Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How a Geek Writes an Epic Fantasy part 1

It's tough not to be a geek when you're male, a computer programmer and a lover of fantasy.  In fact, I'm so geeky that I wrote my own computer program to help me write my epic fantasy.  (That should rank me fairly high on the geek-o-meter, yes?)

My biggest challenge in writing epic fantasy is consistency.  Spend too many months "discovery writing" anything of that scope and errors are bound to creep into the manuscript.  Red hair becomes blonde.  A character is from Osek-Dahm in one chapter and suddenly from Jerok Thel in a subsequent one.  If you're not careful you may even forget which distant countries are at war with each other.

So I needed to find a quick and easy way to record these details and have them readily available when needed.  I searched the net.  I found some that had good features.  I found some that had marvelous interfaces.  But I didn't find one that tripped my trigger.  But hey, not a problem, I'm a software developer so there was really only one choice I could make.

Write my own!

And so I did.  I created Magic Muse, my very own, tailor-made, writing workbench.

This is a Visual Basic application I wrote many years ago to handle all the things that I felt I needed in a writing application.  I still use it for drafts.  It interfaces with MS Word for word counts, thesaurus, spell and grammar checking.  It even allows me to paste in maps and other diagrams.

All projects can be selected via a dropdown and each project can contain any number of cabinets, folders and documents displayed in the treeview on the left.  

I use the treeview to add, delete and reorder chapters and scenes.  Clicking a scene within the treeview opens it in the RTF (Rich Text Format) editor on the right.  Each scene is saved as an RTF document that I can load into MS Word, Open Office, MS Wordpad, etc.  When the book is finished, I can package its contents into a single RTF usable by those same word processors.  (Handy when you want to pump out a quick eBook using Word and Calibre for proofing on the Android tablet.)


Notes can be handled in one of two ways.  A cabinet can be created to hold all notes, which can also be broken down into multiple folders and documents.  My preference for most notes, however, is the scribblet.  That's the window attached to the bottom of the treeview and editor.  There are dedicated sections for things like characters, places, glossary of terms, etc.

The scribblet is collapsible.  To get items into the scribblet, I highlight the word I want to add, right-click it, and indicate which scribblet list should hold it.  I can then add all the generic information about the term and save it.  I can even "index" the term and Magic Muse will scan every scene and provide me with a complete list of where it was used.  (This is handy if I know I referenced the minor character Terrin, but don't recall which chapters featured him.)

I can do all the basic word processing tasks in Magic Muse.  And being able to quickly toggle between scenes instead of scrolling through a huge document is a massive plus for me.

In part two of this post I'll discuss additional ways I handle notes and plot lines, including my storyboard application that I, of course, wrote for myself.  I call it Visual Story and will leave you with a sneak peek at it.

18 comments:

  1. Wow. You my friend, have taken fantasy geeky to the next level. Congratulations!

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    1. Satisfied, the geek within me grins. Be sure to nominate me if you find any "geeky writer" awards floating throughout the blogosphere. LOL

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  2. Wow. Let me know if you ever want to market/sell that. It looks like it'd be great fun for world building.

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    1. It really is. I actually thought about releasing it as freeware a long time ago, but I'd feel obligated to provide support and I'm not sure I'm up to that kind of time commitment. If I move from VB6 to VB.NET sometime in the future I may migrate the code and reconsider though.

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    2. I'm pretty sure none of that was English. Well, the first sentence strongly resembled the english language, but it got strange from there.

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    3. LOL. Translation's extra. ;-)

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  3. This is FANTASTIC! You have serious talent my friend.

    I'm an engineer by day and I thought my 'nerdiness' was really seeping into my current WIP, but this is amazing. Nicely done.

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    1. Thanks, Kelley! Nice of you to say so. We nerdy writers must stick together, right?

      Electrical engineer by chance? I did contract work for Energizer many years ago and worked with a lot of EEs there. They're almost as curious as writers. ;-)

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  4. Sounds a lot like Scrivener but more targeted toward fiction writers. I tried Scrivener, and it works well for non-fiction but fiction was a problem for me (probably because I don't plot in the first place).

    I'll go with Sara on this one. Let me know if you ever open this up to the public!

    Lauren

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    1. I seem to remember watching a Scrivener demo video some time back. It has some nice bells and whistles from what I recall. But to be totally honest, most of my "scribblet notes" tend to be more "after the fact" than "pre-planning" in nature.

      My primary reservation for releasing Magic Muse (even freely) comes from its tight integration with MS Word for things like spell and grammar checking. If I rewrote it using Java rather than VB I would have a wider assortment of proofing tools from which to choose, but I haven't been able to make Java-compatible rich text (or HTML) editors behave the way I want. We'll see what the future holds though. :)

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  5. That is really awesome. I bow to your geekyness.

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    1. :::grins::: Never had anyone bow to me before. ;-)

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  6. Wow. I am not anywhere near as organized as that. Which would explain the continuity errors that plague even the shortest thing I write.

    PS. I have awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award. Please stop by for the details.

    http://acreativeexcercise.blogspot.com/

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    1. Continuity is a big thing for me in my writing. It's right up there with plausible character motivation and logical magic systems. Even epic fantasy must be believable. :)

      And thanks for the award! Not sure how "versatile" I am, but I'm drafting the post now.

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  7. Whoa, dude, that is some impressive geekiness. Your program looks awesome, especially the tease of the story board. It seems like you have taken the best parts of the writing software out there and put them together in one shiny package. Seriously, if the writing doesn't work out, you should market your program.

    Kind of makes me wonder how people like Tolkein managed with no computers at all. I would die without find and replace.

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    1. Living in the computer age definitely has its advantages. I can't imagine writing something that has the scope of epic fantasy without a computer. The manuscript would be a mess, replete with inconsistencies and who knows what else.

      Thanks for the compliment too!

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  8. Jeff;

    I don't understand your reluctance to release, at least as a beta, to the community as-is. What most people figure out, sooner or later, is that users don't care what platform a tool runs on. If they want the tool, they'll buy the platform! I run all three major platforms for that very reason. Scrivener for some things, yWriter for others (right now) but your tool hits me square in the epic management berries! Don't hide your light under a bushel, etc!

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    1. Thanks for the note, Mark. I'm actually working (as time permits) on a VB.net (desktop) version. I may well place that one into a "beta" release once I've made enough progress on it.

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