if you haven’t heard, Scapple for Windows is live.  Buy it, play with it, take your notes and slide them directly into Scrivener–yes, I did this, and it works.  Yes, I still have Mind Map, but I love what I can do with Scapple, and it’ll probably get a great work out for character development and those plot points I need to work out on electronic paper.  Or I only have it because I’m a freak who loves software.  Either way, it’s mine, and I will hold it close to my heart.

Last night, however, I worked on the attendance figures for my school for my upcoming novel.  Because I’m the sort of person who has to know the numbers, because you never know if they’ll come up in conversation between my characters (spoilers:  they do), I knew I had to create the attendance numbers.

But it’s not a simple matter of creating numbers.  No, I need to know how many kids are in each level, who comes from what place in the world, how many are spread out among the covens, and what’s the gender breakdown.  I haven’t drilled down all the way–after all, I could do every level and coven by geographic location and gender within each location and coven–but I’ll leave that for another time, because right now I just need ballpark figures.

Which brings Attendence 2011me to this point:

There’s my breakdown, showing the numbers at the point where each level came in brand new and shiny, and slowly dropped in numbers as all but a few fell by the wayside.  I have my break downs, I have my totals, I can see that this isn’t going to be a stuffy hall filled with a bunch of boring white kids.  But I also know how big my school is, and I also know–because I already wrote this–that ten years before there were close to two hundred students inside the walls of this august structure.

I also see, based upon what I’ve put into place, that the school is still recovering from an event that saw an eighth of the student population die.

That was my Camp Novel, the events that saw students and instructors alike die in various and sometimes horrible ways, and that also set up the current batch of instructors and school administrators, a few of whom did some pretty bad ass stuff.  But I look at incoming numbers, I see the retention levels I created, and I know my school is gonna feel a bit like a huge mausoleum.

One of the instructors will eventually say something along the lines of, “Think of numerology as statistics with a foundation in magic.”  Some of you would argue that point, but I like the line and will eventually use the sucker.  The point is, numbers give you more than simple totals.  They tell you things, and if you listen hard enough you’ll see the magic they brings.

What have my numbers brought?

Atmosphere.

Now if they only told me what’s for breakfast . . .

Out in the Right Mind

Here we are, or am I, at least, with a good night sleep inside the elastic waist of my pajama bottoms.  I took something that wasn’t actually drug based, and though I was up at one AM for a minor inconvenience, and I finally started coming awake at five forty-five, I sleep without much disturbance.  Lets go for two tonight, because I feel a lot better than the Zombieland creation I was yesterday.

Even though I was out of it, I got stuff done.  I have a program to finish today that’s probably going to top me out at about a thousand lines of code when I finally look at it and thing, “Yeah, that’s it.”  I’ve chapters to edit tonight and tomorrow.  I looked at one apartment, and will see another today, in preparation to move into something semi-permanent here in The Burg.  (Which is what Paul Verhoeven would tell the cast of Starship Troopers when he was trying to get reaction shots from them:  “Look at me, Imma Burg!  A Burg!  Shoot me, shoot me!”  Such fun.)

There was also brainstorming on a story, on some characters, and I felt good when it was all over because I feel like I’m finally getting some focus on someone that I’ve needed for some time.  I have to thank my next Scapple beta program, because laying out my ideas on a screen, and playing “connect the dots” with them, came in very handy.

I never thought I was the sort of person who was that visual.  I can still see a lot of things in my mind, and use that to write my story.  These days, however, with the tools one has available for the computer–as I pointed out last week–it’s so much easier to actually make the things in your story come alive, to make them nearly living things with a physical presence.

That’s what mind mapping did for this character.  I started building up ideas, relationships to other people, ideas of what sort of influence those other people had over the character . . . and it started to become clear.  The whole rain is clearing, I can see clearly now thing actually began happening.  It was a good feeling to know that after months of hand wringing and doubt, you now had a character that you were finally able to “get”.  Sort of, but getting there.

I passed off a pdf of my mapping to another person, one who knows this character better than me, and she told me, “You’re getting it.  She’s coming into focus.”  Yes, that’s what I needed to hear.  Because you always want to know you’re on the right track, and that your ideas are maybe working.  It’s the sort of affirmation one needs after a long, sleepy day.

There is a lot to do this weekend.  I have mapping, I have editing, I have other things on tap.  I have decisions to make about The Burg.  But it’s all good stuff.

Maybe one of these days I’ll travel down to the real Undisclosed Location and think about where I am now.

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?