Category Archives: YouTube Companion

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 3: Discussing “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 3

When was the last time you sat down to write a novel and thought, Er, how do I do this again? Or, I guess the better question is, when was the last time you sat down to write a novel? But assuming that answer is something other than “never,” you may have discovered that writing a novel is hard, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today’s writing resource book, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, will tell you what you should be doing.

Specifically, it breaks down the structure of story, using the “six core competencies of successful writing.” In other words, it teaches you how to write a cohesive novel that publishers would buy and readers would read, assuming you understand and follow its guidelines.

It also emphasizes the differences between “plotting” and “pantsing.” If you’ve heard these terms and have no idea what they mean, then read the book, and watch the video I recorded about reading the book.

Story Engineering

Larry Brooks

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 288 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1582979987

·  ISBN-13: 978-1582979984 ·  Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books; 1st Edition (February 24, 2011)

Check out other entries in the Writer’s Bookshelf series here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it.

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Episode 2: Discussing “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott)

Title Image for The Writer’s Bookshelf Episode 2

Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today we will be focusing on Anne Lamont’s ode to the writing life, in her masterpiece Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. If you have not read this book, be aware that you’re ignoring a classic of the genre. This book is almost as essential to the writer’s bookshelf as last week’s Stephen King’s On Writing, even though you may ask yourself why that’s true after you’ve finished reading it. Look, don’t question the classics! They’re important because important people say they are. I don’t know whom these important people are. They just are, okay? Things were different in the early ‘90s when it was originally released. Don’t second-guess it! Just watch the video here. Then check out your copy below. It’s a classic. You know that, right?

Cynicism toward yesteryear’s classics aside, it actually is a good book that you should read if you want to prepare yourself not only for the writing life but for the structured life.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 256 pages

·  ISBN-10: 0385480016

·  ISBN-13: 978-0385480017

·  Publisher: Anchor; 1st Edition (September 1, 1995)

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources (Introduction and Episode 1: Discussing “On Writing” by Stephen King)

Years ago when I started this blog and took my YouTube channel more seriously, I dreamed of presenting a limited book review series about the books writers might want to invest in, to further their craft, including, and especially, the books that I’ve read and learned from that still sit on my bookshelf. However, I’ve put this idea off to the side because I wasn’t sure if I should write book reviews for each title or simply create a Goodreads style list for my top favorites. In either case, I couldn’t see much benefit in doing these things for myself, or the budding writer, because if I reviewed every book, then I wouldn’t be spending that precious time writing my own book, and isn’t putting their lessons into practice the point of reading these books? On the other hand, simply populating a list of top recommended books doesn’t do much justice into why I recommend them.

At some point, I’d settled on a median where I could talk about them in an informal style, but instead of writing about them, I could speak into a camera about them. Of course, when I had that idea, I had no way of recording my face, just my voice, because I had no good camera, just an old digital Fuji from 2004 that ran on four AA batteries. If people wanted to hear just my voice, then I’d be better off with a podcast, and that would require having a better microphone. No idea was a good idea.

But, of course, the no good idea became something of a half-hopeful idea.

In 2019, I was forced to replace my old flip phone with an Android, and by doing so, I was now able to get my hands on a digital recording device that I could actually upload to YouTube. It was pretty nice. But there was still a problem present: I still had to hold the camera when I spoke into it. Hardly useful if I want to show viewers my book collection while I talk about it. Closer than I’d been, but still not what I needed to do it well.

Fast-forward to the present work-at-home world we live in, and I’ve been forced to buy a webcam and a nice backdrop, too. And a better microphone. With those things in place, I can now stand far enough from an anchored camera to speak and display books while I talk, which means I’ve run out of excuses for delaying this series, which, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve dreamed about doing for years.

That series?

The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources.

This series will contain 16 episodes a season, with each season focusing on a particular theme, and season one focusing on the writing life and story structure. The plan is to debut a new title every Friday at 10am EST on my YouTube channel until the end of the year, and then start up a new season sometime in the spring.

The way it’ll work is that I’ll tell viewers about “this week’s book,” why they should want it, and what to expect from it, or how it can help them if they read it. I’ll do so through loose, one-sided conversations with them. What I won’t do is talk about every detail or get into every point the book makes. The emphasis is that the book is one you should read if you care about improving your writing career, but if you want to get the most out of it, you’ll have to actually read it. I’ll also encourage viewers to post links to their blogs or Wattpad profiles if they want to share something they’ve written based on something they’ve learned. I’ll also post new articles simultaneously on this blog to announce which book we’ll be covering that day and embed a link to the video so anyone can check it out.

You can watch the seven-minute introduction to the series here.

And when you’re done with that, you can check out our first book of the series:

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Stephen King

Website

Amazon Metadata:

·  Paperback: 320 pages

·  ISBN-10: 1982159375

·  ISBN-13: 978-1982159375

·  Publisher: Scribner; Reissue Edition (June 2, 2020)

Yep, did you really think we’d start with anything else? Watch the video here.

Oh, and if you care about high quality videos, then you’ll have to wait until I can afford a better camera and a better studio setup for that. One way you can help expedite that process is to encourage at least 10,000 of your friends to buy copies of my e-books (the ones that actually cost something), which you can check out via the side panel. You do have 10,000 friends, right?

The Writing Workflow for Plotters, Pantsers, and Whomever Sits Between Them

Writing a novel is no straightforward process, in spite of what the “experts” may say.

Okay, the experts, whoever they are, make no actual claim that writing a novel is straightforward, though the pantsers (like me) will argue that it comes pretty close, given that we start at the beginning and drive toward the ending, discovering as much as we can along the way (hardly straightforward, even though the momentum is almost always forward). In reality, of course, writing a novel takes planning, dedication, and follow-through, with a heavy dose of insanity—I mean organization—and reaching its proper ending will require seeing it at both the big picture level and the micro-scenic level. In short, writing a novel means you gotta have some foresight. There’s no way around that.

But I didn’t always have a problem with that.

For years, I would just open a document in Microsoft Word, crank out a chapter in a day or two (or sometimes a week if I let it get too large), and move on to the next one, making sure to save it in a folder dedicated to the novel. Once I’d finish the last chapter (usually six weeks to a year later, depending on the novel), I’d read what I have, take notes on what I like and what I don’t, and then move on to the next revision. Then somewhere along the line I’d decide that something doesn’t work, at which point I’d start adding, moving, or removing scenes, relabeling my documents to something better reflective of its current state, and make such an atrocious mess of my work that nothing would make sense anymore, yet I’d somehow bring it back together, and then I’d shelve it for a few years until somebody would ask me if I’ve written anything lately, to which I’d say no, then go back and see if I actually like that old novel that I blew up in the rewrites now, because, hey, somebody reminded me that I should really finish what I started because, hey, I’m not exactly starting on anything new. At that point, I’d take note of the scenes I like, try to rethink the ones I don’t, and then shelve the thing yet again for another few years because now I have no idea where to begin fixing it.

(Okay, I’m referring specifically to my first thriller, Panhandler Underground, which I wrote in 2005 but put on the shelf until a time I could make sense of the main character’s profession. Fortunately, I’ve ordered my copy of the Occupation Thesaurus, out now, and should receive it in the mail soon, so maybe I can finally sort this dude out and get his story back on its proper track.)

Nowadays, I find that organizing a novel is as difficult as writing it, especially when I go back and try to repair the damage I’ve already done to an existing novel, so coming up with a plan to make sense of it all is necessary. But merely going back through all of my Microsoft Word documents and trying to remember where everything is supposed to go is madness when my memory is so bad that I often read a story I like, check the author to see if he’s got anything else I might enjoy, and discover my own name on the front cover. (Okay, this doesn’t happen with my published titles, but it definitely happens with old stories I find in my documents folder. The fact that my name is on it is the only proof I have that I wrote it because I don’t remember a thing about it.) Because this is no way to work, I’ve decided it’s time to implement a new system for organization.

This is where I’ve decided to integrate multiple resources into my writing workflow, each one dedicated to a particular function within the writing process, and each one designed to keep me on track.

For the record, I just put together a video about this, which you can watch for more information, but the short version is this:

  1. If I’m writing a novel from scratch or nuking a story that no longer works in favor of starting over, then I’ll want to begin conceptualizing with the Snowflake Method and using the software dedicated to the Snowflake Method, Snowflake Pro, to accomplish this goal. This will allow me to develop the idea and move it through all ten steps toward a fully-fledged outline.

Writing Workflow Slide 1
Snowflake Pro in Action

  1. Next, I’ll want to develop the flowchart and additional character and/or scene details (like setting or items) that Snowflake Pro doesn’t visualize for an alternative way to see the story from a bird’s eye view. I can use Plottr or Campfire Pro (or Plot Factory or some other story planning software) to create the visual map, as well as fill in the additional details that Snowflake Pro doesn’t cover. If I use actual maps (created with Campaign Cartographer 3+, for example), then I’ll want to use a program like Campfire Pro to tie my maps to their descriptions. Using these programs, I can create the world and backstory I need to understand my characters and their motivations better, as well as to keep track of the nitpicky items in their lives that I’ll want to remember and quickly access at some point.

Writing Workflow Slide 2
Outline Tool in Plottr

Writing Workflow Slide 2a
Character Builder in Plottr

  1. Once I have a clue what the story is about, then I can start writing my scenes in Microsoft Word. Or, if I’m revising an existing story, I can write whichever scenes are still missing.

Writing Workflow Slide 3
Writing the Scene in Microsoft Word

Note: If I’m revising a novel, which is my case for The Computer Nerd, I probably won’t use the first two development steps unless I need to go for a complete rewrite, which is currently my case for The Fallen Footwear. The exception would be if I wanted to create an outline or summary or synopsis of an existing novel for verification of its integrity or for various marketing purposes. I would also map an existing novel if I know I’m going to write a sequel, as having a snapshot of the previous story would be immensely helpful in developing a new chapter for its characters, because, you know, my memory sucks.

  1. Once I’ve written my scenes, I can move them into Scrivener, where I can then write notecard summaries and provide status labels to help me determine whether the scene is in its proper location and achieving its proper goal. From the notecard view, I can make a more informed judgment about whether the existing work is, in fact, working.

Writing Workflow Slide 4
Creating the Novel’s Assembly (or Repair) in Scrivener

So, that’s the current workflow I’m using to either write or revise my novels. Are you a writer? What’s your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.

Publishing with Google Play Books

This week, I’ve uploaded a five-part series about getting your e-book onto Google Play Books. I’ve used my e-book Shell Out as an example. I cover how to prepare an EPUB, a basic but pleasant PDF, and a fancy PDF that makes eyes happy, as well as cover how to get the book onto Google and what the results will look like once it’s online.

Here is the series and episode summary, along with resource links and action checklists. Enjoy.

Series Description:

Now that Google Play Books has reopened its service to all independent publishers, it’s a good idea to publish your books there and expand your audience reach. But how do you do that? This five-part series will walk you through the basic steps to get up and running.

Google Play Books Partner Center

Part 1: Using Calibre to Prepare Your Google Play Books E-Book

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Google Play Books requires at least one of two formats to get your e-book online and available for consumption: EPUB and PDF. It recommends you upload both. Part 1 of the “Publishing with Google Play Books Series” covers the basics for getting an EPUB ready for the service, using a free EPUB creation tool, Calibre.

Note: This episode covers the simplest method for getting an EPUB built on Calibre and ready for Google Play Books. You’ll need to learn CSS and HTML to develop a more specialized or attractive EPUB file, which this video will not cover. I’ve listed two great resources below to help you take these basics to the professional-level.

Resources:

Calibre Web Page

Calibre User Manual

The Book Designer Guest Writer, David Kudler

The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette

Checklist:

  1. Convert source document to DOCX format.
  2. Check and fix broken bookmarks.
  3. Delete drop caps unless you know how to format them properly for EPUB.
  4. Optional: Convert Small Caps to All Caps to ensure all e-readers show compatible formatting (but don’t do this for section headings—just words that characters “see”).
  5. Download Calibre (See Resources for Web link).
  6. Create blank EPUB file.
  7. Fill in title, author name, and whatever else you think is important.
  8. Select proper JPEG image for cover.
  9. Check document conversion attributes.
  10. Check EPUB file type (2 or 3).
  11. Verify table of contents.
  12. Validate external links.
  13. Open file in e-reader to check conversion state (“Click to Path”).
  14. Upload to Google Play Books if happy with results; fix HTML, CSS, or content errors if not.

Part 2: Quick but Effective PDF Formatting for Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Google Play Books requires at least one of two formats to get your e-book online and available for consumption: EPUB and PDF. It recommends you upload both. Part 2 of the “Publishing with Google Play Books Series” covers the basics of formatting a PDF for the service, using Microsoft Word.

Note: This episode covers the simplest effective method for getting a stylish PDF ready for Google Play Books. For a more complex but ultimately more rewarding result, come back for Part 4 when I talk about a program designed for better formatting.

Resources:

Drinking Café Latte at 1pm Article: “The Art of Hyphenation”

Checklist:

If Presentation Doesn’t Matter:

  1. Create or access source document in Microsoft Word.
  2. Export to PDF (from “File” tab).
  3. Upload to Google Play Books.

If Presentation Does Matter:

  1. Create or access source document in Microsoft Word.
  2. Change layout size and margins to paperback page style (5″ x 8″; 5.5″ x 8.5″; 6″ x 9″).
  3. Reposition headers, footers, and indents to half their normal distances.
  4. Insert blank page at start of book.
  5. Upload cover image to front page and resize and center to fit.
  6. Add cover image bookmark.
  7. Check all bookmarks and hyperlinks for accuracy.
  8. Check other special formatting like small caps and drop caps.
  9. Fix justification and hyphenation.
  10. Create section break between front matter and body text and anywhere that header or footer content should differ.
  11. Set page numbers in the body text section and use special rules for proper counting and display.
  12. Make sure cover and title pages don’t have page numbers showing.
  13. Export to PDF (from “File” tab).
  14. Upload to Google Play Books.

Part 3: Getting the Book onto Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Once your books are properly formatted, it’s time to upload them to Google Play Books. This video will show you how to prepare your book’s page and get it onto the service.

Resources:

Reedsy Blog Article: “How to Publish on Google Play Books in 2020”

Checklist:

  1. Register a partner account with Google Play Books (consult the Reedsy Blog article in the resources section on how to do this).
  2. Go to Book Catalog section to add a new book or access a book you want to edit.
  3. Once inside the book editing page, fill in the fields on all four tabs of the Book Info section.
  4. Use the same description as you have on the other publication sites to maintain consistency. Use bold text and italics to enhance its presentation. Use paragraph breaks to indicate new paragraphs.
  5. Remember to set the release dates: publication is for today; on sale is whenever buyers have access (good for preorders). Set the on sale date far enough in the future to give ARC readers time to read.
  6. Consult PDF version for accurate page count, or divide word count by 250 and round to nearest whole number if you’re not sure.
  7. Use as many genres as the book may occupy, especially since Google doesn’t allow for manual keywords.
  8. List all essential contributors. The author is the main contributor. Coauthors and illustrators are also essential. Editors are essential for curated materials.
  9. Fill in sample size and publisher information, if applicable.
  10. Go to Content section.
  11. Upload EPUB, PDF, and JPEG files.
  12. Go to PRICING section.
  13. Set desired price point. Set worldwide options.
  14. Return to Content section. Check conversion status. Fix errors if any appear.
  15. Provide ARC and beta reader Google emails in the content reviewer section, if any.
  16. Verify all results in the Summary section.

Part 4: Using Affinity Publisher to Create a Stunning PDF for Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Creating a simple PDF for Google Play Books is fine. But wouldn’t you rather give your readers something that actually looks nice? In this video, we use Affinity Publisher to create a more sophisticated PDF than the one we made in Part 2.

Note 1: Affinity products are cheaper, non-subscription based alternatives to Adobe products. Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher are equivalent to Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign respectively.

Note 2: All Affinity products are on sale for 50% off until June 20, 2020. Get all three (Photo, Designer, and Publisher) if you want to maximize your development. There is also a 90-day trial period in place until June 20 if you aren’t sure you want to just plop the money down straightaway.

Resources:

Affinity Publisher:

Affinity Revolution:

Checklist:

  1. Visit Affinity Web page (link in resources section).
  2. Try or buy Affinity Publisher ($50 normally; $25 until June 20, 2020)
  3. Optional: Try or buy Affinity’s other apps, Photo and Designer.
  4. Check out Affinity’s tutorials on YouTube.
  5. Learn the difference between Pages and Master Pages.
  6. Learn how to use the inspector panels.
  7. Remember to use layers for complex work.
  8. Remember to link content pages through connecting arrows.
  9. Export as PDF when finished with layout.

Part 5: Reviewing the Product Page for Your New Google Play Books E-Book

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Now that your new book is uploaded to Google Play Books and approved for sale, let’s check it out and see what the customer will see.

This episode also compares analytics between Google Play Books, Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital, so you get a bonus part-within-a-part for watching this episode. Congratulations.

Resources:

Books2Read:

Checklist:

  1. Go to Book Catalog section.
  2. Click on book cover.
  3. Go to Summary section.
  4. Click on “Google Play” or “Google Books” link to visit each respective book page.
  5. Explore each page.
  6. View or Buy book to add to library.
  7. Visit “My Books” tab to check the contents of your book (if purchased).
  8. Click on ellipses to access content within book.
  9. Select date range and parameters for analytics information.
  10. Open spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to view statistics.
  11. Upload a new book and restart the process.

Thanks for reading. Leave a comment with your e-book information if you’ve published on Google.

yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 2: Using the Novel Creator

Yesterday, I introduced you to a writing app called Fictionary StoryTeller, which functions as a developmental tool for any writer who wants to see if his or her story is structurally sound before shopping it off to beta readers or actual editors. Its purpose is to provide visual cues to any trouble spots the story may have before any living reader ever sees the flaws.

It works best when the story is finished and imported.

But, it doesn’t require prewriting to be useful to writers.

That’s because Fictionary StoryTeller also allows writers to construct the story from within the app.

Fictionary Blog Companion 4
Starting a new novel in Fictionary StoryTeller

Yes, that’s correct. Building the story from within is just another feature that comes with the Fictionary StoryTeller subscription (along with the feature of paying every month to use the service, but more on that later).

Fictionary Blog Companion 5
The blank canvas of doom in Fictionary StoryTeller

Now, I could spend precious article-writing real estate discussing everything that StoryTeller can do, from labeling scenes, to organizing chapters, to defining characters long before they ever enter the scene, etc. I could also discuss how the savvy writer can label plot points or scene intentions (like establishing setting, character arc, etc.) through metatags within the scene constructor itself. I could even talk about how StoryTeller allows the writer to manage each scene detail through four categories of informative story elements (giving credence to Fictionary’s boast of tracking 38 of them).

But I don’t want to do that because the app’s Web page will do all of that for me.

What I would rather do is to use this article as an opportunity to express what Fictionary StoryTeller can’t do, at least as of this writing, so that you, the writer, have a better idea whether this app is even worth your investment, at least for now.

I should also note that I have a video companion on my Zippywings YouTube channel that not only shows the app’s novel creation feature in motion, but also voices my opinion on what works and what doesn’t, and what the app still needs if it wants to be truly formidable in the war for writing software dominance. So, if you’d rather watch a demonstration than read about it, then click over to my video and spend the 15 minutes it takes to get to the end. And, if you missed yesterday’s article, it’s worth noting that I have a longer video (43 minutes) evaluating the 38 story elements that are already featured in the program (or at least the ones currently implemented).

Now, if you’ve read up on the details, then you should already get a sense of what’s missing, but in case you’re not sure, here are the top elements I believe Fictionary StoryTeller needs to truly stand out as an exceptional program for writers. Keep in mind that these elements are currently missing, or are at least not as well developed as they could be. The app may have improved by the time you read this, so you should still check it out for yourself to be sure. Also note that, as of this writing, some of the 38 story elements may actually be missing or inactive in the trial version:

Scene structure tracking. What Fictionary does well is to track and visualize the story’s global structure, but it does not accurately track how well the scene or scene unit maintains its own five-point structure, in particular when it comes to establishing conflict and resolution or scene beats. It does allow you to set certain “elements” through scene tags, like setting details and mini-descriptions, and even puts them up in a chart, which is a great start, and for anyone who wants a big picture view of his story, it definitely fills a hole that Microsoft Word cannot fill. But when it comes to tracking actual conflicts, polarity shifts, and miscellaneous scene intentions (like scenes that should only establish exposition), the program is good but not yet perfect. When it comes to scene tracking, I still think yWriter and Scrivener allow for a bit more flexibility, even if they don’t handle the visual element nearly as well. What it does track, it tracks well, but it is certainly not complete. Maybe someday it will be.

Fictionary Blog Companion 7
A sample of the many scene elements at a glance in Fictionary StoryTeller

Character tracking. Again, Fictionary StoryTeller has some competency in tracking characters throughout the story, but not at the level a subscription-based app should perform to be worth the cost. What it does, and does well, is to crawl through the entire novel and extract every named character it finds and populates them inside a master character list, which you can then check for accuracy. This character chart allows you to set POV characters, mentioned characters, and combine same characters together (“the chef,” for example, may have a real name later, so both instances would be tracked to the same character). It’s a handy management tool.

But, it has major limitations compared to yWriter and Scrivener, and even, oddly, compared to itself. What do I mean by this? Well, Fictionary’s appeal is in the visuals. The two elements it tracks and converts into visuals are the character’s entrance and exit scenes (which can be accessed from the master plot graph) and the number of scenes that the character appears in. It does not actually chart which scenes the character appears in. An app like this should place dots everywhere the character appears, and allow the user to click on those dots to access those scenes. And, on these same lines, I think the character tracker is weirdly absent of character description. Unless I missed something, all you can do at this stage is to name the character and determine his importance to the story (POV only—not even protagonist, antagonist, mentor role, lover, etc.). So, the character tracker needs a lot of improvement. It also has trouble identifying merged characters as the same character. Even if it lets you combine them, it seems to forget sometimes who those combined characters are.

Character arcs. This is a separate component to story structure, but I think StoryTeller could stand to handle character arcs in the same manner: draw a line along the character’s path toward three-dimensionality. It comes nowhere close to doing this at the present. In fact, as I noted in the above bullet point, tracking any kind of character development is currently low-rate in StoryTeller. This isn’t to say that all characters need three-dimensionality (and that would be an option worth selecting: Does this character need three dimensions?(Yes/No/Let me think about it)). But those that do should have a tracker and visual component attached. What StoryTeller does do is allow the writer to set whether the scene develops the character via a simple “scene intention” tag. It just doesn’t let the writer note how it develops the character. The closest it comes is to identify what the character wants, which is still very important, and very useful. But it does not note how the character succeeds, fails, or changes. Not yet. It needs to.

Fictionary Blog Companion 6
Another scene visual reference in Fictionary StoryTeller

A/B plot tracking. Perhaps a major omission to Fictionary StoryTeller, both in actuality and according to the 38 elements, is the ability to track subplots within the main story. On a similar note, it does nothing to track external and internal storylines. For any writer who wants to see if the A/B plots or the internal/external plots converge at the end of the story, Fictionary won’t be able to tell them. Right now, it’s all about the main plot.

Genre and obligatory scene tracking. This may not be intuitive to writers who haven’t studied story structure or genre development, but any story written for genre still has its particular obligations (like a romance that fails to bring the lovers together at the end is, perhaps, not really a romance), and Fictionary StoryTeller seems to leave these elements out in the cold. Even a quick scan of the 38 elements suggest that this feature isn’t on the planner. But it probably should be.

Element highlighting. This missing feature is arbitrary, but adding it would greatly enhance the user experience. In short, clicking on buttons and dots in Fictionary StoryTeller will open up whatever scene corresponds to the selected element, so that the writer can review the scene for the specific instance he wants to check. Sometimes it will even jump to a point in the scene where the element can be found. However, what this fast-access method grossly lacks is a simple highlighter that draws attention to the element immediately. I’ve found that whenever I click on the visual that opens the scene, I then have to read the entire passage to figure out where the element sits in the prose. It takes time to find it, especially when the text is small. A simple highlighter on selection of the element would make opening the scene much better. As of now, this relates to character names, but as the program evolves, it should also search for embedded tags the writer may place within the scene to identify “important moments” that link to that tag to make searching for these broader-based elements faster and easier.

And that’s for starters.

Now, in fairness, I believe these limitations are simple enough to add within the current architecture that I’d be surprised if Fictionary never addresses them. So, my belief is that this app will become quite useful for every type of fiction writer in time. But, as of my trial period, I was a bit underwhelmed by my cost-to-usefulness ratio. I’d like to see some of these elements taken into consideration before I take in consideration a subscription to the service ($20 a month or $200 a year).

But, you may feel differently, so by all means give it a go if you’re interested. You get the first 14 days free, anyway.

Also, in reviewing the 38 scene elements listed on the main page, I think it’s possible that the current version of Fictionary StoryTeller doesn’t yet have all the elements implemented (I know that’s true of two of the five senses) but will shortly. It certainly seems that some of the elements listed appear nowhere on the app, as far as I could find. Maybe they’re behind a paywall. Maybe they’re on the way. It’s worth keeping an eye on them if they are.

Anyway, don’t forget to check out my video reviews of Fictionary StoryTeller if you haven’t already.

Video 1: Overview and Review

Video 2: Using the Novel Creator

And, if you don’t think Fictionary StoryTeller is your cup of coffee right now, then check out my series yWriter vs Scrivener to see if either of those programs are a better fit for your storytelling needs.

yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 1: Overview and Review

So, remember that time you told all of your friends that you’re a writer, when what you really meant is that you plan to become a writer, someday?

Well, now’s your chance to prove yourself true, thanks to a new weapon in the arsenal, a new tool in the chest, a new float toy in the pool . . .

Okay, that last one got away from me a little.

Introducing Fictionary StoryTeller, the writing app that actually helps the writer track his or her story’s development structure and informs him if he’s on the right track.

(. . . and also makes it fun to stop wasting time dreaming about becoming a writer . . .)

Fictionary Blog Companion 1
The main navigation page in Fictionary StoryTeller

For the next two days, I’ll be bringing you both written and video content about this handy option for the writer’s development needs, the former which you can read right here, and the latter which you can view over at my Zippywings YouTube channel, specifically at this link (but don’t go just yet; you should read on—I’ll repost the link at the bottom so you don’t forget).

So, now that I got your interest, what is Fictionary StoryTeller?

Well, StoryTeller is the developmental tool for writers from Fictionary (see, calling it Fictionary StoryTeller is a lot like calling PhotoShop, Adobe PhotoShop) that provides structural feedback via flowcharts, graphs, and other fun visual things that would make Microsoft proud (or jealous), giving writers an opportunity to spot weaknesses from a bird’s eye point of view.

Fictionary Blog Companion 3
Example of the plot structure graph in Fictionary StoryTeller

In short, it tells writers if their novels or novellas still need developmental considerations.

But, how does it accomplish that, exactly? If StoryTeller is just a piece of writing software, a measly app on the Internet, then how, pray tell, does it inform you, the writer, if your story needs more development?

I know what you’re thinking: The robot apocalypse has started.

While that may be possible, that’s not actually what’s happening here. No, what’s happening here is that you feed the app your story’s information, by scene, and based on your knowledge of structure, including inciting incidents, plot points, scene shifts, etc., you’ll essentially give the program something to track, which it can then convert information back to you via graphs, charts, and other visual matters.

So, it’s not entirely scary. It’s barely even an algorithm.

But, if that’s all StoryTeller did, just feed you visuals on the stuff you’ve already written, then it probably wouldn’t be particularly impressive. Clever writers who moonlight as Excel wizards could probably accomplish something similar on their own, for a lot cheaper.

What StoryTeller does well is convert your manuscript into indexes for easy labeling and makes those tracking adjustments on the fly, so you can always know what your development looks like at every stage of the story, even as you’re still writing it.

And what does it track, exactly?

Fictionary Blog Companion 2
Using the scene editor in Fictionary StoryTeller

Well, Fictionary’s StoryTeller Web page will give you all the details, but the short version is that it allows you to check 38 different developmental categories, from the core elements of story structure, all the way down to sensory details (minus touch and taste, as of this writing).

It also, conveniently, searches your document for all known names and converts them into character lists (in some cases erroneously), which you can also adjust, reference, or delete as needed. Nearly everything in Fictionary StoryTeller that you can click will take you back to your scene of reference.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it’s definitely heading in the right direction—I’ll say that with confidence.

The question is, is it worth the price? At $20 a month (yep, subscription!), it offers writers the answers to a number of questions, such as, “Is my structure in line with proper story structure?” and “Do my scenes begin and end in different places or times?” but it still lacks the answers to other important questions, such as “Do my scenes follow an internal five-point structure?” or “Which scenes does Fred appear in?”

In other words, even though StoryTeller does track the entrances and exits of characters, and it tracks how many scenes a character appears in, it does not tell you, the writer, specifically which of those eight scenes he’s in, which would be convenient given that everything in StoryTeller can be clicked, whisking you away to the very scene you wish to explore, and this means, ultimately, that StoryTeller isn’t yet perfect.

But, it looks like it’s trying to become just that, so whatever it lacks today may likely appear as a feature tomorrow, or whenever its engineers figure out not only which good ideas need implementation but how to implement them.

Anyway, I offer you a full look at Fictionary StoryTeller in action, through the lens of my novella Gutter Child, over on my Zippywings YouTube channel. Check it out to see all of its strengths in weaknesses, as well as get my full opinion of the program (and whether I recommend it).

Then come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my mini-feature on Fictionary StoryTeller, when I review its capability as a writing substitute to yWriter or Scrivener. There will be a video on that, as well.

Using ProWritingAid: Overview and Workflow

Are you struggling with the perfect words for your manuscript? Is your command of grammar merely adequate? Have you heard of an app called ProWritingAid?

For those who wrestle with writing perfection (alliteration!) but don’t know how to tame their bad habits, and for whatever reason don’t like Grammarly, ProWritingAid is a great (er . . . an outstanding) solution to the problem.

ProWritingAid Companion 1
ProWritingAid in action, with Realtime checker activated.

Overview:

Now, you could always click over to the website, explore it, and forget to come back to this article. And that’s fine. At least you’re taking action to improve your writing skills through the use of computer technology. And I’ll undoubtedly miss you.

But, if you’re also a reading perfectionist, then let me offer you a little more relevant information:

  1. I have a 34-minute YouTube video dropping today that covers much of what the Desktop version of ProWritingAid offers. You should check it out after you finish reading this article. I’ll remind you about it when you reach the end.
  1. ProWritingAid, like any writing assistance program, requires context to work effectively. In other words, you should still know essential writing and grammar skills before investing your time or money into it. The best programs are the ones that don’t do all the thinking for you.
  1. Most of its suggestions can be ignored. ProWritingAid’s value comes from the suggestions you shouldn’t ignore.
  1. Like any good program, it has a free version that’s as powerful as the paid version, and almost as effective. The demarcation comes in its word limits. The free version can evaluate only 500 words at a time. So, if you want to save money, learn how to copy/paste a bunch. Be warned, though, that your summary report will reflect your free choice.
  1. The web app and the desktop app are basically the same. The difference is that the desktop app can sit on your computer while the web app can be used anywhere. The web version also has a few extra bells and whistles for anyone who needs to follow a style guide. The desktop app will preserve your formatting when you export, even though you won’t see any of it in the app itself.
  1. The program still has incomplete features. This is most noticeable when you explore its “Consistency” reports. Irony!
  1. If you buy it, you should buy the lifetime option. That way you won’t have to keep paying for it. If you can wait for a sale, even better (Pro Tip: There’s a sale now, until midnight PST.)

Now, the video tie-in covers most of the features, but I’ve been using it a lot more since recording the footage and learned more about workflow. So take a pause, watch the video, and then COME BACK for some workflow advice. Or, if you’re linking to this article from the video, feel free to keep reading.

Watch the Video Here

ProWritingAid Companion 2
ProWritingAid’s summary report, or part of it.

Workflow:

Three things I’ve learned about ProWritingAid is that the “Realtime” tracker is distracting (and slow), the “Summary” is great for project overview but pointless for granular fixes, and “Combo” is cluttered with suggestions that might melt your brain.

When using ProWritingAid, it’s best to dive right into the category selections. This assumes that you’ve already completed your developmental edits, as fixing grammar, style, etc. is pointless if the content is fundamentally poor. I wouldn’t recommend it until you’re ready to publish or submit your work.

Once the document is ready for fine-tuning, I’ll start with “Style.” This looks for passive verbs, adverbs, “emotion tells” (important for identifying sections where characters should “show, not tell”), and other readability enhancements. I’ll typically take careful consideration of this report’s suggestions.

Next, I’ll use “Grammar.” This highlights possible grammar and spelling mistakes. Pretty straightforward and obvious. Again, I’ll study the suggestions before accepting them. Sometimes it misses the point of the sentence.

Depending on the work, I may use the “Thesaurus,” but only for targeted words, and only a few paragraphs at a time. ProWritingAid has an extensive dictionary of alternatives, though I sometimes question its hierarchy of suggestions. It’s best to use this feature with a dictionary nearby, as its built-in dictionary is weak at the moment.

ProWritingAid Companion 3a
ProWritingAid’s Thesaurus and Word Search feature.

Overused” will highlight most of my “believes” and “thinks” and “justs” and so on. Again, I’ll give this report a cursory glance, but I won’t spend much time on it.

The “All Repeats” selection is useful for tracking repetitious phrases, though I typically ignore anything mentioned only twice, as I’ve likely intended the repetition. I also ignore most three-words-or-fewer phrases, as those usually link to common phrases like “this means that.”

I think “Echoes” is one of ProWritingAid’s most useful features, as it searches for two or more words used within a certain proximity of each other. While I’d ignore common repeats like pronouns or “this means that,” I probably don’t want to use the word indubitably twice in the same paragraph, or even within twenty lines of each other, so this is one of my favorite features when it catches what my eyes don’t.

ProWritingAid Companion 4
ProWritingAid’s “Echoes” category in action.

Structure” is practically useless from an improvement standpoint and good only for checking your “sentence starts.” For example, if you’re worried about lacking any type of sentence variety, in that every sentence begins with a subject and not a subordination, this checker will report on your fears. I rarely use it.

Length” is the better feature for reporting sentence variety, as it gives you a bar graph that diagrams your entire selection. If you see a wall of flat bars, then you’ve got hardly any sentence variety, and your text will sound robotic. But if you see wave patterns, you’ll be doing as Gary Provost says, “making music.”

ProWritingAid Companion 5
ProWritingAid’s “Length” report showing this blog “making music.”

Transitions” and “Readability” are worth skimming, but I don’t spend much time with either of them. My transitions typically reach 100% (the recommended average is 25%), so I don’t worry about them. “Readability” checks for grade level writing, which I don’t typically care about if I know a 12-year-old can still read it.

I find the “Sticky” section one of the most frustrating because it gets particular about “glue words,” or words that slow the reading down, which consist of such gems like like, which, of, about, that, etc. It’s irritating.

I’m not terribly worried about “Clichés” in my writing because I think they can sometimes get the point across better than some second-rate hack attempt I’d make to say the same thing in a worse way: “…if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things! That’s what’s at stake here. Not choice. Responsibility.” Versus: “With great power comes great responsibility.” (The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) vs. Spider-Man (2002)). But I like the cliché checker because it also searches for redundancies, which I do sometimes overlook and miss. Er . . . miss.

Diction” is another category I hate using, not because it’s bad—on the contrary, it’s quite important—but it flags words like quite for being vague, and it’s annoying to filter through all of its “vague” and “abstract” tags, and its occasional warnings about prepositions at the end of sentences, to find those words that actually need addressing because they are too complicated for the reading scale or simply overused.

Pronouns” and “Alliteration” I usually skip. The pronoun checker gives a percentage report on how many sentences start with or use a pronoun and offers a suggested target range to ensure that your nouns haven’t been entirely ignored. The alliteration checker just gives a report of every phrase that has alliteration, in case that kind of thing bothers you, or if you’re trying to make more music in your message. I’m not that concerned with either, so I don’t spend more than a minute studying either.

Homonyms” I check, but I skim for context. It’s a daunting report because, like the thesaurus, it will light your page up with so many colors, but I still think its important because—I mean, it’s important because, well, because.

Consistency” is an important checker for the same reason that homonyms are important to check—it’s easy to mistype a repeated word. However, to make best use of the consistency checker, don’t include your title in the scan (you can highlight blocks of text if your title exists on the page) because it will assume that all of your capitalizations are inconsistent when they see the lowercase common versions of the same word. It also monitors any shifts from U.S. English to British English and back again.

Finally, I’ll check “Dialogue” to make sure that all my conversations have proper attribution, that the tags are simple enough (he said, she said), and that my quotes have the right punctuations in the right places. I don’t typically use dialect in my speech, but this checker will provide a warning if it sees something that looks like dialect, and I can decide whether it’s appropriate to keep.

The tools I don’t use include “Acronyms,” because I don’t write research papers, “Pacing,” because it searches for every use of “have,” which indicates backstory and “slow reading,” and I don’t have the patience to rewrite entire paragraphs when “have” is fine, “House,” because I don’t work for a magazine or publisher, and “Plagiarism” because it costs extra money to use.

So that wraps up my overview of ProWritingAid and how to use it. Once again, you can watch the video here if you haven’t clicked on it yet.

Please remember to comment, like, or subscribe if this article means anything to you, and let me know if you want to see more like it.

And wash your hands!

November 2019 Update

In the month of Blade Runner (look it up), I’ve spent every day adding new content to my NaNoWriMo 2019 project, Washed Up: A Pirate Adventure. That was my entire month. Every day. Writing. Lots of writing. Lots and lots of writing, especially on the 22nd.

In a moment, I’ll share with you the results of that marathon, but first let me tell you that I predicted in October that I would be posting my November update late. Was that prediction by design? Not really, but I do find it fitting that I’m combining a monthly update with a Friday update. Also, it would be difficult to post a November update that is focused almost entirely on NaNoWriMo without recording the last day’s progress. So, waiting until now makes more sense. Plus, it’s Friday.

Also before I show you how NaNoWriMo went, I wanted to say that I did spend one evening working on Snow in Miami, bringing me close to the end of the first draft. I’m almost there. Though, it should be noted by now that I won’t have it publishable until next year. Sorry! But I want to get this one right.

Speaking of getting it right, I think I’ve figured out a new plan for my series of Christmas fables, originally conceptualized as The 12 Fables of Christmas (plus three more). Snow in Miami (the second in the series) features a storyteller character named Douglas McCray, who is essentially the lower class stepfather version of Grandpa from The Princess Bride, who gets his lazy points of view across to his family through a series of self-serving parables, but who must then endure one parable from a family member (or other) as a counterargument to his argument and ultimately a source of change for him and his way of thinking. I’m considering repurposing The Fountain of Truth as the first part of the “McCray Parables.” The idea came to me while I was driving home from Barnes & Noble a few minutes ago, but I think it’s a great idea. I’d have to make a new cover for it (and add a new story to give the current three a reason for existing), but I’m up to the challenge. I even have an idea: Douglas McCray may be justifying a decision he makes at his job during the holidays through his use of allegory. It could work. The downside is that now I’ll have to add him to all five of my planned holiday fable books.

Yes, I said five. More on that in the future.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2019

So, like I said at the top, I participated in NaNoWriMo 2019 by starting on Washed Up: A Pirate Adventure, the first book in my new pirate trilogy tentatively called WTF Pirate Adventure. Because I’ve raced through it with minimal research, I can safely say that it’s a mess. But it has potential, and that potential will hopefully spawn a successful series of at least three books. I used my new NaNoWriMo Scrivener template to write it, and now I need to transfer everything I wrote to a new document where I can finish it. I’ll do that today.

Regarding the story itself, I made it to just shy of the midpoint when the NaNoWriMo event ended, but I’ll definitely need to do a lot of editing for any of this to work well. It’s got some bloat at the moment. Bloat and a boat.

But it also has some entertaining moments. And that’s what we want when all is said and done. Right?

So, with that all said, here are the results of my NaNoWriMo participation, taken directly from my Scrivener “Tracking Elements” section. As you can see, I wrote quite a bit this month.

Day 1:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,414 words
  • -Total Word Count: 2,414 words

Day 2:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Total Word Count:  4,414 words

Day 3:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,121 words
  • -Total Word Count: 5,535 words

Day 4:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,701 words
  • -Total Word Count: 7,236 words

Day 5:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,529 words
  • -Total Word Count: 8,765 words

Day 6:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,060 words
  • -Total Word Count: 10,825 words

Day 7:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,050 words
  • -Total Word Count: 11,875 words

Day 8:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 830 words
  • -Total Word Count: 12,705 words

Day 9:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,801 words
  • -Total Word Count: 14,506 words

Day 10:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,611 words
  • -Total Word Count: 17,117 words

Day 11:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,822 words
  • -Total Word Count: 18,939 words

Day 12:

  • -Target Word Count: 200 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 201 words
  • -Total Word Count: 19,140 words

Day 13:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 604 words
  • -Total Word Count: 19,744 words

Day 14:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,036 words
  • -Total Word Count: 20,780 words

Day 15:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,264 words
  • -Total Word Count: 23,044 words

Day 16:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,746 words
  • -Total Word Count: 25,790 words

Day 17:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 539 words
  • -Total Word Count: 26,329 words

Day 18:

  • -Target Word Count: 2,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,884 words
  • -Total Word Count: 29,213 words

Day 19:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,830 words
  • -Total Word Count: 31,043 words

Day 20:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 735 words
  • -Total Word Count: 31,778 words

Day 21:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 2,758 words
  • -Total Word Count: 34,536 words

Day 22:

  • -Target Word Count: 3,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 7,625 words
  • -Total Word Count: 42,161 words

Day 23:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,397 words
  • -Total Word Count: 43,558 words

Day 24:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,111 words
  • -Total Word Count: 44,669 words

Day 25:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,327 words
  • -Total Word Count: 45,996 words

Day 26:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,667 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 3,302 words
  • -Total Word Count: 49,298 words

Day 27:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,524 words
  • -Total Word Count: 50,882 words

Day 28:

  • -Target Word Count: 500 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,277 words
  • -Total Word Count: 52,099 words

Day 29:

  • -Target Word Count: 1,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 1,178 words
  • -Total Word Count: 53,277 words

Day 30:

  • -Target Word Count: 3,000 words
  • -Actual Word Count: 4,238 words
  • -Total Word Count: 57,515 words

If you want to glimpse the story and the first eight days of my NaNoWriMo experience, please be sure to check out my YouTube channel for the NaNoWriMo 2019 playlist.

What I’m Reading

November hasn’t been just about NaNoWriMo. I’ve also started reading the classic Treasure Island to remind myself what pirate literature looks like (and because I’ve never read it, and I really need to read more classic literature). I have an old paperback version that was printed in the 1960s (part of my grandfather’s collection), but my go-to site for researching pirates, The Pirate King, has a faithful reproduction of the story, complete with parchment background. It’s pretty nice. (It also has better copyediting than the version I’m reading.)

I also finished reading Lee Child’s One Shot (Jack Reacher #9), which is the book that the first Tom Cruise movie adapts, and Christopher Moore’s Noir, who I’ve never read before but wanted to for some time (of his books that aren’t about the supernatural), and found both books quite entertaining. If you’re looking for a great book this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with Jack Reacher or Noir. Though, you also can’t go wrong with my favorite from 2018, Stuart Turton’s The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I loved that debut as much as I did Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011). See all of the name-dropping I’m doing?

Finally, I’ve picked two new books on the writing craft: Fight Write and Compass of Character (the latter of which I’ve just bought today). I don’t spend much time discussing the books on craft that I’ve read, but it’s often been my intention to start one of these days. At some point, I’d like to write a series on the best writing books I’ve read. Let me know if you’re interested.

So, that’s November (and the first week of December). Hope yours went well. Stay tuned for the next update, coming in a few weeks.

Cover Image: Pixabay

I Be Winner. NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner.

I’ll list the stats in a few days, but I’m writing this post to announce that I’ve just crossed the 50,000-word mark for the 2019 National Novel Writing Month event, and let me tell you…

It’s a relief.

I don’t have much trouble with writing large chunks of text in short time, but keeping that chunk a piece of quality is a bit tougher. Spending a month writing a historical novel I’ve done hardly any research for is also a thing of toughness. But most challenging of all?

I still have to spend a big chunk of December plotting this story, as most novels typically run between 70,000 words and 90,000 words, with my novels hitting the high end of about 100,000 words, if I’m letting my whims get the better of me.

In short, it’s a relief to hit 50,000 words only in the respect that I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo. What I haven’t yet done is to write something you’d want to read…yet. That, hopefully, will happen in 2020.

At any rate, here’s the badge to prove that I didn’t sleep much this month.

NaNo-2019-Winner-Web-Badge

Let me know if you want a sample of the story.

Oh, actually, you can see my first eight days in action on my YouTube channel by clicking on this playlist.

Yes, I’ve actually recorded myself writing. In real time. You can watch me make typos and rationalize dumb decisions. It’s great fun. If you’re into that kind of thing.