The scriving continues

ScrivenerOkay, I changed my mind.

You may recall last week I talked about how I was going to use Scrivener to work on my next project. My next project. I was going to finish up my current project in the standard way I usually do such things and then do the following book using Scrivener. Well, forget all that.

Shortly after I wrote that entry, I sat down and played with Scrivener for a while. I also read a book on the subject, called Writing a Novel with Scrivener by bestselling author David Hewson (I may have mentioned this before), which prompted me to really dig into the tutorial and see what the thing could do beyond the limited uses to which I put it prior to this point.

I may cover some of the same ground in this entry as I did last week, so my apologies if that’s the case. Not everyone reads every day and those who find the blog through various internet searches mostly read these entries out of order and with no overarching context. So if I repeat myself, please forgive me.

Anyway, this is what I learned after putting my shoulder to the wheel and pushing: Scrivener is a truly unforgiving piece of software. If you’re not prepared to put some serious effort into learning what does what and how it works, you are going to be lost before you even get started. Scrivener is an extremely deep pool with dark eddies ready to pull you under at any moment. I’ve done the tutorial from start to finish and I’ve read Hewson’s book and even now I feel like I’m on precarious footing.

Rather than do a project from outline to completion in Scrivener, which was my original intention, I decided to plug my current manuscript into the beast and see what happened. Because Gavel (that’s the book) was in a huge block of text, like every word-processed novel is, I had to go through and use Scrivener to break the book down into its component parts. That was fairly simple, as many tasks are in the software, but I will admit that the hardest part of the entire thing was using different naming conventions for my chapters.

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Deep hurting!

MST3K — Deep HurtingIf you’ve read any amount of my Camaro material — and if you have, thank you for your patronage — you’ll notice something about my treatment of the heroine. No, it’s not how she always gets mired in crap and has to kill her way to a solution, though that is a common theme. Rather it’s that we get very, very little from her in terms of “deep POV.” This is by design.

I am not the biggest fan of deep POV, which is sometimes defined as writing that digs into the inner workings of a character’s mind so we can see what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling and all that good stuff. It makes for great filler, as a writer can show a character ruminating for pages and pages without actually doing anything, plus it can double as exposition as the character explains through interior monologue how a reader should interpret the events of the book. Lots of people really enjoy deep POV, and this includes many, many, many successful and respected writers. It’s far more unusual to read a story without deep POV than it is to read one that has it.

Why do I dislike deep POV? I think it’s because of one of the reasons explicated above: it’s largely useless. Authors employ deep POV as a way to avoid actually writing about things happening. I’ll use the example of Henning Mankell’s Wallander series. Multiple times during each book, Wallander literally sits down and thinks about everything that’s happened. Sometimes he makes notes to himself, but other times he’s simply thinking. I think Mankell is a great writer, but it’s a cheap tactic for making sure the slow-on-the-uptake reader knows what’s going on and for killing time. Since I’m not (generally) slow on the uptake, I’m far more interested in moving forward with the story than I am in recapping everything that’s happened up to that point. And my patience is tried even more when this trick gets pulled more than once in the same book. I recently took Running Blind to task for just this issue.

Point of view in general is really important to me. I am a stickler for maintaining restricted POV in most scenes — an omniscient narrator can be useful at times, I’ll admit — and I consequently I have precisely zero tolerance for head-hopping. When I write, I write with a tight focus on a single character. If I need a new character’s input, I do a chapter break and discuss things from that character’s POV. No mixing. But most importantly of all, I rarely do more than just dip below the surface of any character I write about.

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[REVIEW] Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the GalaxyGo see this movie.

Go see this movie.

Go see this movie.

Did you hear me? Go see this movie!

There was once a time when Marvel Comics were consigned to some real trash-heap movies. Occasionally you’d get a really good one, like X2, but that was very occasionally. Not that the DC Comics heroes were doing a whole lot better, outside of Batman, but I think you get my drift. I didn’t hold out much hope that we’d ever see a truly cool Marvel movie. And then Iron Man came along and changed everything.

Iron Man was the more-or-less official inception of what has become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU). It was followed up with a whole variety of pictures, all interlocked in the same way the comics themselves are interlocked. Almost without exception, these movies were… good. Sure, occasionally you’d get a clinker — Iron Man 2, I’m looking at you — but for the most part these were well-written, well-acted and well-directed adaptations of the source material. All the major heroes to which Marvel retained the movie rights, which meant the exclusion of some really essential heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men, are represented, and this also includes a surprising number of second-tier characters, as well. Very cool.

Anyhow, Marvel is on a serious roll, so it was surprising when they decided to take what appeared to take an enormous, $170 million gamble on a comic most people have never heard of, featuring a bunch of characters unknown to just about everyone but hardcore comic geeks. That gamble: Guardians of the Galaxy, the first Marvel film to tackle what comic fans call the “cosmic” side of the Marvel Universe.

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ScrivenerI am a creature of habit. Since I started counting in 2006, I’ve written 21 novels, seven of which have been or will be published. I have written them all the same way, using the same software and have seen no reason to change.

When I begin work on a novel, I do all my notes either on a piece of paper or in a new plaintext document in TextEdit. It’s in TextEdit that I jot down all my initial ideas for characters, plot points and such, and then create the outline “rough,” as I call it, from which the meatier detail outline will be made. At this point I switch over to Bean, which is an excellent piece of word-processing software for the Mac. I love Bean because it doesn’t waste my time with a whole lot of bells and whistles for which I have no use. It gives me precisely what I need to write and nothing else. I detest Word for exactly the opposite reasons, as it’s a bloated mess of a program that deserves to be taken out behind the woodshed and shot.

In Bean I scribe a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline that generally runs somewhere between five thousand and ten thousand words. Once that’s done, I open up a second Bean file and begin writing. This is my method. It has served me well.

For a number of years now, though, I’ve been hearing about this program called Scrivener. I’ve been told it’s the greatest development in writing since the cuneiform tablet and I absolutely must use it lest I lose my soul. So I got it and I tinkered with it and I immediately got lost in its bewildering collection of features, all of which were anathema to my minimalist aesthetic. I did, however, learn how to format ebooks with Scrivener, and that’s proven to be extremely useful in creating the various Camaro novellas and such. When it comes to that, Scrivener is excellent. But I never warmed to Scrivener as a general writing tool.

Cut to today. I’m finishing off a project I’m currently calling Gavel, and then I’m going to move on to another book entitled Giri. It is my intention to write Giri using Scrivener.

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[REVIEW] Samurai Women: 1184-1877

Samurai Women: 1184-1977I recently wrote about Osprey Publishing, a British press that’s been doing military history books since 1969. While the books themselves are not what anyone would call exhaustive, generally clocking in at fewer than 100 pages, they remain go-to reference volumes for re-enactors, model-makers and pretty much anyone else who likes glossy, full-color illustrations of the uniforms and weapons of war. The text that goes along with these great illustrations would almost seem to be throwaway, but Osprey has always surprised by providing excellent entry-level material on whatever topic they happen to discuss in each volume.

Osprey also gets credit for tackling subjects most would find entirely too obscure for the average history buff. The one I always like to bring up is a book Osprey did on the ANZACs in the Vietnam War. Are there people who study exactly these men and their military operations? Of course. Are there a whole lot of them? No. But anyone with an itch to learn the basics of Australia and New Zealand’s involvement in Vietnam can pick up a copy of Vietnam ANZACS: Australian & New Zealand Troops in Vietnam, 1962-1972 and get, if not the whole story, then at least as much of the story as the general public would want to know.

I appreciate also that Osprey has not limited itself to modern warfare. If you were to browse their catalog you would find that the overwhelming majority of their output is modern in focus, but they’ve also taken time to write about such historical topics as ninja and, now, samurai women from the 12th through the 19th centuries.

Appropriately called Samurai Women: 1184-1877, this entry in Osprey Publishing’s Warriors series aims to get to the bottom of the pop-culture figure of the woman warrior in feudal Japan. Common in comic books, TV shows and movies, the archetype actually goes all the way back to the contemporaneous period, with legendary woman of war giving life and limb in the defense of their family and people. But exactly how accurate is this image? Osprey gave noted Japan scholar Stephen Turnbull exactly 63 pages to figure this out.

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