Well, I didn’t see that coming…

Just a week ago I wrote that I didn’t want to spend any longer on my novel Vengeance Will Come. As I discussed, it had been sitting idle for months.

And then I began to read it…

…and I fell in love with it all over again (if I can use the term loosely).

But the months of “resting time” (as they say in cookbooks) has made me aware of some of it’s flaws…

So now I’m going to start do (another) final revision of it. And this one – I promise – will be the last revision that I will initiate. (You may have noticed that I left enough room in that statement for a parade to pass through…). A final revision and then I plan on releasing *somehow* as an e-book.

I may be late to the party but I have started to use Scrivener, and although it isn’t entirely intuitive to me, I am starting to like it. I am very appreciative of the generous try-before-you-buy program of 30-days of actual use. Sure, it doesn’t have everything I would want but it’s a pretty good product. I’m 99% sure I’ll be a customer before the end of my trial period. I’m also keen to try out their mind-mapping product Scrapple.

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Stephen King’s On Writing

Over the years I’ve tried a few times to borrow Stephen King’s On Writing from the library. To my dismay it was always booked out and had a loan-list as long as a welfare queue on payday.

stephen_king
StephenKing.com

I’m not sure why it took so long but last month I handed over some cold hard cash and bought a copy (you’re welcome, Stephen). Most rewarding and valuable $13 I’ve spent in recent days. It was cheaper, lasted longer and was more enjoyable than three cups of coffee, and sent me to the bathroom less.

I haven’t read much of King’s work. I’d guess at a book and a quarter; the quarter being ‘Insomnia’ which I considered aptly named. My lack of readership relates to the genre, not at all the author.

Most assuredly, King is not everyone’s favorite author. He writes content which is scary, often a little warped and is the product of a creative, perhaps disturbed, mind. In On Writing he owns it; he writes as his characters lead him and doesn’t shy away from an honest portrayal of those characters and settings, even if it ruffles the reader’s sensibilities.

I’m not trying to get you to talk dirty, only plain and direct. Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.

King starts off On Writing by describing – in snippet form – his childhood and how he began as a writer. He then moves onto the style of writing and his thoughts on what makes good writing. (Some of his ideas do challenge the advice that I’ve otherwise heard, and I will share them in future posts). His commentary and insights on writing are many and valuable, always returning to the theme of ‘it’s all about the story’. Like most authors he encourages prolific reading and writing:

[Reading] also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself…

He speaks candidly about his former substance abuse; something which seems to be an epidemic among the wealthy and successful.

The point of this intervention, which was certainly as unpleasant for my wife and kids and friends as it was for me, was that I was dying in front of them. Tabby said I had my choice: I could get help at a rehab or I could get the hell out of the house. She said that she and the kids loved me, and for that very reason none of them wanted to witness my suicide.

He didn’t have to share this but I’m glad that he did. It is owning the mistakes of the past, and also giving credit where credit is due (to his wife, family and friends).

One thing that I really liked about On Writing, and did not expect, was how highly King praises his wife. Throughout the book he speaks highly of her: her support, good qualities and dependability.

[Tabby’s] support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

He writes of the van which nearly killed him, and the long and painful journey back toward normality. It is in this time when the value of his wife shines through again, helping to get him writing again.

In the end it was Tabby who cast the deciding vote, as she so often has at crucial moments in my life. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for her from time to time, because it seems to me that one of the things marriage is about is casting the tiebreaking vote when you can’t decide what you should do next.

It is clear that he values her, and their marriage. To that, I applaud most wholeheartedly.

Mr King, if you’re ever in little old Adelaide, please come for a meal. I’ve told my wife you’re on the want-to-have-to-dinner list.

Who wrote this?

Oh… me. 🙂

I’ve been doing a lot of chopping and changing during my editing which I think is vastly improving the structure of the story.

Part of my pathology is that I love visualisation; so I wrote a little program to help you visualise the first 12 chapters of the story which I have edited so far. The original version is on the left and the revised version is on the right. Each row represents a chapter and each box a scene (regardless of scene word count).

And because you can never have enough visualisation, here is some more – this time colouring each scene by the point of view (each character having their own colour).

You can see that I have reduced the number of point-of-view changes. Next time I procrastinate I’ll do some more 🙂

Tracking Changes between Drafts

(Just to be clear: In this post I’m talking about tracking word count and structure changes between drafts, not changes at the text-level).

I use spreadsheets that I use to track my writing (and editing) activities. I’ve previously shared how I use spreadsheets for laying out the plot, comparing chapters and scene lengths and monitoring progress.

Using the raw numbers and visual cues helps me to shape the structure of the story. It does take time to maintain but it provides a wealth of information I otherwise wouldn’t have.

You might say that it’s not important to track changes between drafts. For the most part you’d be right: stats matter most for the current version. Mostly I track them because my personality says I must. I can find some benefits in tracking between drafts:

  1. You can monitor how aggressively your editing is cutting words. I’ve read elsewhere that an amateur should aim to cut 15%.
  2. By knowing how you change a novel structure during editing it might help next time you’re writing. Ditto with identifying when a scene needs to be added/deleted.

‘Experience is the best teacher’ so the maxim says. While editing Vengeance Will Come I’ve learned a thing or two that I’ll do different (and better) on my next novel.

My initial tracking involved 3 tables like this: a before-edit, edit goal and result table.vwc stats before edit

This works fine when its a simple mapping between draft and revision. But that is not the case – certainly for me working on my first novel.

easy-comparison

The above simple version of 3 tables doesn’t work so well when you start having to move scenes around, adding or deleting scenes or moving entire chapters. Comparison then gets messy and hard to do.

My new approach is a little bit more complex to set up, but handles the chapter and scene movements with ease.

I’ll walk you through making a simple version of it. I’ll be assuming reasonable skill in Excel; if that’s not you, Google is your friend. If you’d rather just see a demo download this (xlsx): Demo wordcount spreadsheet

Step 1: Create a new workbook in Microsoft Excel with 2 worksheets. Name 1 of the Sheets “Structure” and the other “Stats”.

Step 2: Create a new table Scene List in the Structure worksheet. This list will contain a Scene Name and a word count column for each revision you’re tracking (e.g. draft, revised = 2 columns). The Scene Name isn’t going to appear in your finished story – it just needs to be something which describes the scene so that you’ll know which scene it is. The Scene Name needs to be unique – you cannot have the same Scene Name more than once.

scene-list
This table is where you will enter your word counts. You can see that in the screenshot the scenes DISCUSSING_THE_MEETING and MENAS_NEW_PLAN have a word count in version 1, but not in version 2. This means the scene doesn’t exist in version 2 of the story.

Step 3: Create a new table Structure List in the Structure worksheet. This table should have a Position column (which denotes the scenes position in the novel) and a column for each revision you’re tracking.

structure list.PNG

I’ve used a code for the Position of “CHxSCy“. In the second and third column of the table the Scene Names must be exactly the same as they are in the Scene List.

new structure.PNG

To show the same thing pictorially, this is what has happened between the two drafts.

4 scenes have been deleted from version 1 to 2 (or merged into existing scenes); 2 new scenes have been added and what was chapter 3 (version 1) has become chapter 2 (version 2).

Step 4: The Stats worksheet.

Column A: will display the same codes as used in the Position column.

Column B and C then display labels for the chapter positions (e.g. “Ch 1” and “Sc 1” respectively).

Then we have a column for each of the revisions that you want to map (D and E). In the revision column D use this formula:

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(VLOOKUP(Stats!$A4, Position[#All], D$2,FALSE), SceneList[#All],Stats!D$2,FALSE),0)

In the revision column E use this formula:

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(VLOOKUP(Stats!$A4, Position[#All], E$2,FALSE), SceneList[#All],Stats!E$2,FALSE),0)

How these formulas work is that they first use the Position information in column A to look up the Scene Name, and then look up the word count for the Scene Name (selecting the appropriate version).

Updates: Writing & Writing Tools

Writing Tools: On this site I provided a Microsoft Word macro that I use to quick save documents (automatically date stamp and archiving the old copy). I have made some slight updates to the macro so that it works in Office 2013 (and now also 2017).

Writing: After a false start, revision will now begin on my first novel Vengeance Will Come. There are some significant issues to fix up, not the least is communicating successfully to the reader the intended passage of time. This is made complex because the events occur on multiple non-Earth planets and sometimes scenes last for very short periods during the climax events. More on this later…

The Rebel Queen. Response from my earliest beta reader has been positive. It is intended as a stand-alone book, but is in the same universe with ties to Vengeance Will Come. Revision will probably be queued until after Vengeance Will Come is completed.

There are so many other things I want to write and yet I must be disciplined and finish the existing projects. There might have to be a bit of a juggling act for sanity’s sake though.

Blog Post: I’ve re-released my bio for the early years.

 

Quick-Saving Documents

After recently formatting my computer I tried to re-install the visual basic macro that I use to save my documents. This macro automatically saves the file with today’s date in the filename and moves the old file to a backup location.

I came to my website to copy the code off, only to discover that the PDF I had uploaded did not play nice at all when copy+pasting. So here is a word document that will copy+paste much easier: Auto-Save VB code

See the original post for how to install it.

Update on Quick-Saving Documents

In Writing Tools I provided a Microsoft Word macro that I use for quick saving documents, which automatically adds a datestamp to the beginning (or end) of the filename with a single click, and moves the old version to another location.

In the original article, I recommended putting the datestamp at the beginning of the file so that files are sorted nicely in the directory by date.

2015-06-19 Vengeance Will Come.docx

This works fine if the entire story is in a single document. However since then I’ve noticed Word tends to struggle a bit when documents grow too big, so I have split my document into chapters.

So now I have an amended recommendation:

If you are using the auto-archiving feature which automatically moves old versions of the document to an alternate location and you have multiple documents per story, then the datestamp works best when at the end of the filename.

Chapter 1 – Vengeance Will Come 2015-06-19.docx

This way it will be ordered nicely by chapter and as auto-archiving moves files you will still only have the latest version of each chapter in the folder.