The Highs and the Highers

Let’s just get this out of the way first thing in the morning:  mind mapping can be a huge amount of fun, but ultimately it can also be an enormous pain in the ass.  You’re trying to organize your thoughts on a page–and I use that term “page” liberally, because inside your computer your page can go on for a very long time.  Don’t believe me?  Look:

No, that's not the remains of a fly I swatted . . .

No, that’s not the remains of a fly I swatted . . .

That’s sixty-six notes I’ve made on a character time line while trying to deconstruct and rebuild this character, with Scapple zoomed out as far as I can take it.  As you can see, I have plenty of room in which to work.

And work I was.

Not as much as this time line would show, but it’s getting there.  I have my head where I want it now, and I’ve narrowed down some of the questions I need to ask.  I’ve also set aside room for Kerry, because in retrospection, he’s wrong, too.  At least in the opening chapters.  Oh, not the prologue:  he’s pretty much spot on there.  The whole London section–it’s wrong.  It’s really wrong.  Kerry has a computer:  who needs to go out?  That’s what Google Streetview is for!

Yeah, need to deconstruct him a little, because if there’s one thing I know about his, it’s that he’s emotional shut away from most everything.  So London . . . rewrite city, baby.  I hope to start getting to that on Sunday.  No really; stop laughing.

I’m actually feeling good about redoing this part.  I figured out a day trip inventory that’s really more to the liking of the kids, and it’s fun to roam all over London on The Maps (that’s what I’ll call it from now on) and see things that I shouldn’t have missed the first time.  But, hey:  first drafts are for your screw ups.  As James Michener once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”  (Paddy Chayefsky apparently said the same thing, so I’ll let them fight it out over who gets the real credit.)

Something else happened last night as well.  I was chatting up a friend, and we got to talking about some of my work.  It so happened–as writers often do–I spoke about some of my old erotica I’d written some ten years back, and how I was thinking of editing it and putting it out in ebook format to get comfortable among the dino porn and gay cuttlefish transformation stories.  (And if you read this blog regularly, you know those both exist.)

Being in something of a good mood I asked my friend if she wanted to see some of it.  She said yes.  I showed her the stories I had in pdf format with the artwork that had been drawn especially each of the tales.

I'd show you the real artwork, but it'd probably piss someone off, so here's something everyone can agree is completely safe.

I’d show you the real artwork, but it’d probably piss someone off if I did, so here’s something everyone can agree is completely safe.

And what I was told was, “This is really good writing, Cassie.”  Which it really was, even if it was totally fetish smut.  But after a long week of being down, feeling tired, and beating your head again the computer, you know what you, as a writer, needs?

To be told you’re good.

Those really are the magic words.  Try them on a writer friend and see what happens.

No Rest For the Timid

There wasn’t much to get done yesterday.  I was falling asleep at work, I ended up walking home in the cold rain–and my walk is about a kilometer, or three-quarters of a mile–so by the time I arrived I wasn’t in the best of moods, and I was feeling a bit of a chill.  But there were packages waiting for me, and one of them were new jeans and a fleece jacket, and I had to try them on and check things out and get pictures and . . .

And by the time I finished doing all that and chatting with people, nine PM had rolled into town, and the brain wasn’t doing what it should do.  Never to mind.  It did a lot of that stuff earlier during the day, usually between moments when I was working on programs and going to meetings.

It’s how I pass my day when I’m working at my other life.

The other thing I’m into at the moment is mind mapping.  I’ve done this before, and talked about it on a few occasions.  These days I use Scapple–not because I work in Pennsylvania, but because it’s a good product.  Mind mapping is a good thing if you’re trying to work out something and you just don’t know how all the pieces fit together.  This isn’t the same thing as building a time line, though you can take the information here and build up your cause and effect–or your Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey ball of stuff if you’re in that sort of mood.

So I’m trying to rebuild a character, and I’m forty-eight notes of information into the process, and I’m still going.  I’m trying to be honest and saying the things that should be said from the questions being asked.  It’s from this that I’m trying to build the layers of the onion, and every so often it does make me cry–

 

This is your life in notes--I hope mine is more interesting.

This is someone’s life in notes–I hope mine is more interesting.

Why do you cry?  Because I’m not certain that I’m asking the right questions.  If you don’t ask the hard questions, you’re not going to get the good answers.  You’ll get crap.  You know:  garbage in, garbage out.  It’s just like a computer, only this crap is swirling about in your head before you put it on a page.

So I’m doing that.  I played out a couple of scenes in my head yesterday, because between panicky requests to make changes to a program, one needs to put their mind to other, more important things.  Like figuring out when Papa’s gonna ask about a certain boy, because he knows his only child is really off to school to meet this kid.  Or what someone does when they are the first off the elevator and they get strongearmed by their chaperon to take one for The Foundation and do something special.  I also realized yesterday that one of the new scenes I created in Scrivener isn’t needed:  that journey around London can be discussed while having lunch.  No need to tell everyone about it . . .

It’s taking time, but it’s all slowly coming together.

The real treat is when I start writing again.

To Map, Perchance to Plot

Let’s met Annie.  Say hi to her–

"Hi, Annie!"

“Hi, Annie!”

When I was working towards understand Kerry’s far, far, better half, I started throwing around what I knew about her, and began format that knowledge into the world I was creating.  This is where Scapple, the mind mapping program created by the same people who make Scrivener, came in handy, because I could make notes and interconnect them to other notes, work them around and get an idea about where I was going with the character.

I’ve seen where others have also used Scapple to work out plots for their stories.  I’ve played with this a little in that area, but I’ve yet to work out a story where my notes and ideas would find themselves interconnected in such a way that a coherent tale springs forth.  Though there are a couple of scenes I’m considering working out this way . . .

On to the current work in progress.  When I prepared to start the novel, I did so–as I usually do–with two things in mind:  I needed a title, and I needed an ending.  The idea of the title I got from Harlan Ellison, who commented on more than a few occasions that he couldn’t write until there was a title on the page.  Now, my titles may change as I get deeper into a story–that happened a few times with The Foundation Chronicles:  A for Advanced–but I always have a title.  And the ending idea comes from Issac Asimov, who was quoted saying that it was necessary to know how his story finished so he’d know how to get there.

I knew how I wanted to start the story.  There would be a prologue with two scenes:  the first would have Annie standing next to a tree near her lake house, and the second would be The Foundation people convincing the parents of a sullen and likely depressed Kerry that he was getting a free ride to a school for special students outside Salem, Massachusetts, and that he should pack his bags because he was leaving for London in a couple of hours if he said yes.

The last two scenes would mirror the intro:  the first scene would show Kerry returning from school, somewhat depressed because he’s parted from someone special to him, and now it’s time to go back to his old, “Normal” life, while the second scenes would show Annie standing next to a tree near her lake house, equally sad from saying goodbye to her “Ginger Haired Boy”, and having to face the summer without him.

With that in mind, it was time to start plotting.

Since I was working in parts, chapters, and scenes, I decided to work in Scrivener through Outline Mode, because as folders and text files were added, and metadata added, it was a simple matter to move things around when and where needed, and lay out dates and times as needed.  As the Prologue and Chapter One were almost all Annie and Kerry there wasn’t much of a need to keep track of other characters, because the one who did walk onto the written stage didn’t require a great deal of attention.

Carefully taking my kids on the trip of their lives, one scene at a time.

Carefully taking my kids on the trip of their lives, one scene at a time.

It was easy to plot things out like this, but keep in mind this is a small section of the story.  There’s a lot more in the next two acts–which were added about half way through writing the first act.  This is something that’s nice about Scrivener:  you need to add or move something around, you do.

Something else I used for the first time were document notes.  These came in handy when I was writing about Annie and Kerry’s day trip around London, which was done almost entirely via tube travel.  Notes stay attached to a scene, so once in place they’re always there inside the Inspector (the area on the right) all the time.

Sure, you could make up how you get around London, but it's easier if you do it with notes.

Sure, you could make up how you get around London, but it’s easier if you do it with notes.

Another thing I did on this novel was layer scenes under a top scene.  I used it extensively for the scene “Over the Pond”, where all the action took place on-board a 747, and point of view switched from my kids to some traveling instructors, and back.  The date and time were already set, so here it was just a matter of knowing who was in each sub-scene aboard the plane, and that information was kept in the metadata for each scene.  The great thing with these layered scenes is when you don’t need to see them, you just collapse them under the top lead-in scene and all is right in the world once more.

There's a party in the sky, and you're all--well, you'll get invited in time.

There’s a party in the sky, and you’re all–well, you’ll get invited in time.

One last thing to mention about this layered scenes is that they were added as I wrote.  I did the lead-in scene, then decided I’d write about Annie and Kerry finding their seats, or the instructors talking about Phee–I know who that is–and I’d add the text file, do a copy and paste on the metadata, set the Label and Status, and away I’d write.  Easily Peasily!

And that leads to cross-checking what I’d laid out in Scrivener by seeing if the time lines matched up.  There was always the possibility that something was off, and sure enough, once I started plugging things into Aeon Timeline, there were a few things that didn’t make sense.  Now, this didn’t affect the plot, but in terms of when things happened, it was a good idea for me to see if everything worked.  I didn’t actually need to do this for what became the first act, but this was practice for something that was coming in Act Two, and the practice of laying out this first section of the book helped me understand how I was going to lay out an important set of scenes that required things to happen at certain times, within a certain time frame.  And that would be important to the story . . .

Time be time, mon.  And here be the time for Act One.  Looks so different here, doesn't it?

Time be time, mon. And here be the time for Act One. Looks so different here, doesn’t it?

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.

The Far and the Near

My jaunt into The Black has reached one milestone:  last night I finished creating the main system–aka, The Core–for The ‘Verse, which I’ve been working on here and there since Saturday.  Lots of things to put into this sucker, and even spending an hour or two at night means you only get to add a couple of planets and their moons.  Or a protostar and its planets and their moons–yes, there are stars within stars here, and it makes for one of the most impossible systems I’ve ever seen.

The more I build the more I look at this and shake my head.  It’s such an out there system, but hey:  it’s suppose to be considered canon these days, and who am I to argue with a bunch of Browncoats?  Though I’m sure at some point I’ll probably write about how all the core planets exist outside the habitable zones–the “Goldielocks Zones” we sometime say–and the most massive of the stars is in orbit around all the other smaller stars.  I don’t even want to try and calculate those parameters.  I know there’s one article I want to write that’s based in part on this system, and that’s something I think just might pop up this weekend.  If I’m not shopping, that is.

Then I was into the mind mapping for a while.  I love the Scapple program:  it has certainly become one I want to get when it comes out of beta.  I love the flow, I love how you can put notes wherever you like, and links them not only to one thought, but to many if that is your choice.  I’ve found a few bugs, but it’s beta, remember?  There are suppose to be bug, and they get corrected before the program goes live.  Or so one hopes, yeah?

The one thing I don’t like is how I’m using it.  I reached a point last night where I realized the story I’m playing with works, but I’m flowcharting, not throwing out ideas and seeing if they stick.  Tonight I’m going to “play” with it, do some character sketching, see how that plays out.  I need to think out some characters, and there are a couple I can use to “create them” with the program.  ‘Cause they ain’t gonna build themselves, you know?

That’s the fun when it comes to new software:  you test it, and in doing so you test yourself.  You look for things you could do, and you go there and do them.  You follow new paths, you try new things.  I’m great at thinking things through in an analytical sense, but I need to be a little more spontaneous, more of a throw things out there and see what sticks sort of person when it comes to the craft.  Then from that point, I can build.  I can make things that are incredible, that are inspiring, that feel real.

Just like the gift I sent someone last night, something that, I hope, will give their kids many hours of entertainment, and at the same time get their imaginations a-growin’.  Get them to thinking and dreaming at the same time.

Everyone needs to dream, and have fun while it’s happening.

 

Scribble Scapple

So another is in the books, for yesterday I finished the Final Draft for Couples Dance.  The short novel now stands at fifty-three thousand and change for the word count, and that’s not bad for a short story of erotic horror.  How erotic and horrifying it is I won’t know until it sells, but then if it sells as well as my other stories, I’ll never know how well it is doing.

This time the editing went with little drama and strain.  If it seems as if I was driving myself crazy editing Her Demonic Majesty, this time the editing went off as orderly and easy.  I’d sit and do a thousand, two thousand words in a sitting with little problem.  There was one time when I put down about six thousand words and didn’t think anything of the matter.  Maybe I’m getting better at this, or maybe I came into the editing with a different set of eyes and a different mind set.  Whatever the reason, Couples Dance was actually a pleasure to fix.  And I do mean fix:  there were parts that were messed up, that didn’t make sense, that were simply wrong.

Now time to find readers and get their feedback.  Find more errors and fix things up.  Get a cover and bang!  I’m ready for big time publishing once more.  Yay me.  If this is the breakthrough, then next up:  gnome porn!  I know there’s an untapped market there . . .

I know the question that’s being asked:  what’s next?  Good question.  I could edit another story, for I don’t intend to start another original story until November–at least that’s the plan at the moment.  But one never knows with me.  I’m thinking Fantasies in Harmonie would be a good one to clean up:  follow up one erotic story with another.  Why not?  I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  I’ll make up my mind in the next few days, because with nothing to do I’ll begin getting crazy by Wednesday.

Not that I need any help there . . .

Since I’d finished editing my novel by seven-thirty PM, I had plenty of time to play with Scapple.  There’s a story idea that’s been floating about in my head for the better part of a month, and I figured, “Hey, what better to lay out, huh?”  I’m the sort of person who likes to flowchart, because that’s what comes of being a computer programmer for a long time.  I wasn’t putting notes all over the place; I wanted to see if the plot flowed well, and if things made sense.

I managed the first couple of chapters and realized the program is great.  Does it do what I want?  Yes.  Does it do it well, with a short learning curve?  Yes.  Are there problems with the beta?  Yeah, but that’s why it’s a beta:  you have people play with it and then tell the developers what you’ve found that’s wrong or not working.  I’ve found one problem in particular that bugs the hell out of me, so I’ll see about leaving feedback so the issue will get fixed.

Will I buy this program?  You know it.

A girl and her software shall never be parted . . .

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.