World Building Pantser-Style


Woman with umbrella walking across plaza in the rain
Since we’re getting rainy (and snowy) weather, I thought I’d share that with you with a picture.

A few years ago, I went to a panel on world-building at a con  I was kind of cautious because my experience with any kind of world-building always started with this recommendation:

Buy a 3-right binder and a pack of tabs.  Take this list of questions and answer every single one about your world.  Only then can you write your story.

Pretty much a huge turn off to a pantser like me.  It was one of the reasons I didn’t do speculative fiction for a long time.  By the time I did all that recommended world building, I’d have lost interest not only in the story but even the world.

But this panel did something different, and I was reminded of while I was working on a scene.  They said, first just start writing the story, then world build…because otherwise it’s possible to never get around to writing the story.

They also said to think about why cities or towns were built in a particular location, and this got really interesting because I hadn’t thought of cities like that before.

With a lot of the modern cities, it’s not always that obvious.  If you walked out to Alexandria, VA today and looked around, you would never know that it was site of bustling tobacco trade in the 1700s.   Now pleasure boats are hooked up to the docks and people feed the ducks.

There are also ruins in Egypt for places that no longer exist because the Nile changed course and that part of the world dried up.  Clive Cussler did a novel called Sahara with something similar where there was a river in the 1800s and a Confederate ironclad got into the river.  Shipwreck in the desert!

Still one of my favorite books.  But I digress.

I wandered in this direction today because in my scene I have a town that’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.  And it really is about connecting the dots and making sure all those connections get into the story.  I was surprised at how many pieces were already there…creative brain was just sitting back and laughing at me until I figured it out.

For your reading pleasure, some interesting reading on why cities are built where they are.

 

 

Filling the bucket of learning


This video popped across my feed yesterday, courtesy of Me-TV. Disco was at its height when I was growing up, and I remember hearing this song over the radio.  I like the visuals in this one better than the Night Fever one in the link.

I can’t sing.  At all.  I was so bad at rhythm that the Army tried to kick me out twice for my marching.  When we were marching off to war with the press watching, the acting first shirt put me at the end of the formation so I wouldn’t embarrass him.

So when I watch a video like the one above, it amazes me that one of these singers could replicate this song now.

Even as a writer, I wouldn’t be able to replicate something I wrote a year ago.  I could redraft the story, but it would come out different.  I would hope it would come out as something better.

Because I’m always learning something new.

I’ve been reading a book called The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy.  It’s part of the Personal MBA, which is reading a list of books to have the basics of business.  I’ve read Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog! and I didn’t care much for the book.   Partially because it seems like his goal is to jam as much into the day as possible (a problem with a lot of time management books).  But also, I think, because he focused heavily on emotions to make the sale.

I’m an INTP on the Myers-Brigg scale.  Means I like logical and analytical.  Emotional appeals can work, but I’ll be a skeptic first.  If someone is trying to sell a workshop, I’ll scroll past all the “shouting” to find out the price first.

This book though…it had something in it that caught my attention.  It said that learning was like a bucket of water. You have to constantly fill up the bucket because it doesn’t stay full, or continue learning.

Little girl on beach filling up bucket with sand.

Which reminded me of a writer that I used to love.  She first came out with awesome book in the 1990s.   It was a series. The main character was different than any I’d seen before, and it was a woman character.  In an action role!  She had a team of interesting characters surrounding her.  I just took a workshop on Teams in Fiction, and it identified one of the reasons I really liked this series.

So ever time I went into B. Dalton’s, I checked the shelves for this writer to see if there was a new one out.  When I found one, I snatched it up, took it home and read it in a day, then reread it.  I would happily still be reading this writer today.

If something hadn’t changed.

The writer became a best seller and stopped filling her bucket.

It happened by about book five.  I just knew at the time that the books weren’t quite as good.  I still bought the books for a while, thinking they would get better.  But the other team members I liked disappeared. They were replaced with a collection of characters who filled space but weren’t a team.

So I stopped buying the books, since I could use the money for books I was enjoying and wanted to keep.  I still read the books, but I checked them out from the library.  I was always disappointed and finally decided they weren’t worth my time to read.

But I occasionally picked up one, hoping for that old magic.  In the last one, it looks like the writer must be having a decline of sales because she circled back around to the roots that started the series and tried to replicate it.

And failed.

She’s been writing for 20+ years and should have been able to turn out a much better book than that first one I read.  But her bucket was empty.  She’d stopped learning long ago, and no longer has those tools.

But learning means not just grabbing the next book and reading it, but finding resources that actually push the skills.  The bucket should always be overflowing.

I’m in the process of learning about subplots, and as from above, selling.  What are you learning today?

I’m in a new Story Bundle called Short Flights (of the Imagination). My story is from my GALCOM Universe series, called Watcher Ghost. But I wanted to share the image of all the stories in the bundle so you can pre-order it and get lots of great speculative fiction stories (like we really don’t have all that much to read :).

Short Flights (of the Imagination)

Software Makes Us Lazy


I remember when computers first came out (yeah, it’s dating me). Until then, I’d done all my writing either by hand or on a typewriter. Newsflash: I make the same types of “typos” when I write anything out by hand.

So the computer – absolutely! I didn’t have to spend hours retyping pages to correct the many typos, and make more typos to replace them. I didn’t have to fuss with correction fluid. I could just save the document, and then run (eventually) the spellcheck.

It’s a great tool, especially for writers, but I also find that it makes people generally lazy.

It also makes us busier, which is a strange combination to say the least.

It hit me the other day because I deal all the time with people who “trust the software.” They sign legal documents with barely a cursory glance (in some cases none), not even checking to see if what they’re signing is correct.

Imagine it’s a corporate timesheet program. It fills in the times automatically for you, eight hours a day, as a courtesy, but you have to make changes when you had a doctor’s appointment or took leave.

Yet, I’ve run into people who will somehow think the software connects to their brain and can tell they went on sick leave, so they will sign the document as is and then are puzzled when they find out its wrong.

“I thought (the software) was right!” they said.

Sigh.

When I started hearing about the massive amounts of submissions that agents were receiving, I wondered if the same problem existed. Part of being a writer involved the hard work of physically typing on a typewriter on a piece of paper. That was probably enough to scare aware some people who weren’t really serious.

But now the computer makes it easier. Too easy. Some people who would be discouraged by the amount of work a manual typewriter are writing books. They’re probably puzzled when they get rejections for multiple errors.

“But the spell check was turned on!”

Software is training us to rely on it, rather than to use it as a tool and rely on our brains.

Touching Space: The Final Frontier


When I was a kid, space still seemed like a very far away thing.  The space shuttle was a really big deal because it could take off like a rocket and land like an aircraft.  I remember when the first one came out, and through a letter writing campaign, NASA named it Enterprise.  Really, I think without the promotion Star Trek gave space travel, we might be in a different place than we are today.  The show made space an exciting place to explore.

The other day, I heard on the radio that Virgin Galactic is doing a flight where the aircraft would go briefly into space.  Ordinary people might one day be able to see what astronauts like Sally Ride have seen!  Anyway, here’s a video of one of Virgin Galactic’s tests.  Would you go into space if you could (and didn’t cost a fortune)?

Triberr Review: Useful Tool or Shiny Toy?


Does social media eat into your writing time?  There are plenty of social media tools that can help with reducing the time spent, while others can turn unexpectedly into time black holes.  I like checking out new tools, because sometimes I can find one that helps me out.

So what about Tribber?  I was introduced to it in Kristen Lamb’s class.  All the “We Are Not Alone” (WANA) writers of the class jumped into, built a tribe, and started sharing blog posts.  Triberr is a fancy blog reader.   Where it’s different from other blog readers is that you are getting all the blogs from your group, or tribe.  You can “Approve” or “Like” a blog post and send a link to it over Twitter.  There’s also a discussion section similar to Facebook.  The whole idea behind it is to support your tribe, and to reach a larger audience.

Digital image of five computers connected together on a grid, with a cityscape in the background.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT IT

It made all these blogs easy to scan and read.   I’m all for anything that cuts some of the time involved with social media.  It was also fun interacting with the other writers.  When I saw people sending out my links, it felt like maybe I was being successful in my blog.

THE PROBLEM AREAS

There’s two:

1. The Help section is terrible.   It’s poorly organized and incomplete.  I ran across a useful topic by accident but when someone else asked about the same topic, I could not find it again.  Other topics frustrated me because terminology was not explained.  A visitor should not have to go outside the site to find information about the site.

2. Link Spamming.  This was the more problematic area for me.  Initially, I thought it was great to see my blog getting tweeted out everywhere.  But then I started to notice that people doing the tweeting weren’t visiting the blog itself.  They either had Triberr set to autotweet, or were just clicking send.  I want people to send my links because they think my posts have value.  Otherwise, it adds to all the junk on Twitter now.  Many bloggers like me are selective about the links we send.  I read everything  first before I send it out to make sure it’s going to be relevant to my brand and platform.

Triberr has since turned up for link spamming — from writers in my WANA group! — on Twit Cleaner.

RECOMMENDATION FOR THE BUSY WRITER

Is it worth your time to help promote your platform?  In my opinion, it’s a shiny toy.  It looks cool, will consume time, but will not help you build your platform.

For you: Have you tried Tribber?  What has been your experience with it?  Post your commentsbelow.

Technology Hacks for Dealing with Twitter Spammers


Have you noticed lately that there seems to be a lot of link spamming on Twitter?  It’s hard to have a conversation when I have to wade through all the links.

At signs floating on the surface of a blue sky

So I get to fight technology with, well, technology with two handy tools:

TwitBlock: Sometimes I find it hard to tell if a Tweep is a spammer or not.  This program uses a rating based common things spammers do.  It gives you a breakdown so you can decide if you want to block someone or not.  Mostly, it’s caught p**n sites, and occasionally, someone will end up on it accidentally because they display spammer characteristics.

Twit Cleaner:  This is probably the handiest Twitter tool I’ve run across.  It analyzes the tweets of your followers and recommends people who should be unfollowed.  It includes people who excessively RT, those who send too many links, and even those who never interact with anyone.  All you have to do is select the ones you want to unfollow, and Twit Cleaner will take care of it.  To give you an idea of how bad this problem is, about two weeks ago, I unfollowed about 100 people for the three above reasons.  I went back in today and reran the report, and I’d accumulated more people who were doing the same thing.

For you:  What kind of hacks have you been using to deal with the spammers?  Any links that weren’t mentioned above?  Post your comments below.

Moleskine Hacks for Fiction Writers


Have you run into a situation where using technology made more work instead of simplifying it?

That’s one of the reasons I started using Moleskine notebooks.  You’ve probably seen them in Barnes and Noble, or even Target.  Rows of simple notebooks in different colors, itching to be picked up.  There’s an artistic feel to them, a special kind of magic.    Other notebooks like the one below feel like homework.

A closeup of a blue spiral bound notebook at an angle.

But what would you use it for?  Here’s a few hacks to try:

Ideas 

Ideas often come in spurts, and it seems like never at convenient times!  How do you record them?  I’m always scrabbling around for a piece of paper.  Recording them all in one place sure makes it a lot easier!  During Ravencon, I was getting such good information during the workshops that I was getting ideas, so I added them right there in my notebook.  I know exactly where they are, and I don’t have to go hunting for scraps of paper or files.

Research Notes

Have you ever stumbled across an article in a newspaper that has something you know is perfect for your story?  Usually it’s at the worst time — no paper to write on.   I’m always tearing the articles out and stuffing them in my pockets, but then I forget to take them out and record the information.  But a Moleskine is small enough to bring everywhere, and it only takes a second to pull it out and add a quick note.  You can’t even do that with a cell phone in that time!

Critique Groups

I’ll bet you’ve been doing critiques, and probably getting critiqued.  A Moleskine is a great place to note comments on another writer’s work, and also to note comments on your own.  It’s all in one place, so it’s easy to refer back to it at a later date for that one comment that didn’t seem important at the time but now makes sense.  I like the aspect of writing it down, rather than trying to type because there’s going to be a temptation of trying to capture it all.  Writing forces me to hit the points that catch my attention, because are usually the ones I need to pay attention to.

Workshops

Right along with the critiques are online workshops.  If you’ve tried one of them, it’s a lot more work than reading the lessons.  There are exercises that have to be completed.  The Moleskine is a great option for working through the lesson and having everything in one place.  At the convention workshops, all I had to do was carry around one small notebook and a pen, and I was set.

For you:  What are you using your Moleskine for?  What kind of hacks do you have that you’ve found work?  Post your comments below.

Metric Conversions


I was working on a chapter and had to put distance in.  Since it’s set in a foreign country, I suddenly realized that they would probably go by the metric system.  This Metric Converter helped me convert distance into kilometers.  You can also convert weight or temperature.

 

The Web is Not Public Domain


Ten years back, I had submitted some short tips to a computer magazine.  At the time, I was trying to use them to build a relationship with the editor so I could submit longer articles (and get paid!).  One day, after emailing him another tip, I got a strange email back.  He asked me if I submitted the tips anywhere else.  I hadn’t, and he explained that another site had taken content from his site, including my tips.   But the damage was done.  Though I had some tips in submission and submitted a few more, the editor never used any of them again nor did he communicate with me again.

The web makes things easy to access, and a lot of people out there think that everything is automatically public domain.  It isn’t.  Cook’s Source magazine apparently lifted an author’s article from another online magazine and published it, then suggested the writer was lucky they didn’t charge her for editing.  As the Washington Post notes:

Anyway, within hours after Gaudio posted that last night, her story of copy theft had begun richocheting around the Internet. The magazine’s Web site is mainly a placeholder, directing people to its Facebook page — and that’s where things got ugly.

I did visit the Facebook site–it is pretty ugly.  I imagine the site will be coming down in the next day.  The most troublesome thing out of this is that the editor has posted additional comments that suggest she doesn’t think she did anything wrong.  There’s a lot of that going around.  People just seem to think that it’s not big deal and it is.

A Look at Scrivener for Windows


One of the problems I’ve always had in writing a novel that eventually the number of pages starts to be overwhelming.  Yet, if I break it up into smaller pieces, like individual files, I suddenly have a lot of moving parts that are easy to lose. Schivener for Windows is a new release in beta to help writers like me with workflow and organization.

Pluses:

I like to create the story in small chunks and hop around. I might work on several at once. Scrivener displays the individual files of a project in a sidebar called a binder so I can just click on the next one I want to work with.  Very easy to hop, and at the same time, I have the big picture of the story.  In Word, I’d have multiple documents open. Invariably, I’d accidently close one that I needed.   This limitation also made it difficult for me to see the whole picture.

Each story chunk also has several pads assigned to it. One is for notes. It’s better than writing down notes on Post-Its scattered around or typing them in the story itself. Another is for linking research to each section. My research is often compartmentalized–I might do research that affects only one chapter and not the entire book. In a previous story, I tagged passages with comments noting the research source.  In another, I was keeping it in different files and notebooks–things got lost very easily. But in Scrivener, I just link to it on the pad, and it’s always there.

Minuses:

Not everything is intuitive. Some of the features are not in logical places. For example, I had to turn off the spell checker. It wasn’t obvious that it was even possible, and I had to click around to find it (it’s under Edit>Tools). There also isn’t any way to run a spellcheck, though that may be a feature that comes later.

Spellcheck doesn’t work right. It flags parts of several words as being misspelled. The search and replace is very hard to see and doesn’t give cues saying anything has happened. Some people have been complaining about the lack of double-spacing–even that’s been hard for me because I’m so used to it. In this case, I’m ignoring it because it may be a benefit in the long-run. I’m trying not to focus on length in my rewrite, so single spacing takes away all the cues.

For screenshots and to download the software, visit the Literature and Latte site.

Disclaimer: The company didn’t give me anything for this review. I just did it because it fit into my topics this week!