I'm notoriously bad about dates, so I did not mind paying $19.95 for this computer app from the Apple Store. Here's the full description of what it does:
And here's how I used it. I started by filling in the important dates during and leading up to the Civil War. Then I added my characters actions, so that their dates made sense of what was going on in the world around them. Here's just one section of the resulting chart:
You can vary all sorts of things, like the colors. Dates adjust to the number of events you enter. When I started this particular timeline, the year hatches were only about a quarter of an inch apart. You can also print out the events on a spreadsheet that transfers seamlessly to Excel. This gave me a chart of exactly the details I needed to keep tract of.
As the list above points out, you can add pictures, videos, maps, etc. to any event, but I haven't needed to do that.
I am currently beta-testing a new piece of software from Literature and Latte, the same folks who gave us Scrivener. It doesn't have a formal icon yet (the one shown here is temporary), and you can't buy it, but it should be available by the end of February. This post is meant to whet your appetite.
What is Scapple? Here's how the developer explains it:
is the software equivalent of how I work out my rough ideas on paper.
(If I didn't hate the word "brainstorming" so much, I'd probably call it
brainstorming software.) When I'm in the early stages of any project,
whether that's a writing project or a software project, I tend to throw a
bunch of ideas down on a big piece of paper, spacing out as-yet
unrelated ideas, clustering related notes, and drawing connections
between them, trying to work out how everything fits together.
In short, then, Scapple is a tool for getting early ideas down as
quickly as possible and making connections between them. The main
advantage of doing this in Scapple instead of on paper is that you don't
run out of paper (the Scapple canvas expands to fit as many notes as
you want to create), you can move notes around to make room for new
ideas and connections, it's easy to delete and edit notes, and it's easy
to export your notes into other applications when you know what you
want to do with them.
Scapple isn't mind-mapping software - rather, it's more like a freeform text editor,
allowing you to make notes anywhere on the page. It doesn't force you to
make any connections, and it doesn't expect you to start out with one
central idea and branch everything else off that. There's no hierarchy -
every note is equal, so you can connect notes in circles or even
connect every note to every other note if you so wish. Individual notes
can be a short or as long as you like. Creating and removing connections
between them is as easy as dragging one note onto another.
importantly, because its purpose is to allow you to get ideas down and
make connections between them quickly, Scapple is dead simple to use.
I've used it to create an imaginary family tree for my new fictional family. It came out looking like this:
Then I tried mapping out a preliminary plot outline. Here's a section of it:
As you can see, you can change the color of your notes, or put the text in different colors. You can connect events with arrows or straight lines.
What I really like about this program is the ability to save the drawings in a variety of formats, including PDF, and then transfer them into Scrivener. I expect that functionality to improve even more in the final version. I've always liked the idea of jotting down notions and then tying them together. Here's an easy way to do hat, and I plan to make further use of it. For example, I have several little scenes for this book running around in my brain. I'll add them to the sides of this plot outline and then see where I can best connect them. I'm looking forward to it!
OK, it's January 7th -- time to get over the holiday excuses and get back to work. Actually, I've done quite a bit of work over the past three weeks, provided it's fair to call thinking a form of work. I've been mentally planning the next book, collecting scraps of information that I hope will fit somewhere, and trying out some new software designed to help writers.
Why haven't I just started to write? Well, I'm in the process of making the shift from pantser to plotter. Remember those terms? In case you don't, a "pantser" just applies seat of pants to computer chair and starts writing, in the hope that a story will develop and take her places she didn't know she wanted to go. A plotter studies story structure and maps out the characters, the problems, the challenges, the antagonistic forces, the crises and the resolutions, and then fits the story to the outline.
My previous books have been based on the real-life stories of people, so it has been fairly easy to be a pantser. After all, when you're writing about someone who actually lived, you already know the problems, the crises, and the solutions. You even have the order of events, so you can start at the beginning and tell the story that you already know.
You can also rely on life itself to have done some of the work for you. After all, most people live to suffer the consequences (good or bad) of their actions. Everyone who lives grows old, or at least older, with all the accrued benefits that experience brings. Individual circumstances make your story a tragedy or a comedy. The events of your story have some logic to them, even if they seem cruel or fantastic. In other words, the writer of biographical fiction does not have to have a high degree of creativity. In fact, being too creative will spoil the story. I've had it easy.
This time, I'm trying my hand at real fiction -- that is, my new story is still set in the real world of South Carolina during the Civil War. But in the new book, the characters are all fictional, except for a few historical figures like generals or Lincoln. Oh, some of them have been inspired by real people I've read about, but each one's appearance, personality, challenges, and final outcome must come from my own imagination. They must seem like real people, their fates must be logical, they must grow and develop -- but there's nothing to tell me what "really" happened. I'm finding that both challenging and a bit frightening.
Never fear, however! The magical world of electronic devices is full of tricks to make this whole creativity thing easier. I've been drawing mind maps, creating timelines, photo shopping and shopping for photos, filling out character sketches, and plotting map movements. In the coming few days, I'll fill you in on which software programs I have found most useful. Among them: Scrivener, Evernote, Dropbox ( my old standard programs), with the addition of Easy Timeline and Scapple. Stay tuned.
I have an extremely busy week coming up. Plans include a
Lions meeting and then a trip to Ohio,
where I’ll be attending the Military Writers Society of America annual
conference. No vacation, that! I’m
scheduled to participate in two discussion panels, one on using primary sources
for historical research and another on marketing. Those two don’t require a
great deal of preparation, since they’ll be based on an open format and there are
several other participants in each one.
We’ll just let the discussions lead us.
The other two sessions, however, require advance
preparation. (I feel like I’m prepping class lectures again. ) The first
involves a demonstration of how to use Scrivener, a software program for
writers. At first I thought it would be easy.
I’d just put one of my old book manuscripts up on the screen and point
out how I used the program. But no such luck! First, Scrivener put out a new
edition, which meant I had to relearn some of the commands. And now my old manuscript didn’t demonstrate
the very best features of the new program.
What to do? My solution was to take the time to set up a
program for my next novel. Again, not as easy as it sounds! I could have just
faked it, I suppose, but I figured that as long as I was doing it, I might as
well end up with something I could really use in the future. So I’m chin-deep
in my genealogy files and distracted by old family pictures that reveal
qualities I didn’t know my characters had.
For example, I never realized that one cousin was an alcoholic until I
started noticing that in every family get-together, she was passed out in a
corner. She could have had narcolepsy, I suppose, but from the other evidence
of glasses and bottles, I don’t think so. Interesting stuff, but a distraction
from the original purpose.