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.