Nerd-Author Fun v2: Text Analysis

I promised this week that my blog post would be about some of my C# coding, which also happens to dovetail in beautifully with my writing. I’ve taken my earlier work and begun the super-charging process. That being said: this is just the beginning. In the future I plan to make it available, far more powerful and with a few of the bugs ironed out.

The general premise behind the program is that it can load your story from a text file, and then allow you to analyse it. At the moment it is sans-UI – which means it doesn’t have pretty user windows, checkboxes and other controls. I’m calling it Text Analysis Command Line (TAC). As it’s a command line program you have to type commands in to operate it.

So what can it do?

Like any good program it contains help – typing ‘?’ will give you a list and basic description of the available commands; typing ‘<command> ?’ will give you detailed options on that particular command.

wordcount-1

When you see a pipe symbol ‘|’ it means or. Square brackets (‘[‘, ‘]’) mean optional.

Most commands can either display output on the screen or save the results to a file. If using a single greater-than symbol (‘>’) the file will be saved (unless it already exists). Using the double option ‘>>’ will save the file, overwriting it if necessary.

Below is a description of all of the currently available commands. The results are based on processing Vengeance Will Come, my scifi/fantasy adventure (available now):

wordcount. You can display the frequency of every word used. Earlier in the year I bought Scrivener (left). For the most part it’s a great program but I was disappointed there was no way to export (or even easily query) word count data. The image of TAC (right) shows a snippet of both the textual version (default) and the ‘basic mode’ (using -b option). The basic mode is valuable if opening the file in Excel to do pretty graphs.

wordcount can also provide wordcount-word lengththe number of words which begin with given letters (-f) or the length of words (-l).

Just in case you’re curious the longest word at 20 characters is ‘uncharacteristically’. The three 16’s are: ‘conspiratorially’, ‘incontrovertible’ and ‘responsibilities’.

For the purpose of completeness, I’ll briefly mention the data command. At the moment it’s limited, a means to interrogate the data. In order to do all of this (and future) processing I painstakingly categorise every character of text into a type. Using the -expseg option outputs this information.

datacmd-2
-expseg option

 

At this stage the only two other data commands are -sen (output sentence). For example outputting the sentence at segment 128 is:

At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion.

And -block (output block) at 128:

“I wish that I didn’t know the future; that I couldn’t see the prophecies unfold before me. At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion. Even in my fitful sleep they haunt me as wild animals stalk the scent of blood, turning what little rest I get into an extension of my waking nightmare. I cannot escape.

The find command is powerful and will be leveraged heavily in future updates.

find-1

Unsurprisingly, find locates the occurrences of a specified word. Importantly the before and after options allow displaying the word in a variable level of context (e.g. want to see 10 words preceding the word, or only 5?).

find can also locate every instance of a specified type of punctuation. Want to know how often I use exclamation marks? Typing ‘find -p’ brings up a list of punctuation options from which a selection can be made.

find-2

The answer is of course 45 (as displayed on the screenshot). However, now I know exactly where they are (and in what context).

find-3.PNG
The first use of ! occurs at the 660th character in my novel.

I’m a big believer in not over-using the exclamation mark, so a tool like this would let me easily see how often I’ve used it in a given book (and calculate the amount of text between each usage). More importantly, it can also let me track down when I’ve used a ” instead of a “ which seems to happen no matter how careful I am.

This brings me to the end of the tour of TAC v0.0.1, I hope you liked it.

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Genre-Melding

lunar-landscape-1978303_1920Picture if you will a large planet named Fantasy. It’s home to an array of creatures, each with their own societies and cultures; some primitive and some advanced. The laws which govern the world are far different from the physics, chemistry and biology that we Earthlings are familiar with.

A neighboring celestial body, the planet Xi belongs to the Sci-Fi Federation of planets. Xi and it’s galactically renowned bazaar is home to an assortment of aliens and Artificial Intelligences. Some aliens are sentient and others are not, depending on whose definition of sentient you adhere to. Naturally the aliens, though sharing a planet, each come from different homeworlds and customs.

Each planet – or literary genre, if you will – has a gravity well and loyal fans orbiting, some within the ionosphere and others at the very edges. They are loyal to their own planet, but the thought of traveling between planets is foreign…

Perhaps it is my own biases, and I’d like to think it’s breaking down… but once upon a time a fantasy novel was constrained to a single planet? No planet-hopping allowed. And if dragons exist on the planet, for some reason the inhabitants can’t develop space-faring technology? Why can Jaja Binks exist, but a dragon cannot? (Because we all know which one we’d like more).

The professionals on the Writing Excuses podcast talk about the importance of knowing which genre you’re writing to, so you can maximise appeal to that audience. (This advice was back in Season 1, so quite some time ago…)

cover-1Personally, I don’t see why genre blending isn’t more acceptable. When I wrote Vengeance Will Come (available soon), I didn’t write it for a particular genre… I simply wrote a book that interested me. It has elements from both science fiction (aliens, space travel, forceshields) and fantasy (telekinesis and other mystical powers and tied into arcane prophesy). In some ways it’s also an adventure story (fast-paced) that just happens to have those other elements as part of the setting. I don’t see how fantasy and science fiction can’t co-exist more.

Admittedly it’s been too-long since I read the masterpiece Dune, (particularly the first 3 books) but that successfully straddles the line between the two genres: a lot of science, but also brushed with a touch of fantasy in the Bene Gesserit.

Do you think genre-blending is more accepted by the reading communities in recent years, or do the rules of orthodoxy still hold true?

When you don’t like your main character

She’s so perfect I just puked a little. I apologise for the grotesque (and cliché) expression.

But the cliché fits and it’s how I feel about Sue-Le, my main character in The Rebel Queen. And I don’t mean perfect in a good way. She’s idealistic and only wants the best for her people. And unlike modern politicians, she actually means it. Her only flaw is she’s  innocent to the point of naivety.

This doesn’t make her endearing to the reader, it makes her annoying. In summary: she’s trite, sickly sweet and ultimately annoying. (Is now a good time to ask for beta readers???)

But all is not lost. I’ll put her through the same tumble dry as I have my other characters. I started off with a cast of bland and cliché characters and have redesigned them into interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Sue-Le is going to take a tumble or two more.

I’ve twisted the characters a fair bit to make them interesting. Instead of having a paragraph or two of “who they are”, I now have a page or two. They are richer and deeper. This also makes them more challenging to write. It’s easy to say “write this from the perspective of an older woman”… it’s harder for me to do that as a young-ish male 🙂

After spending most of 2017 revising Vengeance Will Come I must admit I’d rather be writing a new story than revising still… There is also a temptation to say The Rebel Queen is written, and only doing a skin-deep revision. But I wrote earlier that I’m wanting to do a thorough revision, to improve the story as much as possible.

That means I’m re-writing entire scenes and I’m treating the plot as ‘branch A’ instead of a ‘blueprint’ of what must be.

On to writing… have a great day/evening.

Microstory: Remembrance of Past

You can find inspiration for writing everywhere. Everything you encounter, with any of your senses, can be part of a story if your imagination is released.

The following is a microstory example, where a common every-day sight turned my writer’s perspective ‘On’.


The gaping wound lay open. The artificial skin, the unwelcome armour, had been penetrated by great force, broken and torn apart. The soft flesh beneath cooked in the long-forgotten sun.

Blood and small pieces of flesh surrounded the wound, dug from the depths. The  purposeful and complex system of nerves and blood vessels had become refuse, no longer serving a purpose, except a reminder of destruction.

It was a strange sight. For ages the bare flesh had been ‘normal’, unremarkable and ubiquitous. With the advent of armour the flesh had become alien, out-of-place in its own existence.

The flesh barely lived, its biological rhythms strangled to all but the faintest expression of life. Given time it would revive. But time it did not have. The artificial skin would soon be repaired, burying again the reminder of what had forever been.

Click “more” to see what had spurred this thought.

Continue reading

Significant Changes to The Rebel Queen

At the beginning of the year I optimistically planned on finishing my first novel, Vengeance Will Come would be followed by a quick revision of my next novel, The Rebel Queen. I was confident it wouldn’t take too long – after all The Rebel Queen was already drafted and had early alpha reader approval.

On the Writing Excuses podcast they advise that you’re not ready to write your second novel until you’ve finished your first. This is good advice in my experience. Having undergone the task of writing a novel, and importantly the synopsis for submission, I’ve come away with some new insights.

As is proper, my second novel should be better than my first. So in response my revision of The Rebel Queen will be more thorough than originally anticipated.

  • Significantly, I’m going to start by drafting my synopsis. I am going to describe my characters and their arcs first and then keep that in the forefront of my mind as I revise the text.
  • I want to increase the novel’s length. The draft of The Rebel Queen is 65,000 words. This is a medium-sized novel, and not a bad length for a new author. However based on previous experience I’d expect to cut 15% of that during the revision process. Which would result in a very short book.

    Far more important than the actual word count though, is the pace and ending. I’ve noticed I have a weakness in writing the 4/5ths part of the story. I am going to expand that section, making it more cohesive. I’m also going to push-out the ending to get more resolution on the plot.

  • Reduce the number of point-of-view characters. My hope is I’ll be able to go deeper with each character, if there are less to juggle. This will likely be the hardest challenge to manage, as I’ll have to work out how to give the reader insights with less heads/bodies to switch between. Just who is on the chopping-block is yet to be decided.
  • Strengthen the resolution-bringing plot device, which was a little weak (in my opinion). I’ll be looking to change that up too.

That’s my goals for the next few months, what’s yours?

Beta Readers!

girl-hugging-teddy

That’s how I feel about beta readers right now. They are a wonderful breed of people.

Today I received some surprise feedback on Vengeance Will Come from a beta reader. I’d assumed I wasn’t going to be getting a response, but the email had been left and forgotten in their “draft” folder. Needless to say; every beta reader’s comments are precious, so I feel like I’ve just found a $100 note on the pavement.

It also doesn’t hurt my mood that their comments were largely positive. I can’t begin to express how that spurs me on to continue writing – both to finish this project and others.

You mean I haven’t wasted hundreds of hours writing? You mean you’d willingly pay money for it and be happy you did at the end? Music to my ears.

Of course not every beta reader is so complimentary, and I do genuinely also appreciate the constructive criticism. I know some of my beta readers have picked up on weaknesses – because I had those same doubts. What’s even better is when they detect a problem which I hadn’t seen without their perspective.

 

I’m still looking for a few more readers for up to five chapters of my novel. More details on the previous post.

Please Power-up my e-Reader

Dear Google, Kindle, Kobo…

I’m a relatively new fan of eReaders, but now I’m sold on them.

No doubt I will still have times when I want to “unplug”, but I don’t miss carrying around cumbersome books. There are some books on my shelf I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t because I’d need a Sherpa to get it around (Brother Fish or Dune 3-in-1 edition). Convenience is King which is why I’ve even bought a few e-books whose physical manifestations gather dust on the shelf.

I’ve read some traditional publishers recently saying that e-books are declining in sales. With no proof whatsoever I declare Fiddlesticks! I don’t believe it, and the only way I can believe it is if you are stacking the deck and describing dodgy numbers. Why? Because convenience is King, and people are getting more tech savvy, not less.

The truth is though, eBooks should be doing much better. There are of course questions of quality and price, but I want to look at functionality. I have Kindle and Google Books on my phone. Both applications provide roughly the same functionality:

  • Table of contents
  • Search
  • Mark (highlight)
  • (Limited) copy
  • Bookmarks
  • (Kindle also shows me which bits other people like… thanks, I think).

Which I have to say, is a bit ho-hum. I mean, Google… come on, YOU can do so much better. (If I have to resort to mockery to get better software, I will). There is so much potential to do amazing things; to deliver a knock-out blow to physical books. There is huge scope for innovation.

For example:

  1. Why isn’t there more artwork in e-books?
  2. Why isn’t there internal “dictionaries” and other reference materials e.g. Family trees more often? I’m not suggesting for a minute these should be in-text but rather accessible through a simple menu system.
  3. What about interactive maps that show you the location of all your characters at any time?
  4. What about the ability to seamlessly alert the author to typos, or deliver your verdict on a passage with a thumbs-up-or-down.
    As an author I crave interaction with my readers. I want to hear their thoughts (but will settle for reading them until we evolve telepathy). A good platform that helps me connect is golden.
  5. What about blog-follow and twitter-links for the authors?
  6. Remember those choose-your-own adventure books? How long until we get ROLE-PLAYING-NOVELS. Yes, that deserves capitals (and no I don’t play role playing games, but the idea is so awesome it could break your eyes just reading it). Where is the software that incrementally reveals text based on my decisions or “in-story belongings or attributes”? WORLD-BREAKING; and you read it first here, folks.

There is so much more that e-readers could be delivering to both the authors and the readers. Get a move on with it, I say.