Writing

First Draft of Book 5 Started!

I have begun writing the first draft of book 5 in the Dragonlinked Chronicles series. In fact, I finished the last scene of the Prologue yesterday and started on Chapter One today. I’m looking forward to all the interesting stuff coming.

In the meantime, happy reading!

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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.

 

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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

Research, research, research

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday break. I spent some time up north with family for a bit of a vacation and to hopefully get some cold-weather research in, as snow isn’t something one sees very often in central Texas. Alas, in the week and a half I was there, there was little to no snow in the part of Nebraska I stayed at. There was one evening of light snow a few days before the end of my vacation. It left less than an inch on the ground, and locals scoffed at the amount, but I was pleased to have been able to see the white stuff falling and the thin accumulation on streets, sidewalks, yards, trees, and on the frozen lake we visited a couple of times. Walking atop that lake was enjoyable, though alarmingly slippery, and something entirely new to me. All in all, it was a good trip. I had fun and got some insights that will help with the next book. Though I didn’t get to enjoy deep rifts of snow as I have in the past, I was able to experience just how terribly cold it feels when temperatures approach and go below zero degrees F, and think about just how difficult and dangerous life in those climes can be.

Now that I am back home, I’m doing research that is much more mundane using my trusty assistant, Google. The research concerns other matters that may impact plots in the next volume: technology advances during the industrial revolution, arctic ecology, history, and the like. A bit boring, perhaps, but essential to understand how we as a people progress and fall back, and how greed, fear, the desire for progress, and such, propels individuals.

Time to get back to it. Happy reading!

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Trade Paperback Version of Book 4 Now Available

Trade Paperback Cover for Book 4

Of Gods, Trees, and a Sapling, trade paperback version cover

I just received the proof of book 4, Of Gods, Trees, and a Sapling, today and it looks great. I chuckle every time I glance at it because it’s so darned big. At any rate, I have approved the proof so the trade paperback version of book 4 is now available HERE from CreateSpace.com. It should be available at Amazon.com within 3-5 business days and will be accessible at the same link as the kindle version, you’ll just have to select the paperback version in the ‘other versions/formats’ section. Once Amazon has a direct link to this version, I will update this post with that.

Please note that the price for the trade paperback version of this book is more than previous books because the minimum price allowed by CreateSpace is higher due to how long the book is–at 773+ pages, it is about the size of books 1 and 2 combined.

Happy reading, all.

UPDATE: Amazon now has a link to purchase the trade paperback version, if you’d rather buy it from them instead of CreateSpace. You can do so from HERE.

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Final Draft of Book 4 Manuscript Complete

I just completed a pretty darn clean read-through. All I found were minor word-choice issues, and in one ‘action’ scene, I made some minor tweaking to the order of sentences for pacing. As much as I dislike that it’s taken two months to get to this point, what has transpired has only reinforced my assertion that you should never, ever discount the value of doing your own read-throughs nor should you discount the value of test readers.

Performing your own read-throughs of a complete manuscript lets you get a feel for the entire thing, see its flow, see the various plot-lines and how they interweave, and see how the multiple story arcs progress all together. I have read the complete manuscript six times since the first draft was complete at the end of August,  and in every read-through prior to this last one, I found something fairly big. Particularly with how a certain investigation was progressing, I found places where what was in my head had not made it clearly to the page. I found places where in my zeal to describe a cool new thing, I gave away too much ahead of time, and so when the character ‘realized’ something about it, that realization made no sense because that something had been described prior. And when I decided to add a little scene near the end to give a certain character a chance at a bit of payback, I realized a major plot had a major hole. All those things I corrected.

I also got my test reader feedback. Fresh eyes see things that the author’s do not. So many things. Wrong character name used in speech tags, a case of the wrong verb tense (I change sentences around a lot and sometimes forget to check if a verb tense needs changing based on the new structure of the sentence), confusing sentences (this is sort of a period piece, so the language used has a hint of that, but sometimes just saying it simply is the best course), and the most important thing found was just a ridiculous over-usage of a certain action tag. Like a speech tag, an action tag ties a character to a piece of dialog, but it does so with action (an example with a different action tag: Aeron blinked. “You want to do what?”). It took me something like three hours to search that tag out across the entire manuscript and decide whether to keep it as it was, to replace it with a different tag, remove it completely (just leave the dialog), or to rewrite that part a bit. It took so long because I had to be careful not to over-use the fixes for the over-use. At any rate, I addressed all the feedback in one way or another.

All of that means the manuscript is complete. Now, I just have to come up with a cover blurb (working on that), finish the cover (98-ish percent done), and decide whether what I have now as a title will remain the title (no spoilers!). The trade paperback version will take at least a week longer because I have to get a physical sample of the book shipped to me so that I can check the printing of the cover (including alignment on the front, back, and the spine, and where the cover image is cut at the edges) and the interior before approving it for sale. BUT. I should have the e-book version on sale by the end of the month. I have been working really, really hard to make that happen. Along with familiar faces, there are some new characters that I think you’ll like a lot, I know I do, and I can’t wait for you to meet them.

Anyway, enough blabbing. Back to finishing the book!

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Almost There.

I had hoped to have book 4 released by now, but life got in the way. Too many things happened this month. At any rate, I have had a chance to work a bit on the cover (I think it looks nifty, so far), and I’ve done three read-throughs with edits and revisions (and am on a fourth, now). Part of the reason I’m holding back release is that I found issues in each of those three read-throughs. Nothing enormous, but they were big enough that I am uncomfortable not checking for more. I want a read-through where I find nothing but minor problems. And, too, I’m still trying to come up with a title I’m happy with.

So, the short version: I’m working on a clean read-through, finishing up the cover, getting a decent title, and then all I’ll have left is to look at test reader feedback and then format it for e-book and trade paperback.

Very close, now.

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