Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to everyone - thank you to all who have given my apps a try this year.

It's the time of year where everyone starts to make plans for the new year - from "absolutely, definitely going to the gym", or saving for a holiday, or most appropriately, finishing a novel, or starting a novel.

So, if you're thinking of writing in 2015, or have a book you need to finish, I hope you find the time and inspiration to get it done in 2015.

Happy writing!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Time marches on

Crumbs, it's one year since Plotline launched on the App Store, for the iPad. In that time, there have been two versions of iOS released!

You may notice that Plotline still uses the older, iOS 6 user interface, rather than the flat version that introduced iOS 7. It's kind of deliberate - I really like the fact that buttons look like buttons in iOS 6, and that having a texture and style to the app makes it a bit different, rather than the quite garish, bright colours of iOS 7 and 8.

If you haven't used Plotline before, give it a try - I use it for my own writing. Plotting, outlining, and generally arranging things in a way that suits how I work. And at the end of the process, it all gets exported to Scrivener, ready for the actual writing.

Sadly, due to the way App Store submissions work, any update to Plotline will have to bring it in line with the current iOS 7/8 flatness regime, but for now I'm very fond of the "tangible" appearance/nature of the app, and I hope you all are too.

Happy writing!

Friday, 31 October 2014

The N is nigh

The 'N' in that title being, of course, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). So, if you're about to embark on your first writing project, or your 1000th, I hope you have a great time throughout November as you put pen to paper, digital type to digital page.

Creating worlds, stories, and characters is one of the best things we do, and the more of us that do it, the better.

Good luck.

Happy writing.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Heading towards National Novel Writing Month

The leaves are beginning to fall and build up into a pile at the front door, which can only mean we're heading into Autumn, which also means that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is looming.

Write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November! No small task.1667 words per day, every day for 30 days. The key to success is planning, and commitment.

Now, some authors don't like planning or outlining, and I'm certainly not one to tell you how to write! But, if you know roughly where your story is supposed to be going each time you sit down, you're much more likely to hit that word count target each day, and it's a key component of a lot of the books out there that will try to help you hit the lofty heights of thousands of words per day.

You are of course limited by your typing speed for one thing - and that can be made a lot more difficult on the virtual keyboard of something like an iPad or other tablet.

I'm firmly in the camp of quality over quantity - so I don't want to just hammer out 2000 words of nonsense just to tick off the day's word count, so for me, there's a balance to be struck, and NaNoWriMo is a very good, focused exercise to help you increase the number of words you're writing per day, while keeping an eye on the quality as well as the end goal.

So, here are some thoughts about how you might approach a NaNoWriMo project this November: -

Plan an outline of the novel before the start of November
There's a balance here as well - if you plan in too much detail, you run the risk of losing the enthusiasm, that spark of creativity that makes you want to write the story in the first place. However, if you can get a one or two sentence per scene outline down of the novel, you've got something to work with each time you sit down. One of the hardest thing you can face as a writer, is that completely blank page staring back at you, so swing things in your favour: don't start with a blank page.

Write when you can, as often as you can
You may think you don't have time to write - maybe you don't have a couple of hours free to devote to writing in the evenings, plenty of people have work and family commitments that keep them from their writing. But, you've surely got 15 minutes spare sometime in the morning? Get up 15 minutes earlier, and do 15 minutes of writing there and then. Take 15 minutes less for eating lunch, and use that 15 minutes to write. Do the same around dinner time, and go to bed 15 minutes later, using that time for writing.

That's an hour of time there - in 15 minute blocks - and if you can leave each session's writing at a point where you know how you're going to carry on, then you can pick up in the next session and just get straight on with it. No staring at the page, no procrastination, just 15 minutes of you and the story.

Supress your inner editor
The goal for NaNoWriMo is not to produce a finished novel. The goal is to produce the first draft of a novel. So if you change the profession of your heroine half-way through the story, don't worry about going back and changing every mention of it in what you've already written. Make a note of it in a separate document, and just carry on with the writing - you're going to be changing and editing things in the story well into December and beyond. You can even leave the spelling mistakes - you can sort them out later. Now if you're like me, you won't stand for that, and will end up going back over what you've written, so don't beat yourself up for doing that - just remember: sort the spelling out, but don't start looking at what you've written with your critical, editing eye! That's for later. Keep your eye firmly on the goal of getting the first draft finished by the end of November.

Above all else, enjoy it!
Writing is one of the most enjoyable things you can do - you're adding to the collective story-telling legacy of the human race - that's amazing. So don't worry about "is it good enough", or "who's ever going to read this" - every author worries about those things, so try to brush it aside. Concentrate on telling the story you want to tell, and concentrate on enjoying the creative process as you do so. Argue with your characters, interview them, ask them what they think of the events that have shaped their story so far. Take a trip out to a location that's similar to a location in your story (if you can!) Do whatever you can to make sure that when you sit down to write, you've got a smile on your face.

There are plenty of tools and programs out there to help you with your writing, whether it's for planning it, writing it, or editing it afterwards, and I have quite a few of my own that I've written for my own use, as well as for sale - but you don't actually need anything to write, other than something to write on, and something to write with. There are some free word processors available (LibreOffice for example), so you don't need to spend anything to get started.

This article is also posted at my writing blog.

Happy writing!



Thursday, 21 August 2014

Update

It's been a quiet time, with real life intruding into development plans. Thanks to everyone who has given Continuity and the iPad version of Shelf Life a try.

I'm currently working on some behind-the-scenes technology for the role-playing game that I'm planning, while also mulling over which app will be next for an update.

I hope everyone's having a happy, productive, and safe summer.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Shelf Life is now available for iPad

The iPad version of Shelf Life launched this morning. It provides a lot of the same functionality as the Mac version (All, Wanted, Reading List, and Finished tabs, as well as some of the Find functions and some reports).

If you have Shelf Life for the Mac, but would prefer it in the more portable form, you can import your Mac data files into the iPad version (you have to email them, then open the attachment on your Mail app on the iPad - the iPad will then prompt you to open the attachment in Shelf Life) - for full details, please see the included guide on the iPad version's Help tab.


Please note that the two versions do NOT sync with each other - however you can export from the iPad version using iTunes, and use that file on the Mac version - see the Help guide for further details.

Shelf Life for iPad is available from the App Store.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Continuity released

Our new app, Continuity is released today, and is available on the Mac App Store.


Designed for novel writers and editors, Continuity is not designed to help you as you write a particular draft of a novel.

Instead, Continuity is there for you when you're editing the draft. 

Use Continuity as you go through the manuscript, and the app allows you to keep track of what the reader knows about the story. For example, as the author, you know your heroine has blonde hair, blue eyes, and a scar on her leg from an old school injury that's going to be important in the story later - but what does the reader know?

Continuity allows you to log details about characters, outfits, plotlines, locations, and props so that you can assess whether the manuscript has given the reader the right information at the right time, to make sense of the story. You can also keep track of costume changes for the characters - was your villain wearing a cashmere scarf in chapter 3, but suddenly not in chapter 4?

The app also includes sections to help you look at how the manuscript is working in terms of structure, conflict, pacing, grammar, setting, point-of-view, dialogue, protagonist, antagonist, and timeline.

Continuity provides some functionality for editors as well: a style section to keep track of things like the number format to use, and what dictionary has been used, and also an A-Z style sheet of terms used in the manuscript. There is also a facts section, to log details of anything that needs to be verified.

Continuity also allows you to import certain data from Subplot, Character Folio, and Plotline.

Note that the app doesn't hold full character and plotline information (scenes are not imported) when you import them: the whole point of the app is to see what the manuscript is telling you - not what you think it's telling you. It works as a more holistic approach to looking at the story - so rather than importing scenes from Plotline, it just imports the plotlines themselves - and then as the editor, you can check what happens, and where, and know what the story is telling the reader, rather than what your notes planned for the story to tell the reader.

I wrote Continuity to help me in the editing of my own novel manuscripts, so hopefully you'll find it useful for this crucial part of the writing process too.

Happy writing (and editing!)

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shelf Life update

An update for the Mac version of Shelf Life should be available later today on the Mac App Store. This version makes it easier to add release dates where you don't have a specific date available, and also allows ratings in increments of 0.5, rather than 1 (so you can rate things as 7.5 rather than just 7 or 8 etc.)

The minimum OSX version is now 10.7 (due in part to changes in behind the scenes requirements for the App Store submission process).

Note that due to the changes to data storage, the old version of Shelf Life will NOT be able to use the new version's data files, so if you do have Shelf Life installed on a couple of machines, please ensure you upgrade all of them at the same time.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Summer update

I'll be launching a new app for the Mac soon: Continuity. It's a tool to help both writers and editors with the novel editing process - hopefully people will find it useful. It's something I'm using myself to help with the editing of my novel, Spark of Humanity. Continuity is due to launch before the end of the month.

I'm also working on an iPad version of Shelf Life. This has come about because I was relying on using a Dropbox copy of my Shelf Life Wanted Books report when I was at the library/bookshop, and I wanted more immediate access to my Shelf Life data.

So, designed using iOS 7, Shelf Life for the iPad includes most of the same features as its Mac sibling - with the exception of a more simplified Find/Search functionality. You'll also be able to import your existing Shelf Life data files to the iPad version. The app's nearly finished, and I really like how it's shaping up - it follows the same colour scheme as the Mac version, so it should be very easy to pick up for anyone who already has Shelf Life on the Mac whoe wants a more portable version.

I think Shelf Life could be very useful for a school/university environment: a teacher/tutor could create a reading list using the Mac version, and email that file to course/subject pupils. Adding that list into their own iPad versions of Shelf Life would give students an easy way to look at and keep track of the books / required reading material for a course.

Barring any last minute hiccups, the iPad version of Shelf Life should be ready by the start of July.

Enjoy the sun!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Update

I'm currently writing the user guide for my next application. This one's for the Mac. More details will follow once it's all wrapped up and submitted to Apple.

After that, I'm going to be returning to the iPad game I've been designing. It's a role-playing game, which is a big enough challenge on its own. But I'm also doing all the artwork, all the writing, and all the game systems myself, so it'll probably be a while before there's something to show...



Friday, 11 April 2014

Ready for inspiration to strike

I've just released a tenth application, this one for the iPhone. Novel Ideas is a very simple app that gives you a place to keep track of your ideas for novels, screenplays, plays, games, characters etc., on the go, on your phone.

I know there's a notes app on the iPhone - there's even plenty of other list apps out there. But this one is designed for the way I want to keep track of things as a writer.


Novel Ideas has four fields: -

Title
Genre
Format
Description

The list is grouped by Format, so you see all your "Novel" ideas in one group, all your "Screenplay" ideas in another, etc. You're free to enter whatever you like as a format, so you're free to have as many groups as you need. I even use it for characters, putting the idea for the character as the title, the nature of the character (Hero, Villain, etc.) as the genre, and then use "Character" as the format, ensuring that the grouping in the app use "Character".

The app can export the list to a text file, so if you want to get your ideas out to another application, you can do that too.

For me, it gives me a separate place to look after all my writing ideas, away from all the other generic apps out there. It's a tiny, simple app, but I know it's always there ready for inspiration to strike.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Update

Spring already! I've been designing a new app, the tenth one. This is the third year since Subplot first launched (back in September 2011), so the apps have been coming along nicely. The new app is a simple one, and it's designed for the iPhone.

Apple seem to be requiring everything to conform to the iOS 7 look-and-feel now, so the app has a very straight-forward aesthetic. I honestly miss the skeumorphism of iOS 6, and everyone who I've spoken to, "real users" if you like, also agree. Whether it's the loss of the woodgrain bookshelves for iBooks, or the overly garish, and bright colours for the rest of iOS 7, the whole thing seems to be designed to look "computery" rather than useful. The charm is missing.

Since I can't see Apple rolling it all back, in business-lingo-bingo terms, "we are where we are". I think it's a real shame though - and I think if the iPad had launched with the iOS 7 UI originally, it wouldn't have had such a great uptake with a lot of people.

I'm doing the testing work on the new app at the moment, and hopefully it will be ready for some time in early April. I'm also working on a game, which is new territory for me, and a bit of a huge undertaking, but it's also tremendously rewarding.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

In-App Purchases for games - enough is enough



At the moment, I’m immersed in game design. I’ve been playing computer games since the 8-bit days of the wonderful Acorn Electron. Acornsoft’s Sphinx Adventure was the first game I ever played on the machine, and it started me down the path of computer gaming, role-playing games, story-telling, and ultimately to my love of writing.

Of course gaming has moved on since the days of the text adventure. My next machine was an Atari ST, followed by a Commodore Amiga, and finally, a lowly 386sx PC with a 24MB hard drive. That machine gave way to a 486, a Pentium, Pentium 2, 3, and 4, mostly upgraded by me, and usually in the pursuit of better game performance. A few laptops followed, upgraded over the years, and my current machine is four years old this week, but still happily plays some great games.

Unfortunately, some game publishers in this current era of mobile and tablet gaming are gripped by “In App Purchase” fever (IAP). You’ve all seen the news stories, and most of you have probably seen examples of the worst kind of IAP: -

You get the game for free, but the actual game design has been compromised to make it "convenient" to buy currency to advance, in the form of “coins”, “gems”, etc.

What’s the harm, you may ask – a bag of gems for £1.99, when I got the game for free, it doesn’t sound too bad. Look further down the IAP choices: “Giant sack of gems, £69.99”. That’s about double the price of a new-release console game (PS3/360).

When the actual design of your game is being driven by the IAP model, you’re doing it wrong. The trouble is, there’s nothing to deter publishers from abusing the model. People are paying, so they’re just carrying on pumping out compromised titles that treat you the player as little more than a wallet on legs.

How it could change

The only way to rein in this sort of “design” is to make it an unpopular design decision: -


  1. App Stores could sort “free” games in order of their maximum IAP – so if a game only allows a maximum £1.99 spend, then it appears higher in the search results than one that allows a £69.99 spend.
  2. App Stores should immediately ban IAP prices above a certain threshold for games that are clearly targeted at children.
  3. App Stores could limit the pricing options for IAP based on the sale price of the original game (e.g. the Apple App Store prices things in tiers: 69p, 99p, £1.49, £2.99, etc.) What I’m suggesting, is that IAP should be limited to (for example) three tiers above the purchase price tier.


As an example, if you put your game out for free, then the maximum allowable IAP would £1.49.

Sadly, this could still be open to abuse, as games could simply be designed to get you to spend more frequently at the lower tier – but I would hope that it would at least open people’s eyes to the reality of what is going on, and that the gaming public starts to turn away from games that are designed this way.

I appreciate that for game designers, it can be a tricky path to follow – after all, if everyone’s doing it, why not see how much you can get from it yourself? Especially if you’re a smaller, indie developer. In my opinion, it's a very short-sighted approach, and one that will only damage the industry in the long-term.

Personally, I’ve got no interest in designing a game that wants to ask you for cash to proceed or imposes artificial limits on how you play. The game I’m designing is supposed to be modular – with scenarios / missions potentially being added post-release.

I’d want to be able to update the game with free content, adding missions etc. And yes, I’d like to have an IAP for something that I think is worthy of an extra purchase – so something like a real expansion to the game, something that adds meaningful content.

It’s this “what’s it worth” gauge that seems to be broken for a lot of game publishers today, especially when IAP are creeping into games that are actually paid for anyway!

I don’t know what the future holds for games – but if it’s anything like how the games industry is heading at the moment, then I may end up looking for a new hobby to replace one that has kept me entertained for over 30 years.

On a final note, as gamers you can do something about this: first, set up your device to require your password for all purchases, and don’t give your password to your children if they use it. Secondly, stop buying the games that are blatant cash grabs. If people stop paying, publishers will soon stop making games that follow the IAP model, or at the very least, adjust their design behaviour.

Happy gaming.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Quick update

There was a small update for Plotline a week or so ago. It also includes a new colour for your plot line tokens: Cherry.

Thanks to everyone who has given Plotline a try!

Happy writing.