Thursday, March 07, 2013

Technically Speaking - Ridley

I'm not really naked. I want to go on record. I am fully clothed, and sitting at my desk, wondering what it is I should write about. One of the reasons I gave up blogging on my own, and later with Naked Authors, is one has to have something to say. I can't believe my personal life is of any interest to anyone, and my professional life amounts to spending 10 hours a day behind the machine in a room by myself – not terribly interesting!

Then I hit upon it! I actually do have something to offer--or at least I've fooled myself into believing I do...

I am going to dedicate my contributions to the Thursday slot in the category of: Technically Speaking. I am passionate about technology and how it relates to the process of writing. Mind you, I'm perfectly okay with a person using a pencil and a LegalPad. But once you sit down behind a keyboard, that's where things change – and I have had a great deal of experience there. Maybe, just maybe, I can contribute to your sense of understanding these technologies, and how to maneuver your way between them.

Let's start with outlining – some do, some don't; that's up to you. But in my office, on any given day, are several dozen cards or notes detailing locations, character traits and action in my current novels. Over the course of my various drafts, those cards and notes shift position, are edited, and are rearranged until they reflect the actual draft. They are not, however, terribly mobile.

So to start, today I want to introduce you to StoryMill by Mariner software. I was part of the beta testing team on this product prior to its acquisition my Mariner. It has been modified, debugged, and expanded over the years. Two things come to my mind immediately: one is how ridiculously cheap this software is; the second is how phenomenally powerful.

StoryMill does what I'd been wanting (and waiting for!) for years: it combines database management with word processing. Like Scrivener, it runs chapters and scenes down a left column while presenting a window for word processing dead center. Because of the ease of scene arrangement, this left panel ends up a digital outline that can be rearranged, combined and deleted at will. Each scene's edit area includes a lower pane for characters in the scene, a time line, plot or character notes!, and what chapter it is associated with. The powerful database allows all kinds of association between scenes, chapters, characters, etc. but the beauty is, you don't need to use any of that if you don't care to. At its bare basics, StoryMill offers the writer a chance for easy organization of scenes/chapters and a place to write. You can tag your drafts, as well as save snapshots of drafts (so you can always get back to where you were before edits.) Best of all -- and you will know what I mean here, I think! -- the program gives you instant access to all of your chapters without having to open and close any other documents. Just click on a scene or chapter in the left frame and it opens where you left off. This is the greatest blessing of all: it's all under one roof. No master documents. No directory to search for the correct chapter -- they are ALL there right in front of you. They are searchable by individual chapter or by the full novel, so you can chase down that one reference to the blue dress that you can't remember showed up in what chapter.  You can export the whole book, a piece, a selection or print. 

Before I get super nerdy in Technically Speaking, I wanted to throw StoryMill out there for you. It's worth a look! Intimidating at first, it takes some goofing around with to get comfortable. But once you settle in to even its lowest level of functions, there is no going back.

In the future I hope to cover the iPad, apps for the iPad and iPhone, and other Mac-centric software and hardware. I bailed on the Windows environment years ago. That's not saying it doesn't have value – of course it does! Much of what I will write about is available on both platforms. All of it has to do with writing and the business of writing. So... let's get Naked.



  1. Easily reword a news article is that copyright?

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  2. Ridley, so glad you brought up this subject. I recently downloaded Scrivener because a friend of mine is passionate about it. After going through the tutorial about six times, I got the general concept but without a downloaded manuscript to play with, I couldn't figure out how I would use all the features. For now I'm using the Navigation sidebar in Word, which at least keeps me in tune with the flow of the plot. Will check out StoryMill.

  3. from Jacqueline - I just wrote a comment and immediately lost the thing as soon as I hit "publish" Now it will probably appear as soon as I hit publish for this one! I am in awe. This is excellent information so thank you for that! I think at the very least someone should trust you with the nuclear codes, because your grasp of writing technology is far beyond my ken, that's for sure. I use composition books - first to draw out the arc of my story (I'm visual, words don't do it for me when I'm working things out), then I add to my chapter breakdown as I go along, and as the story develops in my mind. I have never written a synopsis, and the above works as an outline for me. I envy people who can outline properly, but I just can't. Now having said that, I am going to have a good look at StoryMill - it might help me keep all these story ideas in my head and organize my disorganized thoughts. Thank you!!!!

  4. from Jacqueline ... hands shaking I can hardly write!!! This is a brilliant post because now I KNOW THE WORLD IS IN SAFE HANDS! Ridley, I think you should have your finger on THE BUTTON, or at least be trusted with the nuclear codes! Seriously, this is a really interesting post. I tend to use a composition book for my notes when I am writing. I don't really outline (well, I draw a picture, which looks a bit like the standard mean in stats, with the peak skewed to the right - that's the denouement), then I start to write notes for each chapter, as I go along and as the story develops in my mind. I have never done an outline per se (with one exception, for an editor I provided a couple of paragraphs on a non series book I wanted to write), so this is all very cool to me. I am now going to look at this StoryMill - it might help me keep track of the story-noise in my head! Thank you - I am in awe, and I mean that seriously. Cannot wait for your posts on iPad and iPhone etc!

  5. from Jacqueline

    Yep, it happened - published twice. Can I be trusted with StoryMill????

    1. You mastered Facebook. Can StoryMill be far behind? Methinks not!!!

  6. Sorry I'm so late. I thought I had to be naked. When I realized my error I had to find some clothes and put them on. Yes it took all day. I am very easily distracted.

    I just had a peak at StoryMill... right away I like that its look is familiar, all mac-like. How is it when it comes time to submit your work via email. Many people want

  7. I made the jump to Mac about five years ago -- I just like the way everything works. I really like StoryMill! It's a great piece of software, although I don't think I'm using it to its full potential. I've also had an iPad since the first one came out, and recently upgraded to the iPad Mini with a ZaggKeys mini keyboard cover. Unlike the original iPad, it's small enough to take pretty much anywhere. Now I'm looking for something similar to StoryMill for it... I've tried probably over a dozen writing/word processing apps, and all of them fall short in one way or another. I hope you get your next tech column out soon, because I'd love to hear your recommendations for good writing apps.