T.N. Tobias

The End

I’ve not been posting. And it’s not because I don’t have anything to say but more that I’ve been feeling more and more that this isn’t the place to say it.

I started this site as a way to open new doors in my life. I started with enthusiasm and naive gusto and kept that energy going for the better part of a year before I a) became overwhelmed in the meatspace and b) found that it was a chore to think of things that served the continuity here. I am still struggling with this and rather than let this space become disjointed and uneven, I’m electing to stop and re-evaluate.

I’m going to start over. Not now but soon. And when I do what’s here won’t be any longer.  I’m starting with a redesign and when I’m through I hope to relaunch with renewed vigor.

Until then, this is not so much a good-bye, just a so long for now.

Ready, Set, Write: Doing NaNoWriMo with Storybox

NaNoWriMo LogoIt’s November 1st and right now hundreds of thousands are stretching out their keyboard fingers in preparation for their daily 1667. And the variety of ways these words will be captured are as numerous as the participants. Some stick to good old pen and paper, others to antique typewriters with their aesthetically pleasing clicks and whirrs, others are using sophisticated novel writing software like Liquid Story Binder or Scrivener.

Last year I used LSB and found several quirks that hampered my particular writing style. The sheer number of clicks necessary to get simple project information and uncover my documents became wearing and I never invested the time to setup work spaces to manage screen real estate. The end result was frustration and a lack of spontaneity. I’m not going to go so far as to blame the software for bad storytelling but it definitely didn’t help.

This year I’m pleased to have found a little known package that combines some of the free flowing structure of LSB with the simplicity of Scrivener (whose Windows version still hasn’t hit 1.0) with the editing ease of a full blown word processor. That software is Storybox.

Storybox has a couple of great features going for it that I haven’t seen with other writing packages. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the complete lack of a save button. This is because the software is constantly saving your work in the background which means even a devastating computer crash can’t rob you of your word count.

[caption id=”attachment_3076” align=”alignleft” width=”150” caption=”The main Storybox Screen”][/caption]

I especially appreciate how Storybox pushes all content to the center. That means notes, outlines, research material, and story contents all get pushed to center screen in a tabbed section that makes it easy to move back and forth without having to dig through menus and back again. Each of the sidebar panels are configurable so you can turn them off or allow them to tile themselves as push buttons on the side of the screen for easy access.

The fullscreen mode shines as well. The zooming feature allows you to keep the text big and bright and the configurable information bar can show you your session time, document word count, daily word count, or, depending on your preference, nothing at all.

[caption id=”attachment_3078” align=”alignright” width=”150” caption=”Outline Builder”][/caption]

The included outline builder is a godsend for spontaneous writers. It allows you to store ideas for a manuscript and then insert them as they become applicable. For example, if you know at some point you want your character to perform some action but you don’t know exactly when or where it might happen, you can create an entry in the outline builder. That entry will stay with your project as you write and when you come up with the perfect moment for the event to occur, a click in the outline builder will insert a chapter or scene with you’re builder text as the synopsis. The builder entry is then marked as used. This is a great compromise between the so-called outliner and “pantser” methods of plotting.

Each document, be it scene or chapter, has an individual notes panel which I’ve found handy for recording thoughts about revision, links to research material I used for the scene, and other sundry items. It’s often the case that the ideas I have for a scene and the time I have to write the scene are not in harmony. In that situation there is also a handy To Do panel for each document, allowing me to jot down what additional goals I have to complete the scene before they escape my memory for the next session.

Storybox’s spell check mode is nicely inconspicuous, only appearing when summoned and contains a project level dictionary which is a nice touch when you have weird names but don’t want to add them to the global dictionary.

One of the nifty things about Liquid Story Binder was that it’s interface was fully configurable and, if you put the time into it, you could create a very visually appealing environment. The problem was it was just as easy to create a monstrosity that could rival the garishness of a MySpace profile. The options weren’t always obvious in their results and you’d often find yourself looking at black text on a black background and asking yourself what went wrong. Storybox solves this by having a number of preset color schemes, one of which is sure to meet your needs.

To top it all off, Storybox includes a number of useful export formats including epub and has options for preparing your manuscript for Kindle formatting.

As with any software, Storybox isn’t flawless. I’ve had occasional issues with right click menus being unresponsive. The auto indent has failed on several occasions which, while not necessarily a huge problem, offends my sense of order while writing, creating an unwanted distraction. Storybox is a bit slow to load though the time saved by not having to worry about saving my progress probably balances this out. The outline view is very basic and doesn’t allow for customization so neat frills like color coding for perspective or a quick review of chapter word counts are not possible without opening each document. There’s also a lack of revision tools such as text mark-up or inline notes but there is a great versioning system that allows you to see how the text has changed over time or restore an earlier version of the document.

Even these minor qualms are not enough to tarnish the full package however and the designer of the software, Mark Fassett, is open to suggestions regarding features in future versions and takes a direct hand in support issues. If you haven’t already found you’re writing tool of choice for this years NaNoWriMo or are struggling with organizing a myriad of Word documents, I’d highly recommend you take a look at Storybox. You can run it for free throughout November by downloading at www.storyboxsoftware.com.

NaNoWriMo Comes Again

November approaches and with it comes another iteration of NaNoWriMo, that 30 day sprint that acts as a kick in the pants to the procrastinators among us (ahem, me). The NaNo team has launched the new portal and sign-ups for the 2011 event are now live.

I’ll be participating this year once again but I don’t think I’ll be adding anything to my NaNoWriMo Prep series. Instead here are a few curated links to inspire you:

Success Stories

Help & Encouragement

Extras

Free For all Friday for October 7th, 2011

Videos

Going West
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBec95Mv8G8[/youtube]

From the creators of Adventure Time, Pikapew Poop Chu
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJjeesteTEg[/youtube]

Books & Writing

Neil Stephenson talks about SF and innovation. @ World Policy

Steve Jobs and the trouble with investing in junk. @ Kameron Hurley

Version your writing with Git. @ Fuel Your Writing

Kindle formatting tips. @ The Creative Penn

Keeping an idea notebook. @ QueryTracker

Eugenides on a billboard? @ Wall Street Journal

Blueprints for Building Better Girls. @ Jacket Copy

Around the Web

 MIT offers 2000 free courses.

 Over 600 LucasArts game backgrounds.

How Do You Come Up with Character Names? An Exhaustive List

Among the most frequently asked questions by new writers everywhere is: How do you come up with character names? The answer is, by any means necessary. Here is an exhaustive list of means:

Meatspace Resources

  • A phonebook
  • A baby name book
  • Cemetery headstones
  • Newspaper articles/classifieds/announcements
  • Imagination

Online Resources

Generators

Free For all Friday for September 30th, 2011

Videos

Two floppy drives perform the Imperial March
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHJOz_y9rZE[/youtube]

Guy on a Buffalo - Episode 2
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5Lmkm5EF5E[/youtube]

Books & Writing

Literary references from The Simpsons. @ The Atlantic

How to write 300,000 words a year. @ Art of Non-Conformity

Late bloomers. Post-40 writers. @ The Millions

Amazon introduces the Kindle Fire. @ Gizmodo

5 tips for creating a children’s book. @ The Creative Penn

Killing self-doubt. @ Terrible Minds

Male librarians release naughty calendar. @ The Guardian

Around the Web

 Shackleton’s biscuit sells for $1700.

 Twitter tracks global mood patterns.

Free For all Friday for September 23rd, 2011

Videos

Dear Americans…
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om7O0MFkmpw[/youtube]

DIY Book Binding
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBSUHbyf7Ss[/youtube]

Books & Writing

Being smart about your writing. @ Jay Lake

Children’s authors who broke the rules. @ NY Times

The fine print at PUBSLUSH. @ Writer Beware Blogs!

The life and afterlife of literary theory. @ The Millions

Write yourself into your characters. @ Fuel Your Writing

The myth of the $.99 ebook. @ Baekdal

The effect of writing the future. @ SF Signal

Around the Web.

 Today is the fall equinox.

The Origami Bookshelf

I’m an origami nut. I’m also a book nut. And while books about origami are common, origami about books is rare. So imagine my surprise and delight when I came across this blog post detailing a way to fold a book in such a way as to have a colored cover and white pages. I got to thinking about whether it would be possible to map an image of a book cover onto a pre-printed template and fold an actual book. Turns out it is and here are the results:

[nggallery id=2]

All of this is thanks to David Brill, designer of the model in question. The official diagrams are available in his book Brilliant Origami.

Now, on to how you can make your own origami books. The video’s below will give you a step-by-step tutorial on the folding process for both the book and the bookshelf pictured. I find it’s best in the beginning to watch each step carefully, pause the video, and then do the fold.

Book:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wfcGu3vWGo[/youtube]

Bookshelf:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhVV-IfB80k[/youtube]

And now the templates. A few notes on folding them:

  • Copy paper is tough stuff to fold. Find a lightweight, glossy paper for best results. Be sure to gather all the layers when folding so you don’t end up with uneven results.
  • Try not to crease the folds through the covers too sharply. Even though the video shows pressing with a creasing tool, doing so may make your toner or ink flake off or at the very least leave an ugly bulge through your cover. It’s not necessary to crease to firmly on that end of the paper as the folds are undone in the finished model anyway. (In fact, it’s not necessary to crease the cover at all. When you’re good and practiced, try making a sharp mountain fold along the bottom edge of the printed cover. In that way it is possible to shape the paper so that you’re beautiful cover doesn’t get creased before it has to.)
  • It’s unlikely that you’ll have great results on the first try. Origami is a skill that gets better with practice.
  • I’ve made guidelines in the places where the video shows ambiguous folds (ie “leave a little gap” or “fold about 1/3 of the way to the center”). For the end, instead of arbitrarily folding above and below the pages, obviously you’ll want to fold along the top and bottom of the cover.
  • You’ll notice I’ve included a blank template for creating your own covers. Have fun!

[nggallery id=1]

Free For all Friday for September 16th, 2011

Videos

"Reality hits you hard, bro." Kinetic story-telling.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHZH_8Ly-u8[/youtube]

Star Wars Blu-Ray, now with more Porkins.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32itsA81Ouw[/youtube]

Books & Writing

New Goodreads recommendation system. @ Readwriteweb

Asperations. @ Tobias Buckell

Bourdain launches book imprint. @ NY Times

15 things Kurt Vonnegut said best. @ AV Club

The Situation comic nears completion. @ Ecstatic Days

Literary Mixtape: Lyra Belacqua. @ Flavorwire

9 ways of looking at a paragraph. @ The Millions

Around the Web

 Pictures of other worlds.

 Uncovering ancient reptiles.