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So You Want to Plan a Screenplay?

8 Jan

Ok, don’t get the idea that I know what the hell I’m talking about because I don’t. At all. As I’ve mentioned before, a goal of mine for the year is to write a screenplay. Ideally, I’d like to submit it and see if it’s salable, but my main focus is just learning the nuts and bolts of the format, which has always seemed so mysterious to me.

In preparation for the goal I’ve read both “Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” (Blake Snyder) and the third book “Save the Cat! Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get into … and Out of” (Blake Snyder). I have the second book as well, but I’ve been using that as a reference as I watch the different movies it covers, rather than reading it from front to back.

The books really make it seem pretty doable. They don’t cover formatting at all, but luckily for me Scrivener has a screenplay template so I’ll let that handle the basics for now. Since I don’t know any better, I decided to just trust Mr. Snyder’s system for structuring a script. Why not? I’ve got to start somewhere.

He suggests in the book using “The Board” to arrange your 40 index cards, which he seems to think is the magic number of scenes a screenplay needs. I’ve decided not to question it until I’ve had at least one or two tries using his methods.

I don’t have a literal corkboard (although I have made a habit of sticking post it notes to the wall behind my computer area) so I decided that software is a good route for me to go. There is software available based on his books (“Save the Cat!® Story Structure Software 3.0″ (Blake Snyder Enterprises, LLC)) which seems pretty cool, but the price is prohibitive. I’m willing to give most stuff a try if it’s $25 or less, but $100 is higher than I’m willing to go. Time to figure out how to make this work with something I’ve already got.

I’ve seen people use notecards with Scrivener, but I’m pretty much awful at using that program for anything than the basic word processing functions. If you know me at all then you probably guessed that I turned to my new favorite planning software, Curio. It worked great.

Screen Shot 2012-01-08 at 1.17.38 PM.png

I set up the 10×4 structure that Blake Snyder recommends and filled in some of the cards with the different beats he recommends in his books. That still leaves quite a few cards blank, but it’s a good start.

Screen Shot 2012-01-08 at 1.17.13 PM.png

I filled in the first one with the information he says to put on each card. It’s my little reminder of what I need to include as I fill them all in.

I will keep a copy just like this and just copy it for every project I start and fill it in with scenes that are relevant to those projects. Since I do all my work on my computer, this is a handy way to have that information available no matter where I go.

I do realize that there are probably a dozen programs that do something similar. It would actually be more useful to do it in Scrivener and then shuffle them around in there where it will actually affect my script, but this is actually perfect for my needs since I use Curio to keep track of everything that goes on in my life. I can keep The Board right next to my character sketches and brainstorming mind maps.

And how is my screenplay project going? I’ve got a pretty well developed idea, I think. I came up with a log-line and have a decent concept of the major scenes (plot points, midpoint, and final scene). I’m hoping to come up with a rough outline today and see how workable I think it is at that point. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a surprise novel. It started out as a naughty story, but ended up being way too funny to be truly sexy. So now it’s on it’s way to becoming an erotic comedy. I’ve got a pretty good start written. I’m curious to see how it works out since I’ve never started a project that I thought would be a short story only to realize that there was a lot more potential there than I thought there was.

My new approach to outlining

15 Dec

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve recently discovered the joys of Curio for the prewriting stages of my writing. I wish I got a commission for selling copies of that program because by the time I’m done I’ll have converted my entire readership, it’s just that cool.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of visuals. It’s probably the artistic side of my mind taking charge, but I think so much better when I can SEE a representation of my thoughts in front of me. That’s why I’m such a big fan of finding pictures to represent my characters. With that in mind I decided to try something new for plotting this story.

I’ve talked about how I outlined I Wish… in the past. For that book it was purely text. I started out with some ideas for scenes that I jotted on a piece of notebook paper and then it developed into a pretty good summary of the plot from start to finish. That’s the point when I started breaking it down into individual scenes. It worked well for me and it got the job done. I stand behind that approach for anyone. It’s not labor intensive and I knew exactly where I was in my project every single day I sat down to write.

For this upcoming project, I decided to play a little bit with my approach since I’m trying to write something that’s a little more complex. I Wish… is told from a 1st person POV so there’s no need to work out who’s POV a scene will be in and there aren’t a lot of crazy subplots. It’s a very linear story.

I’ve gotten a lot more ambitious with my upcoming project (F My Afterlife) and it was becoming difficult to write everything I want to happen in a summary because there are scenes that exist to lay down clues to crimes as well as clues to more subtle things like a shared history that will color their reactions to each other throughout the book. How on earth do I keep track of all that?

I briefly considered doing something similar to what I’ve done in the past with Onenote. With ON I was able to set up a page for each scene with a few sentences or more of description of what’s supposed to happen in the scene. Then I can easily move the pages up and down to try out different orders or add new pages as new scenes occur to me during the planning stage.

Since Curio supports mind mapping, I decided to use the that to my advantage. It’s easy to move the bubbles up and down in the map. I can color code each branch (including all the sub levels) so that I can tell at a glance who’s POV the scene will be in. And perhaps the most useful for an outline is the fact that I can convert the mind map into a traditional outline and back again at will. I’ve been calling this process “scene-storming” because I dig cheesy names.

Screen grabs anyone? You know how I like them. ;)

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 2.53.37 PM.png

So this is pretty much what it looks like. I have a quick scene description and the sub branches are just me going into more detail about what happens during the scene. I make as many of those kinds of notes as I want. It’s my guide post to writing the scene later so the more, the better. If there are other things I need to consider such as maybe there needs to be a long lingering look or a visual clue slipped into the description I’ll make a sub level bubble for it.

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 2.57.08 PM.png

This is pretty blurry, but hopefully you can tell that it’s a traditional outline. It’s just a super long column of information. But I’ll probably refer to it a lot as I’m writing to make sure I’m on track. Actually, I’ll probably have a copy of both views so I have options for tracking the information.

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 3.02.26 PM.png

Another thing I’m doing differently during this process is keeping a “parking lot”. It’s a concept that was introduced in a couple of different training classes I took years ago. The concept is to let the instructor know any questions or terms you want to have explained in great detail later and he’ll either write it on a white board in a designated spot or else write it on a post it note to stick on the wall. It keeps things from getting derailed without losing any important information along the way.

My parking lot is full of snippets that aren’t quite worth their own scenes or that I’m not 100% sure which scene they should be mentioned in. Maybe it’s something like a connection I want to make between two characters at some point. What does not go there are full fledged scene ideas. If I have an idea for a scene, it goes on the mind map/outline no matter how vague it is. I have plenty of scenes labeled something like “Scene where hero finds a clue”. What clue? I don’t know yet. It doesn’t matter at this stage. It’s just a place holder for later.

As I come up with new ideas for this outline, I’m adding, rearranging, and deleting scenes like crazy. That’s the awesome thing about outlining before you write. I feel free to change things drastically as my ideas develop because all I’m losing is a few words rather than 30 pages and hours of writing. There’s just not as much at risk.

Long time no see!

9 Dec

This is the first in what I hope will be a long string of regular blog posts. Of course I thought that a few months ago too and then didn’t have much (if anything) to say for the last 4 or 5 months. So no promises.

One of the main reasons for a lack of blogging has been dissatisfaction with my blogging software. To briefly recap, my old laptop was a Dell. It wasn’t good for much but typing my stories and when it started randomly pressing the control button while I was typing, it wasn’t any good for that anymore either. I replaced it with a lovely Mac machine, which I was extremely leery of at first. These days I’m happy to report I’m actually quite smitten with it and spend hours of every day doing pretty much everything on it.

One of the downfalls to switching OS was that I needed to replace Windows specific software, including the Windows Live Writer software I used for blogging. It’s free and intuitive and I love it. But how hard could it be to find something similar for Mac? Well, I wouldn’t know because I more or less gave up on it. I tried Qumana, but it didn’t click with me. Now I’m working with Ecto. So far so good.

I only tell that long and ultimately uninteresting story to segue into the real point of my post. Almost a year ago now, I posted about my go to software programs for my Windows set up. I’m still 100% supportive of those choices, by the way. It was hard to find replacements for them, especially Onenote. That one was tricky, but I’m so inspired by the replacement that I found that I overcame my aversion to finding a new blogging tool to just to be able to share with you.

Scrivener- This could very well be a one stop program because it has some pretty robust planning tools built into it, but I personally just use the word processing capabilities because I don’t care for Open Office (free). There’s a lot of positive things to be said for Scrivener that have been mentioned at length in the many reviews out there so I won’t restate them all. It’s worth checking out.

Curio- This is the only other program I use for writing these days. I tried several note taking/organizational programs before I settled on this one. It combines the mind mapping features I loved in Xmind (free) with the free form note taking capabilities of Onenote. It does have a pretty steep price tag. I bought my copy on “Cyber Monday” at 25% off and still ended up paying over $100 for the mid-grade version, but I feel good about it. I’ve posted before about my need for extensive outlining and prewriting so I get a lot of use out of the program.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, Curio does all the same things I used Onenote for and then some. It’s got all the flexibility to arrange text, images, and other media around on the page that I enjoyed with ON. In a writing context, I used that feature to arrange several pictures per page (I use pictures I find online as inspiration for characters or settings) and I like to write summaries in one column with annotations running beside it. I’ve tried other programs, but that’s a fairly unique feature, but one I really wanted.

Another improvement is that Curio supports more levels of hierarchal organization than ON. ON is committed to a notebook analogy, which is fine. I actually find it very attractive. But that seems to preclude very many levels of organization. Curio uses a combination of sections, folders, and workspaces to organize everything and allows folders within folders. I haven’t found a boundary to that yet, although I haven’t tried to go deeper than 4 or 5 levels at this point.

The visual tools in Curio are what really sets it apart in my mind. You can make mind maps and lists using several preinstalled templates and you can then further customize them with color swatches you can download from different online sites. That’s such an unnecessary feature, but one that I love anyway.

Here are a few screenshots of Curio in action with the story I’m working on currently.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.23.32 PM.png

This is an example of one of my character’s mind maps. I have a blank template that I have saved and I just copy and paste it onto each workspace I create for a character. I customize the colors as desired, but otherwise the style information carries over from the original. This is also a look at the interface itself.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.25.02 PM.png

This is just an example of how I drop a photo onto the workspace to use as visual inspiration. I either search Google for photos or look at stock photo sites. I don’t pay for the images since they are for my own personal use. I just ignore the watermarks. Sometimes I’ll add a paragraph of notes underneath if there’s more to say than what I can easily put into a mind map. Curio supports voice recording and other kinds of media, including handwriting using a tablet, so there’s a lot of room for building some truly epic notes.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.27.17 PM.png

This is a grab of the list tool. It also supports color customization. These are just some notes I took while reading a book (“Story Engineering” (Larry Brooks) good book, btw. I’m enjoying it a lot.) the other day. **

Curio also makes tables and notecards, although I haven’t used those features at this point. You should truly take the time to look at their samples. If you aren’t totally impressed then I want to know what note taking program you use because I think I want to buy a copy.

That concludes my little essay on the reasons why Curio is a writer’s best friend and a viable substitute for ON. As far as the Ecto experiment, I haven’t tried to publish yet, but everything else has worked as good, if not better than, hoped. It even has an “Amazon Helper” tool that let me look up the link for the book I mentioned without having to leave the editor. Very cool. I think you guys might be seeing more of me around these parts real soon.

**Edit: I took new screen shots for this post since the old ones were too small to be useful due to my inexperience with Ecto at that time. The list is actually from “Story Structure Architect: A Writer’s Guide to Building Dramatic Situations and Compelling Characters” (Victoria Lynn Schmidt) which is another helpful book that I’d recommend.

I’ve got a fat sack and a supa fly chick

11 Jun

Sorry for the title, I’m listening to Baby Bash- Suga Suga as I’m writing this. Such a fun song. But that’s neither here nor there.

Actually there’s not any one central theme to this post at all. Just a couple of unrelated things that I wanted to share. So I suppose sharing my playlist is at least as on point as anything else I’m about to talk about.

First off, I discovered a really intriguing thing the other day. It’s probably old news to people who take social media more seriously than I do (which is huge percentage of the people who utilize it), but I thought it was cool.

It’s called Klout, folks. It takes the info it gathers from Twitter and/or Facebook and gives you a score based on the different ways you “call people to action”. Meaning if they retweet you, mention you, comment on your FB posts, and all those kinds of things. Then it gives you a little profile based on how you share information, but they are all pleasing descriptions. It reminds me of a Seventeen horoscope. Or YM. Any of you ladies remember YM magazine? It was far and away my favorite. /nostalgic sigh

Anyway, I grabbed a screen cap because that’s kind of my thing and I thought I’d show you my top areas of expertise according to Klout.


The writing is a little small in the posted version, but my top areas of knowledge are Zombies, Writing, Young Adult Literature, Sales, Jesse James, and Reviews. How freakin’ eclectic. But I kind of adore it, to be honest. I’m an expert in zombies. How cool is that? If anyone ends up setting up your Klout account and happen to have extra K to spend (you get 5 a day) and would like to continue my reign as a zombie master, feel free to vote for me. Kidding. Sort of.

It’s totally rigged though. There’s no way that I shouldn’t be considered influential about herpes because I mention them in a tweet at least once a day in some context and those tend to be the tweets that get RT a few times. I like some of the other things it picks for me though. Sales? I’m like the least likely person to sell a single thing. My lack of sales abilities pains me. Thanks though, Klout.

And as for the other thing, as I’ve mentioned before, I love making mixed media collages. I’m never happier than when I’m slapping paint around. I love it more than writing even and I really enjoy that.

I’m always on the look out for something new to try, a technique or class. So when I found Daisy Yellow’s Index Card a Day project, I decide it was perfect. Surely even I can manage to find enough time to create a single index card sized collage every day. I thought maybe I’d mix things up a little on the blog and show some of those here too.

(edited to add that there is a Twitter tag #icad to touch base with other people who are doing this challenge)

icad jun 8 11

icad jun 9 11

icad jun 10 11

icad jun 11 11

I have been trying to keep them quick. I’m not on a strict time limit or anything, but I didn’t spend more than half an hour on any of these guys and most of it was waiting on paint to dry. I limited myself to supplies I could reach from my desk and scraps from my desk box.

Let me explain to you the joy of a desk box. I buy a lot of bottled water and most of them come in a flat box with shallow sides. I save these because they are perfect for organizing all my flat scraps of paper. I keep one on the corner of my desk and put things into it as I work.

Things that are in my desk box right now include biggish scraps of all kinds of paper, receipts, tickets, security envelopes, interesting pictures cut from junk mail, art work the minions have done that I don’t want to necessarily save for all of eternity, clothing tags, pages from kid’s picture books, die cut shapes, the “negative” space from punched shapes, and dozens of other things like that.

If you have any interest in creating collages, I can’t recommend a scrap box of some kind highly enough. You just never know what might jump out at you in the moment.

Using Xmind as a timeline

31 May

I was looking at search hits my blog has received and saw that someone was looking up how to use Xmind as a timeline. I happen to think that Xmind makes a really good timeline and here’s how I use it for that.

Step 1:

timeline 2

I change the default shape into a left facing Fishhead shape using the shape menu in the right hand box.

Step 2:


Next I change the structure to left facing Fishbone.

Step 3:

timeline 4

At this point you just start adding topics like normal and they’ll automatically populate the fish in an alternating bone shaped pattern. I usually name them by date, but I’ve also called them by scene title if I’m not sure on the specific date.

Step 4:

timeline 5

Right click on one of your new subtopics. About halfway down you can select the option to make a note. The shortcut for it is F4.

Step 5:

timeline 6

Now you just fill in the details. When I’m doing my timeline I generally will post my entire scene description in there. When you’ve got a note on a topic you’ll see a little rectangular icon that you can click on to bring up your note at any time.

And that’s it. It’s really that simple to make a quick and dirty timeline using Xmind, a program I highly recommend to all writers.

In a completely unrelated note, I thought I’d share my numbers for May with y’all. I have a sneaking suspicion that my numbers are going to disappear on me tomorrow and I’d like to have kept track somewhere.

Thanks to a generous push last night, I was able to hit 100 sales (across all the stores). I was beyond thrilled since it’s so much better than I dared to hope I’d do by this point in the game. A huge thank you to everyone who’s bought my book or reviewed it or even just told a friend about it. You guys are making my dreams come true and I know that’s a huge cliché, but it’s so very true.

I know it’s early still and I still might make some sales today, but as of right now this is where I’m sitting. 94 US, 8 UK, 1 DE = # 14,815. I have 14 reviews on Amazon right now, 11 of them are 5 star reviews.

Since I love screen shots so much, I took one earlier today showing a graph of my sales over the last two weeks.

sales numbers 5 31

As you can see I was off to a great start all through the first week and things gradually started falling off during the second week. I feel really fortunate that throughout it all, I’ve still managed to stay in the top #20k for the most part. Considering that I haven’t done much of anything in the way of promotion since I released I Wish… the numbers become that much more impressive.

One thing that’s been consistent throughout is that readers are asking about the sequel. Originally I was planning to put it on hold while I worked on a totally different project and cleared my head of Thistle and the rest of Desire. The thing is that I already have an outline that’s probably 95% finished. Writing the sequel at this point would be really easy so I’ve decided that I’m going to switch around my projects and work on the sequel right now.

This is for two reasons. The main one is that if I have fans and they want something that I can give them, then why on earth would I deny them?

The second reason is more practical. I have sold 100 copies of I Wish… and given away nearly as many. That’s almost 200 people who have, for the most part, enjoyed reading my book. Several have taken the time to contact me to tell me how much they liked it and how much they are anticipating the sequel. It stands to reason that I can expect a big chunk of them to purchase the second book. There are no such guarantees if I publish something unrelated. On the one hand, they might enjoy it as much if not more and I might draw in a new crowd since it’s an adult rom com. On the other hand, it would be foolish to turn my back on the following I’ve managed to accumulate so far.

As always, I will post about my success, or lack thereof, as things develop.

There’s still time to leave a comment on Addison Moore’s interview for a chance to win free copies of Ethereal and it’s newly released sequel. She’s doing great on Amazon right now, guys, you don’t want to miss your chance to see why everyone is reading her books.


This really doesn’t have much bearing on anything, but I was looking at my sales numbers in the UK and this is what I saw. Again, I’ve only got 8 sales there total so this is kind of insane to me.

UK sales

In the 6ks and the top 100 of a category? Really?

This does remind me though, I meant to tell you guys that I didn’t have an author bio in either the UK store or the German store. I had to go in there and add it to both stores (very tricky in the German store as all the menus are written in, well, German). So if you’re currently selling there it might help to do that. 2 of my UK sales happened last night after I set up my profile yesterday afternoon. Did my profile sell the books? It’s hard to tell, but I figure it can’t hurt.

And in case you’re further interested, here is what my German sales rank looks like:

german sales

Now keep in mind that’s with only 1 sale. Ever. I think I got that sale during my 1st week even. Is it too soon to consider myself an international bestseller? LOL!

A real look at how I outline

24 May

I’ve described my outlining process before on the blog, but this time I’m going to show you guys real pictures of my notes. I can not stress strongly enough that these are my actual notes from the book I Wish. If you haven’t read it yet and want to, there WILL be spoilers. Avoid this post at all costs if that will ruin the experience for you.

The program I use is Onenote by Microsoft. I swear by it. It’s about the most amazing notetaking software ever invented. Do yourself a huge favor and get a copy.

The first thing I do is a brain dump on paper. These are some actual crappy cell phone pictures of my actual crappy written notes. Seriously. Nobody can read my handwriting. It’s like a blind gorilla wrote them with his stupid foot. But it’s just an example anyway.

paper notes 1

paper notes 2

I love bullet points. Some of the notes made it to the final version, some were changed until they didn’t resemble the original note at all, and some I just scrapped completely. I can’t stress enough how important it is to just let yourself go during this part. Sometimes if I piece of information or dialog occurs to me, I’ll write right up the margin or further down the page. I use a lot of arrows and underlines or boxes to link ideas together or emphasize some. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s just what makes sense to you later on when you’re reading over it. I’ve also been known to go over sections with a highlighter.

paper notes 3

A lot of times I’ll use Xmind for mind mapping (ooh, I’ll take a picture of that too!), but sometimes it’s just faster to grab a sheet of paper and make a quick diagram. This is one I made when I was brainstorming some new scenes to add length to the book. I think really well in this manner. That whole chart took me about 10 minutes to come up with and I had ideas for an extra 6 scenes.

It’s totally unrelated to anything, but don’t my fingertips look fat in that picture? I just got sized for our wedding bands and my ring finger is a size 4, which is pretty small. I had no ideas that fingertips could even look fat, but there we are. Ahem. Done now.

mind map 

mind map 2

So here are a couple of samples of different mind maps I made to get some ideas onto paper. Again, some were used in the stories, some weren’t. The process of brainstorming this way really unlocks a ton of potential ideas in my mind and inspires lines of thinking that I personally feel enrich my writing.

At this point I start plugging the ideas into Onenote.


This is an example of the summary I write before I start breaking my ideas into individual scenes. I write the summary as if I were telling it to a 3rd party. This is where I find out if I’m missing important information. It breaks down roughly to each paragraph = a scene. I leave myself notes on the side to remind myself to add more information to a a section when it becomes a scene or to make sure I don’t forget something that’s coming up. Also if you’re actually reading my notes, you’ll see that this was before I determined that Katie is an overused name and changed her to Krista.


The last thing I do is write out a scene description. For I Wish… I used yWriter. It made formatting a bitch when I added new scenes though so I don’t think I’ll be using it this time around. But you get the idea. I wrote a couple of paragraphs of what was supposed to happen in that scene and then turned it into a 3000 word passage. Not a bad conversion, right?

I filled out each scene in the book before I wrote a word of it. Some descriptions are a lot more detailed than this one is. I included any ideas for dialogue or other phrases I liked and wanted to include. You can’t do yourself any disservice by being really wordy on this part. When I was ready to write every day, I knew exactly what I was planning to work on. I never had to spend any time trying to think of what came next because I already knew before I started writing what happened in what order.

There was one pitfall to the whole thing. My outline was TIGHT. I had every day accounted for, even if it wasn’t specified in the story exactly what day it was. It doesn’t matter if the reader knows as long as I do so that I don’t have my character in two places at one time. So when it came time to add more scenes it was like crap, where the hell can I fit that in? It took a lot of wiggling and a few serious rewrites at the beginning or end of the scene to fight them all in.

But that’s a minor problem and if I had a better handle on how long my average scene length was it wouldn’t have happened. The nice part about yWriter is that it tracks how long each scene is for you so it’s easy to do the math. Now I know that my average scene length is almost exactly 1500 words and I can plan enough scenes in advance to come out to where I need to be by the end.

Hopefully, this clarifies my process for anyone who was confused. Xmind and yWriter are both free programs and a lot of people have Onenote on their computers and don’t even realize it. If you have any questions you can leave it in the comments or hit me up on twitter @wrenem. I’ll be happy to help you out as much as I can.

Edit: Wow guys, totally didn’t expect this to go viral like this. It’s awesome, thanks for stopping by my fine little piece of web real estate. I’d love to have you visit again in the future. If you are interested to see what this outline and 2 weeks of 1st draft writing will net you, please consider buying a copy of I Wish… for only $.99. I’d sure appreciate it. Smile

Where do ideas come from?

27 Apr

I came across a book packaging site the other day.  They, like other companies like them, will choose a writer to write a book for them.  They’ll give the writer an idea and the writer is then supposed to do the heavy lifting for a flat fee rather than a percentage of the royalties and in some cases without even having their name on the books they’ve written. 

Ideas aren’t hard to come by.  In fact, I’ve started a list that I fill out every night before bed.  I come up with 5 ideas (titles, characters, plots, settings, whatever) and jot them down.  The idea is that I’ll have a nice pool of jumping off points to choose from if I’m ever stymied. 

I thought I’d share my method of developing an idea into something workable.  With a diagrams!  I’m a visual person so any time I can come up with a visual aid, it’s a happy day for me.

I pulled an interesting plot idea off the take a plot idea thread in the NaNoWriMo forums a few months ago, but didn’t write down the details so I’m just going to go my own way with it.  A futuristic society has developed a way to add enhancement implants into humans, but the implants have some sort of awful drawback.  I like it for the purposes of this entry.  It’s pretty open ended.

The original idea could come from literally anywhere.  A newspaper story you read might spark some speculation, a movie you watched might have had an awesome premise, but you feel like the execution wasn’t what it should have been, maybe you pick it up from a site like the Nano forums… it doesn’t really matter where you get an idea as long as it inspires you to examine it from all sides and see where it might lead.

I prefer using a mind map for this next part, but I’ve also used bulleted lists.  I give myself permission to be as sloppy and cliché as I want.  That’s important.  Don’t be afraid to acknowledge even your dumbest ideas because, in my head at least, one thought leapfrogs to another until I’m thinking about something that has nothing to do with the original idea.  Besides, if an idea is really awful you just drop it.

I use a program called Xmind for mind mapping.  They have a pro version that costs money, but I’ve found the free version to be perfectly acceptable for what I use it for.  Try the herring bone structure for a time line… it works great.

Ok, so our central idea is Enhancement Implants.  Now I would start using a combination of things I “know” about the idea and W questions (who, where, what, why, how) to start filling in my map.  Whenever a branch forms I start asking myself questions about THAT.  By the time I’ve been at it for half an hour or so I can usually start the processes of world building, character creation, and outlining the plot.

I’m alternating between filling out my map and writing this post.  But I found my first interesting possibility for a story.

screen shot 1

I was exploring the idea that maybe these implants should be mandatory.  Which lead to some new questions. What happens if you don’t get one and what kind of a person would rebel against getting one?  I have a seed of an idea now.  A character lives in a society where it has become mandatory to get implants to enhance performance and correct any defects.  There are drawbacks, maybe widely known or maybe a closely guarded secret, but there are people who are in opposition to the mandate.  One of these people might make an interesting main character.

screen shot 2 

Ah, interesting.  What if the drawback was that the implants are organs and tissues taken from people who live in a “people farm”?  It’s been done before, sure, but it might be worth exploring further.  It adds some drama from the outset.  Especially if the penalty for crimes against the state would be to be sent off to one of the farms to be harvested.  And if refusing the implant was in itself a crime…

So now we have the beginnings of a plot.  We’ve got a scenario and some conflict.  We just have to ask ourselves what sort of character would live in a world like this?  Then we start throwing some of that conflict at them.  Maybe the MC is a member of the resistance or maybe their cherished brother was taken off to the people farms for a crime he didn’t commit.  Something has to happen that puts MC at odds with the rest of the world. 

Since this is me we’re talking about, I’d most likely end up going a paranormal direction with this.  Maybe the people farms aren’t made of people, but some kind of supernatural creature instead.  I don’t know. 

If this were a real project, I’d have several layers of sub branches fanning out, but this is the basic process.  Once I had a decent idea of where the story might go, I start world building, character sketches, and outlining though a series of mind maps and bulleted lists where I just pour out all my ideas onto the page.  I move back and forth between the three because an idea about one thing will often cause me to do a new chart about the others. 

I think the main thing about coming up with ideas is to let yourself be fluid.  Nothing is written in stone so feel free to go off on a tangent.  It might lead somewhere interesting. 

I’m uploading the finished map to Xmind.  You can find it here.

ereaders vs. paper books

27 Feb

I’m a fan of ebooks.  Until this last week I’d never even seen a dedicated ereading device.  Whenever I wanted a new release (in contrast to just looking for any old thing to read or a specific older title, both of which I look for at my local used book store), I would buy an ebook version to read on my iTouch.  The tiny screen made reading a little awkward, you can count on at last double the page count, which is a lot of page turns.  That in turn equals a lot of wrist flicks which can become tiring if you read long enough.

I have been lucky enough to be able to compare the Nook with the Kindle.  But I’d take either device over printed books any day.  Here are the reasons why:

  • Storage-  I have boxes of books in my garage and piles next to my bed and on my desk.  Even so, my total collection probably only amounts to 2 or 3 hundred books.  If I wanted something to read in the car during a long trip, I’d have to pack individual books at the cost of other things I could have fit into that space.  With ereaders that isn’t a concern.  I could fit my entire library and probably another 4 or 5 like it on one device that’s smaller than a trade paperback. 
  • Annotation-  I’m not really one who marks up my books.  I actually try to keep them as pristine as I can.  With ebooks there’s not really any pressure to do that.  I can write as many notes to myself as I’d like without worrying about ruining the book.  A built in dictionary and the ability to bookmark pages (without the seemingly irresistible lure of tags of paper sticking out of the pages to tempt my 3 y/o) are also big advantages.
  • Transportation-  This could be lumped under storage, I’m sure, but I personally love having my pick of hundreds of books without having to carry them with me all the time.  Sometimes the pressure of choosing THE best book to read makes me not choose a book at all and just do something else entirely.  Now I can load all the books I own onto a device and carry them all with me to be chosen as the whim hits me.  If I’m not feeling something, I can easily pull up a different book instead.  Having an entire collection of books in my hands has contributed to me reading more in the last week than I have in probably the last 3 months put together. 
  • The lure of tech-  YMMV on this one, but I really enjoy electronics.  There’s just something really cool about reading a book on an electronic screen. 
  • Lower prices-  This isn’t true across the board as some publishers charge as much for ebooks as their hardback books, but I’ve noticed that, in general, you can find ebooks for less than paper books.  And there are hundreds of indie authors producing thousands of indie books that are $5 or less.  Plus, there are free books to find out there.  I’m still a relative noob at that part so I won’t attempt to link any sites, but on Amazon alone there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of free books from old classics to new releases available. 
  • Convenience-  Being able to buy a book in my underwear as soon as the urge to read it hits me is awesome.  You never have to call ahead to make sure it’s available or special order a copy.  Instant gratification is a powerful incentive.
  • It’s green-  There’s a certain amount of comfort in knowing that my entertainment isn’t costing any paper to produce. 
  • Lending-  I’ve heard people argue that ebooks are inferior because you can’t give them away or resell them to recoup any of your costs.  That’s true enough, but I have a hard time giving up my books since I reread them, so it doesn’t color my choice at all.  In fact, I love the idea of virtual lending because there are groups out there dedicated to trading lends back and forth.  That means that I ‘m not just limited to a small circle of irl friends who might not read anything I enjoy.  By having the whole country available to trade with, I can read books I’ll enjoy and be sure that the books I’m lending are going to people who really want to read them too.
  • Access to out of print books-  As more authors get their backlists up, more and more out of print books are becoming available to read.  I hope that as the years progress nearly all of them will be available this way.  I hate having to choose between paying outrageous amounts of money to own a book or doing without altogether just because I can’t find a copy at a thrift store or second hand bookshop. 
  • Extras-  A book is just a book.  It’s limited by the cost to print it.  An ebook can be any length and can include pictures or interactive elements.  ereaders can run games, play music, and read your book out loud to you.  That’s besides being able to read newspapers, magazines, and blogs in addition to books.

There are other reasons, I’m sure, but these are my top reasons that I prefer ebooks to the real thing.  In the end it’s a personal choice and different feelings about the factors involved will dictate whether a person adores, is lukewarm, or hates this new trend in reading.  All I can say is that for me, it makes perfect sense and I embrace it with open arms.  A good story is the same regardless of the format you read it from.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to cull my paperback collection and trade a lot of them in for store credits at the used bookstore.   

Kindle vs. Nook

26 Feb

This is my highly unscientific, non technical comparison of my Nook and my Kindle.  It’s very subjective so you might find yourself disagreeing and that’s ok.  It’s just unfortunate that there’s no easy way to test drive a Kindle without ordering it, sight unseen from Amazon.

Size- The Kindle is noticeably smaller than the Nook.  It’s thinner and weighs a lot less.  I have freakishly tiny little girl hands so I find the smaller Kindle much more pleasant to use.

Overall exterior-  Cosmetic color differences aside, Kindle and Nook differ wildly with their functionality.  Nook has the touchscreen navigation and virtual keyboard and Kindle has the built in keys.  I happen to prefer the keys I can touch.

Navigation-  Although I do like having physical keys, the menus on Kindle are hard to navigate and the lack of page numbers makes finding my place when I accidently hit the “back” button for the 67th time a pain.  Nook has the option to return to the last page I was reading regardless of whether I’ve navigated away from it or not and the menu options are intuitive and easy to use.  Nook wins this round.

Features-  I’d say the two are about neck and neck.  They both play MP3 files and let you side load new books.  There are even games available for both.  Kindle does have the interactive option to create sharable “clippings” and that seems like it would be fun, but I haven’t really used it so I can’t say yet how much I actually enjoy it.  They both have lending options.

Battery life-  Kindle has noticeably longer battery life (provided that the wi fi is shut off) than Nook.  The touchscreen navigation is a huge power sink.  If I were going on a long trip where I might not have easy access to a power source, I’d pick the Kindle. 

The reading experience-  I don’t really see a difference between the two displays.  The display screens are close enough in size to be considered the same and I don’t prefer one to the other in readability.  Nook displays the time at the top of the page all the time and with Kindle you have to push the menu button repeatedly to check the time.  Plus, Nook as page numbers (sort of) whereas Kindle gives a percentage and a “location”.  Not very helpful.  I prefer Nook in this area.

Shopping experience-  I prefer shopping at Amazon to B&N.  I’m just more comfortable with it and there’s more selection.  Plus, the weak wi fi signal on my Nook makes it hard to shop from my bedroom where I do most of my reading.  Either way, I will continue to do most of my shopping online and send it to my readers later.

Price-  I bought them both the same day.  I paid for Kindle and got 2 day shipping for $12 and still only paid $150.98 total.  I picked Nook up myself and paid over $160 with tax.  If money is factor, you save a considerable amount going with the Kindle because you don’t have to pay a dime for shipping if you are willing to wait. 

So all things considered, I prefer the Kindle.  Granted the bulk of that choice is based on a combination of the sexy design and affiliation to Amazon.  They are both really cool devices and I prefer either one to paper books.  I think I’ll make that my next list.

Pros + Cons of the Kindle

25 Feb

I can’t help, but feel like this list is a little unfair since my list about the Nook was based on having never seen another ereader whereas this one will end up comparing the features I liked about Nook whether I mean for it to happen or not.  I’m afraid it can’t be avoided.  Sorry.

I have the wi-fi only, 3rd generation Kindle.  It’s a sexy little thing.  I’ve enjoyed my time with it immensely.


  • Size-  It’s so small and thin.  I’d be willing to say it’s not any heavier than your typical paperback novel.  (I almost typed “paperback writer” thanks to listening to The Beatles while I write this.  Oops.)
  • Keyboard-  It’s a matter of personal preference, but I enjoy having keys that I can feel.
  • Readability-  The contrast is great and I haven’t had a single problem reading in the brightest of overhead sunlight.
  • Page turn buttons-  I’d prefer if they back and forth buttons were on either side of the device, but this is the next best thing.  The forward button is over twice the size of the page back button and very responsive to a light tap.
  • Games-  The ability to add more games is pretty cool, but I haven’t explored this feature much yet.
  • MP3 player-  Like the Nook it plays music.  I do enjoy being able to queue it up and turn it off again using a keyboard shortcut.
  • Collections-  The Nook does something similar with their “shelves” option, but I find it less tedious with the Kindle.
  • Sharable content-  I think it’s really cool that I can sync my Kindle to my Twitter and Facebook accounts and share selected texts.  Visions of sharing excerpts of Tropic of Cancer dance in my head.
  • Wi Fi-  The wi fi works much better with Kindle and I can finally know the joy of loading new books without leaving my bedroom.
  • Constant dictionary-  I really like how I get a mini definition to every word I move across with my cursor with the option to expand the definition as needed.


  • Tiny buttons-  Most of the buttons are fine, but the cursor buttons are both too small and too close to the back and menu buttons.
  • Memorizing shortcuts-  I think I’m going to have to make a cheat sheet.  I know how to play and stop my music right now and that’s about it.
  • Menus-  I pretty much detest trying to navigate the menu system of Kindle.  There seems to be very little consistency and I’m pretty impatient with trying to learn what to expect with every menu.
  • No “currently reading” option-  This is one clear advantage of the Nook… I can look at any other screen I want and still have the option to open up the last book I was reading to the last page.  I wish Kindle had that.
  • Where are my page numbers?-  Nook isn’t perfect, it seems to display the same page number for pages, but it’s sooo much more useful than whatever the crap kind of measurement “locations” is.  I heard they were adding the feature to Kindle, but I don’t have it.
  • Games and books are mixed-  I think it would have been ideal to have games have a separate (but easily assessable) location.  I can’t read a game so get it off my bookshelf.
  • Can’t personalize screenshots/wallpapers- self explanatory.