Switching To Scrivener

Apologies for the extended time between posts. As I mentioned previously, I’m visiting family for two weeks, and my laptop hasn’t gotten a lot of love.

Today I want to talk about writing software. When I first set out to write a novel, I went with the tried and true Microsoft Word. There’s nothing wrong with Word, and it has its uses, but I struggled significantly with it. I had some formatting issues, but mostly my struggle was mental. My story was a huge document, I had to scroll through it to find my chapter headings, and it was difficult to remember what was taking place when. I remember sitting down with my (old, slow, college) laptop and staring at my Word document and being completely intimidated.

When I began Origins, I found it much easier to write by hand. The entirety of that story is contained in a series of notebooks, with random sheets folded in from when I didn’t have the current notebook handy (like at work, shh!). I really enjoy writing by hand, but my hand doesn’t write nearly as fast as my brain moves. It was a slow process, impeded by the need for transcription. Every couple of chapters I would break, and take several hours to transfer the new work into the Word document. It was handy, because I made small corrections and edits as I went, but very time-consuming and frustrating.

When I began my new fantasy project, I started out writing it by hand, but I quickly grew tired of it and knew it would take me a long time to do this story the same way I did the other. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer, so I discussed it with my husband and we agreed that I needed to buy a new work laptop. The one I have now I bought in January, and I absolutely love it. At the same time, I began researching my options for writing software. I didn’t know if I could get over my difficulty writing directly to a computer screen, but Word wasn’t working and I had to try something new.

I don’t remember what all programs I looked at, but Scrivener stuck in my mind and refused to budge. It was incredibly affordable; the license only cost me $40. For that price, it was worth it to find out if it was what I’d been searching for.

There’s a learning curve to Scrivener. I know very little outside of the basic day-to-day things I use it for, but whenever I need to learn something I just google it and usually find step-by-step instructions or sometimes a video. My first few days I spent transcribing the few chapters I’d completed and adding in my note pages. I’m not a fan of outlining, but I did have many notebook pages listing out the rules for my fantasy world and what plotlines my characters were going to follow. It was a lot of content, but I think that information is safer now than it was written out on pages that I’d flipped through so many times they were falling out of the notebook.

Things I love about Scrivener: Each chapter is its own separate document. There’s a box on the left side called the binder where all of the chapters are listed out, so it’s easy to switch back and forth between them. You can even split the screen and view two chapters (or an outline and a chapter) at the same time. There are digital index cards, where you can write a  brief description of what happens in each chapter. There’s a screen where all of these cards are pictured and you can easily track your plot. Both cards and listed chapters can be drug at will and re-ordered.

Scrivener contains templates for indexing character sheets, locations and scenes, research, and plotlines. I don’t use most of them, but it’s cool that they’re there, and I do have regular documents inserted into the files so I can keep track of those things.

The most important thing: I can write into Scrivener. The individualized documents don’t feel so scary and imposing. I’m not setting out to write a 100,000+ word book; I’m sitting down and writing a 5,000 word chapter. It’s a much more manageable goal. Seeing the chapters always in view tells me exactly where I am, and my notes on the index card tell me what that chapter needs to accomplish. If I need to re-read something to refresh my memory on  a scene, it’s easy for me to find without scrolling through endless pages of flashing words. The bottom of the page also tracks my word count, so I know if I need to hurry up and conclude my thoughts or if I have room to stretch the scene out.

It’s possible that the ease of writing into Scrivener is simply a marker of my growth as a writer. Maybe if I switched back to Word I wouldn’t face the same issues I did the first time around. But I have no desire to test that theory. I like Scrivener, and it’s working for me, so why would I want to jeopardize that?

What writing software do you use, and why do you love it? Let me know in the comments!

Assassin’s Fate

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Assassin’s Fate  by Robin Hobb (spoilers).  It’s the last book in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. If you’re familiar with Robin Hobb’s work, then you know this isn’t a stand-alone trilogy, either. It is in fact the third trilogy set in the Six Duchies and featuring FitzChivalry Farseer as the narrator and protagonist, the first being The Farseer Trilogy, followed by The Tawny Man Trilogy. Other series belong in this world as well, though they tell other stories, in The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Rain Wild Chronicles.

I first began reading Robin Hobb a couple of years ago, and I immediately devoured the stories of the bastard prince turned assassin’s apprentice. The world of the Six Duchies captured and enthralled me. It was a surprise to discover the new series out, and endlessly frustrating to not be able to read it. See, I have a problem. I don’t like beginning a series if  I can’tread the entire thing straight through (I made that mistake with Game of Thrones, now I’m chomping at the bit for the next book). I vowed to wait until the trilogy was completed before I started it. Assassin’s Fate was released in May of this year, so I put it on hold and checked out the first two books, Fool’s Assassin and Fool’s Quest. I waited to hear that Assassin’s Fate was ready for me to pick up, but the email never came. That was when I learned something important about my new library system in the middle of nowhere. Our town library doesn’t carry Robin Hobb, so the request had to be sent to outside libraries for a loan. However, none of those libraries lend their books for the first six months after release. So there I was, two books down, dying to know what happens, and unable to secure book three.

Fast forward to now, when I finally have my hands on a copy. I’ve done little else for the past three days (I haven’t even been writing, it’s so hard to tear my mind away). I’m nearly 3/4 done, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

It’s difficult for me to see Fitz portrayed as an older man. We’re first introduced to him as a child, and we watch him grow into a man capable of anything. He’s trained by the king’s assassin, and develops skills and abilities that allow him to pass unnoticed, bend others to his will, and physically conquer any task. As this series begins, Fitz is living a comfortable life in the country with his family, and has lost his assassin’s edge. It’s a different Fitz than the one I fell in love with. He’s working hard to recover those lost skills, but it’s been an adjustment for me. The Fool is also not the man he used to be. His changes are not due to age, but rather the cruelty and the torture he has endured. The changes in both men strain their relationship, and it hurts me to see them at odds with each other.

This series also does something unique. The book isn’t told entirely from Fitz’s perspective. His little daughter, Bee, is added as a narrator. There’s value in this, and her story is important and fascinating, but it takes time away from telling Fitz’s tale. Fitz is the one I want to follow, and I miss him when I reading about Bee.

There’s significantly less magic used in this series. The Skill and The Wit, both inherited magics, play a huge role in developing Fitz’s character, and are thoroughly explored in The Farseer Trilogy. They were somewhat diminished in The Tawny Man Trilogy, and have nearly disappeared altogether. The characters talk about them some, but they are rarely used by Fitz anymore. I miss these as well. His use of the magics was an interesting aspect of his character, and their absence lessens him. Makes him more normal, but he has never been a normal man, and I don’t like the effort put into making him normal.

Many things about this series confuse me, and I believe that’s because Fitz and The Fool leave the Six Duchies and travel far. They interact with the liveship traders from Bingtown, the Pirate Isles, and the dragons in the Rain Wilds. I haven’t read these books, but I assume the people they meet and the tales they tell are contained in these books. The characters know (or at least know of) these new additions, but I’m left feeling lost. It’s my fault for not reading the other books, but I didn’t expect them to intersect in quite this way.

I also miss Nighteyes. He’s been gone since the beginning of The Tawny Man Trilogy, and with him any desire for Fitz to use his Wit. The wolf completed Fitz in ways that are now gaping, and his insights helped to hone Fitz’s skills. He was wise, and gentle, and fully embraced living in the moment. He saved Fitz’s life on multiple occasions and only enhanced the story. After building up Fitz’s Wit and bring Nighteyes into his life, I don’t understand why Robin Hobb would leave such a position unfilled. I get Nighteyes dying, logically. These books span decades, and a single wolf just cannot live through that. But why she allow Fitz to remain unpaired and his Wit to wither I just don’t know.

There are more things I could write. As I said, I love these books, and they’re so complicated and involved that I could never attempt to fully dissect them. If you’ve read them let me know your thoughts in the comments.

I Don’t Need to Write

I’ve heard a lot of writers say they need to write. They’re bursting with stories that just have to come out. They don’t know what they’d do if they weren’t writing. I don’t feel like that. Sometimes it makes me feel a bit like a fraud, but, like everything else, no writers’ journeys are identical. I enjoy writing. I want to do it. I have stories to tell. But I don’t have to.

My experiences this weekend made this very clear to me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to pursue this with everything I have. But this past weekend I drove from New Mexico to my childhood home in Indiana to spend a couple of weeks with my family. I didn’t write on the road. I may not write today. I’m still pretty tired from the trip (I spent 27 straight hours in the car with my dog). I’ve been spending most of my time talking to my parents and my sister’s kids. My family is important, and my time here with them is important.

This afternoon I was standing on the deck while my dad was scraping some paint, and that’s when it hit me. I had a stray thought that I should probably go inside and get some work done, but decided against it. That time with my dad took priority. I was enjoying being outside and talking with him.

I’m okay with not writing today. The story will still be there tomorrow, and some things are just more important. Right now, my time with family is more important. I haven’t been home in just over 7 months. I have a lot of catching up to do and memories to make. So the story can wait. A little while.

I hope I can make a career out of writing. I want it in my life. But I don’t have to do it. My drive comes from desire, not need, and I think that’s a good distinction to make.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments. I love hearing from you.

Mythological Creatures

I love mythological creatures. I have one problem with them, though. I see the same ones EVERYWHERE. I read a lot of fantasy and urban fantasy books, and some creatures seem to be staples of the genre. Dragons, elves, fairies, ogres, trolls. They’re usually done well, but it gets repetitive.

When I started my fantasy project, I decided that I wasn’t going to use the typical mythological creatures. I wanted use ones I’d never seen before. Since they were new to me, maybe they’d be new to my readers too, and pique their interest.

I spent days doing research. And while I ended up with a lot of names, I couldn’t find a lot of information about them. There just isn’t much to find about obscure creatures that don’t even exist. Much of the information I did find was conflicting, and often reflected folk legends told across hundreds of years. The good news is, I’m writing a fantasy book. I can make up whatever I want. Using these creatures as a foundation, I can pick and choose which aspects I like, and insert them into my story however I please. So far, only a couple have made appearances: A strix, an amarok, and a thunderbird. They’re all massive, and all predators, and all a bit terrifying. I’ve had a ton of fun using them, but I ran into a problem here, too.

Most mythological creatures are predators. And huge. They’re awesome, but they don’t fit into every situation. I didn’t want to fill my world with everyday animals (deer, squirrels, fish, etc), but I don’t want to try to make them all up, either. That’s when I had another idea.

I call them “animals that don’t sound real but are”. Not very catchy, but it gets the job done. Again, I was looking for animals that most people don’t hear about often, or at all, something to make my story a bit different from everyone else’s. Some of these animals are pretty cool. Some are just plain weird. Here are the ones I’ve used so far: Lamprey-a jawless, parasitic fish; Babirusa-cousin of the pig, with long curling tusks; Markhor-large species of wild goat with corkscrew horns. Again, I’ve tweaked them a bit to serve my purposes, but I’ve had a lot of fun writing them, too.

There’s nothing wrong with writing a story about dragons. Maybe someday I’ll write a story about dragons. But a lot of people use dragons, and I don’t want to be a lot of people.