Nerd-Author Fun

I’ve spent a few days goofing off from writing. Well, kind off…it was writing-related.

I wrote a Java program that can load and process my novel. Now having done that load work will enable me to add useful tools in the future, but for now I just did some basic word frequency analysis. Sounds like some nerd fun? And it was.

First, technical stuff and then some results:

Technical stuff

Loading it into the program turned out to be more difficult than I expected. Part of the difficulty was how I defined things on the page. When I was younger I’d have told you that anywhere there is a gap between blocks of text then it is a paragraph. In my mind, at least, the concept of a paragraph is stretched out-of-shape by the frequent carriage returns of dialogue.

Paragraph
Is this a paragraph? Two? Three? I’m so confused…

I’m sure there’s probably a technical term (which I’m happy to be told)., but I didn’t want to research it. So, I solved the problem like any fiction author: I just made words up.

Hence forth, for all time until I find a better name, they shall be known as minor blocks (green) and major blocks (blue). The term paragraph may now be discontinued.

blocks

(I suspect I’m already in the process of changing my mind…)

Results

Before you peruse the results, you might wonder what possible good a function like this might be? (Admittedly at the moment there is too much information). The tool could be used in the following ways:

  1. There are some words, which are so peculiar or powerful that they should only be used once in a story. This tool will help locate those words. For example: gruesome (0), or horror (4). Wow, there’s a lot of cry (10) / crying (5) going on. I really need to check that… Point proven.
  2. There are also some words that mean-nothing and should be replaced with more descriptive terms, like interesting (3).
  3. It could help expose word-use problems. For example, when my characters want to swear they say “frak”. If I find a “frack” or a “fak” then I know I’ve made a mistake.
  4. Nerdy pleasure (hey, it’s valid for me)

When considering these results please note the following caveats:

  • Not all bugs have been ironed out; give me a 5% margin for error.
  • Contractions are included (so “don’t” and “do not” is counted as 2 words)
  • There are no exclusions yet (“a”, “is” etc are included)

For a novel slightly over 86K words, I was surprised with the results.

  • 8,443 unique words
  • The top 10 most frequent words account for 18,624 words. (the, to, and, a of, he, you, was, his, I).
  • Most frequent words per first letter: Unsurprisingly mostly character names. (A = and; B = be; C = could; D = Danyel; E = even; F = for; G = get; H = he; I = I; J = Jessica; K = Keeshar; L = like; M = Menas; N = not; O = of; P = people; Q = Queen; R = Regent; S = said; T = the; U = up; V = very; W = was; X = Xu; Y = you; Z = Zekkari).
  • Everything above 15 characters long was a processing error 🙂Words starting with letter

Length of words

 

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Writing Stats Spreadsheet v1

Now available is the spreadsheet that I’ve been using to record my statistics for The Rebel Queen. (It’s free, which means use at your own risk, no liability accepted. Always back up your files :-)). Writing Stats Spreadsheet v1

While it’s highly probable that I’ll make improvements to it later, I don’t envision doing any work on it for the foreseeable future. The spreadsheet is designed to keep track of word count in both draft and revision versions of a story. The Excel spreadsheet contains the following worksheets:

Settings

There’s really not much to see here. You can enter the name of your writing project, and it checks that all of your scenes have a point-of-view character assigned.

Stats

As the name would suggest, it shows some basic stats about the writing project. One of the cool things that I’ve recently added is the concept of an “estimated reading time”.

While the estimated reading time is of less value here (whole book), the value comes out in the per-chapter analysis. My new-found opinion is that I want chapters ideally to be 15-20 minutes long, ideal length for a commute. (Though it strikes me as I write this; commutes vary).

Basic Stats

While the table on this worksheet could be deemed ‘information overload’, it is important to be able to monitor word count reduction at a scene-by-scene level. Also on the stats page is a way-too-small chart which shows chapter and scene comparisons between revision and draft.

Chapter Summaries

A more useful by-chapter view of the world: scene count, word count, estimated reading time and percentage change between revision and draft.

by-chapter.PNG

Draft Scene Info and Revision1 Scene Info

These two worksheets are near identical. They both possess a table where you specify chapter number, scene number, a scene name, a point of view and the word count.

revision

(Ignore the bad scene names; I don’t want this to be a spoiler for The Rebel Queen). The scene names for the same scene must be the same in both draft and revision worksheets, but they can be in a different order (different chapter or scene numbers). Also, the revision worksheet can contain new scenes or absent scenes. (That’s what revision is all about). Filling out the Point of View is easy, with a drop-down list.

Characters

This worksheet contains a list, and summary of the characters who get a point of view in your story. (Non point-of-view characters aren’t included).

pov.PNG

Characters POV

This worksheet is also a recent addition, which also has the benefit of being aesthetically pleasing. I discussed this in a recent post on character balance.

Draft General Pkar POV

If you have any questions or problems using the spreadsheet, please add a comment below.

 

 

Mind Blowing

Developing a Writing Tool

A quick blog post to announce what I’ve been working on. Some might call it procrastination and not writing, but I prefer to think of it as tool development for myself and for you.

I’m working up an Excel workbook which can be used to keep statistics, plot information and whatever else I think of adding to aid in the writing process. I’m actually pretty close to finishing v1.0, but I really should do some writing so I will try to shelve it for today.

As a taster, here is the Character Point-Of-View chart which can be used to visually display how often a character is getting a turn. This chart is automatically generated based off information entered into a table. Using the drop-down list next to “Select Character” you can highlight an individual character. (This is an evolutionary improvement on my earlier visualisation).

Character POV chart

Mind Blowing Reading

I’ve been reading through Weird Life by David Toomey. Here are two quotes that describe how cells work (page 86 and 87 respectively).

To take one example, when a cell somewhere in your body needs insulin, certain proteins inside the cell pull apart a section of the DNA molecule pairs, exposing the particular sequence of base pairs that signifies one of the many amino acids needed to make an insulin molecule. Other proteins read the sequence and make an ad hoc and temporary copy called messenger RNA. Then, still other proteins work over the messenger RNA, slicing and splicing until they’ve fashioned the amino acid needed. Finally, the molecules of protein and DNA called ribosomes (the structure that, you may recall, may set the lower size limit of a cell) pull the newly formed amino acid together with others made the same way by other proteins, and coordinate with other ribosomes, all now pulling and pushing their own amino acids to assemble a molecule of insulin.

And then

As complex as chores necessary to maintaining a metabolism are, they are in some ways mere prelude and preparations for the main event: reproduction. Familiar life can reproduce, of course, because cells divide. For cells with nuclei, it all begins inside the nucleus, when proteins don’t pull apart merely a section of the DNA molecule; they unwind and unzip the entire molecule along one strand, make a copy, correct and repair proofreading errors, and, from material in the surrounding cytoplasm, fashion a matching strand that winds together with the copy, base locking neatly to a base. Then the parent DNA, its own strands zipped up and rewound, is pulled to one side of the nucleus, the child DNA is pulled to the other, and the nucleus itself is squeezed in the middle until it splits into halves. Shortly thereafter the cell does likewise, with each half holding a nucleus. Where there was one cell, now there are two.

I don’t know about you but to me, that is absolutely mind-blowing.

The irony is, even with talk of having nanobots in the future, all they will be doing is replicating (and improving on) to what our body already does.

Personally I think it takes more faith to believe in creation big-bang style than it does to believe that God’s hand and mind were at work.

Thanks Microsoft!

So I finally bit the bullet and upgraded to Windows 10; somewhat apprehensively. I was very happy with Windows 7, and so other than no more service packs there was little to entice me.

After discovering the reason why my screen was truncated (AMD Catalyst Controller graphics software) I was relatively happy. I must say it is faster, though I don’t like losing control of when and what it upgrades.

Then I went to use my handy little Microsoft Word tool which automatically date stamps and archives my writing, only to find that it no longer worked.

After a little looking around I discovered that Microsoft had decided I really needed US English to be installed and reset to my default language as part of the upgrade to Windows 10. The Americans, God bless their cotton socks do weird things like Month-Day-Year and this was the cause of the problem.

Partway through planning my angry rant I then realised that this exposed a flaw in my code. So after a little tinkering and some humble pie I have now fixed the code so that it works better, no matter what your date settings are (hopefully).

I find the tool invaluable.

Now, back to actually doing the writing…


 

Email Sidekick I’m still looking for some intrepid fellow authors to work with… Become an Email Sidekick

Story Bibles

Story Bible: a collection of world-building information, back-story and notes to help you write a coherent and consistent story. It is a reference document of truth for the story (especially useful for multi-book series).

(That’s my humble definition, and given its 3:00am and I’ve been mostly awake since 1:30am, I apologise if it’s not the tightest).

There are two groups that writers generally fall into when it comes to story development: outliners and discovery writers. Outliners plan out the story before beginning the writing process and discovery writers start writing and then allow the characters/plot to develop organically. Outliners are like the meticulous folk who plan their landscaping first and then execute with precision; discovery writers let the garden grow and then decide on how to trim it.

There are of course varying degrees of flexibility to both of these groups: some authors will outline the plot and allow their characters to discover themselves. Brandon Sanderson (in the fantastic WritingExcuses podcasts) recommends that writers need to try both methods and find what works for them.

I am getting closer to finishing my first novel and had always considered myself to be a discovery writer. However as I approached the tail end of the book I’ve realised that my absence of pre-planning was really hurting the quality of my story. I’ve been writing it for an embarrassingly long time and so the concepts that were in my head aren’t any longer. Thoughts, like old people, have a tendency to wander. Although I knew what the ending was going to be (roughly) I hadn’t done all of the leg work to ensure my characters acted consistently. That’s where the value of the story bible comes in.

So I thought I would share how I have built up my own story bible. As this is my first book I fully expect that the process will incrementally improve over subsequent books.

The very first iteration of a story bible created years ago was just a word document. That was ok but it hardly inspired me to keep it up-to-date and wasn’t all that useful. (Back then the “Find” feature didn’t provide the context that later versions of Word do).

Story bible v2 is in Microsoft OneNote. If you haven’t used OneNote you don’t realise what you are missing, it is one of the most underrated pieces of software. OneNote is essentially a digital notebook and has some fantastic features. It’s a little bit intense, so probably explained best through a screenshot.

Story Bible screenshot from OneNote
Story Bible screenshot from OneNote

I have a separate “Notebook” for each story. A “section” is the equivalent of a manila folder tab (marked with purple/blue). You can also have a collection of the sections by using a “Section Group” (marked with red). Then within each section you can have multiple “pages” (marked with green down the right hand side).

This can be seen a little better with a more detailed (but redacted) screenshot. This is “inside” of the Characters Section Group. You can see that there is a section for every main character, and inside of each that are multiple pages per character.

Inside the Characters "Section Group"
Inside the Characters “Section Group”

The Story Bible enables me to keep “straight” all my facts that I have written about characters, plot and settings.

I have also chosen this particular page to show because it is a one-page summary of my character. When I am writing scenes from Menas Senay’s point-of-view I display this on my secondary monitor to remind me of who he is. This helps me to find his personality and faithfully imprint it throughout the story.

OneNote also has the following great features:

  • Search across multiple notebooks easily, using the search in the top-right of the window.
  • Place text anywhere (you are not rigidly controlled like in Word)
  • Easily copy in images, emails, sound files, scanned documents… (when you paste from the internet, it will automatically paste in the URL as well, which can be handy).
  • Draw and mark-up things.
  • Annotate text with icons e.g. like the tickable todo box, and the question mark below.

OneNote3I have found OneNote to be an excellent application for the storing, sorting and searching of material: which I think are the three main components required in a story bible.

Do you use a story bible? What software or techniques do you use?