The Fictorians

Researching it Old School and a Little New

14 May 2015 | No Comments » | Jace Killan

researchLouis L’Amour talked to every “old timer” he could find so that he could accurately portray how folks used to live in the old west. Nowadays most writers just turn to the Internet.

There are great, insightful websites that offer a virtual experience and allow us to get into the minds of our characters. For example, I was writing about a space station built on the planet Mercury. Using computer software I was able to visit Mercury and see what Earth looked like from her surface. In the right rotation, Earth and her moon looked like two bright stars. This detail added a nice level of authenticity to my story.

A couple years ago, I was researching my family history and came across a gentleman that I may or may not be related to (I still can’t figure that out) but his story is a great one. Commodore Joshua Barney fought in the American Revolution and was one of the first to serve in the continental navy.

I decided to write his amazing coming of age story (and am nearly complete with this endeavor). Though at the time, I hadn’t a clue about ships and sailing in the 18th century. So I turned to the Internet.

Wikipedia is alright for double checking a reference, not hard fast research. But I perused its site first to get some direction.

YouTube offered some interesting videos on ship replicas from that era and I was able to glean some insights into sailing such a vessel. But even the replicas have been modified with gas engines and motorized rudders, so how authentic could that be? Most of the cabins have also been modified to accommodate the 18th century luxuries we now consider necessities like running water and flushable toilets.

I gathered twenty or so books from Amazon on sailing in the 18th century and other period pieces. The first thing I noticed is that folks back then didn’t talk like we do today. Keeping to the historic dialect would probably be more authentic, but I would most likely alienate my middle-grade readers in the process. So I drifted from authenticity in that area and hoped to make up for it in my research of the sailor life: food, sleep, hygiene, and so on.

I went to an antique mall and purchased a few model ships from the 18th century so I could get a feel for their look, dimensions, and layouts. This helped me gain a better prospective than just looking at photographs.

IMG_6211After reading the Amazon books and playing with my model ships, my head was swimming in information, but I really had no way of knowing what was worthwhile and what was rubbish. So I booked a sailing expedition on an 18th century tall ship replica (now referred to as a yacht). I was able to feel the experience, see it, smell it, and taste it. This made it easier to convey sailing in my writing. But I still lacked some aspects of the ship life.

My next research adventure came by surprise. I was visiting Collette Black’s Desolation book signing in Half Priced Books and wondered if they had anything on sailing. I was able to browse dozens of helpful books and elect the ones that were most specific to my project, at a great price. That is something you really can’t do on Amazon. I even found a book that discussed trekking through the Alps during summer in the late 1800s (something that my protagonist did at the age of fifteen in the late 1700s).

David Farland said that I needed to visit the Alps to convey the experience like I had with sailing. I’d love to, and don’t doubt that my writing that particular chapter would be much more convincing and insightful if I did, but I’m going to try writing the chapter from my research first and we’ll see how it goes.

So sure, researching has gotten much easier with the Internet, but researching it old school is still necessary to add levels of depth and authenticity that virtual experience has yet to duplicate. My experience on Mercury would no doubt be a drop in the bucket to what I might actually experience if I travelled to the planet (and lived to tell about it). Bottom line, there isn’t any short cuts. Even a fantasy novel on a made-up world still requires huge amounts of research to capture the reader. Good research facilitates better writing.

jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.You can visit my author website at www.jacekillan.com, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.

Scrivener: Friend or Foe?

13 May 2015 | 7 Comments » | Colette

Scrivener IconThey chose their icon well. Punctuation marks to engender the triumphant swells of magnificent writing, a black and white background representing the light and the dark side, and a big S. The S might stand for suffering or stupendous. It really just stands for Scrivener, often called the ultimate writer’s tool or the biggest (insert swear words of choice here) software program to ever torture mankind. When I first started with the software, I wasn’t sure which was true. Now, I might threaten your life if you threatened my writing program. I’m still no expert with Scrivener, but I love using it. Here are a few reasons why:

Writing Templates: From Step 1, I can design my work space specifically for the project I’m starting. I can have a blank template; fiction writing that comes in short story, novel with parts, or basic novel; non-fiction in essay, research paper, and other flavors; a plethora of scriptwriting options; and a miscellaneous option that contains persuasive lecture and even a cookbook template. How cool is that? From my husband’s research proposals to my non-fiction writing to my novels, it’s all there.

Screenshot 2015-05-06 09.23.13Outlining features: When you outline, do you like the index card method, formal outlining method, color-coding…? Yep, Scrivener can do that. Unless you need to draw a graph, in which case you could draw it, scan it, and still upload it to Scrivener to have on hand. As you can see in the picture to the right, there is a place to organize my outline with notecards. I can move them around, just like cards, I can color-code the whole card or just the corner based on any criteria I like. I have different colors for each character’s point of view. By clicking on one of my notecards, I have an optional window to the right with more information. At the click of a button, I can change the type of information. I can also view my novel in a list outline form, with notes to the side of each entry. I honestly can’t think of any outlining feature I could want that Scrivener doesn’t have. *Correction, I just read Katie Cross’s post about Nova mind. I think it would be a perfect start to getting out your ideas and then I would want to organize them on Scrivener. Not an outliner? That’s okay. You can skip this or get a broad look at your story progression as you go.

Workspace: I need a Chilean name–find a website. What color was that character’s eyes–find my character files. What was that website with the research I needed–Find my list of websites and remember which one to open. Sound tedious? It is. Scrivener gets rid of that. The program has a name generator. You can run it as many times as you like until you find a name that works. The left-side bar holds a list of files that you can diminish or expand including: your manuscript, separated by chapters or sections, as you choose; characters, each one with a character sheet that shows their name, role in the story, physical description, personality, habits, internal and external conflicts, and anything else you’d like to add, and you can even attach a picture to the file; places with similar descriptions and a picture; all of your research files with pictures and links if wanted; and it will even hold onto your trash for you. Deleted that chapter, but changed your mind? It’ll still be there for you, out of the way, but easily accessible.

Screenshot Scrivener workspaceNot only is the information accessible, but I can keep track of so many aspects of my writing as I work. If you look at the picture to the left, you’ll see how I often keep my information organized as I write. I have all of my files, characters, places at my fingertips in the bar to the far left. In the middle screen I have my chapter title, the synopsis, character pov, my progress on that chapter’s word count goal, the goal number, and the goal for the entire manuscript. In right screen I have my writing. If I don’t want the distraction of all the information staring at me, I click an icon and my writing screen goes front and center and I can set the background. Then, I write like I would on any other word processor. If I need the information hiding beneath, the ESC key brings me back again. With a simple click I can do just about anything I want without searching through files or checking word counts at the bottom of each chapter.

Cons: If I love it so much, why is my post entitled Friend or Foe?

Complexity: Anything with a million bells and whistles is going to have a learning curve. I took an online course on how to use Scrivener. It helped, but I knew enough to be bored and little enough to get lost, so it required time and patience. There’s also the learn as you go method, which is what I do with Photoshop. Need something? Look up the tutorial on youtube. If you decide to purchase Scrivener I would suggest that you go through the basic tutorials at least once then refer back to them as needed. The basic program isn’t all that complex, but it can do so much more if you take the time to figure out the special features.

Compiling: This is where you insert the curse word of your choice, in my opinion. Compiling seems straightforward and simple, but I have had more problems in this area than any other. It’s always little things, so I suggest you don’t follow my example which was to think I could figure it out on my own. Definitely watch a few how-to videos on compiling before you jump in. It is simple, if you know what you’re doing. I’ve also heard that it doesn’t always compile according to manuscript guidelines. Be aware and do some off-site formatting before submitting. My novels receive their final compilation through my Jutoh program, which I’ll be talking about in a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t help with short stories.

Limited screens: You can divide your work into two screens, but I do wish I could have more. I work on a large computer screen next to my laptop. Sometimes I’d like to have three or four screens open at a time. With Scrivener, I can get to my information quicker and easier than having multiple files to wade through, but I’d still rather have them open next to each other sometimes.

Overall, however, I don’t think you can beat the program for the price. Just be prepared for a bit of study on the front end and you need a willingness to review until you get a handle on the aspects that are important to you. In the end, the time is worth it.

I’d love to hear your questions or experiences:

 

 

 

Lonely Writer Is Lonely

12 May 2015 | No Comments » | Kim May

 

Yes, this is the best bonus track ever. Yes, this song is a bit creepy at the end but it illustrates what it’s like being a writer. We sit alone in room, lit only by the computer monitor, typing away. At some point the company of our imaginary friends isn’t enough. We start to crave the companionship of a breathing human being as much as we crave writing another chapter. And of course, we don’t want too much company because introversion and all that but we still crave a little people time. Thankfully we can satisfy both cravings at the same time!

If there’s a writing community where you live, meet up with them for some writing time. That’s right, you’ll be among a group of writers who occasionally talk to one another but mostly you sit in a coffee shop or library and write. It doesn’t matter if those around you are writing in the same genre because you’re all fulfilling the same dual need.

Now I hear some of you saying “But I live in the smelly nether region of nowhere! There aren’t any creative types to hang out with!” And I hear others saying “I can’t write outside of my sacred writing space.” Well for you, my friends, there is the internet. Yes, it’s often a distraction (darn you, cat videos!) but when used wisely it can be a useful tool.

Mary Robinette Kowal introduced me to Google +. I know, say what you want about the site itself but video chat is the most wonderful way to get some writing done without leaving your creative space. It also allows you to get to know writers from all over the world, while being productive. The way Mary runs her writing hangouts is that everyone chats for fifteen minutes and then writes for forty-five minutes. At the end of the writing time the cycle starts over and repeats until everyone has to depart for other things. You can also do this on Skype and FaceTime and the length of writing vs. socialization time can be adjusted to fit your/the group’s needs.

Another option is a chat room. One of my mentors introduced me the online writing group that she belongs to. It’s a private group of professional writers, which is why I’m not naming it or the site, but the group logs in to a site that they created for this purpose. It doesn’t have any fancy graphics or features. It’s just a chat room. However, like the G+ hangouts the main focus of the group when in the chatroom is to socialize, work out plot problems, and get writing or editing done. The members hail from all over the world so no matter what time of day it is, there’s usually someone logged in. Now what makes this unique, other than the privacy, is that the members have friendly writing battles.

I know. “friendly” and “battle” are words rarely seen in the same sentence and for good reason. In this case it really is the truth. We set a time frame, usually thirty minutes, and we write as much as we can during that time. When time is up we share our word counts and congratulate everyone on how much they accomplished. It doesn’t matter if a member got 1,000 words down or 100. They receive equal praise from the group. If a member is in the midst of edits they’re welcome to battle with the writers by editing as much as they can in the given time frame. Again, it doesn’t matter if they completed edits on two pages or two sentences. The progress is equally praised because everyone in the group has a family to take care of, or a day job, or both in addition to being an author. There’s a mutual understanding of how life can get in the way of creativity so any progress on a story is an achievement worthy of praise. It’s a wonderful way to work.

Whichever site you choose to try, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t give up. Maybe video chat is too intimidating. (Watching yourself write can be weird at first.) Try writing with your camera off, try other sites, find or create a group with dynamics that feel right to you. It can take a few tries to discover exactly what kind of and how much interaction you need. This is a big world. No matter what your needs are, online there’s a place and people who can fulfill those needs without additional cost or inconvenience to you.

Happy writing!

Novamind

11 May 2015 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by Katie Cross.

When you say ‘writing a first draft’, I say ‘massive splitting headache’.

Don’t worry, it’s my day job. #Igetawaywithit

Fortunately, I have a tool that helps me avoid and/or diffuse the headache of a first draft in the beginning teeth-grinding-stages of tension and angst.

*cue music*

Novamind.Software for Writers that Saves a Headache or Ten by @kcrosswriting

Novamind is basically mind mapping at it’s greatest. It’s an easy to learn, easy to use software that I’ve used since writing my first book to brain dump creative ideas and work my way out of plot holes.

Here’s an example: to show you the massive size that mind mapping can give. And don’t worry, it gets even bigger.

Software for Writers that Saves a Headache or Ten by @kcrosswriting

 

Let’s be honest, stuff like this can get pretty pricey.

That’s why I love Novamind5- because I installed the “lite” edition for free and it does everything I need: provides an endless backdrop of unexplored possibilities so I can mind map my brains out. You can pay yearly, or the upfront fee for all the bells and whistles, but all I ever need is a blank white screen and the ability to brain dump.

And . . . free.

Because what aspiring author actually has money, right?

When it comes to mind mapping, I have only one rule: No idea is rejected.

Even unrelated ideas are welcome and accepted.

Really, even the bad ideas are just another spider leg in a long chain. Maybe I’ll end up using it. Maybe not. But allowing my mind to be open somehow gives me permission to be creative, and that changes almost everything. It opens those closed doors of writing that make me say, ‘Uh . . . I don’t know where to take this story.’

Of course, I don’t limit mind mapping to just the computer. A good ol’ pen and paper while sitting in Starbucks sipping chai has never failed me either. But one look at my handwriting will tell you everything you need to know.

That whole doing-it-by-hand doesn’t last very long. :)

Software for Writers that Saves a Headache or Ten by @kcrosswriting

New to mind mapping? No problem. Here are a few other mind mapping websites/links that you can check out to get you started in the awesomeness.

How to MindMap your Book.

Different Mind Maps for Authors.

An Author’s Guide to Mind Mapping.

If you haven’t tried it out before, I’m telling you: you gotta try it. #butseriously

Next time you’re stuck on a plot hole, you don’t know what to write, or you need to add depth to a scene or a character, try mind mapping. Grab a paper, a computer, a chai, and sit back into a creative immersion.

Katie Cross likes cookies and mind mapping tools to help her write. #forreal @kcrosswritingKatie Cross used to be fond of gummy bears, but lately her tendencies lean more toward cuddling with puppies.When she’s not writing YA fantasy novels with kick @$%#*(@ females that don’t need a man to save them, you can find her at Starbucks.
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