Collaborative Editing

Collaborative Editing

Another thing I had to work out with Paul (my editor) (no, saying “my editor” still hasn’t gotten old) was how to work together.

I do all my writing in Scrivener, a fantastic tool for creating, but when it comes to working with alpha readers or an editor, not so much.  Remember here that my work with Paul and my publisher is still very much in the world of indie publishing with little or no budget!

After trial and error, it seems that I have found a consensus: Google Docs.  Here’s the key features that I believe are making it so:

Ability to ask and answer questions: Is this the word you meant? This doesn’t make sense, what were you trying to say? etc.  Docs lets you highlight a chunk of text as a question, have a 2-way conversation, and ultimately mark it as “resolved.”

Concurrently working on the same document at the same time: This is a little one, but extremely helpful – I don’t have to worry about stepping on an alpha reader or editor’s work when I am responding and updating.  None of the save the file and let the other person know which version they should look at.  Handily even marks changes made by the other collaborators.  You can also open two copies of the same document if you need to look at something else without wanting to lose your place.

Chat: If you do happen to be working on the same document at the same time… you can online chat with your collaborators (in my case my editor) and sort things out on the fly.  I didn’t realize you could even do this until Paul (my editor) (nope, still not getting old) hit me up one evening while we were both looking at the same doc.

Versions and showing changes: This one seems pretty obvious, the the cool part for me is never having to think about it – it just does.  While not as powerful as revisions in Word, the ability to look at versions created over time is a great help in seeing what was changed.  And not having to fuss around with other settings is a plus.

Where is the Save button??? I add this mainly because I have had to get used to the autosave.  Even more dramatic, before I really knew about Google Docs, was not understanding why my daughter lost a term paper when borrowing my computer and using Word.  “What? You didn’t hit the save button?”  “Dad, what is a save button? (big mood)”  Point taken.

Mechanically, it is a little bit of work to use Google docs effectively.  Specifically, I export my writing from Scrivener in Word format to my Google Drive (which is shared with my editor)(…), open the document using Google Docs, re-save it in the new format.  Then I blow away the original Word Doc.  Going back the other way, I make a Scrivener snapshot of the scene and copy/paste the updated content back in.  A little bit of work, but well worth it in my opinion!

Apologies for the long post.  If you are still with me, my publisher (also not getting old) is planning a Kickstarter for the end of July to publish my short stories.  For more information, and to sign up to be notified when it goes live, head over to: www.brymlight.com

Voice and Editing

Voice and Editing

My first, introductory call with Paul (my editor) went great.  Total transparency here, I have never worked with an editor that would be taking a more technical look at my writing.  I have alpha readers, and I have greatly appreciated their feedback, but this feels like a whole other level for me.  In amongst geeking out on various things that we are, well… geeked about, we got to talking about writing and “voice.”

Before going any further – I have to say: I’m really excited about this project!  (bet you can’t tell)

One of the things we discussed was Voice and the use of colloquialisms. As an editor, this can make it hard for Paul to sort out whether I meant something to be grammatically incorrect as a colloquialism, or whether it’s just grammatically incorrect.

Stepping back for a second, its pretty cool looking at my writing through the eyes of someone else, an editor that is interested in preserving my writing style but also in cleaning up it and making it better.

We came up with a couple of basic rules (that I will also have to keep in mind as well!)
Grounders (lower social classes) generally walk on characters, will speak pretty heavily in slang and colloquialisms. Main characters, will be better spoken, but may slip into colloquialism when speaking with other grounders. Narrative voice will be the same. Highborn upper classes will be more formal.  I have read stories with slangy narrative voice and it just gets annoying pretty quickly.

Technical Plausibility

Technical Plausibility
One of the things I described to Paul (my editor) that I hope sets my writing apart from the usual steampunk is the plausibility of the technology.
The Brymlight stories rely on hydrogen as the source of energy – no crystals, alien substances, or other unexplainable magic. I tried to ground my writing in science and reality, if a bit stretched at times to make it work.
Hydrogen provides the lift that keeps the massive estates of the aristocracy afloat high above the plains of the American Colonies western frontier.  Ironically, those estates are both literally and figuratively tethered to the ground and their dependence on the lower classes that produces the hydrogen.
Production of the hydrogen is based on steam reforming, or steam methane reformation of natural gas.  One of the most common industrial approaches to manufacturing hydrogen and a number of other related products.  In the Brymlight world, the Whitley Hydro-Works is one of the largest producers of hydrogen, what our boffins are going to call “diprotium” and the more common term everyone else regularly uses: Brym.
Just for fun… steam reformation, in a deeper meaning, also refers to my break from the more traditional steampunk doctrine.

Due West

The re-write of  The West Wind is going well following some gracious words of a new author friend: I just finished the first scene, a little over a thousand words, of Due West.

That part about the re-write going well.  Ha!  Not really.  But I do appreciate the encouragement.

Update: Finished the first chapter.  2,000 words.  I guess when the muse sneaks up behind you and plonks you on the head with a knobby stick, you best do something about it.

Timelines

Insert usual apologies about not updating blog more frequently…

I received a question from a reader regarding how I constructed my timelines – any special software?

When setting out to write The West Wind, I knew I was going to need something to create timelines.  I had never written something so big and complex but knew that I needed something to organize the multiple story lines.  I am also a very visual person – I often find myself drawing a picture to help describe some point I am trying to make.  Notebooks are fine, but I really needed something a bit more specific.  There were several features that, at the time, I thought I needed:

  1. The ability to capture a short description – these ultimately became my writing prompts for scenes
  2. Some way of tagging or creating meta data
  3. A way of showing relationships

I looked at the writing apps that had timelines built in, e.g. yWriter and even basic notecards.  They covered most of my requirements, but ultimately lacked a fourth item that I discovered along the way: flexibility!  Notecards, I need to point out, was a horrible experience.  I didn’t have enough space for all the cards, couldn’t keep the relationships, and most importantly, couldn’t read my handwriting.! My romantic notion of  a writer staring at a cork board plastered with notecards was quickly dashed on the rocks of practicality.

Then I started using Visio.  I use it in my professional life and in the design of boardgames, the other often referenced hobby of mine on which I will blame my lack of writing…   I put together timelines for each of my characters, a timeline for the world, and connected them all together with the dynamic connectors.  I found the flexibility I needed to move things around without losing anything and had control over cutting and reconnecting the relationships.  I also found I didn’t need to use any tagging, like an action vs reflective scene, instead I used colors.  Worked just fine…

Until I found out how much I was missing using the Windows Beta of Scrivener and, as luck would have it, demands of my professional life gave me a great excuse to invest in a MacAir.  Darn.

I finished writing The West Wind in Scrivener on my new Mac but then found myself wanting to re-arrange my timelines.  No, nothing really easy or cheap for importing Visio documents into Mac drawing programs that I could find.  I also didn’t want to go back and forth between platforms.  I wound up re-building the timelines in OpenOffice.org Draw which, as it turned out, was needed anyway due to the amount of drift from the original story timelines over the year that I wrote the story.  Re-building the timelines got me back in touch with the story and allowed me to implement an idea I had for telling much of Rachel’s backstory through a couple of key flashbacks.

To give some context, here is about the first third of The West Wind timeline as it was orginally in Visio:

First third of the West Wind timeline in Visio.

Let the Re-Write Begin!

I am re-writing.  Finally.

No more excuses.  No more indulgent distractions.  Time to buckle down and get going on the re-write.

Rachel’s backstory, though not actually in the novel, was my first task.  Something I had wanted to do following reading Jeter’s “Infernal Devices.”  The whole “inherit a clockshop” thing seemed a little too trite, too cliche.  So Rachel now has a new and better backstory.  Much darker and dangerous than previously.  Even better motivation than finding your fortune in the American Colonies… fleeing a dangerous conspiracy in England.  Unfortunately, Rachel and Clarence are only going to find themselves embroiled in even deeper intrigues.  Sort of “out of the frying pan an into the fire” type of thing.  Can’t let the two of them off that easy now can I?

How is the first revision of “The West Wind” going Don?

Ummm.  Well.  Not so well.

I’ve heard much about the fear and incapacitation caused by a blank page.  I am suffering the opposite.  The sight of a full page of my prose sends me running the other direction.  I keep finding plenty of other things to do…  such as…

I was flattered to be asked by David Mark Brown to beta read his latest work “The Austin Job.”  If you are a follower you recall that I had read and reviewed his first work: “Fistful of Reefer.”  This next installment brings back some “love to hate” characters from the first book and a few “easter egg” references for readers of Fistful to discover.  David continues to develop his narrative skills as he begins to explore the “punk” side of the v1.0 Xpunk genres.  Ever present are the over-the-top characters and action that I enjoyed from his first work.  Expected release date of “The Austin Job” is on or about December 24.

In the meantime… back to not doing what I should be doing…