Writing Programs: A review of Scrivener

Writers and authors use a variety of ways to plan their projects. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs I’m not much of a planner, I do however have my research and I have tried a few different programs to help me sort through all of my notes.

As far as programs go I give Scrivener a solid 9/10.

This program has a lot of uses in it that makes it worth the $45AUD one off cost. It updates your program and as far as I’m aware it is a lifetime subscription. Once such thing I came across while playing with the program was the name generator. You can put in a variety of different settings and it will provide you with names that fit your description, you can even look up name meanings.

The basic layout for a fiction novel set up is relatively easy to follow. It has a manuscript section where you can make a tab for each of your chapters then you are able to export the file and it will hopefully come out as a fully formatted novel. I haven’t tried this part of the program yet as I prefer to complete my manuscripts in Microsoft Word for easier reading and editing.

You can also create character profiles within the program which I found extremely useful, especially now that I am gaining more characters and venturing into the second book with them, it is important for me to remember who is who and how they are related to the main plot. Without this section of Scrivener I would be lost, I would be constantly reading through The Stray to make sure everything is correct. Similar to the characters section of the program you can create places. Describing a new place and need to know all the information later on? The best place to store it is in that section. For both the characters and the places Scrivener provides a basic template that you can edit to suit your project needs.

You do also have the option to make extra areas, which is what I do. I make extra folders and corkboards that allow me to put my mythologies and species histories and connections into a database of some kind. You can also create extra template sheets for later use if you require them in other projects.

Scrivener is a very useful program for me and I’m not even using it to its full capacity. I think this program is fantastic for its price and would be useful to almost any writer beginning or published. I’m looking forward to giving Scrivener’s sister program, Scrapple, a try whilst I plan and write the rest of the White Wolf Trilogy. For only $15AUD it’s worth a try.

~Amanda

Convention Preparation as an Author

As convention season commences in Australia, we begin the insanity of convention prep. Most of these tips will be applicable for all those who convention as an artist or any other creator, but this is to all the authors wanting to join the insanity of conventions.

As the co-ordinator of Ouroborus Book Services, I am in charge of stock, packing and running our stall so here are my Top 10 Prep Tips.

1 Lists

Lists are your best friend. Whether you have one book or 13, as we will have this year for April Gold Coast Supanova, this is the most important thing. You need a stock list (especially with multiple titles/items), a stall list (banners, tablecloths, etc) and a survival list (food, water, things to do). Use these to order stock, and while packing so nothing gets forgotten, especially if you are travelling for a convention.

2 Stock Counts

Even though you won’t need 100 of each title (seriously don’t bring 100 of each title or you will be wasting time and space, not to mention lugging them all there), you need to know how much stock you have. I like to make sure we have 20 of each title available before the show. The last thing you want to do is run out. Make sure you do a stock count in plenty of time to order more if you are low.

3 Promo Items

People like free stuff. You need to find the most cost-effective way to do this while making it a useful object. Business cards are great but most folk will put them in the bottom of their bags and never look at them again. Same with flyers. We personally love bookmarks. We hand out free bookmarks at our stall because it’s something people can use. And if they use it, it means you might get a sale later on down the track because they’ve been looking at a pic of your book for the last few months and decide to give it a go. Printing smart is your way to save cash. I know with the place we use, it’s only a small amount of difference in price to go from 100 bookmarks to 1000, so we buy them in bulk. (shout out to www.cmykonline.com.au)

4 Buy a Trolley

Best purchase we ever made was a luggage trolley. It was cheap (under $100) off eBay and holds about 300kg so perfect for us and folds flat enough to fit in the car on top of our stock. It has made life so much easier and we can transport most our gear in one or two tips. If you can’t afford to do this but have an old wheeled suitcase, they can do in a pinch but are a pain to get into a car when full of books.

5 Fridge Bags

If your novel is a standard 5x8in, then supermarket padded fridge bags are perfect to transport books. You can fit two stacks perfectly in each bag and they’re strong enough to deal with the weight. When full they also stack nicely on the above-mentioned trolley and are super easy to Tetris into a car. Plus picking up a bag of books is less stress on your body if you are weak like me. They’re also good for food and drink, and you can pack them inside each other for easy under-table storage during the convention.

6 Self Care

Conventions are hotbeds of germs and injuries. I’ll be honest. The tales of con-flu are real, so you need to look after yourself before and during the convention. Take your vitamins and be kind to yourself and try to get some sleep. During a convention weekend, you will eat horrible food, not drink enough water and most likely fall into an exhausted heap each night. Try to eat some veggies and things not deep fried for at least one meal. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure to get the next day after off work. You will need the recovery time. Also, be careful lifting things as the last thing you need is to do your back in after sitting on hard plastic chairs all weekend.

7 Essentials

Apart from your stock, there are some essentials you will need for the convention. These include

  • a tablecloth (a flat sheet is good because you want it to cover the table and hit the floor at the front) and a spare cloth to cover your stuff at night.
  • Signage (some conventions provide this, but extra visual aids always help)
  • Money tin (you will need somewhere to store your money) and a float (change should be a mix of notes and coins depending on your price point. If your books are $20, you should get $20s and $10s, to make change for $50 notes. If you have $15 books, add $5 notes.
  • Pens (for signing)
  • Emergency box (band aids, Panadol, blutac, cloth tape, tissues, scissors etc)
  • I buy a slab of bottles for our team and freeze them. As it gets crazy hot in conventions you will need water so you don’t pass out, and I know I don’t want to pay $4 a bottle there. You can get slabs of 24 bottle for $15 at supermarkets and office supply stores.
  • Convention food is expensive and usually gross. I recommend bringing something to nibble on. Sugar is also helpful to keep the energy up so lollies and fruit can be good. Be mindful of bringing peanuts as you don’t want to kill a customer who might be allergic.

8 Team Prep

Always bring a friend. Obviously, we are a big team, so we can take breaks and still have several folk behind our stall. But if it’s just you, make sure you bring people with you. Most cons will include a few passes with your table booking so use these to your advantage. Eight hours without food or toilet breaks is not gonna be fun. Make sure your team know prices, basic info on the products and how to handle money. Bribe them with candy, lightsabers or daleks (thanks Mum) if needs be.

9 Give Yourself Enough Time

Prep is a heap of work. I start at least two months before the convention, writing lists and doing stock counts. This gives you time to order stuff you need, amass fridge bags, and to space out your costs. I pack at least a week before the convention just in case I forget something.

10 Breathe.

I used to end up in a ball of panic packing for conventions, which in the lovely humidity of Queensland, was never a pretty sight. I’ve now learned that by prepping ahead of time, keeping to my lists, and stopping if I feel overwhelmed for a break, I can now get things done with little panic and stress.

So, in conclusion, plan, have fun and look after yourself!

~Sabrina

For more info on convention planning check out How to Sell at a Convention by fellow convention goer Megs Drinkwater available on Kindle.

In the Case of Stuing the Sue

Once upon a time (ignore the cliché) many characters were unique, interesting and most importantly they had depth. You may not know this, but many of those amazing characters were in fact Mary Sue or in the male case, Gary Stu.

While everyone has a different opinion on them, I’m determined that the Mary Sue can affect my mood for a story. In my eyes, they are very repetitive and they are more common than you think. They are consistently expressed as beautiful, with a sad ‘poor me’ tale, have no flaws, has everyone’s immediate attention that even bad guys are interested and the most common theme is that they are incredibly overpowered!

Known examples of these characters are:

  • Bella Swan from The Twilight Saga (I mean the name pretty much starts with warning bells)
  • Regina Mills/The Evil Queen from Once Upon a Time (Literally a person who is always the victim, then blames other people for her problems – but the best part is that everyone lets her do things without consequence)
  • Richard Rhal from The Legend of the Seeker (While I’ve only seen the first season and never read the books, he does have obvious elements of a Gary Stu)
  • Superman/Clark Kent from Superman (Alien orphan with incredible power – it’s safe to say I never liked him… No offence to Superman fans)

As you can see, there are several well-known characters that are Sues/Stus and I’m here to hand out advice to stop them from taking over our writing community.

I won’t say that my characters are non-perfect little angels – because they’re not always in that case. But I do work hard to make sure that they are dimensional with real struggles and pain. The only advice I can offer when creating a character is giving them a balance. If you feel like your character is a Mary Sue, take an online test and find out for yourself before giving yourself some time to give a certain character flaws.

With that, I must advise you to not give them so many flaws. If you hand them too many flaws, then they become the anti-Sue which is the opposite of what we want.

For example, make a character intelligent and insightful – but perhaps making them not street smart or a little awkward due to the lack of experience.

However, despite that Mary Sues exist, you can make them better by making them realise their flaws and that they’re actually human (or… inhuman in some cases). Even now, I learn more about my characters – about their fears and hopes. Perhaps in the distant future you will be able to see it as well.

~ Annalise

Long in the Tooth

Every few years I make a list of the books I need to write. And I say need, because for us writers, it is just that. I hadn’t done it for a while, and coming up to the end of two books, I decided I should probably figure out what I need to write in the next year or so.

I started writing down the books that are half written and sitting in my brain covered in cobwebs and I came to the realisation that, maybe, I don’t want to write some anymore. Some of them, like the one I titled ‘Generation Rat’, had a very interesting topic and dynamic, and I couldn’t wait to write it. But now, years later, I would struggle to finish it. My heart and energy just aren’t in the old books anymore. Which is sad. I have a fear one day the writing tube will just run out and I’ll have no more ideas; I’ll sit down to write and that will be it – it’s empty.

Most of these books are either half written or have chapters all over the place and some I still want to write, but ‘I’ll write it later’ when I run out of other things to write. Coming to the end of a book is equally exciting and depressing. If you’ve ever seen those marathon runners that are stick-thin, their knees are wobbly, they don’t know where they are, they’re sweating and falling over – that’s how it feels. You’ve made it to the end of a book, it’s done. Well, sort of. Editing and rewrites come next, but the hard part’s done. The exciting thing is, you get to start another book. Some people find it daunting, but I find it exciting. The first few chapters are vital. Even I don’t know the characters properly, or the environments.

I’ve got two chapters to go on ‘The Skellington Key,’ then I’ll edit it and send it to the publisher. Then I’ll work on ‘Children of the Locomotive,’ which is pretty much all written, but needs another run through. This will take up the next few weeks at least, if I get my arse into gear and knuckle down. After that, I’ll have to choose what to work on next. Do I dig the old books out and dust them off and see what can be salvaged? Has time and experience made them obsolete? Maybe. I really don’t have time to panel beat a book into shape and force myself to write these books that are long in the tooth and I’ve somewhat gotten bored of.

My next adult book ‘Homeless Astronaut,’ excites me. It has a few subject matters that I’m keen to write about. There’s only two characters so far and I’m constantly thinking of what I can do with it. It’s something of a challenge and I like it. Last week I had an idea about writing a period piece called ‘The Wandmaker’s Apprentice’. That started me down a road of exploration and note-writing that lasted nearly five days straight. Although those old books are still in my head, patiently waiting, I’m sure there will be a time where the final story arc will fall in my lap and I’ll sit there and bash it out. I do want to write ‘Generation Rat,’ I like the characters I have. I like the story line. But I also want to rewrite ‘The Devil and The Wall,’ and the other books I’ve wanted to write forever: ‘Dark Water.’ But time and ideas restrict these books. I also can’t write five books at once, I’ll never get anything done. So, I try to only write about two books at once. One adult book, and one Young Adult book.

Don’t let books die, if they are meant to be in print, you’ll get it done.

~ Mitchell.

Living the Dream

If you’d asked me what my dream was my entire life up until a year ago I would have responded the same way. Something along the lines of the fact that I like telling stories, and ultimately my goal was to publish a book one day.

I never really thought it would happen; it was just a dream I kept in the back of my head, to take out and look at when I needed it. Sometimes the dream would be fame and fortune, other times I just wanted the acclaim and satisfaction of having a few people who loved seeing me do what I love. I imagined the pride I’d feel looking at my work and saying ‘yeah that’s mine. I did that.’

Now I’ve done that. My life’s dream has been accomplished which, as you can probably guess, is a much more complicated thing to have happen to you than it might seem at first glance. So I thought now would be a good chance to look at what got better, what got worse and what got weird.

What Got Better

The obvious is probably the best place to begin: I now have a book to my name, which is about the strangest thing to have happen. I still occasionally get a little flush of quiet accomplishment knowing that I’ve done something I always wanted to do. I talk to people and hear that they’ve always wanted to write a book, how they’d always had a story in them. I love the idea of being a positive example rather than a cautionary tale for once, and every time someone quotes my work on Facebook or tells me they recommended it to a friend I feel a happy buzz.

I got what I wanted most from life – so many people never get to do that, so I won’t pretend I’m not lucky, and I’ll never forget what it was like to open up my first box of books.

What Got Worse

I’m only twenty-six years old and I’ve already done the only thing in the world I’ve always wanted to do, which is a confusing situation to be in. I love writing, but I now have a much greater mountain to climb to reach my next potential step. Living off my work is something a lot of authors never achieve, and having already lived my dream I have no overriding goal to accomplish.

It resulted in a sense of malaise that lasted months after I got my first book out there. The fact that not everything changed when I did the only thing I had ever wanted to do was difficult to deal with. My world didn’t turn on its head and honestly, I kind of expected it to.

The world seems so much bigger now, and apparently that’s where things begin. I now have cons, promotion, marketing, trying to meet the right people and get my name out there which are things I have no idea how to do. Something I loved is a job now, which takes something away from the favourite hobby I once had.

Where to go from here?

I know how monstrously self-indulgent this sounds. I’m droning on about how my life changed when I got everything I wanted but the idea that twenty-six might be my peaking achievement is so strange. I don’t know if this is a thing most writers go through, but there’s a possibility. For so long my entire life, and maybe yours, has been about doing this one thing we’ve always wanted to do and once that’s done we end up with a sense of aimlessness that takes some considerable getting over.

My Advice to Other Writers

If you feel like I feel my best advice is to find another goal to work toward quickly. It doesn’t have to be ‘live off my writing’ (which mine is, as insane as it sounds to write that down.) It might be to find a way for writing a sequel to fit into your life or building more effective writing habits. It might be to write something outside of your usual genre, or write something that impresses and pleases you on a level your current work doesn’t.

If all else fails, work on your magnum opus. It’ll never be good enough to satisfy you, but it’s a lot of fun to try.

~ Robert

Finding Your Editor

On a sunny summer morning at the very end of 2013, I met my editor. We met at a local café and I ordered wedges. I mean, I don’t specifically remember the wedges, but I know that’s all I eat at that place, so it must have been what I ate. We ate and talked about my book, because in those days, Chosen and Scarred were one single gigantic Word document and Unbidden was an unnamed pet project, and Sabrina – that’s her name, my editor – had the unenviable task of suggesting to her newest client – me, Shayla – that I make changes to my book. *gasp*

Fast forward five years and I not only have my first three books in print thanks to Sabrina, but a whole new career she inspired me to follow without even meaning to, and I find myself compelled to tell the story of how important my author-editor relationship has been to both my writing and my life. In an age of instant communication, increasingly accessible self-publishing options and changing understandings of literacies, I can see how easy it would be to discount the value of an editor, but I can guarantee I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this, living the life I’m living now, without the ups, downs, challenges and windows of opportunity granted to me through the professional and personal relationship cultivated between me and my editor.

In keeping with a narrative theme, Sabrina is honestly a fairy godmother. What does that make me? I don’t know – princess? It’s definitely been said before, meant in an entirely flattering way I’m sure. Sabrina runs her own indie press, a small publishing imprint called Ouroborus Books, and with her near-magical skills of editing, formatting, graphic design and tech-wizardry, she turns people’s unreasonable 200k-word manuscripts into two beautiful, coherent, saleable books. Well. Your book mightn’t be 200k words and in need of a tidy split, but mine certainly was. Not that I necessarily wanted to hear that, because, you know, I’m a writer, and writers don’t need editors telling them what to do, because they already know their work is perfect. Ahem. So, there was me, a relatively newbie teacher with an oversized manuscript and a publishing dream, thoroughly impressed by Sabrina’s CV of skills. I wish I could smugly say I knew what all of those were, but as we talked I became aware of just how much I didn’t know about this process I wanted to take my book on and how valuable someone like Sabrina would be to have onside. She could help me make my dream real. Thus began my professional relationship with my editor.

It also started something else – a newfound fascination with the publishing industry. But it came about through some less-than-fairytale moments. It’s a well-kept secret that I am, in fact, a control freak, well-accustomed to running a classroom of wild magical children and getting to decide everything from what colour poster paper you get to how far we can stretch free writing time out to. So, like for most writers, it’s quite terrifying to hand over your precious creation to a relative stranger – or, in fact, anyone – and allow them to judge to your work, but for me there was this other layer of twitchiness, this silent fretting of “What’s she doing to the book that I can’t do?” It became an obsession, constantly wanting to know, every step of the way, and wanting to do anything that remained in my power to do. And wanting all the power. Wanting to view every single change to the cover. Wanting it explained why a cover feature had shifted due to spine thickness, which in turn was due to word count. Wanting double quotation marks because that’s how I was taught, and silently seething when I was told that it was non-standard practice and would make my book look unprofessional. Sabrina, accustomed to handling this whole process on her own, got an opportunity to practise tactfully managing an overbearing author, an opportunity I’m sure she much appreciated. I got an opportunity to practise compromise. It’s not very fun. I recommend either tennis or calligraphy instead.

Regardless, the first book was born, and when I unpacked the first box in Sabrina’s driveway and held Chosen in my hands for the first time, I realised quite suddenly what this professional relationship and all this practise at compromising had brought me. Not just a book. Not just a whole box of books. A better book. And a new understanding of how it got there. With her skills, talents and no shortage of patience, Sabrina had guided me to this moment and made it real.

Here’s the link to the video of that moment, so you can see the enlightened joy in my eyes for yourself, along with how nice my hair looked that day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-UB1UCcN44

When we started work on the second book, I knew a bit better what to expect – what I would be able to help with, what kind of quotation marks I would have to live with – and Sabrina knew a bit better what to bring me in on. Things fell into place, things got moving, and then suddenly there was a second book to join the first. Physical proof that Sabrina’s initial careful suggestion to split my manuscript was a very sound idea, since holding Chosen and Scarred in the one hand and pretending like anyone would buy a debut book that size is just silly. Very glad she persevered in pushing that agenda with me way back when, and glad I wasn’t too stubborn to agree.

Two other things changed around this point, too. The first was that my fascination with the process Sabrina has guided me through, and my emerging awareness of how undoubtedly irritating I’d been in my ignorant determination to be involved, led me to the door of the path of a Graduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing. I was really just eager to learn and be more involved and helpful to Sabrina and my books, but a Grad Cert led to a Masters, which led to both a thesis and a group project to start our own publishing collective to publish other people’s books, which led to freelance editing work. The thesis led to a Doctorate, which is where I find myself now. I’m still not entirely sure how I got here. Pumpkin carriage?

The other thing that happened was that along the way of testing one another’s patience and tolerance, challenging each other to justify and explain our every decision on Chosen and then Scarred, toiling together to make them the best they could be and to bring them to the world, Sabrina became my friend. I learned to read between the lines of her editorial comments and know when she was being firm and when she was being funny. I learned how best to ask for advice as a new editor, because I know now that she’s straightforward and grounded and knowledgeable. We can agree and disagree very comfortably now. When we took Unbidden through the same processes as we had the first two books, it was all smooth sailing, and when Sabrina asked me to edit her debut novel, Blank, the open professional and personal relationship we had developed over so many years ensured the sort of honest, positive conversation that kept the success of the book at the forefront of our minds. I knew when a protagonist’s mentor betrayed her that it was a plot decision Sabrina wasn’t happy with – I knew her well enough to be able to tell from her prose, and I could suggest ways of rewriting that motivation to iron out the plotting that had forced her into that scene. Our boundaries were already established, so it felt perfectly natural to intersperse editorial comments with personal reactions (like, Lol, ‘as’ has one ‘s’, or KILL THIS CHICK I HATE HER!!!) the way Sabrina does with mine. And I knew, from my time spent on the other side of the fence, how terrifying this process was to a writer having handed over the reins to her editor, and how much trust and faith was involved. We had learned that trust and faith from each other. Together, we made Blank a better book. Go buy it. It’s cool.

A few weekends ago, on a fine wintery day otherwise reminiscent of that first meeting, Sabrina and I met a Masters student at a Brisbane café to discuss our relationship as editors and authors for her thesis project. That frank and open conversation reminded me both of how far we’ve come in five years but also of how valuable this relationship has been to me and my growth. Working with my editor and cultivating our two-way editor-author/author-editor relationship has not only made my books better; it’s taught me to look at writing in a more objective and professional way, it’s sent me on a whole new career trajectory, and, very importantly, it’s given me a fabulous package deal: a professional contact and a friend in one. Thanks, Sabrina.

~ Shayla

The Power of Words

Recently, I attended my friend’s birthday party. There were people going to be there that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I got chatting to someone I hadn’t seen in over twelve years. She said to me, ‘Are you still writing?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’ve got three books out and I’ve submitted my fourth.’ She was surprised. She reminded me that I had given my early work to her to read all those years ago. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t remember it, or what I had given her. She said it was a short story, and at the end the wife lays her head on her husband’s chest and listens to his heart beating. She said she remembered that since she had read it and it really resonated with her. Now that she’s married with several kids, she does that – listens to her husband’s heartbeat.

I have no idea what book that was from; I have a vague idea, but I’ve written so much in twelve years it may be on my old computer that died a few years ago and I lost a few short stories. It got me thinking of the power of words. A scene I wrote was remembered twelve years later and really struck a chord with someone. It meant a lot. I started to think of all the books I had read and which ones I remembered. Which scenes were the most memorable for me? Stephen King’s The Shinning didn’t stick with me as much as the movie did, however his other book Gerald’s Game has remained me for nearly fifteen years due to the very end scene. I remember being scared out of my wits at night trying to finish it. Graphic novels like Essex County by Jeff Lamire have had an unexpected impact. Its powerful, heart-wrenching storyline has affected me in ways that no other comic book has.

When writing, I’m not looking for scenes to write that will be memorable, I’m looking to write a whole book that has a feeling of accomplishment, not only for me, but for the reader as well. What’s the use in reading a whole book if it didn’t entertain you for a few hours, or days? I’ve read far too many books where the writer was floundering for the first half of the book till the storyline kicked in and then it was wrapped up in a hundred pages. To me, that’s not good story writing. I don’t want to read about nothing until you’ve come up with the plot. Give it to me from the very start.

The book I’m writing at the moment, Elephant Stone, has scenes of dreams in it that won’t appear till book 3. The very opening sequence won’t be explained till book 2. Reading it, the reader won’t ask questions because I’ve tucked it away nicely so that it is forgotten until they read book 2 and then they’ll remember ‘Oh, that was the start of book one.’ I like hidden treasures like that; it makes the reader think that I’ve actually put thought and process into my plot development. Hopefully they will read it and say it’s a good book and the payout will be linking scenes together through the four books series.

The power of words comes from the reader relating to scenes, relating to characters and falling in love with people that don’t actually exist. The reader is with them, beside them and they feel attached enough to believe they know them. When writers abuse that power, the reader reacts in a way that would indicate that character was real, and in a way, they are.

~ Mitchell