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Month: September 2014

Stunned by sorrow

Posted in Other Voices


The Woodspurge: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1856)

The wind flapp'd loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walk'd on at the wind's will,—
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,—
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flower'd, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,—
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

Creating a book series “bible” using Scrivener, Scapple, and Aeon Timeline

Posted in Just for Writers


Puzzled writer
Puzzled writer – where did I first mention his broccoli phobia?

[UPDATED 9/19/2014 to reflect comments & suggestions from Scrivener support.]

A recent discussion on a Scrivener Facebook group put me together with another systems engineer type (Ronnie Darby), and the two of us had a long Q&A about the process mechanics of creating a book series bible based on Scrivener but utilizing the strengths of Scapple as well as Aeon Timeline. Ronnie was already doing this, and I bounced off his concepts to create a process for my own work.

A series “bible”, for those not familiar with the term, is a reference document that contains everything about a series (book or TV) except for the actual text/content. Think of it as meta-content.

For readers who don't know all of these tools, here's a very quick summary.

  • Scrivener is considered by many to be the premiere tool for writers. It provides a platform for not just book content, but also for research materials, character templates, and a whole lot more.
  • Scapple is a freeform note-creation tool, by the same folks who created Scrivener. People use it to create, for example, maps of character relationships.
  • Aeon Timeline is a product that allows you to lay out events, subplot arcs, characters, etc., along a timeline grid. It's used for various scheduling activities but also for organizing the timeline of  narrative works.

Each of these products is reasonably priced, with an extensive uncrippled free trial period. They run on both Mac and Windows.

For the purposes of this post, I will assume you have some familiarity with Scrivener.  There are other products that do much of what Scapple does, and there are other timeline products, but these are the best I've found for supporting narrative writing.  The principles and structure I lay out here are suitable for other tools used in conjunction with Scrivener.

I am running on Windows, and my discussions of file structures will therefore be a bit different than for Mac users.

Basic Assumptions

The primary goal is to facilitate finding what was said or described in other books in the series, combined with the ability to brainstorm as part of the creative process, in order to achieve consistency among the books in the series and to save time researching past work.  To that end, it is useful to separate the written words of the books produced (content) from the supporting material (meta-content).

The process described below assumes you will:

  1. Use a Scrivener Project for each Book in the Series that contains only the book content, e.g., Scenes and Chapters.
  2. Use a Scrivener Project Bible for the Series that contains everything else, for the entire series (Character templates, Research, etc.)
  3. Use Scapple to create & maintain networked Character (and other entity) relationships.
  4. Use Scapple to brainstorm character relationships and important events.
  5. Use Aeon Timeline to keep track of important events.

Learning from the Mistakes of Others – 3

Posted in Irritated Reviews, and Just for Writers

Another Irritated Review™, but this time I'll identify the author and work since the author is no longer alive: Robert B. Parker, the Jesse Stone books. Or, as I've come to call it, the Frozen Series.

One of the great benefits of the resurrection of the backlist into permanent life in the last few years is the ability to buy an entire series and read it, in one big gulp, as if you were binging on a Netflix series season. Unfortunately, when an author adds one book per year to a lengthy series, you see many things over the course of the few days it takes to read them that the author did not, and not every author bears this sort of scrutiny. I was worried when I reread the Travis McGee books, in the John D. MacDonald series, but those held up well. Robert Parker's Jesse Stone on the other hand…

Parker's main books were the Spenser series and I enjoyed them for many years, until they began to seem mannered, repetitive, and tedious. I had never tried the Jesse Stone series, his “B” hero, until the movie specials of eight of them were broadcast by CBS, with Tom Selleck in the lead role. The movies, which I thought were well done, got me interested in the books, and I have just finished a two-week read of all of them.

  1. Night Passage (1997) – Berkley (Penguin)
  2. Trouble in Paradise (1998) – Berkley (Penguin)
  3. Death in Paradise (2001) – Berkley (Penguin)
  4. Stone Cold (2003) – Berkley (Penguin)
  5. Sea Change (2005) – G P Putnam Penguin
  6. High Profile (2007) – G P Putnam (Penguin)
  7. Stranger in Paradise (2008) – G P Putnam (Penguin)
  8. Night and Day (2009) – G P Putnam (Penguin)
  9. Split Image (2010) – G P Putnam (Penguin)

Parker completed nine books in the series before his death in 2010, and they are still being continued by other authors.  (I'll just cover Parker's books in this review, not the continuations.) They represent his latest work.

Where was the editor?


The Jesse Stone books were apparently Parker's first foray into 3rd person point-of-view, and there are many technical errors related to dialogue and POV that any editor should have caught, especially these mainstream publishers.

In particular, there's occasional head-hopping from paragraph to paragraph and, disconcertingly, dialogue from multiple speakers in the same paragraph.  These are elementary, easily corrected mishaps, but they made it all the way to print.

I also take exception to the concept of one scene per chapter, when the scenes are typically 3 pages long.  A Jesse Stone book with 200 pages will have 60-70 chapters.

The world of Jesse Stone

Not even these guys all talk the same
Not even these guys all talk the same

There's no question that Parker can write, and write well.  Part of the charm of this series (and of the Spenser books, too) is the clever dialogue. Jesse Stone is laconic, witty, and absolutely unmistakable when you hear him. The problem is, so is everyone else he talks to, as though they were just projections of his personality.

At least half the characters around him speak exactly the same way he does. While a certain amount of that might be influence from our hero, we're way beyond that effect: half the people in his department (he's chief of police in a small town), his colleagues, his shrink, several of his girlfriends, and even a few of the villains all indulge in volleys of two or three word phrases with him.  It's all witty enough that the reader is amused, until he stops to think about it.

We live in Jesse Stone's world while we read the series, and adapt to the artifice of the dialogue tic. It's a mannerism peculiar to Parker — the Spenser books are exactly the same, with the banter between Spenser and Hawk or Spenser and Sue Silverman.  It reminds me of the stage dialogue of a couple of centuries ago for comic sidekicks.