Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Test Driving the Interlock Brakes

Things are getting complicated in Writing World. Truth be told, they’ve been complicated by the storytelling alone, but now I’m succumbing to the complications of Things That Interlock.

Stupid idea anyway.

I’m taking refuge in doing some necessary infrastructural work, namely beginning to assemble my calendar-of-events and the series bible.

The calendar is straightforward enough, and it is currently simply a long list of dates followed by an action. I’m only working from A Watchful Eye because that’s the only one with any relevance just yet. On the other hand, without having a sense of what the calendar is, I run all kinds of risks in working on Manuscript #2. For example, should I inadvertently place Kevin in a 3-on-3 basketball game on October 23, when it clearly has to happen on October 20 (clearly!), I’m asking for all kinds of trouble. Having a calendar will also help me wrangle my outline into submission. I am hopeful that these two things will assist me in speeding up the composition once I get to that point.

Which brings me to Scrivener.

the latest in crutches

For the series bible, I’m giving Scrivener a try (recommended by both Lisa and John L, only one of which has demanded payment on the idea thus far). The series bible identifies character details – for example, are Sam’s eyes brown or green? Does she carry her cane in her right or left hand? Well? MAKE UP YOUR MIND! Oh, I’ll just consult the handy “character” page over here… and… Ah. Right hand. Yes. Okay, that means she has to use her left hand in order to smear bad luck on someone in this instance. Got it.

I’ve  been using Scrivener for less than 24 hours right now, so I can’t completely speak to its utility just yet. There are a couple of minor aspects of its user interface that I don’t find particularly intuitive, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. As you can see in the picture above, there’s a left-hand sidebar (the “binder”) that contains your manuscript, your research, your character sketches, and your notes. You can add folders (rearranging their order is one of the places where the program falls down a bit), delete folders, and create individual files within those folders. The central and largest screen (where I’ve got just a wee bit of text showing) is essentially a program-specific desktop.

There are some auto-formatting features of Scrivener that I’m not currently interested nor do I plan to use. I compose my writing in Microsoft Word because that’s what I used for my thesis and dissertation and by gum and by golly if Microsoft is good enough for Folklore, it’s good enough for fiction. I may import a completed file into Scrivener to take advantage of some of those formatting features, but they currently don’t interest me in the least.

What I really like is how easy it is to flit between small files.

Each of the folders in the binder has a set of files beneath it. These files can be edited individually or collectively. In the picture, I’ve got Taregh’s lens highlighted. On the right side of the picture, you can see the horizontal lines that demarcate one file from the next. The top file in Taregh’s lens is “Simurgh feather,” which is the text beginning “As a boy…” Then the horizontal line and the next file, “The Quill” begins. The underlined words – lens, talisman, sundial – are all linked to other files, just like a hyperlink on a web page. It makes it incredibly easy to jump back and forth.

I don’t think this is anything different than what you can accomplish in Microsoft Word (not that I know how to do it), but it is much easier, it’s a faster and more visual interface. For straightening out details of my world and taking/making notes, I’m very happy with it.

One of the things that I’m enjoying about working on the series bible is how I’m discovering the holes that I’ve accidentally created. I’ve written one very clear rule, for example – people don’t get to use other people’s talismans. In Harry-Potter-speak – you don’t get to use someone else’s wand. It won’t work for you. It won’t even seem magical. It’ll just seem like a special and very expensive stick. One guy figures out rather painstakingly how access someone else’s talismans, but he still can’t use them. Fine, this is an acceptable deviation because my “magicians” (they loathe the idea of “magic,” by the way and consider themselves natural philosophers) are very science-minded. Except how do I explain the plot point that took place hundreds of years ago where one person tweaks another person’s talismans altogether? Huh? How do I explain that?

Well, smarty-pants, I’ve got it figured out now. But if I hadn’t been working on my series bible, I might not have considered the question. Scrivener is obviously not the only solution – I could do this just as well with note cards, but then I wouldn’t be burning my lap with my overheating computer battery, and where’s the fun in that? Oh yeah, and non-linear editing is handy, too.

Another cool thing – a 30 day trial period, and not a calendar 30 days either, but 30 days of using it. If you download it today and open it right away, that’s 1. You don’t use it on Saturday or Sunday, open it up on Monday, that’s 2 – at least, so far as I understand it.

As it happens, I do use FinalDraft when I compose screenplays because the formatting does matter right away. Most of these programs seem to have bells and whistles that I don’t find useful but that are designed to sell (templates based on your favorite TV shows! Write spec work and submit! Insta-career!). If there’s any interest, I’m happy to do a bit of a review of that program as well.

2 responses

  1. mitya

    This all seems perfectly logical, but my immediate reaction is “How do you suppose Tolkien managed without software?” I don’t think I’d even heard of a “series bible” before Battlestar Galactica or Lost.

    August 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    • A) He probably used notebooks and note cards.
      B) He also probably used a typewriter.
      C) Or had his wife and/or secretary type up his manuscript for him.

      The fact is we _don’t_ need this software, but

      A) The program is there
      B) Every writer seems to be living on his/her laptop
      C) We all do our own typing and organizing (at least I do).

      Technology, man.

      August 27, 2011 at 5:26 am

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