Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.

11/4/2016

Writing Advice

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

And encouragement!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you should be four days into your book today. But, maybe you’re cocky and are really just going to get started tonight after work. Either way, you can still do it! Fantastically prolific authors, especially some of the more well-known pulp writers, churned out books in very short amounts of time. For instance, Michael Moorcock, creator of the infamous Elric series of books, is rather infamous for regularly cranking out books in as little as three days. Yes, he had to do it by a formula, but, honestly, considering what he created, is that so bad? And, more importantly, do you want to know how he did it? Then hop over and read How To Write A Book In Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock over at Wet Asphalt.
Basically, he uses the same formula that Lester Dent used to great effect writing, among others, the Doc Savage series. Basically, he breaks up the work into four parts and then breaks that down into smaller parts, each designed to ratchet up the tension at every step of the way. Moorcock takes Dent’s formula and stretches it a bit, taking it from a story formula to a book formula. Either way, it sure worked for them. Between the two of them, those guys cranked out a hundreds of books, so, say what you will about the formula, but it seems to be effective.
Also, if you decide to use one of the tools I shared last week, Scrivener, you can download a Scrivener template specifically designed around the Lester Dent Master Formula. It’s worth a look for Scrivener users!

And, if you’re already writing and just need some encouragement to keep going, or get some momentum built up, you can check out some slightly harsh, but funny advice from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

This post originally appeared on Diary of a Network Geek.

10/28/2016

Actual Writing Tools

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Now, you’ve got your setting, characters and story, so all you have to do is write it. Easy, right?

Okay, maybe not so much, but still totally doable, so don’t despair.
This week I’m going to talk exclusively about tools to do the actual writing with.  There are a lot of fancy software packages for this out there and what you choose to use is a personal choice based on who you are and how you write.  That said, let me share some of the more popular programs and tools to go with them.  First off, I would imagine a majority of people use Microsoft Word, because they have it available to them.  It’s not a bad way to go, actually, because you’re probably already familiar with it via school or work, so it won’t get in the way.  If you go with Word, William Shunn has some free, downloadable templates that will let you get started with a pretty standard manuscript format.  If you like Word, but don’t want to pay Microsoft for it, check out Libre Office instead.  It’s a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office and it includes a very good replacement for Word called Writer.  And, I even have a basic manuscript template you can download and use for Libre Office Writer, also free.
If you want to get fancier, there are a lot of alternatives, but Scrivener is specifically written for fiction writers and is often offered at a discount to people attempting NaNoWriMo.  And, while I have absolutely nothing against the creator of Scrivener, there is a free, open source alternative called Plume Creator.  I don’t have any real experience with either of these, but I always favor the free, open source alternatives whenever possible.

For myself, while I used to mostly work in whatever word processing package I was currently using, I’ve gone to pretty much only using straight text.  I made that change for a number of reasons, but I was heavily influenced by an email exchange I had with Steven Brust about his writing tools.  I was surprised to find out that he wrote exclusively in emacs.  I found out after a bit of digging around that he’s not the only one.  Vernor Vinge, a brilliant science fiction author, also uses emacs to write his fiction, though it’s less surprising to me since he also teaches computer science at the collegiate level.  So, now, while I’m still working on the actual text, I just use my favorite text editor, which in my case is the same tool I use to write Perl code and edit server scripts and web pages, UEStudio, which is an extension of UltraEdit, a tool familiar to serious programmers.  Incidentally, keeping everything in straight text with out any formatting not only limits distractions, but makes for the most compatibility between systems, which, ultimately, is why I decided to make that change.

So, now, finally, you should have all the characters, setting, plot ideas and writing tools you need to get started with National Novel Writing Month.

10/21/2016

Build Your World

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Now you have a story and the characters in it, but what about the rest of your world?

Most people think that only fantasy or science-fiction writers have to create a world for their writing, but even writers who create contemporary stories create their worlds. They just create a fictional world based more closely to our real world, which is pretty subjective in any case.  I’ve been assuming that you are following these posts in order this month, but there’s certainly no reason that you should start with a story and not your world.  I know that I often start with a setting when I’m thinking of stories and, especially when I’m thinking of fantasy stories, a map is often a great place to start.  In fact, in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card writes about starting a novel by essentially doodling a map.  And, thanks to the internet, there are an almost endless number of pages about making maps.  Let’s start with A Guide to RPG Mapmaking.  It’s focused on fantasy role-playing games, but everything in the guides and tutorials are applicable to other kinds of fantasy maps.  And, if you like that, check out Observations of the Fox: Map Tutorials for even more details on creating detailed maps.  Most of the techniques there are pretty applicable to any tools you might use, and there are many to choose from, but if you’re serious about making maps and aren’t a professional artist, I highly recommend ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer.  It’s not incredibly expensive, and there is a bit of a learning curve, but I think it’s worth the investment in time and money for some of the results.  To see what some of those results can be, with practice, as well as Campaign Cartographer specific tutorials, be sure to visit Ralf Schemmann’s site Maps and More.
And, if you just want some inspiration, check out Fantastic Maps or Fantasy Cartography by Sean Macdonald.

Of course, you may not need a map at all, but want to create some other details about your fictional world to make it seem more real.  For that, I humbly submit Fantasist.net’s own World Building resources for your use, which includes, among other things, an on-line Timeline Generator to create a little history that your characters can refer to in conversation.  It also has a link to the incredibly complete Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede, who covers pretty much every detail you could ever ask yourself about a fictional world.

As much as I love worldbuilding, in recent years I’ve realized that I can easily get so lost in world and setting creation that I never get around to actually writing fiction!  Don’t fall into that trap!  Make enough world to get your story going and then let the world create itself as you go.  For some more helpful worldbuilding ideas along those lines, take a look at Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding.  It’s a very up-to-date approach and I found it quite helpful!

So, now you should have characters, setting and plot nailed down and you can start letting that marinate before actually starting National Novel Writing Month in November.  But, come back next week to see what final tools I have for you before you launch your NaNoWriMo project!

 

10/14/2016

Create Your Characters

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Now that you’ve got a story idea, who are the people in it?

Often, a story is centered around a single, strong character, and you’ve already answered that question. But, what if you haven’t? Well, then, maybe I can help.
First, if you need to flesh out an entire character, including a bit of family tree and a biography, I’ll send you back to a site I referenced last week, albeit at a different page. They call it the Name Generator, but, really, if you choose the right options, it will make a pretty complete character sketch.
But, maybe you just need some specific details to fill in parts of your character sketch that seem light or are missing entirely. Again, I’ll send you to a site I’ve referenced before, Seventh Sanctum, where you can find an entire page of character-related random generators. They have everything from complete, generic character generators to genre specific character generators to name and naming specific generators. In fact, they have a full page of random naming related generators, if you’re having trouble in that regard. But, if you want to pick something more specific, you can check the Most Common Given Names, according to Wikipedia. Or, for last names, the Most Common Surnames. Surely, something there will suit.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include our very own Funny Name Generator!

Also, if you want to fill your character’s pockets with some random things, Fantasist.net has the Daily Carry Generator, for modern settings, and the Fantasy “Pocket Litter” Generator, for, well, more magical settings. And, contrary to my normal habit of hiding my source code, mostly because I’m a very, very amateur programmer and my code is generally junky, I’m giving you all a download link to grab the PHP files for those last two generators. No warranty is expressed or implied by offering that code! Use at your own risk! (But, it’s pretty simple and shouldn’t cause you any grief.)

Come back next week for more world building tools!

10/7/2016

Story Ideas

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Need a NaNoWriMo story idea?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve been thinking about this for a long time and you’re ready to start writing.  If so, you’re golden and this is post is all academic for you.  If not, this post is all about helping get you started.
First of all, you have time before everything kicks off, so if you haven’t read it, get No Plot, No Problem, which was written by the creator of NaNoWriMo and serves as a guide for a month-long novel writing experiment.  Getting through this book will help you get focused on what kind of fiction you want to write and what you feel makes that genre great.
Secondly, I completely sympathize with you if you’re having a problem nailing down a story idea.  When I was in school, my favorite exercises were the creative writing exercises.  Why?  Because when the teacher gave me a title or a theme for the story, those constraints automatically gave me a direction, a framework on which to build my story.  Now, when the story ideas are totally open-ended, I find myself floundering lost in the vast ocean of possibilities.  One way to help reduce those endless possibilities is to go back to some external constraints.  And, that’s where the internet’s vast collection of random generators comes in handy.  Some of those are what I’m actually sharing with you this week, to help you get started.

The first place to check out is the mother-lode of all random generators, Seventh Sanctum.  They have a whole section especially devoted to writing.  It’s pretty awesome.  They have everything from simple story ideas to whole writing exercise challenges to plot twists and a whole lot more besides.  They’ve really got your bases covered and I’ll most likely mention them again in this month-long series of posts.
If you’re writing science fiction, you definitely want to check out SciFi Ideas – Ideas and inspiration for science fiction writers.  They seriously have the most amazing collection of random generators with a science fiction theme to them.
And, if you want to generate both a book title and section titles to help inspire your science fiction novel and keep you writing, hop over to the Space Adventure Title Generator and you can almost outline your entire book, albiet pretty randomly.  Still, having those constraints and guides to keep you moving forward might be just what you need to keep going when the writing gets tough.
Finally, if those aren’t enough, you can check out Fantastist.net’s very own Story Starter random generator, which is based, in part on an exercise from the great book The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Judy Delton.  If it makes any difference to you, that generator was at one time heavily featured in several grade-school creative writing curriculms.  It’s pretty simple, but effective.

I know those links were a little heavy on the science fiction, but that’s just where I am with writing right now.  And, the other stuff I’m going to share this month will, I hope, make up for that geeky focus.
Stay tuned!

9/30/2016

Get Ready for NaNoWriMo

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I thought I’d try something new this year; early preparation.

To be clear, though, I’m not going to attempt NaNoWrimo this year, because I’m way too busy right now. However, in previous years, I would often post things to help people who were doing NaNoWriMo during the month of November, when the event occurs and this year, I thought I’d start early to let anyone who was writing get their prep out of the way.  So, here in the earliest stages of planning, you hopefully have an idea what you may want to write and, while you’ve been thinking about it for weeks or months, maybe you haven’t captured those thoughts.  In the past, I’ve used dozens of notebooks of every shape, size and description to scribble down every stray thought I may have had about whatever project I had in mind.  The only problem is, I could never seem to get the ideas all gathered together and into a useful format.  That’s where Evernote came in.
I started using Evernote because of the Getting Things Done method for staying organized.  It’s a great system and, naturally, it gave me a way to collect all my ideas so I had easy access to them and one tool that people used in the GTD system was, Evernote.  (For some more details on that, and a great introduction to the GTD system, check out David Allen’s setup document for Evernote.  It’s well worth the $10!)
Once you’ve checked out Evernote, then go read their article Prepare for NaNoWriMo with Evernote.  It’s got some great ideas for how to capture your story and character ideas via Evernote, which you can then reference on your writing computer or your smart phone.  It’s pretty awesome!
And, if that wasn’t enough, they even have some great creative writing templates you can integrate into your personal creative writing notebook.

Trust me, it’s never to early to start planning and you will not regret using Evernote once you start!
So, let’s gear up for a month’s worth of creative writing resources in preparation for National Novel Writing Month!

11/7/2015

Place Names

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Specifically, subdivison names.

Naming things can be one of the most difficult tasks for an author.  Whether it’s naming people, places or things, the endless work of finding just the right name, one that sounds realistic and fits the circumstances, can be trying work.  For me, place names are the hardest to do well.  No matter what the setting, naming towns and streets can be challenging.  As it turns out, it can be challenging in the so-called “real” world, too.  Back in 2013, Gizmodo mentioned a book titled Real Estate Subdivisions by Stanley L. McMichael that, among other things, included a list of more than 750 potential names for your subdivision.  The article also included links to a Real Estate Subdivision Name Generator on-line.  But, personally, I was fascinated with the idea of that crazy book by McMichael, published in 1949.  I chased it down, eventually, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Besides the list of names in the appendix, there are also fascinating chapters on everything from planning your future subdivision to setting up a home-owner’s association to deed restrictions, including restrictions along racial lines.  Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then.  But, still, the names of places remain.
Just because I’m a sharing kind of guy, I typed all those names from that appendix into a single text file and I’m giving you all a link to it here: Subdivision Names Text File.
Some of the names sound a bit odd, but others are actual names of places I’ve been.  In fact, several of the “suggested” names in this book are places in the Chicago area where I have or had relatives living!

In any case, I hope you find the file helpful.  I might add, too, that if you add “Street”, “Lane”, “Court” or “Avenue” to almost any of the names in that file, they’d make fine street names!
Enjoy!

6/9/2009

Free Titles

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Titles come easily to me.

Maybe it has something to do with the way I was introduced to creative writing back in the Fifth Grade, but titles have always been easy for me. Our teacher used to put up titles on the board and we had to write stories that were based on that title. So, I often find myself starting with titles long before I have any real story. Sometimes, I just sit and toss out titles for projects I know I’ll never have the time, energy or motivation to produce, just because the titles can be fun.
Here are a few examples you can steal for your own work:

Carpet Bagger: The Adventures of a Damn Yankee in the Deep South
Flashbacks to a War I Never Fought: A Divorce Memoir
Amber Waves: American History seen through a bottle
Hack: A Writing Life
Hot Wired: Erotic Tales of Cyberspace
Dangerous Curves: A Scholastic Romance
The Wizard in Blue Jeans
The Man with a Limp

So, now you’ve got titles, what’s your excuse for not writing?


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