Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Summer Office

I finally found a place to write where I can't hear the children. It is quite lovely: flowers, trees, birds cheeping, lilac-scented breeze. Climate control achieved by moving my chair from sun to shade... 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Moon Phase Calculator for Writers

The phase of the moon is important in my story, since the characters are living without much electricity, and hiking through the night. Although there are lots of sites where we can look up the moon phase, I wanted something I could embed in my scene spreadsheet. So I wrote one in excel and am sharing it here in case you want to use it too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Automatic Chapter Numbers in Microsoft Word (Mac 2016)

I finished a draft of Winter Yield last weekend, and am now in the 'cleaning up phase' of addressing comments I left for myself. Since I find this very tedious, I rewarded myself for two hours of work this morning by finally learning how to automate chapter numbers in Microsoft Word.

Three parts to the lesson:
  • Using headings for navigation and formatting
  • Adding automatic chapter count in headings
  • (bonus) Adding page numbers in chapter headings

Using headings for navigation and formatting

This was the step that stopped me the first time I tried this. But thanks to a lesson from my esteemed critique partner C.R. Hodges, I am now using the navigation pane to not only see the master layout but also to immediately jump to any chapter start that I want.

In the Home menu, the heading styles are listed along the top right. Highlight the text you want to use (here, Chapter Something) and click Heading 2.

Note that I use Heading 1 for my Sections/Acts, and so chapters are Heading 2. 
Clicking on the far right 'Styles Pane' allows you to modify how this heading appears, but I just stuck with the default,

Adding automatic chapter count in headings

Now that we have the section and chapters, I can modify them to include automatic counts, and even the word Chapter and Section.

In the very top menu (File Edit View etc..., not the Home, Insert, Design, etc we just used), select Format: Bullets and Numbering

In the box that pops up, select Outline Numbered (blue box). This shows eight different pages. Other than the empty 'None', all but one have outline-type indents. So select the only one that looks like pages, in my view it is the bottom right corner option and there are even 'Chapter' words in it. 

Once it is highlighted/selected, click 'Customize'.

 Level on the left (red circle) seems to relate to the hierarchy of the headings, so I select Level 1 for my sections. I choose capitalized Roman numerals from the drop-down menu circled in blue. In the text box above it "Enter formating for number" I add Section before the automatic gray field. 

Similarly for chapters, which are Level 2. The one piece I couldn't get to work was continuing the chapter numbering in each new section. On the previous page (Outline Numbered) there is a box in the lower left corner to select 'Continue Numbering' but this doesn't help. The only way I could get it to work was to hard-code the chapter each section should start with in the green circle. This wasn't a big deal since I only have four sections, but if anyone knows how to make this work, please comment on this post!

 Then I had to go through and take out all my hard-coded Chapter N's... but it was worth the time investment because I won't have to hard-code them again!

Adding page numbers in chapter headings.

One last piece was to add automatic page numbers in the chapter headings. In order to make sure I have interesting things happening in my novel, I'm following the enviable Susan Spann's model of five-page chapters. So while I'm writing, I want to know what page each chapter starts on. I have been putting this in the headings so it shows up in the navigation panel, but again the hard-coding requires a lot of updating when I change things. In reading up about numbering, I was introduced to the concept of Fields, and I stumbled across this way to add automated numbers anywhere in the text.

In the Insert menu, a little white box on the far right (red circle below) inserts a frame.
Select Numbering (blue circle) and Page (green), and now it will update that frame with the actual page number.

Completed view: To see the navigtion frame, click View (red) and select Navigation (Blue). Now the left side of the screen has a collapsable list of sections and chapters, with the accurate numbers and the page numbers so I can see them at a glance. (The pane can be resized by clicking and dragging the border; the headings missing page numbers are just too long to be shown). Clicking any of the chapter headings in the navigation pane takes me to that text instantly. Yay!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

 I just found Randy Ingermanson and laughed several times while reading his article about Dwight Swain's advice. Perhaps I'm just sympathetic because I use and have written about the large-scale scene struture as well. But Randy has more than just an appreciation for Dwight Swain; as a theoretical physicist, he has a method of using fractal theory to design a novel. 

I will try this method as I'm developing an idea for my next novel. I had hoped to bust it out for NaNoWriMo but discussions with my critique group when they finished my current novel in August inspired me to make a major change... which has of course led to more changes and I'm basically re-writing the thing again. Plus NaNoWriMo was clearly made for people who don't have kids out of school for three-fourths of the month nor a feast to prepare! My current hope is to be done with the new draft "soon" (end of the year? I'm about two-thirds through...) and get it to beta readers while I do a sort of MidJanuFebNoWriMo all of my own.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Storytelling Lessons from Orange Is The New Black

So far my husband and I have found the first season to be hilarious, moving and thought-provoking. It inspired me to pick up the book and I am noting how the TV script diverges from the memoir, almost always in ways that make the story more interesting. Here are a few strengths present in Episode 2, when Piper is being starved out by the cook, Red, and has to figure out how to get food. 

1) Introducing backstory to show how the character triumphs

We see flashbacks into Piper's pre-prison life of
   - doing a lemon cleanse: she can think of starvation in terms of something she's voluntarily done before while introducing comical elements and deepening the viewer's understanding of Piper's relationship with her husband
   - making soaps and lotions: shows how she learned to make those things from her friend (while explaining what her career is and showing her being the one who motivated the business)

2) Try/Fail cycle
 - First, Piper uses what works in her upper-middle-class, white world: a sincere apology. Fail.
 - Second, she takes the advice of her cellmate and tries to get Red to beat her up. Fail.
 - Finally, she listens to what Red tells her (do something nice for her) with what she's observed (Red has a bad back) and her experiences (making bath products) to make her a jalapeno lotion. Success!

3) Establish a sympathetic antagonist

Red is the antagonist in this episode, but the flashbacks show her trying to get in with the snobby Russian women because her husband wants her to. The women are mean to Red and this makes us sympathetic toward her. We see her frustration come out with terrible consequences: she pushes one of the women, popping her silicone breast. The husband comes home with news that they owe $60,000, and we are sympathetic to him too, when he points out the men are meaner than their wives.

4) Making the reader/viewer an active participant in figuring out the story

Red's flashback concludes when we see her husband letting the men put bulky, black-plastic-wrapped objects into their restaurant's freezer.  Red and her husband have worried expressions, so we assume it is something illegal. Since we know that Red ends up in prison, we can guess that they were caught and she and her husband were blamed. None of this is shown, which makes the reader/viewer an active participant. My husband and I even had a discussion after watching about what was in the bags; from our cultural knowledge of the mob and what they do, we assumed body parts. But the important thing is we were thinking and talking about it, which made us active participants.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Dan Koboldt's Putting the Science in Fiction

I'm a big fan of Dan Koboldt's blog posts featuring experts offering advice to help writers get their fields right. Now these posts have been compiled in book form. Read a sample or Order from your favorite bookseller

About the Book
Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres—science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film and television are pure fiction.
Putting the Science in Fiction connects you to experts in a broad range of fields. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and other experts offer advice on getting the details right, to help writers create more realistic yet engaging stories that will satisfy discerning readers. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review: Blood Solutions by BJ Smith

Detective stories aren't usually on my bookshelf, but when I found out my coworker had written a novel, I wanted to read it.

From the first page, I was pleasantly surprised that the writing was excellent. I spend a lot of time reading for critique groups and beta-trades and this was well plotted and polished.  The story itself kept me engaged and thinking through a quick, enjoyable read.  The detective was an interesting character but I felt closer to the psychologist by the end. But my favorite part was the mystery--there was a perfect mix of clues that kept me guessing until the end.

His second book just came out so let me know what you think!