While Outlining, You Decide To Change A Character Slightly. How to Find All Their Scenes?

So, I came up with a more interesting take on a character, but I’m very far along in the outlining process and said character has a lot of scenes mixed in with the even larger number of scenes in the book without said character. I wanted to somehow look at all their scenes to make sure that this character wasn’t doing anything out of character for their new . . . character. Ahem. Anyway. As I use a spreadsheet to outline, this should be easy, right? I tried using Search with their name, and that did let me find where they appeared, but I wanted a way to see only their scenes, all together, in order. I sorted by plot and chapter and scene, but then what? That’s when Standard Filter entered the stage.

Filters are part of Calc’s Data features, and they appear with Sort on the Data menu (for ease-of-use, I have added buttons to the standard toolbar for ‘Sort’ and for ‘Standard Filter’ and for ‘Remove Filter’). As its name implies, Standard Filter allows you to filter data in a range based on one to three criteria (you can do up to eight with Advanced Filter). It also automatically selects relevant data just like Sort which I described in a previous post. After opening the Standard Filter window, I selected the data column I wanted, in this case Scene Description, selected ‘Contains’ as the condition, and then typed in character’s name. On the next criteria row, I selected OR, then I again selected Scene Description, set condition to ‘Contains,’ and typed in the possessive form of character name (with apostrophe s). After a quick glance through the results, I brought up the filter window again, clicked on the ‘More’ button for more options, and checked Case Sensitive. This particular character’s name is part of several words and thus rows were being left that had nothing to do with this character because those words are in several scene descriptions. That taken care of, everything was perfect. I could now read through all of that character’s scenes one after another to make sure they were acting, doing, and thinking as they should based on their new characterization!

Ah, but once I am done with that, how to get the outline back to its all-inclusive nature? As you may have guessed from my comment about how I customized my toolbar, you merely click into the filtered data and use the Remove Filter choice on the Data menu. In some versions of OpenOffice, Remove Filter might not be available unless you have no range of cells selected. Simply click on any cell to clear a selection.

Note that removing a Standard Filter also removes its filter settings. Thus, if you want to filter again at some point, you have to re-enter all the criteria again. If you find yourself using certain filters over and over, then you need the Advanced Filter feature. It lets you set up filter criteria in another part of the spreadsheet or on a spreadsheet on another tab. Merely copy your header cells (Plot, Chap, Scene Description, etc), paste them in the spreadsheet where you want (make sure to leave a row and column gap between your book outline data and anything else!), then enter the criteria in the cells below that pasted header row. This filter data will remain until you delete it. Criteria in rows are matched with OR, while criteria in columns are matched with AND. So, if I wanted to search for scenes that had Anaya AND were before chapter 9, I would have one criteria row with Anaya under Scene Description, and <9 under Chap. If I wanted to search for all scenes with Anaya OR Aeron, I would have two rows, one with Anaya and one with Aeron, both under Scene Description. Once your criteria are set up, go back to the Advanced Filter window, click the Selection button, select your criteria rows and columns (including the header row), and, optionally, tell Calc where you want the results output, then click Ok. If you do not give an output location, the data itself is filtered. Again, you can choose Remove Filter to see all the data, if you use this option.

So there you go. If you, too, use a spreadsheet to outline, this is a pretty nifty way to filter out what you don’t need to see at the moment and focus on just the scenes you want, even if those scenes are part of multiple plots and stuff.

Important Postscript: OpenOffice Calc has an option setting (Tools->Options->OpenOffice Calc->Calculate) called ‘Search criteria = and <> must apply to whole cells.’ In words this means when looking for an equal match, or a not equal match, compare against ALL the text in a cell at once. If this option is checked, then Calc will filter using ‘whole cell equals criteria,’ instead of ‘cell contains criteria.’ So in my last example, the only rows that would be returned are those in which the Scene Description cell has ONLY ‘Anaya,’ or ‘Aeron’ in it, and in my actual spreadsheet that would return an empty result. This makes advanced filtering useless for me, so I turned that option off and everything worked as expected.


Categories: Dragonlinked, Fan Extras, Tips, Writing | Leave a comment

Annoying OpenOffice Calc (Spreadsheet) Bug

So, Calc has a nifty option (which may not be unique) that auto-sizes the height of a row (up OR down) to fit the cell in that row that has the most text. For text in a scene description cell or in a scene notes cell, I just type away (I enabled text auto-wrap), hit Enter when done, and Calc takes care of adjusting the row height for me. Having all cells fully visible (with no effort on my part) is great because I want to read every cell at a glance without having to go into the big text cells to expand them. And auto-height ALMOST works perfectly.

There is another option that Calc has, a zoom factor. I recently upgraded my computer monitor because my old one (the thing was eight years old) was taking longer and longer to turn on (it was taking 12 minutes to fully turn on and display anything when I finally broke down and ordered a new one). Anyway, the new monitor is a 2k monitor, that is it displays 2560 by 1440 pixels. It starts right up as it should and has a fantastic amount of screen space. Text on everything, though, is a bit smaller due to the smaller pixel size (Larger resolution with about the same screen size means that the pixels are smaller, and that means everything appears smaller, though it also means more things fit on the screen). That being the case, in Calc I clicked on the zoom adjustment thingy, set it to 105% and . . . rows were no longer adjusting to the correct heights. The height was a little bit off, which cut part of the text in the fullest cells. I asked my trusty friend Google about it and tried all the things I found. Some SEEMED to work, but as soon as I sorted, rows were again not adjusting to the correct heights. It seems that Calc’s auto-height function breaks if zoom is larger than 100%. It might also break if zoom is less than 100, but I’m too lazy to test.

So, how did I get around this annoying bug? I set the zoom back to 100%, selected the entire document, increased the font size, and then modified the Default text format to have the same font size so that newly entered text would also have that font size. Still, aside from this bug, I really like OpenOffice. It’s a fantastic alternative to, and a lot cheaper than, the big productivity suite, particularly for people who are on very tight budgets.

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Quick and Dirty Book 5 Update

Things are going well on the outline for book 5. I’d say I’m about 85-ish percent done with it. Lots of thinking, research, more thinking, and staring blindly at things to let thoughts bubble and churn into interesting ideas has gotten me to this point.

Anyway, that’s it for the quick and dirty update. For book writers interested in a tip I learned (or fans who like this kind of thing), keep reading.

As part of writing the outline this time around, I’ve tweaked the way I use my outline spreadsheet. As I’ve mentioned in a past post, when outlining, I set up a spreadsheet with three tabs, Outline, Timeline, and Brainstorm (I now just make a copy of the last outline spreadsheet, clear out what is unneeded, update the calendars to appropriate Letheran months, and start there). The Outline tab has the outline, Timeline has a calendar with several months on it (not in list form but in actual calendar format using square cells for days in the month with day numbers and chapter numbers in them, so I can see when things are happening and plan accordingly), and Brainstorm has lists of brainstorm ideas and details of promising ideas.

So, what changed? Well, I now use 5 columns labeled Plot (plot line number), Chap (chapter), Scene (within the chapter), Scene Description, and Notes, in that order. Plot is still where I put the plot line number, and I still use different numbers for each plot line. So for instance, the main plot might be numbered 1. But now, I use that same number on every row having to do with that plot. I used to use thousands to represent various plots, so the main plot might have been 1000, and the Plot column would have 1000, 1010, 1020, etc, to organize its scenes in order, and I had overall timeline numbers to organize scenes into their book order. Well, that got to be entirely too cumbersome to maintain with the amount of switching around of scenes I’ve been doing to keep things interesting. Instead, I now use Chap and Scene to do that. So, let’s say that I decide a certain scene should appear two chapters later (or earlier) than where it currently is. The old way would have required me to renumber the Plot column numbers for that plot line (and the Timeline numbers of ALL scenes between) from the current location down (or up) to the new location. Now, I just change the Chap number of that scene, and I only have to redo the Scene numbers of that one destination chapter based on the order I want its scenes. But the biggest time saver is when I decide to add or remove a scene. The old way required a renumbering of the Plot or Timeline columns for every single scene from its added (or deleted) point to the end of the book. And let me tell you, I am adding lots and lots of scenes right now as I outline, so it was just horrible. The new way is much faster and easier. Plus, Sort can still be used to arrange plot lines the ways I want. If I want each plot separated into their own groups so I can just focus on outlining a particular plot, I sort by Plot, Chapter, Scene. If I want to see all plots mixed together as they will appear in finished form, I sort by Chapter, Chapter, Scene. Why do I do Chapter, Chapter, Scene? Because OpenOffice Writer usually remembers Sort settings used, and this way, I only have to change the first sort field between Plot and Chapter, instead of selecting all three fields every time.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT use the scroll wheel of the mouse to change sort fields! Always click-and-choose. If you accidentally over-scroll up, the instant you hit the ‘-undefined-‘ selection, ALL field selections below that one will be cleared. I did this a few times before I learned my lesson. Note number two: When you bring up the Sort dialog, you may have to click the Options tab and select ‘Range contains column labels’ so you see Plot, Chap, Scene, etc, instead of Column A, Column B, etc. Note number three: Always select the entire spreadsheet before sorting. A fast way to do that is to click the grey square at top left, the one next to A and 1. Oh, and Note number four: I use Chap 0 for the prologue scenes.

Happy reading!

EDIT: Ignore Note number three! Do NOT select the entire spreadsheet before sorting! Calc auto-selects pertinent cells for you if your click (or are already in) a cell in the data and just go to Data->Sort from the menu. And in fact, if you DO select the entire spreadsheet first, Calc sometimes forgets the ‘Range includes column headers’ option. It has done that to me a few times and my best guess as to why is because the number of rows with data changed from the last time I sorted. For some reason, letting Calc auto-select the data block seems to keep that option, at least so far. Note that for its auto-select to work, the data you want to sort must be all together in a block of cells with no empty rows or columns within, and anything you don’t want sorted (like results cells, etc) must be separated from the data block by at least one empty row or column.

Categories: Dragonlinked, Lethera, Tips, Update, Writing | Tags: | Leave a comment

An Interesting Essay by H.P. Lovecraft

A friend posted a link on Facebook today to an article, and I found it quite interesting. It’s purportedly an essay written by H.P. Lovecraft concerning his ‘method’ for writing. I thought some of you might enjoy it, too.

Lovecraft died on this date in 1937. Here is his essay “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”

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Creating Conflict, or in This Case, Finding It

Like with most of the books in the series so far, I had an idea of what I wanted to address (protagonist’s desire) before I started writing this next book, book 5 of the Dragonlinked Chronicles series. I also know a lot about the two main characters (new) involved with one of the subplots. My trouble has been with the conflict for the main plot, which is to say, conflict about the thing I want to address (and hopefully resolve). For the past two months I’ve been researching and filling in my “Outline/Timeline/Brainstorm” spreadsheet for book 5 (well, the Brainstorm part, anyway). The spreadsheet has three tabs, Outline, Timeline, and Brainstorm. I throw all kinds of ideas on the brainstorm tab: what can dragons do that is new? what things are ongoing from previous books? who are some potential antagonists and their motivations? what are some new technologies/spells or evolutions of existing technologies/spells? what are some problems on Lethera right now? and what kinds of things, crazy or not, could happen to mix things up? (Incidentally, that last column about crazy things is where Chanté came from for book 4. “You broke your rule about not having miraculous ‘saves.’ Someone has to pay. How about Ulthis?”) The brainstorm tab was full to bursting with sub-plot ideas, but I hadn’t been able to get very far with an outline because I could not start on a main plot outline.

I did have an idea for a main plot antagonist, which I thought of while doing research on our own history in two areas, but for the life of me I could not find a nice, strong motivation for antagonist. I couldn’t figure out how to put antagonist in conflict with the main thing I wanted to address (apologies for being vague on that count, but I don’t want to give away too much right now). Getting strong conflict about that main idea is something akin to conflict on our world about, say, cherries being tasty. Most people would agree that they are tasty, so where’s the conflict? I’d been wracking my brain day after day, drinking coffee and staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to drum up conflict about ‘cherries being tasty.’ I did come up with ideas about things that could happen in sub-plots, but I needed something for the main plot so I could start on deeper outlining. Then, I got to thinking, what if antag doesn’t hate cherries because people think they are tasty? What if antag hates cherries because someone precious to antag was hurt because of cherries, or directly by cherries, or something like that? Antag hates cherries for something other than ‘main thing,’ but that still puts them in conflict with cherries and makes antag want to crush them. That led me to a pretty good idea for antag motivation that also ties in to previous books.

Why did I have so much worry about the antagonist’s motivation? Because the antagonist is just as important as the protagonist. Both have to feel real. Both have to think that what they are doing is right. Without good, believable motivation for the conflict, your antagonist will feel like one of those mustache-twirling, two-dimensional bad guys that no one would feel anything about. And just as with the protagonist, if readers don’t care about the antagonist, they won’t care about the conflict. They won’t care about the book.

So, if you are having trouble finding or creating conflict about the main thing in your plot, think about it another way. What about tangential conflict? Could conflict come from another angle? Antag could fight main idea/person/what-have-you for a completely different reason than direct opposition. Heck, antag might not even be fighting protag’s desire at all, but instead, their actions could merely interfere with protag’s desire and cause conflict.

At any rate, now that I have a general idea of the whos and whys of the conflict, I can finally start expanding the outline and filling in the various plot lines. And speaking of which, it’s time for me to get back to work.

As always, happy reading!

Categories: Books, Dragonlinked, Tips, Update, Writing | Tags: | Leave a comment

For Anyone Who Wears Glasses/Contacts And Uses A Computer

So, I recently started using glasses while at the computer. I’d been stubbornly refusing to use glasses even though my eyesight has gone to crap over the last few years. Well, a bunch of my family were here at my house recently, and we played a game called Smart Ass (a trivia-based game that was pretty fun). As part of the gameplay, one must read clues from cards. When it came my team’s turn to do so, I could not read the card. My brother slid his reading glasses across the table to me, and laughingly told me to use them. I put the things on, and let me tell you, I was shocked at how clear the card became. And not just the cards, my phone, too! The icons looked amazing and I mentioned as much. Everyone laughed at me, I blushed in embarrassment, and he told me to keep the readers. He apparently buys them by the dozen somewhere? I never even knew that was a thing.

Aaaanyway. I’ve been using them since when I need to read anything, and the first time I put them on at the computer, I was shocked once again at how nice things looked and how clear everything was—except for rendered text. I noticed it mostly in OpenOffice (the suite I use to write because it is so much cheaper than Office and has just about the same functionality), but text in everything was not quite right. Finally it got annoying enough that today I spent some time searching online for clues as to why text looked fuzzy. I wondered if perhaps OpenOffice wasn’t using ClearType, which Windows uses to make screen text more readable. After quite some time searching, a thought occurred to me. When I reinstalled Windows recently, I went through the ClearType setup routine. Maybe I should do it again while wearing the glasses?

I typed cleartype in the Cortana/search bar and launched the setup app. I had to change most of the previous choices I made, which boded well. When I was done, oohhh man, text looked spectacular in OpenOffice! The text in the document, on the menu, in the settings dialogs—text everywhere in Writer looked great. And here in Chrome as I type in this post, text looks so much better, so much more legible. Everywhere text is rendered on my screen looks a thousand times better, now.

Long story short: If you use Windows (not sure about other operating systems, they may have technology like ClearType) and have recently started wearing glasses/contacts or have changed your prescription, I would highly recommend running the ClearType setup again with your glasses/contacts. You may see a WORLD of difference like I did. I’m betting the eyestrain/headaches I would occasionally feel will be lessened or even eliminated.

Welp, back to writing.

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That Time When You Forgot Which Character Bit Their Lip

Quick update and a tip! First, the update. The last chapters of a book always take me a bit longer to write, mostly because there is a lot to coordinate as far as plots and character arcs and such (including adding bits to previous scenes to drop subtle hints, lay better groundwork, etc). Thus, these chapters are taking longer than the others to get through. Be that as it may, I’ve started on chapter twenty-three. I think there will be twenty-five chapters in all, so that means I’m pretty close to done with first draft. Hurray!

Now, for the tip. I’d been putting off doing something for a while. I mean, I do have the files for the previous books that I can open up and do a search on, but I finally broke down and made a character spreadsheet. Why? Well, as the tongue-in-cheek title of this post implies, it began to get difficult to recall specific details of the primary characters in my books. Who was it that bit their lip when uncertain? Who calls their dragon sweetheart vs dear-heart vs big guy? What color are a certain character’s eyes? I’ve started work on a spreadsheet to address these issues. In fact, it makes things so much easier that I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t do it from the get-go. Now, if you’re writing one-off books, no biggie. It might be easy to recall all the characters’ mannerisms, phrases, and such. When you’re writing a series, and an ensemble series to boot, the various characteristics can initially be too much to keep track of until you’ve lived with the characters for long enough that you eventually memorize them. Then, too, some characteristics aren’t mentioned very often so are difficult to just remember.

I included columns that would work for any writer as well as some specific to my books. The columns so far are Name, Description (hair color, eye color, skin tone, aprox height), Age/bday, Sees magic as (bands of vibrating color, gears, etc), Expressions (phrases they say), Nickname for dragon (good and bad), Term of endearment for sig other, and Mannerisms (twirls hair, bites lip, etc). That’s a lot of stuff, you might be thinking. I’m trying to give each character their own flavor, give them subtle differences, so that hopefully, a character might be identifiable just from their words or actions. For example, instead of all the characters saying Yes as an affirmative response, how about one of them usually saying Yeah, and another might normally say Yep, etc, etc. Obviously, the character will not always say that, but that is their normal response. Doing things like this makes them feel more real, I think. I’ve regrettably not been as focused on this in the past as I probably should have been, but it is something I want to do better at, and this spreadsheet will help. One caveat about phrases, though. Groups of friends tend to adopt each others’ sayings/phrases, so you should give some thought to which phrases remain unique to a character. You also need to think about the fact that adoption of sayings happens and maybe have your characters do it. It all depends on the sayings and the friends and the settings, of course.

The spreadsheet is also handy when you have two people practically nose-to-nose atop a dragon (you’ll see the scene I”m talking about and how they could be facing each other). How could someone not notice the color of the person’s eyes two inches in front of them in the bright sunlight? Well, if the author doesn’t remember what color those eyes are, it makes it difficult to describe. That is why I have so much data in the spreadsheet. I never know when I will need a bit of information. Now, when I do, I’ll have it ready.

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As a writer, there are so many things that can throw you for a loop, that can suck the energy right out of you and make it hard to do anything, much less write. There are big things, like attending funerals, offering comfort to someone in the hospital or emergency room, or news of someone close to you with cancer or another severe illness. Aside from the loss, or potential loss, of someone you care about, those kinds of things are powerful reminders of our mortality. It’s no surprise that they can cause feelings of depression and perhaps a desire to curl up in a nest and hide until you don’t feel so bad.

Even ‘small’ things can disrupt. A bad review, a summons for jury duty, a surprisingly large bill, or an unexpected home repair or appliance failure. There are a number of relatively innocuous events that can eat away at your energy, your desire to put pen or pencil to paper, or to tap away at a keyboard or typewriter.

So what are you to do at times like that? YOU WRITE.

Drag yourself off the sofa/chair/recliner, pull yourself hand-over-hand out of that blanket nest. Make your coffee or tea or whatever you imbibe, plop your butt at your table or desk, and you darn well write. No idea what to write? Read over a few of the pages leading to where you are now to re-familiarize yourself with the scene and then continue that ongoing inner monologue, or that conversation, or that scene description, or whatever. Just. Keep. Writing.

Over the past almost five years since I started writing more or less seriously, there have been a few days where all I got on the page was a single paragraph. One paragraph. But you know what? That was more than I would have done if I’d crawled into bed, or curled up on the sofa. The next day may only bring about one or two paragraphs as well, but that is still progress. Eventually, either through the passage of time or because of the writing, your mood will again lift, you will feel the old inspiration, and ideas will once again pummel you relentlessly. You’ll then look back over the surprisingly large number of pages you were able to eke out in the interim and be glad of them.

As a bonus, all those disruptive things can also provide you with material. Writing a scene where protag (or antag, for that matter) is going through something horrible? Recall how you felt when something horrible happened to you and translate that into how that character would feel in their scene.

All those things also point out the truth of the saying ‘Shit happens.’ Not so good in real life, perhaps, but as a writer, there’s nothing like some good old random (but logical) disruption to stir the plot up. I made use of this in A Storm in the Desert.

SPOILER WARNING. If you’ve not read Dragonlinked Chronicles Volume 3, A Storm in the Desert, you may want to skip the next paragraph. If you’d like to read it, purchase links to for each of the volumes are available in the Books section of the Library menu above, or, have a friend lend it to you. All my books are Kindle Lending Library enabled.

Initially, the issues with the Corpus Order were going to be resolved in the execution scene. Before Anaya was executed, Aeron was going to give a speech that would convince Nesch Takatin of the error of his ways and lead to the Corpus Order ending their campaign against dragons. As I got closer and closer to writing that outlined scene, I felt it was a little too . . . tame. Then one day an idea struck me. How about some disruption (at least for Takatin)? Instead of just a talk-talk scene, how about throwing in a rescue? Aeron and Anaya would be rescued, and the guild would start an overt, in-your-face campaign to convince the members of the Order and the people of the villages that what the Order was doing was wrong. This also made me look at my initial idea of the Order becoming an ally of the guild. What if, instead, the Order gets completely shut down by the very person who everyone thought would help? Disruption! I didn’t want to leave them with total failure, however, and readers, I was certain, would feel the same way. So then, if I went with this twist, what other method could be used to accomplish their core goal? How about something that had been talked about before in another context, something that someone no one liked was using to gain an upper hand? Have the guild purchase the Order’s assets and turn Bataan-Mok into a guild branch! Former members of the Order would keep their jobs and the guild could continue doing most of the things the Order used to. Everything looked like it would work out nice and neat, so that’s what I did.


Disruption can be difficult for us to handle, but fight through those tough times and then use them. Difficulty isn’t so great in your life, but it makes good stories.

Categories: Dragonlinked, Fan Extras, Life, Tips, Writing | Leave a comment

Read-through of Book 4 Draft Chapters 1-10 Complete

As I have mentioned before, I like to do a complete read-through of a work in progress every time I finish another five chapters of a draft. I just finished reading through chapters one through ten. I found a few errors, two of which were pretty big: a person in two places at once, and a scene apparently happening hours earlier than it should (scenes happening at the same time on opposite sides of a large continent, and both close to sunrise? Not possible.).

I constantly think about a book I am writing. Scenes will play out in my mind, as well as events and how they are linked to each other. Character arcs also unreel in my mind’s eye. One such character arc scene, toward the end of the book, played out differently one time, and it gave me an idea that would add some tension, always handy for excitement. In order to incorporate the idea, I had to add a couple of scenes that were not in my outline, centered on a side-character. She had some scenes in the book already, but as the story evolved, as her part in it evolved because of that re-imagined scene, she needed more presence in the book, and in this read-through, I found good places to add scenes with her, places where they added to the main plot as well as to her side-plot.

That’s another reason I like doing read-throughs. My stories change as I write them out, as I imagine new, more interesting scenarios with which to carry out a plot point. Read-throughs help me catch any previous scenes that need tweaking to keep them in line with the way the story has evolved and gotten better.

Short version of this post: Things are looking good, so far. On to chapter eleven!

Categories: Books, Dragonlinked, Lethera, Tips, Update, Writing | Leave a comment

An Interesting Resource for Name Ideas

So I was trying to come up with a name for BossBadGuy today to replace the [] placeholders in the outline and manuscript draft that I’ve completed so far. I used my go-to tool, Google, and started scrolling through the websites it listed when one result caught my eye.

What if you could see the names, male and female, used in specific decades in the United States, sorted by actual usage in those decades? The Social Security Administration has an app for that. Well, a webpage. That’s what I came across, the Social Security Administration Popular Baby Names page. The link to search by decade is a little below halfway down the page, and you can also search by state or territory.

It is limited to U.S. names and only goes back so far, as it is the Social Security Administration’s records that are being searched for the data, but it can still help if you are interested in selecting a name that ‘feels’ like a particular time in the past.

I think it is kind of nifty, so I thought I would share it. Now, back to writing!

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