2012 Goals Update & A Request for Recommendations

Yesterday was the self-imposed deadline I had set for myself to finish my outline and prep-work to start writing the actual first draft of “Book of M”.  I thought I should report on my standing relative to that goal.

Unfortunately, I failed to reach my goal.  Failed, yes, but I’m so close.  As of last night, I believe I’ve reached somewhere between the three-fifths and three-quarter mark of the plot.  There’s a lot going on and a lot of pieces coming together.  I’m getting super-excited for writing this book, because I really like the direction the plot is going.

I think it might be amusing to also point out that as it stands the unfinished outline is nearly 9,000 words long, by itself, and is split between two separate word documents (it’s… complicated).  The length, at least, I can explain: the outline includes a lot of asides, notes to myself about changes to make to the outline, and especially a few internal dialog question-and-answer sessions that I’ve used to help me figure out some difficult plotting.  The upshot: this is definitely not a short story that I’ve blown up into a novel, here.  There’s a lot of ground to cover. 

I’m still optimistic that I can keep this a relatively short book (my target is 125,000 words, but I’m mainly hoping for anything under 185,ooo).  Realistically speaking though… at an artistic level I’m fine with a book that stretches to 250,000 words.  I enjoy works of that length.  And I don’t discount the possibility that this book could go as much as that long.  My shorter-length goal is based more on concerns for marketability – notwithstanding my prior analysis of wordcount lengths in my chosen genres, showing a distinct market preference (vis-a-vis the market of readers) for longer works, the advice of professionals in the business is still to write shorter, roughly 100K-length books.  Still, I won’t sacrifice my artistic integrity to force my book into artificial constraints.  I’m just trying to set a target, so I know what to work toward.

Considering how close I am to finishing my outline, I’m resetting my goal with a fairly short new deadline: to have all this prep-work done by January 31st, which will allow me to start the month of February diving straight into the actual First Draft.  I’ll definitely be able to finish the outline by then, and more than likely I’ll be able to tie a bow on some more character work as well.

Anyway, something became clear to me last night (which I tweeted about) as I was adding scenes – both new scenes that occur earlier in the book to foreshadow and support the direction the plot is moving, and additional scenes that moved said plot closer toward the climax and the end of the book.  At this point, I’ve got 4 POV characters.  The majority of the scenes are from the primary protagonist, Isa’s point-of-view.  A few scenes are from the co-protagonist, Davin’s POV, with a similar number of scenes from the anti-hero’s POV.  After the protagonist, however, the next largest scene-hog is the primary antagonist.  The timeline for everything is getting complicated, with the timing of different scenes and events affecting the course of other scenes and events.  Besides the four POV characters, there are at least 23 other named characters (of varying levels of importance – most of the characters, except walk-on “servant/messenger” roles have names).  Action takes place across four major locations (plus sublocations, such as a specific building within a larger city), and in at least three different time periods.

Those worries that I had about “is this epic enough” or “is this ambitious enough”, that I talked about last week – now that I’m nearly finished plotting this book out, those worries have been whacked upside the backs of their heads with a very heavy shovel and buried deep in the earth.  This is epic.  This is ambitious.  And the realization that I had last night?

I need help.

Your Recommendations, Please

So, I’m hoping you, dear readers, might be able to help me out with something.  There’s a lot to track in this book.  I’ve been using a program I bought a few years ago called “ConnectedText” to help me in my note-taking and background writing.  It’s like a desktop wiki, but with way more functionality than just a wiki.  It’s been perfect for the use to which I’ve put it, which is more-or-less creating an encyclopedia of my worldbuilding.

But now I’m entering a different phase of my project, and I find that it’s not exactly designed to help with what I’m working on, now.  I need to keep track of multiple scenes, multiple characters, and multiple timelines.  I need to be able to quickly and easily tie a scene to the brief descriptions I’ve written up on my outline, and I anticipate the need to quickly reshuffle scenes or slot in new scenes.

Now, I’m aware of the existence of multiple software programs designed to help novelists with managing some or possibly all of the above.  But I don’t have time to try out each and every one of them to see which one best suits my needs.  (Nor am I inclined to purchase each one of them to try it out, nor again am I inclined to go through the work of setting up all the scenes, characters, and timelines multiple times in multiple programs to see which works best.)

So, I’m hoping dear readers, that those of you with experience with these programs can offer your thoughts, based on usage, as to how well each or any of these meets the needs as I’ve outlined them.  Please, share your thoughts!

Scrivener ($40) appears to be the favorite among a lot of novelists.  I know it has outlining tools and a storyboard.  But how well does it handle juggling characters and timelines?  Until recently this wouldn’t have been an option, anyway, because it was Mac-only but they’ve recently released a Windows version.  Anyone tried that?  There does appear to be a free-trial period, but of course there’s no way I can write a novel in that period.  (And I don’t want to waste my time with multiple free trials.)

Liquid Story Binder ($45.95) is another that, until Scrivener for Windows was released, I understood to basically be Scrivener for Windows, by another name and software maker – in that it had many of the same features.  A look at the screen-shots suggests a heavy emphasis on images in the program… not that I have any images to use.  The feature list specifically mentions it has timelines… has anyone used that, and if so how does it work?

Storybook (Free Version $0, Pro Version $26.29) appears to allow you to tie a scene to a chronological date – but I suspect those dates are tied to a “real-world-Gregorian-Calendar”, which isn’t much use to me in a world that has it’s own, non-real calendar), which could help with managing timelines.  It also seems to allow you to connect scenes to specific plot threads to see how they come together.  There’s a free version and a paid-pro version, but it’s not wholly clear to me what the advantages of the pro version are.

yWriter (Free to use, $11.95 to “register”) has the advantage of being completely free (I’ve got a copy of both yWriter and the free version of Storybook on my computer already, though I haven’t really tinkered with either or dug into them, yet), and I know it breaks things down to the scene and character level, and has some sort of storyboard, though I haven’t figured out how to get to it.  For certain the UI looks less slick and polished than in the above non-free options, which could possibly impact usability.

And there may be others I’m simply not aware of.

Does anyone have any experience with the above?  Any thoughts on which is the best and easiest to use and set-up, and which has the features that appear to have the most overlap with what I’m trying to accomplish and might best meet my needs?  

I haven’t pre-cleared the idea of paying for one of these with Dear Wife, yet, so I’m not guaranteed to get to use the solution that best meets my current authoring needs, and I may yet resort to just throwing some words into MS Word and slapping together a spreadsheet of some sort… but just in case, I’m interested in what the ideal solution would likely be, for me.  If one of those might genuinely make my writing life easier… well… I guess if I’m willing to do the MS Word + Spreadsheet thing for a while, I will, eventually, have a birthday, or something

23 thoughts on “2012 Goals Update & A Request for Recommendations

  1. I’ve tried Liquid Story, but found the timelines, and scenes, features a little unwieldy. I’ve got friends that rave about Scrivener, but I’ve never tried it myself.

    On my side, I track it all with an excel spreadsheet with columns: chapter, scene number, brief description, point of view character, story date (ie. day 1 of story), other characters that appear in this scene, subplot1, subplot 2, etc. (where i note which were touched upon in the scene), and general notes.

    Kinda clunky, but it works! Depends on your writing method though. If you need more info, or to cross reference files it might not work.

    • So you would not really recommend Liquid Story, it sounds like? Good to know – especially since it’s the most expensive of the different options. (Well, technically Word & Excel are the most expensive, but they came with the computer so, you know…) It’s too bad though – from the screen shots the interface certainly looks pretty slick, but I suspect that’s largely because of the heavy emphasis all the screenshots place on the pretty art that’s attached to everything. The Excel Spreadsheet method does have some distinct advantages, of course – mostly being that I already have it, am already familiar with it, and can probably fairly easily set up a rudimentary spreadsheet that will do some of what I want. But it won’t have the same sort of flexibility and linkages… Still… maybe it’s my best bet on short notice? I’ll have to think a little.

    • Well, I’ve got all their websites, and I can see their feature list and screenshots… but I’m looking for something a little more personal in nature – people’s actual exerpiences with these programs, if they have any.

  2. “As you know, Bob…” heh, I’ve talked about yWriter a little before on my blog, but I’ll try to briefly highlight what I can.

    Though it’s not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing of the writing programs I’ve seen/heard about, I actually think it would work well with almost all of your needs. Let me make a list of what I’m currently keeping track of, according to what I’ve already input into yWriter, to give you an idea of how much you can monitor:

    * 18 named characters who contribute to actual dialogue in the story, four of them POV characters (and five, if I count a prologue–ah!—I may/may not keep); this does not include truly minor characters, whose total number I lost track of once I reached 50, lol. yWriter keeps track of how many scenes each listed character is in. You can also add photographs and brief descriptions–which can be printed as their own individual lists.
    * 14 distinct locations (with a few more to come); some are specific buildings/structures while others are just general cities and towns. Like with characters, photographs and brief descriptions can be added and printed individually.
    * 31 chapters and 53 scenes (and counting; I’ve only added the ones I’ve edited since I’m in “editing” mode), both of which have their own lists though are connected and can easily be edited and shifted around
    * timeline (the program lets you keep track of this in days/hours/minutes gone or even exact dates; for my purposes, I stick to simple days.

    Now, there are tons more features you can play around with: goal-setting, reports, a synopsis, keeping track of actual “items” used in various scenes, word usage… So the features I listed above are just the ones I tend to use.

    The only aspect that may not have enough features for you is the timeline aspect, though I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “multiple timelines” or how you’re expecting to be able to track this. (Oh, and btw, in the latest version, v5, you can view the storyboard by going to Tools > Storyboard. I think it’s neat to look at–you can even manually drag scenes around that way rather than in list form–but personally I don’t really use it.)

    On another note, your enthusiasm for getting into the first draft is contagious ’cause I’m excited just hearing about it, lol. Though, to be honest, it does sound like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you! 😀

    • Also, I should mention you can write brief descriptions for chapters and scenes, as well, like with characters and settings. And you can track what setting each scene is set in.

    • So with yWriter the somewhat clunky-looking UI was not a particularly negative experience for you? That’s good to hear. It does sound like maybe yWriter has all the underlying features I’m looking for, if I can look past the clunky UI (and besides… at a functional level, the UI isn’t any worse than using an Excel spreadsheet, I’d wager, to track the same bits of data – plus the drag’n’drop feature, which I think the others all have as well, is something that Excel wouldn’t have). As for “multiple timelines” what I mean is this: most of the story is on a relatively linear timeline from Day 1 of the adventure and going forward, with the normal sorts of flashbacks and whatnot. But there are a few scenes where the word “flashback” is insufficient to describe the nature of the time-shift in action: certain parts of the story take place several hundreds of years in the past, occurring in at least two separate historical periods. The first of these major time-shifts is essentially what I expect will be Chapter 2. (In my original vision of the story, there was a prologue, and this was the prologue. Later I realized it actually made more sense for this scene to occur shortly after the introduction of the main protagonist in the main timeline. I hope it’ll be clear from context that this chapter then leaps us back into the past, but that’ll be for betas to decide.)

  3. Ah…’k, that makes sense.

    Yeah, with yWriter, as far as timeline goes, you basically just tell it “okay, this scene takes place on this day” or “between these days”. It could be “Day 1, 2, 3”, etc. or, if you have your own method of date-keeping, you could put in something like “732 AG”. You’d be able to see this any time you bring up a scene (under “Details”) or if you print out or simply view the “Scene List”. That’s about the extent of the time-tracking feature.

    And ya know, the UI isn’t too bad. It works well enough for me to keep using it, lol. (It does get more refined with each version.) I know something like Liquid Story would be more eye-catching, but at the end of the day I just need something that works. yWriter works, and it’s free, as you said, so I’ve stuck with it, heh. I’m not really tempted to get distracted by any one of the features, either, once I’ve learned how it works, and it didn’t take long at all to figure out how to use it. I think the more spartan look and nature of the UI can actually help keep you focused on writing your story, and I get the feeling it was intentionally designed this way. (Apparently you can also set a word count target, which might be helpful on the first draft!)

    • So you can apply your own date-marker… but can it sort the dates in chronological order? And do you do any of your first-drafting directly in yWriter? I know it’s capable of doing that… but I wonder how it would feel to use another program like that as opposed to the old stand-by (i.e. Word).

      • Nah, it doesn’t sort anything according to dates. The only thing that’s presented as a “timeline”, per se, is the storyboard, showing your scenes and chapters in the order you want them to progress with descriptions. Otherwise, the slots that let you input dates, days, etc. are just there for reference, pretty much.

        Personally I prefer to do all of my actual writing and drafting in Word and just copy/paste stuff (better formatting features). Ultimately, yWriter has been more valuable in sorting out the organization of it all and keeping track of which characters are in which chapters, scenes and settings.

      • Hmm. That’s too bad. Means I’d still have to put everything into spreadsheet or something, anyway, even if I use yWriter… I suspect, too, that if I use yWriter I’d still want to do my actual drafting in Word… and do the same sort of copy-paste process. Well… given the cost issue, I might give yWriter a try and see if it works for me (along with a spreadsheet, it seems). And if not… there’s always next novel to try something different.

  4. Pingback: Writing Progress: Week Ending January 28, 2012 « The Undiscovered Author

  5. Pingback: Writing Progress: Week Ending February 4, 2012 « The Undiscovered Author

  6. I have a Mac, so although yWriter runs on the Mac, it doesn’t do it elegantly, so I didn’t use it very long before deciding that it wasn’t the tool for me to use.

    I have been using Scrivener. I’m not sure it really does what you want. It’s beautiful for allowing me to write every scene separately and reorganize them. (Or rather in the revision process, I can reorganize scenes, add/delete, etc.) But it sounds like what you need is related to characters, places, and timelines. It provides a place to keep character and place information, but I don’t use this and think a wiki would be better (although it does support links… but I’ve never used it.) I haven’t found anything that relates to timelines, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there either.

    I’m afraid I tend to write at the non-epic side of the spectrum. (My first novel-attempt draft clocked in at about 100,000 words; my second will likely be under 80,000). Therefore, I don’t think I use the parts of the software that will help too much. I’d end up using Tessa’s technique of excel spreadsheets for more complicated needs.

    • Yeah, I realize that in part I want to use Scrivener or Liquid Binder because they have slick, eye-catching interfaces, and because so many writers swear by Scrivener in particular. But if it doesn’t do what I need, or all of what I need, then it’s probably not worth the added investment over a free program that does the same things. So I figure, at least with respect to timelines, I’ll probably end up using a spreadsheet for now. I’ll also probably experiment with yWriter at least a little, to see what functionality I can get out of it.

      • BTW, did you see AEON Timeline. That looks like timelines done right. I didn’t download the software (and unfortunately, it is mac only) so I don’t think it will help at all, but it’s sometimes fun to look at software.

      • No, I have never heard of AEON Timeline. And now I lust after it. Why is it Mac only? WHYYYYY????. But seriously, yes, that’s pretty cool, and definitely the kind of functionality I’m looking for, at least with regard to timelines (and the flexibility to use invented calendars for speculative fiction stories). And apparently it even synchronizes with Scrivener. What would be truly awesome if it were incorporated wholly into Scrivener… and then Scrivener would probably be the perfect solution for what I’m looking for (and then since Scrivener is now on Windows it would actually be available to me as well). Thanks for pointing it out!

    • Also, yes, a wiki has been a pretty good companion tool for my development purposes – because functionality like linking and categories maps well to my developmental process for background and character development – I’m finding that a wiki is not a great tool for plotting, scene management, and timeline management (particularly if you’re using an artifical calendar to mark the passage of time in an artificial world). Even if I take out timeline management, plotting and scene management (which includes which character is where and when) is still a lot to ask of a wiki that isn’t optimized for those tasks.

  7. Pingback: Writing Progress: Week Ending March 3, 2012 « The Undiscovered Author

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