Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Time to put the feet up for a little while, do some writing, do a little bit of reading, and generally just try and relax.

Hope you can all do the same, wherever you are. Have a happy, fun, love-filled end to 2011 and start to 2012.

Take care all.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Chunking goals

Last time I mentioned the similarities in goal setting between Subplot and Savings Jar.

Subplot naturally splits the planning of your novel or screenplay into the following areas: -
  1. Main Story Details
  2. Characters (Who)
  3. Props (what)
  4. Locations (Where)
  5. Events (when)
  6. Goals (why)
  7. Scenes
If you're getting started with writing a story, breaking the work down into these smaller goals can make the process much less daunting. Please don't think this is the best or only way to go about it - of course it isn't. There are some writers that don't like to plan at all and just see where the page takes them, and if that's you, then go for it. There are also writers who will plan in far more meticulous detail. Do whatever gives you the best results for you - and if Subplot isn't right for how you like to work, then try something else.

Personally, I've been carrying on with my writing sprints in 20 minute chunks, and I've found it incredibly useful and rewarding. Shutting out the world for 20 minutes and just writing has been very liberating - especially if you turn off your inner critic/editor, and just write. Don't think about editing or going back and re-reading at this stage. Just keep writing. Instead of writing 300-500 words per day, I've been writing 2000 - 2300 words per day using this technique. I try and be ready to write on the hour each hour.

What I have found however, is that I need to be prepared for the writing sprint, rather than just having that blank screen to look at. This is where I used Subplot to get the basic story structure outlined. Having the report of the scene breakdown printed and next to me ready for the writing sprint means I can just get on with writing.

Leaving the writing at a point that I can carry straight on from is a good idea too - don't finish at the end of a chapter or scene, always start something new so that you've got a hook to launch you at the start of your next session.

These are just some ways I've approached getting down to actually writing rather than thinking about it or just talking about it. Believe me, I'm no expert, if you find something useful that works for you, go for it.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

It's not where you're going, it's how you get there

When I thought about writing a piece for the blog this week, at first I struggled to think of how to tie Subplot and Savings Jar together – on the surface, they appear to deal with totally different things: -

But, when you look at what each program is actually doing, they’re both very simple: each one is designed to help you achieve a particular goal in a particular way.

It’s that goal setting mentality that I’m going to try and talk about. We all have goals, and some of them are fanciful, some are outrageous, some may seem downright impossible, and some may even be trivial. What makes a goal achievable depends on how we approach it.

You may think “I want to write a novel in a year.” That’s a pretty big task. It’s daunting. In fact, for a lot of people starting out, it’s too daunting. The goal seems too big to overcome, so then what happens?

Well if you’re anything like me, you start out with great intentions, and you go great for a couple of days, then something happens and you deal with a real life problem and you lose focus and you lose momentum, and pretty soon, the goal’s on the back-burner, and then you say to yourself “well I’ve still got a year near enough, so it doesn’t matter if I don’t do something today, I’ll catch up next week.”

The trouble is, once you lose the focus and the momentum, that’s usually it. You’re actually sabotaging yourself by setting yourself up to fail before you start.

Set a more realistic goal to focus on

Instead of saying “I’m going to write a novel in a year”, how about “I’m going to have a first draft of a novel completed in 4 months.” That’s quite a change in timescale, but you’ve got a much smaller window of time to focus on.

With Savings Jar, you set a goal of saving a particular amount in a particular time. The time allowed is deliberately set at a maximum of 99 days - a little over 3 months. Now you may think, “Hey, what if I want to save a particular amount in a year, why can’t I do that?” Well, there’s nothing stopping you trying it in the real world, but once again, it’s quite possible that you’ll start out with a bit of focus, but then you may skip a day, and then maybe two, and then you may think “I’ve got plenty of time, I’ll catch up later” and pretty soon, that momentum and focus is lost again, and you’re not actually achieving the goal.

To combat that, instead of having a goal of £360 in a year, set a smaller goal. Not even £180 in 6 months, nor £90 in 90 days. How about £60 in 60 days. That’s more manageable, because you have a smaller goal to focus on. Go smaller still, how about £30 in 30 days? Just don't go too small, or you run the risk of trivialising the goal to your brain, and you may not focus on it at all!

Once you complete that 30 day goal, create a new one, and a new one after that. In a year, if you achieve each of those goals, you’ll still have gotten to that original target of £360 in 360 days, but the journey along the way won’t have seemed so daunting.

All we’ve done is focus on a smaller piece of the puzzle, but the goal has a much greater chance of being achieved, and it’s that breaking down of a problem into smaller chunks that I’ll talk more about next time.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Writing Sprints

I've been taking the advice of the terrific Jane Espenson on Twitter, who sets up little writing sprints for herself.

If you're not familiar with the term, a writing sprint is where you set aside a small block of time - say 20-30 minutes or an hour, and you write almost continuously in that time, with no distractions.

As part of my own goal to write more, I've taken to doing the same - 20 minutes each hour, with some rainfall meditation sounds on my iPod to help drown out everything else. So far it's worked really well. I finished yesterday with a new daily record for me, and crucially, I was chomping at the bit to do more. I'll gradually increase the time of each sprint as well if I can.

It sounds like a little thing, but when there's the whole of "real life" to get in the way and distract you, having these little islands of time for yourself could be a great way to make sure you get the writing done as well.

Have a great weekend all.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Savings Jar released

Our new Mac app is finally available, Savings Jar. It's a simple program that tries to encourage you to save your loose change and small sums of money towards a larger goal in a colourful and hopefully rewarding manner.

Features: -
- Create a goal with a target amount that you want to save towards
- Add savings and keep track of the total you’ve saved
- Earn bronze, silver and gold stars for your goal depending on how well you save
- Add a picture of your goal to the vision board to help you visualise what you’re saving for
- Give yourself from as little as a week to 99 days to achieve your goal
- Use the Savings Jar reports to see the progress you’re making towards your goal
- See how much you have left to save as well as how much you need to save each day to reach your goal

If you’re a parent, why not create a Savings Jar goal with your children and get them into the saving habit? If you’re saving up for something yourself, use Savings Jar to keep track of how you’re doing.

Try and pick something to go without each day, and put the amount you save towards your Savings Jar goal.

Savings Jar is available from the Apple Mac App Store.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Savings Jar update

Savings Jar is delayed a little, but hopefully it'll be in the App Store soon.

Subplot update news

Although the Black Friday sale is over, Subplot will still be available with a little bit of a discount. It will be available at its original launch price for the rest of the year.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Update News

Today (30th November 2011) is the last day of the 30% off offer for Subplot on the Mac App Store, so give it a whirl if you feel like trying it before it goes back up in price. The Macworld review can be found here, and there's more information to be found on our main website.

In other news, Savings Jar has been approved for sale on the Mac App Store, and will launch tomorrow, 1st December. Savings Jar is a neat little app that tries to help you save your loose change and small sums of money towards a larger goal. The website will be updated once the App Store page is live.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Black Friday Update, Sale

To coincide with all the Black Friday goings on, Subplot is now reduced in price by 30% in the Mac App Store. It will remain at that price until the end of November 2011.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Mini Update

The folks over at Macworld have finished their review of Subplot, awarding it a nice 3.5 mice out of 5.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Update news

I'm just about to start final testing on the new app that will hopefully be submitted soon for review at Apple.

It's a much smaller program than Subplot, and should hopefully be a fun and useful little tool for a lot of people - young and old!

More information soon.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Back on the writing trail

It's been a chaotic couple of weeks, with a lot of work going on towards the next app on the AFK release schedule.

Hopefully I'll have more to share about that next week. But for now I'm taking a little breather from development for a few days to get back to my writing; not just for NaNoWriMo, but also for my other ongoing works.

I'm sure I used to be able to juggle a load of stuff at once, but I'm finding lately that I'm much better at focusing on just one thing rather than spreading my time amongst several projects.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Update news

There's a new app in development here, and hopefully it will be ready soon.

Unfortunately, the real world has crept into the schedule, so I haven't been able to do as much writing as I'd have liked. Which sounds like an excuse! And it is. But that's the way it is sometimes.

So whatever you're up to this weekend, I hope you get to do some of the things you love, rather than just the things you have to do.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Getting inspired to write

I can’t really remember the first time I decided that I wanted to write fiction. I grew up with role-playing games, fantasy novels, Star Wars, Star Trek as well as being there at the start of the home computer revolution. Out of that quagmire of story-telling, mind blowing visual effects and just the whole “range of possibilities” on offer, I became someone who always wanted to imagine something that didn’t exist.

With that in mind, here’s a look at three of the books and films that have helped put me on the path to wanting not just to write, but to be creative in general.

Watchers – Dean R. Koontz
Watchers is my favourite novel from Dean Koontz. In fact, just thinking about it for this blog entry makes me want to dig out from my storage boxes and read it again. Anyone that has read a bit about Mr. Koontz is surely aware of his enduring love for golden retrievers, and one dog, Einstein, takes centre stage in Watchers. However, there’s a lot more going on besides, and it’s the human couple, Travis and Nora, their story, which really resonates with me. If you haven’t read Watchers, then do give it a go. Just don’t watch the film “adaptation”.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight – Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
While I’m in awe of the world, background, characters and history that Tolkien created for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I grew up with Dungeons & Dragons, and so it was a revelation to see a series of books based on D&D appear in what was back then, a small, local bookstore. Using the Dragonlance setting, Autumn Twilight is the first in a multitude of trilogies and spin-off books that really made fantasy accessible and fun, with characters that are memorable to this day.

Her Alibi (1989)
A real guilty pleasure of mine, I honestly can say that I think this is a great little film. Tom Selleck stars as Philip Blackwood, a fiction writer in a rut who ends up with a muse in the form of Paulina Porizkova, a Romanian suspected of murder. Maybe I just wanted a big, sprawling house like the one Philip Blackwood owns in the film, I’m not sure. I do remember seeing a special behind the scenes TV show about some of the stunts in the film. Just don’t dismiss it till you’ve seen it. Bluray release please! And look out for the scene with the bow and arrow…

Why those three in particular? Well, Watchers was a book I read at a time where I really could relate to what happened with Travis and Nora. I couldn’t say for sure why it feels relevant to my writing decision – just perhaps that I wanted to be able to create something that meant as much to me – and with writing you get to control your whole world – perhaps we’re all just armchair egomaniacs.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is an easier one to dissect. Seeing in book form, the sorts of stories that I’d been playing through and helping create with my friends with D&D was really a catalyst for wanting to write.

As for Her Alibi, maybe it’s just seeing a fanciful, romantic vision of how a writer lives – even a fictional one, no matter how far from the truth it may be! The fact is we all need to dream, to have a goal for how we want our lives to turn out, a picture on a vision board. I know the reality for a great many writers is grabbing a few hours hunched in a writing nook with a pad and pen, rather than living in a grand, secluded show home, but if there’s one thing that writing can help you do, it is to believe in something.

The rules of publishing are changing, with eBooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional print and publishing. There’s really nothing stopping you getting your work in the hands of the world at large. So I’m going to take my own advice and publish something myself. Soon.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Good luck for National Novel Writing Month

The day is nearly upon us. If you're embarking on attempting National Novel Writing Month from tomorrow, then good luck, and happy writing!

Friday, 28 October 2011

eBook Covers Round 2 - Titles and Text

Last time I mentioned DAZ Studio and Vue, as tools that could help with the artwork for creating your own eBook.

This time I'm going to mention some free software to help with the text/titles that would be needed as well: -

Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a freely available piece of software for photo retouching, image creation, and has several text tools that would allow you to add text such as a book title to your cover.

There's also Picasa, from Google.

On the Mac, there's also Seashore.

There's no doubt plenty of others out there, and many are free, so putting the finishing touches to your eBook cover doesn't need to cost a lot.

Given that your eBook cover is going to be seen in a small version for most of the time, for example, when it's on display in an online store, then getting the size of your title right can be a juggling match between fitting it all on the cover and making it large enough to read when the cover is displayed at a smaller size.

These image editors can help you visualise the smaller version of your cover quite easily, so don't be daunted, have a go!

Have a great weekend all, Happy Halloween!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Judging a book by its cover

While some may think it’d be just another excuse to procrastinate and not do any writing, thinking about your book’s cover can be an excellent way to help get your creative juices flowing. While it’s bad enough trying to be creative with the written word, doing the same with graphics, composition and art as well could be asking a bit much for many authors, but there are tools out there that can help.

DAZ Studio
Straight from the DAZ website, the description of the software is this: “DAZ Studio is a feature rich 3D figure customization, posing, and animation tool that enables anyone to create stunning digital illustrations and animations.” DAZ Studio is currently free for a limited time.

Allowing you to pose and animate 3D figures and scenery, DAZ Studio’s a great tool for getting a book cover done – or how about a trailer for your story? Many novels are getting noticed due to having a trailer made and available on the internet.  Next time you’re stuck for how to approach a scene, try visualising it with a tool such as DAZ Studio rather than just writing it out.

Vue does for scenery, landscapes and worlds what DAZ Studio does for people. The Pioneer edition is free, and the product expands as your needs grow, right up to movie blockbuster quality effects. Vue does animation as well.

Create a landscape, the sky, water, trees and vegetation; if your book cover features an outdoor scene, then Vue could really help you get the image you’re looking for.

With eBooks having to have covers that work as thumbnail images as well as full size covers, having access to a digital version of the image can help you judge whether the image works when shrunk down to Kindle/iBooks shelf size. Suddenly that long title may not even be visible when shrunk down, so it could even be worth changing the title of the story.

Even with digital help from software such as DAZ and Vue, there’s no substitute for natural artistic flair and talent, but I have to hope that doing anything creative can be a catalyst for other areas of creativity – so if you’re stuck with a piece of writing, try drawing the scene instead of writing it. Make a short animation out of it – or just lay out the scene in 3D and see if what you’re planning is possible. Who knows what you’ll find. Just make sure you write the scene as well later…

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Soundtrack to your story - part 2

It’s time for this week’s batch of pieces from selected soundtracks that evoke a particular emotion and so might be useful to get you in the mood for writing a particular scene. Plus I just get to talk about some of my favourite bits of music too.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – John Williams – Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra
It’d be easy to just list The Raiders March in any soundtrack discussion involving John Williams and Indiana Jones, but The Last Crusade is very sparing with its use, saving it mostly for the end credits ride into the sunset. So instead, I’m picking Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra. It’s a terrific piece to listen to if you need some sort of chase scene, and it’s a perfect companion to the escape  of the ‘Jones Boys’ via motorbike and sidecar.

Mulan (1998) - Jerry Goldsmith – Haircut
Mulan is one of my favourite films in the modern Disney era, and a lot that comes from Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing score. It’s such a shame that the CD soundtrack release barely covers all the material in the film.  The track I’ve chosen, Haircut, is not my favourite piece, but it’s one that really evokes a sense of preparation, getting ready to take on the world. If you get a chance, listen to the full Suite from Mulan as well – it runs through all the major themes from the film and is just a wonderful composition from the late, great Mr. Goldsmith.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) – James Newton Howard – The Crystal Chamber
Atlantis is a great little film, and the soundtrack’s terrific. The Crystal Chamber is at times foreboding, other times other-worldly, mysterious and filled with wonder. Don’t investigate a lost civilisation without it…

Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country (1991) – Cliff Eidelman – Sign Off
If you ever need to say some goodbyes, with a little bit of hope for the future and the promise of stories yet to be told, then give this a listen. A fond farewell to the starship Enterprise as she heads off on one last voyage, and a literal sign-off from the original series cast.

Superman the Movie (1978) – John Williams – Main Titles
John Williams didn’t so much score the movie, as he scored the character, with a main theme that so embodies everything that Superman was, is and should be, that it’s impossible to see a picture of the character and not immediately hear the iconic theme. If you’re dealing in any way with a superhero or a heroic effort, then listen to the Main Titles from Superman. Heroic, humble, mighty, effortlessly majestic, it’s a piece that lets you know that everything will be alright. If your characters are up against it, and there’s no way out, then give them an mp3 player with this track on, and they’ll find a way to solve their problems…

The risk with listening to all these tracks and then writing is of course that some of the film imagery rubs off on your writing, rather than the emotion. But it’s an interesting way to think about your scenes – how would you have the music be if you were responsible for scoring your story? Sometimes having no music is better – just look at the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season five episode, The Body.

What sort of music do your characters listen to? What's the soundtrack to their lives? What sort of music would you have accompanying your story - whether it's on the big screen, the small screen, or just what you hope people will listen to to remind them of your book?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Subplot is one month old today

Cue the internet's collective tumbleweeds rolling across my screen...

Actually it's been a good month and a really stressful month and an anxious month and an "oh my god what have I gone and done now" month. But it's all been good experience I guess - and certainly good practice for when I start publishing eBooks and have to deal with the inevitability of not being able to be to everyone's tastes.

So, a big thank you to everyone that's bought Subplot - I hope you've gotten some use and enjoyment from it. I'm using it for planning a few novellas in the first instance as well as keeping the Ideas Board stocked for the future.

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Subplot updated

The 1.0.2 update for Subplot should be on the various App Stores now. It fixes a couple of issues in the Scene Builder.

I've also added an introduction to the Mac's Automator tool on the Subplot FAQ page. The document explains how to create a little workflow in Automator that makes a backup copy of the Subplot datafile in another folder (e.g. a DropBox folder). The workflow then runs Subplot itself, so it's a handy tutorial if you've never used Automator before, and also a nice bit of reassurance that your Subplot data can be backed up.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Quick Update

There's another release coming for Subplot. Version 1.0.2 fixes a couple of issues with the Scene Builder, the details of which you can find here. Hopefully it will be released by Apple soon - it's currently waiting for review.

I hope those of you that have bought Subplot (thank you!) are finding it useful. I use it myself when planning my stories.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The soundtrack to your story

Do you listen to music when you write? I tend to need peace and quiet. But there are times when I'll listen to something to put myself in the right mood, the right frame of mind for writing. Now I don't have a musical bone in my body, and my iPod's playlist is routinely laughed at by my friends, but there are certain pieces of music that I turn to when I want to feel a particular way - emotional cues if you like, so with that in mind, I'm wondering if perhaps I should listen to more music while I write, and see if it influences the output. What do you think?

I'm a huge fan of movies soundtracks. I've been collecting them for most of my life, ever since I won the soundtrack to Raiders of the Lost Ark (in a colouring competition no less!). I'd loved the music to Star Wars before that, and Superman, but it was winning that Raiders album that set me on the path to actually collecting them. With that in mind, here are some of my favourite pieces from soundtracks over the years, and the sort of emotion they may help evoke.

Batman (1989) - Danny Elfman - Finale.
Honestly, I really didn't like the Prince album that accompanied the film. But Danny Elfman's score is spot on. The finale sends you away thinking that there's someone out there, looking out for everyone, a perfect companion to the last visuals of Batman dutifully watching over his city while the Bat Signal blazes overhead.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2001) - The Buffy Cast - Once More With Feeling - the whole album.
I'm an unashamed Buffy fan. And I remember being astounded when I watched the season 6 episode, Once More With Feeling. I'm not a fan of musicals that have songs in them for the sake of having songs, but Once More tells the story in song, and it manages to advance the series' arc at the same time as well as having such a varied and catchy set of songs, that I had to watch it again, straight after. The album runs through a range of emotions for the whole cast, so all I can say with this one, is just to listen to all of it.

Ever After (1998) - George Fenton - Happily Ever After.
I listen to a lot of "End Credits" pieces. To me they sum up a film, usually giving a snapshot of all the themes that have gone before them. Ever After's finale evokes a sweeping, romantic vista of possibilities - and hope for the future.

Edward Scissorhands (1990) - Danny Elfman - The Grand Finale.
What an amazing film Edward Scissorhands is. Beauty and the Beast, except the beast is no beast, instead he's the gentlest one of all. The Grand Finale plays as Winona Ryder's character finishes her story, and it culminates with a memory of dancing in the snow with Edward. If ever I need to write about love, whether it's a lost love, or one that's been strong for decades, I'd say listen to this.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) - John Powell - Test Drive.
What a great surprise this film was, and the soundtrack is fantastic too - if you need something that evokes some sort of test or feat or attempt, then give Test Drive a spin. It soars.

Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - John Williams - The Rebel Fleet/End Title.
What can anyone say about John Williams that hasn't been said already; the man's a legend. The Rebel Fleet/End Title is probably, hands down, my favourite piece of music. I guess many people will have left the theatre as soon as the end credits come up, or they turn the DVD off, so this one may be a hidden gem for a lot of people. If you've never listened all the way through to the end, then next time, please do. It's wistful as preparations are made to set off and rescue Captain Solo. It's majestic with the familiar Star Wars fanfare. It's whimsical and fun as we move to Yoda's theme. And then the menace starts with The Imperial March. As it closes, it becomes quieter again, and hopeful, and ends with the most amazing, building crescendo that leaves you in no doubt that the Rebellion will fight on, and win.

There are many, many more pieces that I'd choose, so maybe I'll pick another five or so next week. What sort of music do your characters listen to? What's the soundtrack to their lives? What sort of music would you have accompanying your story - whether it's on the big screen, the small screen, or just what you hope people will listen to to remind them of your book?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Getting down to writing

It's hard being a procrastinator. I talk myself out of doing a lot of things. All too often, writing's been one of them. The internet's such a distraction, with news and tweets going on every minute of every day, as well as just 'living', eating, exercise, socialising, and of course work.

So I'm trying to be a bit more regimented. I don't have set times to write - I find that often inspiration will come at odd moments, like 5:42am yesterday morning, when I just had to get a part of a story down. But if you wait for when you're inspired, well it could be a very long time before you finish anything.

So I have my tools to hand and set up. My dining table manages to triple up between the place that I eat, write and work much of the time. There are plenty of books out there that say you should have a dedicated writing area, and in theory, yes, that'd be great. But in practice, it can be tricky for a lot of people.

Sometimes I just need to get out and about and do the writing anyway - so a dedicated 'nook' won't help there. And as long as you have something to write with/on, then maybe it doesn't really matter where you are.

In fact, when I first wrote "Eight Minutes" (which I'll hopefully be publishing early next year) I was typing the first draft on an Amstrad NC100 portable computer that I took to work with me. These days things have moved on (but I still have that NC100 somewhere).

I use Subplot to rough out a plan for the story - characters, props, locations, events and goals, as well as a rough scene plan. I tend to think of it in terms of what I would need to show if I were filming the story. So if I've got a scene in a headmaster's office at a school, then I need to 'dress' that set, and it brings up a lot of questions about the headmaster/headmistress and what their background is beyond the role that they serve in the story.

I've recently started using Apple's Pages on the Mac to hold the actual manuscript as I'm writing - but there are plenty of free alternatives out there: -

OpenOffice has several flavours: -

and there's also NeoOffice on the Mac: -

I've also got Microsoft Word on standby on my Windows PC.

None of that's of any help if I'm out and about so I've often got a couple of notebooks stuffed in my holdall that have a range of ideas for stories in them. That's actually where the inspiration behind the Subplot Ideas Board came from - I got fed up of transcribing the story ideas from one notebook to the next as I used up the pages or the notebook just got too tatty from being carried around.

I also have iA Writer for the iPad: -

which I use for distraction-free writing if I just need to lounge on the sofa, or at the afore-mentioned 5:42am writing session that I just had to get on with.

As it happens, the first application I was developing when I set out (before Subplot) was something very similar to iA Writer on the iPad. The reason was that the iPad keyboard really doesn't cope well if you're writing dialogue a lot - all the punctuation marks, commas, full-stops and quotation marks are hidden away; so my original application idea was a simple text editor that had an additional keyboard bar at the top with the relevant punctuation keys always available.

I was in the middle of developing the app when iA Writer first appeared, and so I bought it, used it, and thought "well this does everything I need, so why spend another few months developing and polishing an alternative?" It's at that point that I decided to build Subplot, the planning tool, rather than something to write with.

Of course all of this technology is useless if you don't actually use it to write. So I'm resolved to writing something every day. I have my own targets, and I'm hopefully going to stick to them - but I'm not going to get hung up on them. I write because I enjoy it - if you're not enjoying it, why bother?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Update time

The maintenance release for Subplot is now available in the Mac App Store. Version 1.0.1 fixes a few data related issues, as well as a couple of cosmetic fixes. As ever when updating software, we recommend you take a backup of your datafile before performing the update. If you need help finding the datafile, then some information is available here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Remembering those that are no longer here

As I'm sure everyone knows now, Steve Jobs died yesterday after a lengthy battle with illness. It's a shock, even though I never knew the man. There's plenty of ways that he touched the lives of many millions of people though, and I think that's where the shock is coming from.

The internet has made it easy to rave about or scorn people that we've never met. The anonymity allows us to be bolder, over-confident, sometimes abusive and sometimes mean. But no matter what anyone says about Mr. Jobs or Apple in the coming days and weeks, hopefully all the armchair commentators out there remember that a family's lost a father, a husband, a son, a brother.

I remember reading years ago that John Candy had died. I had pretty much the same shocked reaction; it was out of the blue. Then Christopher Reeve had his accident, and a lot of people round the world held their breath and uttered a silent prayer - even though they'd never met him. So what is it about certain people that causes this reaction in complete strangers?

I enjoyed many of John Candy's films. One of the last ones I saw was "Only the Lonely", and it really struck home with me, dealing with shyness and that awkward reaching out to someone you care about. Those people that know me know that "Superman the Movie" is one of my favourite films. There's a bright light of hope and innocence in that film that's inspiring. And the sadness I felt on hearing that Christopher Reeve had died came from knowing that he wouldn't achieve his dream of walking again; that someone doing something so inspiring out of a personal tragedy was just gone.

It’s because they’re not strangers. You may not have touched them or spoken to them in person, but they’ve touched our lives. We’ve lived moments through their actions. I never thought I’d sell software around the world, but the vision of Steve Jobs has allowed me to do that. I’ve never flown around like a superhero, but I’ve soared with Christopher Reeve.

I guess it’s not so much that they’re gone, or what they did while they were here; it’s the loss of potential, the possibilities of what they might have done in the future. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Events and goals that shape your characters and stories

The latest video demonstration for Subplot is available now for viewing. This one covers events and goals (as well as a larger look at some of the reports behind the system).

This got me thinking about the nature of events and goals in story-telling. The events that Subplot is designed to track are more the sort of historical reference points for your characters. For example, you may have had a character lose their father at a young age, so you could create an event to capture that date and detail. When you add that event to Subplot’s scene builder, it’s not necessarily so that you’ll be describing that event as it takes place – more that you’re referencing it in the scene as something that’s affecting the character. 

The events can of course be plot triggers, so it may be worth setting up a couple of events that remind you of the act breaks and mid-points (particularly for screenplay projects), but it really is up to you and how you like to plan.

With goals, they’re really another name for plot strands, whether main plot or subplot for the relevant characters, but they’re also rolled up with the motivation behind the goal itself – the “Why”. What really helps I think when using them, is that they can highlight when your characters are just there in the story for no reason. If you have a character that doesn’t have a goal, then why are they there at all?  It may be okay if they’re supporting cast with only a couple of scenes, or just have a walk-on part in the screenplay, but if you have a sidekick that doesn’t have any goals of their own, then they’re not really serving any purpose. Once they have a goal, will they succeed in it?

Events and Goals come together to form the When and Why in a story, and they both add up to some of the most important parts of why your story is unfolding the way it is, and to me, “why” something happens is often much more important than “what” actually happens.

I can’t finish a topic of events and goals without outlining some of the events and goals ahead for Subplot.

For events: There’s a new version of Subplot on the way: 1.0.1 includes a couple of cosmetic fixes as well as a few data-centric fixes that should put a stop to a couple of quirky bugs that occur under certain circumstances. The new version is waiting for review at Apple, so should hopefully be available in about a week.

As for goals, well I’d like to think that I can start putting together a feature update for Subplot, including (all of which are subject to change, and there’s no timescale yet of course): -

  • Support for creating plans for Stage Plays
  • Easy management of the Subplot datafile, to help the people that want to work with Subplot on multiple computers.
  • Copying characters etc. between projects, to allow more easily planning a series.
It won’t be a rushed feature release; I’d rather let people get to know the program first before adding to it; but if there’s a feature you’d like for Subplot to support then by all means let me know.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Proof-reading your own writing

It's blazing hot in South Wales at the moment, so it's not the best time to be chained to the computer doing work. There's an update for Subplot coming soon hopefully. It's been submitted to Apple for their review process, so the maintenance release, 1.0.1 of Subplot should be available on the store within a week.

There's some behind the scenes fixes in there, and a couple of cosmetic changes. On the whole, this release has been about ironing out some of the issues that I've noticed since launch, so there's no new functionality just yet. As ever, when you come to upgrade, I'd always recommend backing up your datafile before getting the update from the store; there's information on the website if you need to find out where/what to look for.

Where this fits in with writing, is that one of the most useful methods of checking my writing that I tend to do, is to leave it a couple of weeks, then come back to the manuscript and read it aloud. Not seeing the pages for a while dulls the familiarity, and I tend to pick up on things much more easily. Too often, when you read something, you're reading what you expect to be there, not what actually is. Reading it aloud gives you a much better feel for dialogue in my opinion - no matter how daft you may sound to those around you!

I managed to fix a few issues in Subplot doing exactly this (taking a break from the program for a while) so I'm glad the exercise proved successful, and I hope the updated version of Subplot is available soon.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Subplot demo round 2, and a trip down memory lane

As promised, here's a look in more detail at how Subplot works - this time creating characters as well as a location, and showing the scene builder in action before taking a quick spin through the Ideas Board and one of the reports.

The photo added to the image library in the video is of one of the Niagara Falls. I took the photo during my visit there in 2004. I went all around the place looking for locations that I recognised from watching Wonderfalls - a terrific show that deserved to be on the air a lot longer than the single season it got. Canada was a fantastic place to visit (I also visited Toronto, home of the amazing Being Erica), and I'd love to go back there one day. Sitting in the park with a pen and notebook just taking in the breathtaking surroundings, you can't help but be inspired.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Asking the right questions

Picture the scene: you’re in your favourite coffee house or restaurant. Rain’s clattering against the windows and people are hurrying past your vantage point wrestling with the wind as it threatens to turn their umbrellas into a contorted, twisted mesh of fabric and pointy metal sticks.

You’re okay though, because you’ve got your favourite beverage, you’re cosy and comfortable, notebook and pen on the table in front of you, and sat opposite you is your latest protagonist from the story you’re planning…

When I designed Subplot I wanted a flexible way of capturing details about the characters in the story.  Sure there are always going to be a few main details that you’re always going to want, but I didn’t want to create a slew of data fields that might only be useful for some people and not for others.  That would just take up a lot of resources and management behind the scenes when Subplot loads and saves data, and just seemed wasteful.

The solution came about with the Questions and Answers section in Subplot’s Character Details screen (Q & A). Use this section to “interview” your characters.  There are some basic questions that are already included, such as eye and hair colour, career choice etc., but the system is also open-ended. You can create as many additional questions as you like, and they’ll be available across all characters and projects within Subplot.

Once you move away from asking simple fact based questions, you open up the possibilities for really getting to know your characters. So instead of just having a question “What do you do for a living?” have a question “Why did you choose your current career?”

What I found when I was creating my own characters in Subplot, was that I was answering the questions in the character’s voice.  For example, think of how many different ways you can answer the question “What’s your favourite dessert?” if you also include the reason why and the tone in which your character answers it.

So back to your protagonist, sitting across from you. Get them to talk rather than just say “Yes” or “No” to the questions. When you’re putting their responses into Subplot, answer the question in their voice instead of just listing facts about them and you’ll hopefully find more depth and characterisation to your characters.  And get your interviewees a cup of coffee – at least be nice to them here as you’re going to be putting them through hell in the story…

Monday, 26 September 2011

Update news, one week on from launch

First up, thank you to everyone that's given Subplot a try over the last week. It's been incredible to see it on sale as far and wide as Australia and Germany as well as the UK, USA and Canada. I've never typed the word "Subplot" so much in my life...

It would be helpful if Apple provided trial version functionality in the App Store (I understand Windows 8's version of a store may include that when it launches) but right now, the only impression people can get of Subplot is the few screenshots on the AFK website and Subplot's sales page on the Apple App Store.

Or so you thought... Hello YouTube! It's the first time I've uploaded anything there, and I've really been impressed by how straight-forward it is. The first video is now up and can be viewed here. It's a simple look at creating a new Subplot project, with a tour of the main project screens as well as a look at the help system.

I'll be adding more videos over the next couple of weeks and have also made enquiries about getting some reviews in the writing press so that you all can see a bit more of what Subplot can do.

Friday, 23 September 2011

How much planning is too much?

I’ve still got the original scribbled notebooks that show the development of one of my manuscripts. It’s fascinating to see how the characters struggled against the initial thoughts I had, and when it came time to write their scenes, things just seemed to flow differently.  Not plot-alteringly different – in most cases – but enough to keep me surprised and entertained myself as I wrote.

I’ve read plenty of books about writing that range from “plan everything meticulously” through to “just wing it, just get stuff on the page no matter what.” There’s never going to be a right way that fits everyone, and as an accomplished procrastinator, I tend to lean more towards the “planning” side of things than the “wing it” side of things.

How did this influence Subplot’s design? Well, it doesn’t try and demand too much information from you as you plan. There’s plenty of scope for overall details such as the type of story, character names, gender etc. but it never tries to make you think of it all upfront.

For me, part of the joy of writing is the discovery of things about your world and characters as you go. If you do use Subplot then I hope the data fields for each of the main project sections: Characters, Props, Locations, Events and Goals are just enough to spark your imagination and make you want to write the story rather than just plan it. Use the Image Library feature to add cast photos, room layouts, photos of that red-herring that you’re going to introduce; anything that will help keep you writing once you’ve started.

Too often, if you invest so much time in the planning, you run the risk of losing the enthusiasm for the writing. So for me, it’s a bit like setting up deferred creativity. I designed Subplot so that no matter how much I plan, I still have to write.

I’m going to be writing a story during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this coming November. It’s the first time I’ll have taken part in it and I’m hoping it’ll force me to stop thinking about writing a story again, and just get on and do it.

Part of that process will involve Subplot. After all, that’s why I wrote it.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

An idea that grew from a writer's frustration

The idea for Subplot began when I was revising a manuscript that I’d written a long time ago. One of the key items in the story was a minidisc on which was stored some crucial data. By the time I was revising it (after leaving it for several years), minidiscs were all but obsolete, and the ubiquitous USB Pen Drive had replaced it for portable storage (indeed, minidiscs to my mind had never even caught on in that capacity, but when I first wrote the story, they were quite futuristic!)

So I had the challenge of going through the manuscript using Find/Replace and getting rid of all occurrences of the word “minidisc” and replacing it with variations of “pen drive”.

The problem is that Find/Replace doesn’t understand the context of the words you’re searching for: sometimes I may have referred to “the disc” or even “the disk”; if I were being descriptive, I’d have possibly referred to “the disc of the sun” when describing a vista. Or even if someone had “slipped a disc” in their back.

It was laborious going through the manuscript with that Find/Replace interface getting in the way as I searched, reading the context of the words that it found, and then deciding whether to replace them or not.

And so Subplot was born. One of the key features of the program is that it automatically “knows” where you’ve placed each of the characters, props, locations, events and goals in your scene plan. You still have to alter your manuscript by hand, but you can use Subplot’s “Summary of Use” reports to see exactly which chapter (or act) and scene you’ve planned for the thing that you’re changing, and that can really help with more easily finding where to make changes when you’re revising your manuscripts.

Of course every writer has their own way of working, and you may well have your own solutions to these revision nightmares, but hopefully Subplot will help some of you too.

A whole new world

It's quite strange to be blogging - as someone who has spent most of their life using technology and trying to be creative in private, it seems a bit alien to be writing in such a public manner.

But here we are - so allow me to introduce myself, my name is Craig, and I've recently launched a writing tool called Subplot into an unsuspecting world.

My goal  here is to share some thoughts on how and why I designed the program, and how to get the best from it.  Along the way I'll no doubt end up talking about some of my other passions, reading, writing, movies and TV, as well as some of the charities I support.

I'm not a fan of advertisements, but I'm practical enough to know that I need to build awareness of Subplot if it is ever going to be successful - but I promise not to go on about it too much....

So hi there, world.