Laying out a Story Seed

The title of this post is a play on words. First I’m going to talk about my programming, and why I’m so keen for layout management, and then share the idea of a story seed, just to whet your appetite or get your writing juices flowing.

Programming: Why do I care so much about layout?

Each time I start my computer for a writing session I follow the same steps:

  1. Open Word on right hand monitor, align to left (50% width).
  2. Open Excel on left monitor, full size.
  3. Open OneNote on left monitor, full size.

When I’m programming I do things a little differently:

  1. Open Eclipse on left monitor, full size.
  2. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to folder structure, left align.
  3. Open SQLiteStudio on right monitor, full size.
  4. Open Firefox, right monitor, right aligned. Load Trac.

At least now Windows 10 remembers on which monitor the application was last on, but that is far from customised in how I prefer to work. For my productivity to be maximized I’d ideally want to tell Windows what I’m going to be working on as I log in. It should know what to load and where to place it.

You can’t do this with Windows yet, but at least in my own application it allows that level of control.

Even while working on writing (generically), depending on which project I’m working on will determine what layout I’ll want. If I’m plotting one, and editing another, chances are a different view will be more beneficial.

My intention is that when you save a project it will save the current layout (project-specific). These layouts are really for quick-use templates.

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The layout functionality is done now (except a few edges I’ll smooth later). Using a layout you can:

  • position and size the application window
  • position, size and name all windows on the screen
  • saves the panels and their names on each of the windows

Writing Seed: Lifetime Magic

I’ve been toying with a fraction of an idea for a while.

Normally magic systems revolve around a select few, who by ancestry or knowledge can wield powers. Often they incur a cost for doing so, and need to recharge their abilities or rest between efforts.

What if the following were true:

  1. The majority of the population has an innate ability to wield magic.
  2. The limits of magic are not well understood, though evidence suggests the environment and objects can be temporarily manipulated. (Objects or persons cannot be imbued with lasting magical effect).
  3. The quantity of magic a person has, is born into them. There is no known way to measure, extend or replenish the spent magic. Once gone, it is believed to be gone for good.

Using these three foundations, what could happen in such a society?

  • the inability to measure magical capacity would mean it isn’t a significant part of a power structure. However those who are known to have used all their magic would be an underclass. The lowest on the social strata would be those few born without magic.
  • people would likely horde their magic, wanting to save it for life-and-death situations and often for selfish purposes.
  • the poor would be forced to use their magic (to survive), thus pushing them further down the social ladder.
  • people would try to bluff or conceal running out of magic.
  • with the cost of experimentation being so high, understanding of magic would be limited. Unscrupulous researchers might go to devious schemes to trick, manipulate or even harm others in an attempt to gain more magic.
  • there would be fads and self-help gurus who posited various means of increasing one’s capacity.
  • magic would run out unexpectedly, causing potential mayhem or embarrassment.

At first I had no story to go along with this, but in the last few days one has begun to unfold in my mind. I may do a short story to explore this idea further in the future.

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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

 

Nobody talked me down…

I’ve had a mini break from writing (dangerous, I know). But it’s been a time of enjoyment and productivity (albeit in other areas), so I don’t regret it.

Firstly since no one talked me down, I’ve been doing some coding in Java. It’s not a writing program yet but the framework to support it (at about 75% completion, to pull a number from the sky). And while I’m making up numbers let’s also say its a thousand percent under budget. (Speaking of budgets – the Australian budget is out tonight and here’s an excellent article on the immorality of spending the next generation(s) money). But I digress…

For my framework I’ve gone with what’s called an internal frame application because it allows maximum flexibility to the user. You can stretch the application over multiple monitors and position and size any number of internal windows to your preferences.

Writing Framework1

Each window can then have any number of panels added to it. (For example a writing panel, a character attributes panel, a todo panel…)

On other matters I’ve also been enjoying more time in the kitchen, having fun preparing a few more meals. (This gives both me enjoyment and my beautiful wife a break: wins-all round).

But now that I have some feedback from my beta readers it’s time to get back to writing and Vengeance Will Come. My next few posts I plan on writing about how I work through those beta reader comments.

Talk me Off the Ledge

Other than writing my other hobby is Java programming. I’ve dabbled a bit in the last year or so but have, for the sake of my writing, managed to suppress the desire to do it almost entirely.

Writing is very time intensive. Programming is very time intensive. Doing one means cannibalizing the other.

And yet part of me really wants to develop a writing program. It would be customised to exactly how I want it, with the features I want (hypothetically). In full disclosure, I’ve started this project multiple times, and generally abandoned it due to how slow progress is.

I apologise for the poor-res pictures, but the originals aren’t close at hand.

storycraft.PNG

On the other hand, developing it would take hundreds of hours, and realistically, it would probably only ever be a B-grade application. I’m a competent programmer, but my knowledge if a blade, is a bit rusty.

Lately though, I’ve been getting distracted from writing by other things – so would a distraction like this be a bad thing? Probably…