Archive from December, 2011
Dec 26, 2011 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The End of the Year or “Where have you been?”

It’s that time again.  The end of the year is coming up.


For most of us, this is not a big deal, but I think that we stop and take a few moments to look back at the last year.  What did you want to get done this year in your writing that you could not?  What did you accomplish?  Where do you want to go from here?

The end of the year is an important time to take stock of where we are in our lives and careers also.  Take a few moments, get a beer or a nice glass of wine and stare out the window.  Think about it.


Conflict–storytelling’s main ingredient

The One Thing Every Good Story Must Have


Good characters really help a story, as does a good setting, good writing, and good dialogue.  We all know this.  However, we have seen poor examples of all of these.  They are not hard to find.


How can such stories succeed?  These stories can succeed simply because they have the main ingredient, the one thing that no story can be without.  That, of course, is conflict, though perhaps tension is a better word.


Without tension, you have no story.  We could have a wonderful character developed over years of thinking and experimenting, but if he has no problem, than he is just a talking head.  Boring.  These are the stories you read in writers’ workshops or those college writing classes you took, the ones where you said, “Well, George, I like your use of _____, but nothing seems to happen in your story.”


However, even if we have a flat character, in a plain setting, with poor writing, you can have a story if you add tension.  For example, many have said that The DaVinci Code has many weak points, which may or may not be true, but it is filled with tension from start to end.  That carries it through any faults it has.


It is with tension that you need to start.  When we rewrite, we need to add more.  We need to manage it, bring it up or down, decide where, when, and how to resolve it, and how reveal tension.  Neglecting it will cripple or kill a story by boring your reader.  Tension.  This is storytelling’s main ingredient.




Dec 14, 2011 - tools for writers    9 Comments

The Best Software for Writers on Ubuntu Linux

The Ubuntu Writer


Writing on Ubuntu Linux


Ubuntu Linux is a great operating system.  It is free (as in price), light, viruses are almost unknown, is not bloated with junk (talking about you, Windows), and it is fairly easy to use.  Ubuntu is even faster than Windows 7 or OS X Lion.
Best of all, the OS and all of the software is free.  (Perhaps I said that once already.)
Anyway, I started using Ubuntu three years ago out of curiosity.  I set it up on a Toshiba notebook, but I needed writing software, so I went looking.  I had been using a Macintosh since 2003, actually the same Macintosh since they last forever, so I was coming from a mac point-of-view.  In other words, I was used to having limited choices, but I expected those choices to be excellent.
 So . . . What writing software is there for Ubuntu Linux?
This is what I found:
(The programs are listed in alphabetical order.)
Celtx is an good program.  It is meant for screenwriters, so I am not going to go into lots of depth about it here.  It is cool, so if you write drama, take a look.  It has three main windows, something like a three column web page.  The left side is divided into two areas–a library and a list of scenes.  The middle area, and the largest, is the writing area to write out your awesome movie script.  The right side has a notes.  The right and left windows can be changed to show different things, such as pictures, clippings, etc.  It was not for me, with its focus on screenwriting, but it is worth a look.



Despite that, I wanted more than a word processor only for basic needs.  I needed something more advanced.  After some searching, I tried a funky program with a very cool name, Kabikaboo.  It is available from the Ubuntu Software Center on your computer.
Kabikaboo is made for organizing bits of information.  If you have ever used Z-write on the mac, it is kind of similar.  The site documentation says it is for organizing notes in a tree formation.  It is good for this.
As a word processor, it is very basic, and when you are typing, it is like typing in notepad or simple text.  That is okay, I guess, but it seemed a bit simple for my taste.  However, it died on me after a running three or four times, and I could not get my notes back out of it, so I do not recommend this program.  Hopefully, it will be released in a more stable version next time because it would be useful.


Open Office and Libre Office
A free office is a package of software that has about the same functions and programs as MS Office, ideally with fewer freezes.  These free office suites are  exactly what you would expect them to be.  They function well on the whole.
Open Office was available for the older versions of Ubuntu, and it was good.  Now Libre Office is packaged with the Ubuntu 11.04. It is even better in my opinion.  Sure, both of these have a few very small quirks.  I use Libre Office now, and I find it easier to use and usually faster, and without the freezes, compared to MS Office (which I have to use at work).
The word processor, Libre Write, is good.  It is easy to use, and it is easy to customize.  It reads and can export any file format that I have needed to use, and in a nutshell, is a good solid word processor for your basic needs.  It is also quite fast.  It even seems to be set up for those who use Word regularly, so using it is easy.
My only complaint about Libre Office Writer is the fonts.  (Part of this might be Ubuntu also.)  Sometimes the fonts look a little faint or as if they are underwater.  This does not happen all the time, but it does happen.
All in all, this is a good word-processor.  Good for most writing.  Same goes for Open Office Writer.

Libre Writer

Libre Writer

Click on the picture for a closer look.


Scrivener for Ubuntu is still in beta phase, but make no mistake, it is usable.  Honestly, for novel writing, and other long works, it is the best thing available for Ubuntu or Linux.
Scrivener for Ubuntu has two forms, and they are quite different.  You can run it in Wine (software that lets you run Windows software on Ubuntu), or you can run it normally in Ubuntu.  Running it normally seems to work fine, so that’s what I would recommend.
 However, before I continue . . ..
Let me explain about Scrivener.  I had used Scrivener on my mac.  As most people who use Scrivener on the mac know, Scrivener is superb.  On the mac OS X, Scrivener is the best program for writers on one of the best platforms.  However, until only recently, Scrivener was only for macs, and the problem for me was that I could not leave Scrivener because it was so great, which meant that I really could not leave mac for writing, although I really liked Ubuntu.
Things have changed.  They came out with Scrivener for Windows.  Sorry, but it is still not as good as it was on the mac, but I doubt it is possible.  (The reason is  simply because Windows is so ugly and clumsy).  As they made the Windows version, some very wonderful people also ported it over to Linux.  This was fantastic.
Remember, Scrivener is still in Beta.  It is usable, and it works pretty well now.  (The first few versions were a bit rough.)  Sure, there are some quirks, and a few conflicts that come up here and there.  However, if you are using Ubuntu and write a lot, this is the tool you need.
Scrivener has a number of very clever features for a regular writer.  I will explain two of my favorites here.  First, this is the main window:
scrivener for linux ubuntu screenshot
Click on the picture for a closer look.


As you can see above in the picture, the left side is a list a list of scenes (or chapters if you wish to do it that way).  You can organize these into folders.  For example, you could have an Act One folder with seven scenes inside of it, then an Act Two scene with several more scenes inside, and so on.  This makes organizing and writing a novel much more manageable.
In the center window is where you write your text, of course.  Note that it is much wider than it looks here since I narrowed it for this picture.  This center window and left column I use a lot.
The right column is a place to put notes about each scene, put a category for the scene, and so on.  I use the right side only a little, so I usually keep it minimized.
Now, take a look at the second window for another one of my favorite features of Scrivener.
Scrivener for Linux, notecards

Scrivener for Linux in note card mode

Click on the picture for a closer look.


This shows the bulletin board feature in Scrivener.  Each note card on the board here is a scene from the list on the left.  You can move these around to organize your scenes.  This is very nice when you want to see how the whole story looks.  I love it.
If you are interested in running Scrivener, you need to download the beta from the site listed on the Scrivener for Linux BBS here.  The people are really nice, and there is usually someone understanding who is happy to help you if you run into any problems.


Distraction Free Writing Programs:
I grouped these two together because, although the differ some, they have the same function and act largely the same.  These are both very good tools, called “distraction free” writing programs.  I use Pyroom a lot, but I also like Focus Writer. Both are available from the Ubuntu Software Center.
What these programs do is that they provide a simple environment for writing by blocking out all the other distractions on your computer screen.  For example, in Pyroom, the screen goes black and you only see the green text.  In Focus Writer, its starts with gray.  In Focus Writer, it is easy to change the colors.  I usually change mine to a dark blue background with white text because it is easy on the eyes and relaxing for me.
I prefer Focus Writer for longer writing because it gives me access to the menus when I drag my mouse up to the top of the screen, but in Pyroom, I cannot get out of the text writing window without quitting the program.
Both of these are good.  I highly recommend them for when you have shorter documents to write and need to focus.

pyroom screenshot


Click on the picture for a closer look.


Other Software:

These are other kinds of software that I would recommend for a writer using Ubuntu.


Every writer needs a good thesaurus, and Artha does the job well here.  It is available from the Ubuntu Software Center.  When it is running, if you highlight a word and then hit a key combination, it will look the word up for you.  It gives synonyms, antonyms, derivatives, attributes of, and similar words.

Very useful.


Artha in action

Click on the picture for a closer look.


In the end, I was satisfied with the selection of writing software that I found.  With the addition of superb programs like Scrivener, Celtx, and Libre Office, Ubuntu has proved that it is an operating system that should be considered by serious writers.  For more information on the operating system itself, look at this Ubuntu page.



Plotting–A Point by Point Journey Through your World

One Plot Point at a Time


Plot and character are the two pillars of storytelling.  But, how do you make a story from two ingredients?


It takes a lot of thought for a story idea to reach a critical mass in your head.  Then, it has to come onto the page; you almost cannot not write it down.


I start with a character in a setting who has a problem.  Once I have an idea of the basic story and characters, I think ahead to the first big plot point–I imagine what will happen a few days down the road as these characters, their setting, and their problems interact.


For example, I have a professor type character in one of my fantasies, who is bent on solving a world-changing puzzle.  He starts off the story as stumped.  He has been stumped for years.  I want him to meet another character that has information which will point him in the right direction.  This is the first plot point, a major scene, for the story.


At the start, my professor is very temperamental.  He is also currently in a state of depression from not being able to solve the puzzle.  How can I get him from there to the plot point?


I begin writing scenes that will bring him from the depths of his depression to the meeting with this character.  First then, I introduce a clue that wakes him from his lethargic gloom with a glimmer of hope and, more importantly for such a motivated character, a path forward where he previously saw none.


It is from here that the story will progress, scene by scene, until we reach the plot point, where he meets the second person and must convince her to supply him the information he needs.

Likewise, each scene connects with that before and after, and once that chain is built, written, and polished, I move on to the next big plot point.  Think of it as climbing a mountain–once you have overcome the steep climb to reach the top, you look ahead to the next mountain and begin that long journey.


Don’t worry–It’s much harder than it looks, but it is a lot of fun.

Dec 7, 2011 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Can characters act on their own?

Characters acting on their own.

Most people who have read a book about characterization have heard phrases like, “Once you let your characters free, they will surprise you with the things they do,” or something like, “My characters took over the story and it went in a place I never meant it to go.”

Really?  Can that happen?

Well, maybe, I suppose.

Stories, or to be more specific plot, develops from the mix of character, setting, and situations (what is happening around them, the history/back story, and their relationships).  For example, The Odyssey is a story that grows out of Odyseus’ personality, the setting of the Ancient Mediterranean, and the situation (returning from the war, the problems in Ithaca, his crew’s desires).

It depends on the writer, but I think what is happening here is that the writer didn’t really know his or her character that well, or perhaps found new depth to the character that expressed itself in the revision, or as they wrote.

That is fine, of course.  Everyone writes differently.  I tend to have a rough idea of story in mind, but at the same time, I have already envisioned the characters for this story.  Which comes first, the character or the story?

I don’t know.  In the story I am working on now, the battle of two characters, the pair act in response to each other and their setting.

So can characters act on their own?  Maybe.  If they seem to do so, well, may be we are doing something right.