Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Year Revolutions

I was feeling a bit stuck in a rut -- a new year and all that, but I was still at my desk, tapping away and struggling with the same writing I was before Christmas.

I mean, apart from the pock, pock in the background of tennis balls being bashed around Melbourne Park, you'd hardly know it was the new year.

Desperate for a mark of change, I changed the background of my desktop. I know, radical, but I think it did the trick. Now I've got something new to look at every time I sit down at my computer, and have some vague sense of fresh beginning, even if I'm still struggling with the same writing I was before Christmas. I also moved my desk lamp from the left to the right side of my desk.

Never underestimate the power of change -- it's as good as a holiday!

And for a bit more inspiration for the year ahead, here's a piece in The Age last week by Catherine Deveny, a "professional pain in the arse" hero of mine.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Write by numbers?

OMG, as they say. Blog and ye shall receive.

No sooner had I made a wish list of technologies that would make me a better and speedier writer, than what should I come across in a far corner of the internet? Fiction writing software

Specifically--and there are many out there--one called StoryMill. It's a novel writing program for Apples that contains a word frequency tracker and a cliche finder! Clearly I am behind the eight ball on this one.

The full list of features runs as follows (from the website):

• Track, tag and filter characters, scenes, locations, and research with StoryMill's unique dynamic outline.
• Visually and interactively display your story across time with StoryMill's timeline view.
• Annotate any text in your project.
• Revise your work with innovative tools like a word frequency tracker and cliche finder.
• Set and achieve your daily writing goals with the progress meter.
• A built-in support for tracking submissions to editors and agents.
• Manage the creative writing process with Smart Views.
• Write, distraction-free, in Full Screen Mode.
• View your novel in multiple views.
• Back up any and all activity in StoryMill

StoryMill supports the following languages: English, French, German, Italian.

Sounds quite impressive, and makes writing a novel seem like just a matter of being able to interactively display your timeline while not being distracted by having only a single view of your novel in Part Screen Mode. 

In other words, it seems like a whole lot more excuses for why my novel isn't working ('But I don't have a progress meter - how can I set my daily writing goals? How am I supposed to keep track of my characters without a dynamic outline?').

So while it seemed a good idea in theory, and yes, the cliche finder might be handy and I'd love to give it a go just to see, I think I might press on with my creative writing process sans Smart Views and see where it gets me.

[Has anyone tried any of these kinds of software? Am I being unjustly dismissive?!]

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Villain of the Piece

So, I'm trying to put together the plot of my book - outline of story, characters, their motivations etc.

While I'm not anywhere near certain about all of this, the process has made me much more aware of the importance of the bad guys in a story. They are, after all, usually the cause of all the hero's problems, and create the all-important conflict.

And watching the new Sherlock Holmes movie the other day made me aware of how important villainous markers are.

The epiphany came right at the start. Holmes and the new improved, beefed-up Dr. Watson are racing against time to prevent the ritual killing of a pretty young thing by -- a man whose face is shadowed by a hood, all except his wonky front teeth. The lingering close-up on his crooked not-so-pearly whites tells all the viewer needs to know. This guy is a bad guy and he's going to cause trouble for the rest of the movie (why distinguish him by his crooked teeth if you're not going to show them again and again?).

It's not subtle, but it works, and it made me realise I need to focus a bit more on my own villain and leave the good guys be for a while. I had no clear idea of what my villain looks like, or even of his motivations beyond just being a bit of a bastard. But it's so important that he's a rounded, convincing character, and a worthy foil to my heroine. I'm also thinking a scar down his right cheek and a wall-eye. Or is that going a bit far?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tools of the Trade for the Modern Writer.

I've just discovered the 'stickies' program on my Apple and think it's one of the most useful things I've ever come across on a computer. It's great. You just open it up and a little yellow square, of exactly the same size and appearance of a post-it note, appears on your desktop. You can then type anything you like on it - reminders, ideas, internet banking passwords - and it will stay up there until you either delete the text or 'bin' the note.

It's very useful for keeping track of writing ideas and unlike my current system, the notes can't be blown off my desk into infinity by the fan, or lost in the rest of the writing detritus that weighs down my desk.

All technology should be this good. In fact, I am so pleased that someone has made a program that meets my needs this well, that I'm now sitting back, waiting expectantly for the following innovations to appear and make writing as easy as it's surely meant to be...

Word Psychic 1.0.
A word processor with telepathic device attached, Word Psychic plucks half-formed thoughts from the user's head, before they've had the chance to ruin them by trying to put them into written words. The program then analyses the thoughts and spits them onto the page in the clearest, most moving prose available to express such thoughts. A version would be available for mobile phones and mp3 players, allowing the writer to make the most of pensive journeys on public transport and amusing work situations.

Having trouble maintaining the voice of your narrator? Not sure whether your cockney washer woman would use the word 'ineffable'? The iVoice will solve all these problems and more. Simply type in a sample of your character's 'voice' into the sampleator, add any other information about your character (female, English, likes suds), and iVoice will track your writing, alerting you to any deviations from authentic voice and suggesting replacement phrases.

Cliche and Mixed Metaphor checker.
Does what it says on the tin.

Yellow Ink Purple Prose Inhibitor.
Another fairly straight-forward application, but one that comes with an adjustable index of acceptable purple prose content. Settings include 'Love-letter' (up to 90% allowable PP), 'Mills & Boon' (<60% PP) and 'Dirty Realism' (<0.01% PP).

With technology thus taking all the hard work out of being a writer, I should be able to then get down to the proper business of the occupation. This chiefly involves drinking tea, sending off absorbingly brilliant manuscripts to publishers and sipping champagne at the book launch.

Can't wait.