Friday, September 14, 2007

Measure Twice ...

To continue on the previous post, I've been trying out a new tool for my craft. yWriter is free software from author Simon Haynes. It was written for Windows, though according to the website it can be run on Linux and presumably, if one is adventurous enough, on OS X and beyond.

yWriter uses text files behind the scenes, a nice feature since if it ever decides to die I can retrieve everything I've written very easily (unless it eats all those .txt files).

It took me a long, long time to get used to the interface. This could be the lack of thorough documentation (what do you want for free). Though for someone who has lived and breathed technology and can learn how to use new software pretty darn quick, I found many things un-intuitive. For example, in the chapter window, depending on where one clicks on a flat area of data, it will bring up the scene window or a list for that data item, or do nothing. Not to mention 'bug-like' behavior when trying to save certain scene settings (it's not a bug, it's a feature). Strike one.

For my next novel, I started with taking notes and jotting down ideas, characters, and scenes. In yWriter the place to put this information is the project notes file. Since it is a text file, no indexing is available, no hyperlinks. After several months of scrolling up and down and up and down I threw in the towel and moved all of it into Word. Strike two.

Recently I got to the stage of outlining. Here yWriter does better than Word, at least for me. Visually, I have a better sense of the chapters and scenes and the characters in each than I could by flagging them at different header levels in Word.

There are different ways to print the outline (though I wish there were ways to include different pieces of data in those formats) and a nice colorful storyline by viewpoint character. Software grounds a weak single on a funny hop past the shortstop.

There is a new version under development which has additional features, but using freeware is risk enough without wading into beta freeware.

yWriter is useful enough that I will put up with data in two places and try using it in November to write the novel. After this, I will likely continue searching for the one perfect tool.

You'd think as a craftsperson, I'd know such things don't exist.


Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

I tend to be old fashioned and use the word process as a way to put the words in. Other tools are better doing the other things. That I let Word also handle formating is meerly because I'm lazy that way.

September 14, 2007 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Steve, do you create outlines for your novels? Apologies if I asked this before.

For me, I do better knowing where the book is going. I know others prefer the seat-of-the-pants method.

September 14, 2007 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...

I sometimes make a brief (one-page) outline for novels.

It's almost guaranteed to be useless by the middle of chapter 2 (the story goes someplace totally different). It's much more useful for me to make an outline when I'm at that weird, sloggy midpoint on the novel and I see where it should go and end up, but not every step the MCs need to take before they get there. THEN it's useful, but only then, for me.

I don't think it's mere preference to write the way one does, any more than it's your preference to write hard SF rather than Inspirational Republican Romantic Suspense. A preference seems to indicate you could go one way or the other with no detrimental consequences, but you picked A over B for surface reasons. I think it goes much deeper than that.

September 14, 2007 at 9:15 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

"I don't think it's mere preference to write the way one does ..."

Excellent point, Camille. Bad word choice on my part. What works for one individual doesn't for another. The choices are different, not better or worse.

September 15, 2007 at 12:13 AM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

This got me pondering more about why a detailed outline seems to be working for me. And as an aside, thanks for the input. This is one reason why I enjoy blogging (besides the excellent company of course). Instead of just accepting what is running around in my head like gerbil on a wheel, your comments make me think. I really appreciate that.

Thinking about throwing away the outline and brought on a wave of anxiety. I have written without a net before and it was a big struggle to get the word count up (and later, edit it up and up and up).

Detailed outlines out of fear of failure.

That is not to say there no anxiety with the current outline. Actually, there's quite a bit because the ending feels forced and contrived. I have another 6 weeks to work it out.

On the other hand, I might be better served to leave it alone and see what develops. Use it as a scaffold which can be dropped after the framing is done and the wonderfully detailed and decorated interiors are finished.

Okay, I was stretching on the last analogy.

September 15, 2007 at 12:31 AM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...

I rather like the scaffolding analogy. Sounds supportive rather than constricting.

September 16, 2007 at 3:23 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Word IS the perfect tool, and it will work for the way you work.

I use the Document Map. You can make a heading for Plot notes, character notes, outline, put all your stuff in there, and even though it puts it all in one document, it's so easy to navigate. And add to.

My pal Dwight uses PowerPoint to outline. How, I have no freaking idea.

September 18, 2007 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Camille, this is the supportive blog. Positive energy, 24/7!

Document map is very convenient. I don't know how I did without it until just a few years ago. With outlines, for some reason, it just doesn't help me enough.

Perhaps by putting more information in the headers would help. One thing yWriter does do is track word counts by chapter and scene. Word can't do that, though I suppose some vba code in a macro might get close.

Powerpoint? Interesting. Very interesting ...

September 18, 2007 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

Todd, for novels, I don't start with an outline, but I usually end up with one. For my new novel, I have a pretty good map (I think that's a better word) of what I want to do with each chapter. It's all subject to change. With the one stubb (Company of Ravens) I have an outline, and some synopsis of the plot (1 page, 2 page, and 3 page). For the other stubb (Return of Lars) I have a real brief outline. For the new novel I have the outline in Excel, along with a schedule of jokes, and some snippets I can cut and paste.

But it's all subject to change. I do know some writers that complete so detailed of an outline that the writing part is just draping put on the outline. One panel I went to the person giving the speech had a whole binder full of his outline and character sketches. That, for me, was way over the top. I've gotten into trouble in some short stories about wanting the story to go a certain way and the characters didn't agree with it. Stopped me for months, until I let the characters do what they wanted. The the writing flowed again. That's one of those lessons I'm glad I learned with writing short stories. I would have hated that with a novel.

September 19, 2007 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Thanks Steve!

I'm striving for a middle path, trying to see what will work best. I feel the need for enough detail in the outline to know where I'm going, but as you say, not so much that I'm writing myself into a corner.

We shall see.

September 21, 2007 at 12:35 AM  

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