NaNoWriMo is sneaking up on you. It’s lurking in the shadows, inching ever closer, hoping to suck you into its voracious maw on November first. And on that day it would be most unfortunate to be unprepared. Conceiving a story and rambling on to meet the word count will likely make for a bloody mess thirty days later.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Now is the time to prepare for NaNaWriMo. How? By putting on your thinking cap in general and using Hiveword’s suite of tools for writers in particular. The Hiveword platform is comprised of:
The Hiveword novel organizer
A set of prompts (integrated with the novel organizer) to improve your story via writing coach James Scott Bell’s Knockout Novel program
A writer-specific search engine for great articles on writing curated by Elizabeth Spann Craig
With the Hiveword background out of the way, here are some things you can do in advance to make November easier on yourself.
What’s Your Story?
Rummage through your story ideas and see what strikes you. Give some thought to a new story if you want. Once you know the story you want to go with start taking notes or maybe do some outlining (no matter how incomplete).
In the Hiveword novel organizer you can create a new story to capture all of your story ideas. There’s no limit to the number of stories you can have and you can refer to them now or years from now for inspiration. You also might consider applying writing coach James Scott Bell’s wisdom to your story through his interactive prompts with Knockout Novel. You can do the prompts separately for all of your stories to wring out issues with them and to hone them into the best stories they can be.
Create Some Characters
Brainstorming about your story will obviously cause several characters to come to mind. Bring those characters to life by jotting down some notes about their appearance, background, wants, etc. This can be as detailed (or not) as you want it to be. There are tons of character sheets on the web that you can use to flesh out your characters.
You can track all of your characters in Hiveword with its built-in character sheets. There’s even a built-in name generator to spark some ideas. The Knockout Novel part of Hiveword will really focus you on your lead and opposition characters to ensure that they really shine.
Start thinking about the scenes for your novel and capturing the essence of each in a few lines. You can do this in a Word document, spreadsheet, or even something as low tech as index cards. Regardless, your goal is to string together most of the scenes in your story so that you have an idea of how things are supposed to go. When you sit down to write there will be no time wasted while you dream up what to write next so you’ll work at maximum efficiency.
Tracking scenes is Hiveword’s bread and butter. You can make scenes, shuffle them around, and even attach characters, settings, and plotlines to each so that you know where everything goes. Powerful filtering allows you to see only the scenes that you want to focus on,such as all scenes with your lead character, for example.
You should now have a great head start on your story so that November is filled with nothing but writing. You’ll still have to think and create, of course — heck, that’s the fun part! — but you won’t be at a loss for what to write next since you’ve already taken the time to lay out your course. You’ll be super-efficient!
Hiveword is free so why not give it a try and see if it helps you make this November your best NaNoWriMo ever. The Knockout Novel prompts work within Hiveword and can be applied to as many stories as you like. Until November 1st, Knockout Novel is only $39 which is a savings of $10!
Good luck in November!
On Sunday I deployed a new version of Hiveword consisting primarily of user requests. So, keep those comments a-comin’!
Here’s what’s new:
- Scene Insertion
- Tag phrases
- Neutral characters
- MyWKB bug fixes
Clicking the New Scene button has always added a new scene to the end of your scene list. That works great if you can create your scenes in the correct, complete order from the get-go. You can’t? Shame on you. For you, the scene sorter!
However, Doug M. hit me over the head and said why not allow scene insertion? You know, the ability to add a scene directly where you want it in the list of scenes? What a crazy idea!
Now you can do just that via the Scene List or a Scene Detail page. On the Scene List page you’ll see a little plus symbol (+) next to scene names. Click on that and you’ll get a new scene before the one you clicked on. You can hover your mouse over the plus symbol for a description of what will happen.
If you happen to be on a Scene Detail page there are now two new buttons: Insert Before and Insert After. These, of course, will insert a new scene before or after the current one, respectively.
The New Scene button still appears on the Scene List and Scene Detail pages and will continue to add a new scene to the end of the list of scenes.
Before, when entering tags, typing a space would cause a new tag to appear. So, if you typed “Holy Hand Grenade” you would wind up with three tags in alphabetical order: Grenade, Hand, and Holy. Probably not what you wanted.
Turns out you could always do a phrase if you put the tag in quotes. Show of hands if you knew that. It’s right there on the invisible help page, after all.
While describing how to do a phrase tag to Kathleen H. I realized I needed to fix that to make it more intuitive. After all, programmers don’t like to write help manuals.
So, now phrases are the default. Type all you want and it will be a big phrase tag. Press Tab to start a new one.
Characters in Hiveword can be marked as Protagonist or Antagonist and further classified by importance. Garrath L. suggested a broader range of types. For now, I’ve added Neutral to indicate a character who is allied with neither of the primary forces.
In the future there may be more types when I figure out how to do it in such a way that it has broad appeal.
MyWKB Bug Fixes
If you’re not familiar with it, MyWKB is a personalized extension of the Writer’s Knowledge Base. If you have a Hiveword account you already have access to it with the same login. Two of its features are listing your searches (so that you can easily go back to them) and listing your recently viewed articles.
Both of those worked up until I upgraded a third-party framework I use for Hiveword and the WKB. (Insider secret: Hiveword and the WKB are actually one application. Shhh!) Unfortunately, the upgrade quietly broke the aforementioned lists. How rude! But with the latest update all is well again.
Hiveword and the WKB are under active development. Your ideas and inspiration help drive that. I love talking to you so don’t be shy about contacting me with ideas, questions, or things that annoy you.
Finally, thanks to Doug M., Kathleen H., and Garrath L. for the feedback that led to changes in the latest incarnation of Hiveword!
Today I’m over at Angela Ackerman’s The Bookshelf Muse blog talking about the perils of writing by the seat of your pants. Oh, and maybe what you can do about it.
Lynn Viehl posted a review of Hiveword today on her blog. Check it out at http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/2012/09/hiveword.html. Thanks, Lynn!
You know NaNoWriMo is going to be here before you know it, right? Now’s the time to get a jump start on prepping your novel before the writing process begins in November. Don’t waste writing time figuring out scenes, characters, plotlines, and all that jazz in the heat of Nano — it’ll just slow you down and maybe make you miss your goal. You don’t want that.
What you might want is a free, web-based novel organizer to help you through the planning process. That’s right, Hiveword is now free so you can use it any day, any time, any where, as much as you want for no cost. Use it for Nano or any novel you might be working on.
I hope you find it valuable in planning your novels. If you like Hiveword and the Writer’s Knowledge Base why not help out your friends by spreading the word? Both resources may help them with their novels and I’d appreciate it immensely. Thanks and good luck during November!
If you’ve used the Writer’s Knowledge Base (WKB) you know it’s a search engine that only contains articles relevant to writers. Search for “plot” and you’ll only get articles on how to plot your novel and not the myriad contexts that Google would give you. The WKB works great for that.
However, the WKB could be so much more. Something a bit more personal. So, Elizabeth and I are pleased to announce the launch of MyWKB. It’s the same good ol’ WKB but tailored to you.
What’s it do?
- List and sort articles without searching
- See which articles you’ve read
- See your search history
This is just the beginning of the planned features so expect more in the future. Numbers 2 and 3 are fairly self-explanatory but let me tell you a little more about the list/sort feature.
As you know, Elizabeth tweets a bazillion writing-related articles. Before MyWKB the only* way to get at the articles was to search and while you got the best results they might have been from a year ago. The list feature gives you a chronological view of the tweeted articles that you can sort by date and website. Want to see which articles Elizabeth tweeted yesterday? You can do it. In fact, MyWKB will show you the articles you missed since your last login.
Speaking of logins, MyWKB does require an account to provide the personalization features. Without it I can’t properly personalize your experience. Rest assured, however, that MyWKB is free. Also, if you have a Hiveword account you can already access MyWKB. Simply sign in with your Hiveword credentials.
Hmm, I wonder who’s article was the first to be added to the WKB? MyWKB knows…
I think that’s it for now. You can sign up for MyWKB here. If you have any questions, comments, or feature requests please feel free to comment below. Contrary to what you might have heard about programmers I would relish the interaction.
* By “only way” I mean on the WKB, of course. You can always get the tweets from Elizabeth‘s Twitterific post every Sunday or via her tweetstream.
I wrote about novel planning over at Mystery Writing is Murder yesterday. Learn about why a little organization can save tons of time along with some ways of going about it. Check it out here.
One of the nice things about working on the Writer’s Knowledge Base is that I see A LOT of writing articles pass by. I don’t have time to read all of them, of course, but M.E. Summer’s post “Kate Beckett’s Murder Board: Reverse Engineering Your Story” caught my eye just from the title alone. “Reverse Engineering.” Hey, that’s a technical term and I’m a technical guy (plus I probably know what she’s going to say and it’s right up my alley.) Then, there’s this “Murder Board” thing and that puppy sounds interesting!
Check out M.E.’s post and then come back. (I’ll start the Jeopardy music…)
Nice post, right?
I thought so, too. I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot due to my work on my novel writing software so I knew about the nature of the issues in the post. However, I came away with an observation and a question for myself:
- “Reverse engineering” your story is outlining after the fact
- Could Hiveword solve the presented issues?
Outlining after the fact
If you reverse engineer your story you are effectively making an outline from what you wrote pantser-style. Then, you examine the outline and look for a broad range of problems. That’s cool if you want to work backwards like that but it leads to what I’ve been calling rework.
Outlining first or after the fact ends up with the same artifact (an outline) so there’s no loss there. Doing it after the fact is naturally faster. I should say seemingly faster but I’ll get to that in a moment. Then, you study your reverse engineered outline and look for problems. M.E. mentioned some of the ones she looks for:
- Scheduling mishaps
- Dropped subplots
- Extraneous fluff
- Missed opportunities
Thing is, when you find any of these things you’re going to have to do some rework. Hopefully, the rework isn’t too extensive but you never know. That’s why I said that, sure, doing the outline itself after the fact is faster but the total time to novel completion is not. In fact, I’d argue that the time to market is faster if you outline first.
Of course, as soon as the reverse engineered outline is done it’s a high-fidelity representation of the story. That is, until you change the story as a result of corrections. It’s easy (and OK!) to deviate from an outline but nobody said you can’t update the outline as you go. It’s relatively painless (depending upon your system) and you’ll always have a high-level representation of your novel.
Seems to me that outlining first saves time and can prevent carpal tunnel. (Hmm… “Prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.” Maybe I should use that in my marketing efforts!)
Essentially, doing an outline first allows you to see the story in its entirety and make changes while they are less costly in terms of time and rework.
M.E. mentions that a “painstaking outliner” probably doesn’t have these problems and that reverse engineering an outline is a way to help pantsers. So she knows the choice that she and her fellow pantsers make. I think the concept that M.E. presents is a great boon for pantsers. But, outline first or outline afterward, it’s still outline time!
Can Hiveword track the concrete examples M.E. gave?
As mentioned above, that’s a question that came to mind while reading the post. After all, these are issues I’m trying to solve and the post listed a bunch of concrete examples (including one commenter who tracks phases of the moon!). Turns out the answer is a mixed bag.
I’ve categorized the issues that M.E. presented below along with how Hiveword might help (if possible).
Setting inconsistencies (travel, weather)
Hiveword can help here since you can easily see the characters and setting by scene. If a character is at Setting X in one scene and Setting Y in the next, you know there’s some travel involved.
Plot and dropped subplots
For plot, M.E. specifically asked “How did she know X when she doesn’t find out about Y for another three chapters?” That’s tricky for Hiveword to know and really depends on the nature of X. Judicious use of tags might help. (I explain tags below.)
The dropped subplot part is handled by Hiveword. In the screenshots you’ll see a rudimentary example of the plotline visualizer tool. You can easily see how subplots weave in and out and when they end.
Hmm, this is a tough one. Hiveword lets you describe a character in great detail. You can also assign those characters to each scene. But M.E.’s example question was “Would she be talking to him again so soon after he did Z?” which Hiveword really can’t answer since it’s a judgment call.
Realism, scheduling mishaps, extraneous fluff, missed opportunities
I’ve grouped these together because Hiveword is of no help here. These issues simply require a human brain.
Moon phases, time between scenes, and events at points in time
I’ve grouped these together because Hiveword addresses all of them with tags. Tags are simply arbitrary words or phrases that you can attach to scenes, characters, settings, or plotlines. Tags are powerful because they are Hiveword’s extension point that allows writers to track whatever they need to.
A tag could be a date, a phase of the moon, a critical happening/event, a marking of the first plot point, etc. Since you can have multiple tags all of these could exist at the same time.
So, Hiveword fared reasonably well in its ability to track the provided items. Some things, though, simply require a brain. Sorry about that!
Check out the Hiveword screenshots for an idea of what can be tracked. Though you won’t see much use of tags there I think that the loose, custom tracking they provide can tremendously help writers.
- Outline before writing or after — you’re writing an outline either way
- Outlines can be a high-fidelity living thing, kept current as you write the prose
- Outlining first saves time and rework
- Hiveword can help!
By the way, if you want to call Hiveword a “Murder Board” I’m cool with that.
How about you? Do you reverse engineer outlines from an existing work?
Image by kowitz
In my last post I talked about how to generate character names so that you don’t have to spend time and brain power coming up with them yourself. This time I’m going to talk about how to generate settings. Well, geographic places, at least.
Perhaps your story hops around the world to exotic locales. Or maybe you just want to spice up some characters by giving them interesting hometowns. In either case you need to come up with some places and, if you’re like me, you’ll come up with Paris. Or maybe London. Closer to home it’s likely to be places you already know, too.
In either case you can probably do better.
I suppose if you have an atlas or map you could do the blind finger pointing trick to randomly select a place but this seems more like a job for a computer…
Unlike character name generation I couldn’t really find any online resources that allow you to generate random places. (If you know of any please let me know in the comments.) However, one of the nice things about being a programmer is that I can create such a tool if I want to. Turns out I wanted to so Hiveword now has over 100,000 places from around the world to help make your story different. After all, everybody else uses Paris, right?
How about an example? While you could choose any country in the world (or all countries at once if you favor serendipity) I’ll choose my home state of Maryland in the United States. Here’s a screenshot (click it for a bigger image):
With each click of the Generate button you get 20 new random places. Notice that you’re one click away from seeing that place on Google Maps and Wikipedia. With Google Maps you can instantly see the nature of the place (wooded, coastal, etc.) plus you can dig down into street view to get a feel for it.
With the Wikipedia link you can get a lot of details and a sense of the place especially when there are pictures. I noticed that the pictures are sometimes captivating which is great for when you need to describe the location.
When you see a place you like you can click the “Add Setting” button and Hiveword will automatically build a new setting for you pre-filled with the location information. The Google Maps and Wikipedia links will be there, too.
Finally, there was one unexpected use of the generator — generating exotic names. “Exotic” is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but as an American I find the eastern European and Middle Eastern countries to have unusual-sounding or visually interesting city names. Why do I mention this? Because they are great for sparking your imagination for character or place names in fantasy or science fiction stories. While you may not use the names as-is I’m confident that they’ll spawn some great ideas.
Do you have any tricks for not using the same cliched places?
Photo by pvsbond
Ever struggle to come up with character names?
Sometimes they just pop into your head wrapped in a bow. That’s pretty rare, though, at least for me. Other times I’ll see something and be inspired with a character name. (And sometimes I’ll even remember to jot it down!) More often than not, though, it’s painful to come up with character names, especially on demand.
Fortunately, technology can come to our aid.
If you’re old-school you probably already have a megadump of your local phone company’s database right there in your kitchen. On printed paper, no less! Just pop open that phone book and randomly point to somewhere on a page. Boom, instant character name. Unfortunately, the “character” might be Aunt Bess on the other side of town…
If, on the other hand, you favor the interwebs you can search The Google for name generators. The ones I’ve tried are hit or miss but you might find something you like.
Hiveword also has a character name generator. You can get twenty first and last name combos (male or female) at the click of a button. See a name you like? Just click a button and a character sheet will be started for you already filled in with the name.
The character name generator is just one of the new things that has the Hive buzzing.* If you like character name generation just wait until I tell you about the other generator in Hiveword. I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post but if you’re curious you can poke around Hiveword to see the new stuff.
Hiveword is novel writing software on the web. It doesn’t hurt to create an account, I promise!
How about you? How do you come up with character names?
* I’d say I’m sorry about the pun but I’d be lying.