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4thewords 2016 – This is what I wanted!

It’s been a long time since I first tried out 4thewords. Back then, it was commonly known to be a buggy mess impeding a great idea. I took a second look last night. There have been some major changes there, and at first blush, it looks AMAZING.

After signing in, you default to the Write section, where your writing is organised as files that are assigned to projects. They can be left unassigned. The Play section of the site looks AWESOME. There’s an NPC who talks to your avatar, quests and your adventuring equipment, and a bestiary/fight section on the bottom. I was a little worried about use of time limits for fighting monsters, since I have these darned arthritic fingers. I’ll come back to that, though.

First I wanted to see how the writing part of the site worked on its own.

I like the writing interface. It feels really natural. There’s some basic formatting stuff like bold and italics, as well as Headers 1-6 for some reason. You can name the file and give it tags, which is rather nice. There is also a stats window that you can collapse to the side. If you leave it open, you can see how long you have been writing, how many words you have written, and what project you’re working on.

The daily streak word count is 444 words, which made me chuckle. It’s also easy to hit, as well as low enough that only a bad day would stop me after reaching it. The word count tool is super forgiving in how it counts your words written. It keeps track of the number of words you have written EVEN IF YOU DELETED THEM. There were quite a few times that I started to write a sentence, disliked the structure and then deleted it to write it a different way, and I noticed my word count change for the positive anyway. This is really great if you’re having a slow start (like all my starts are) or a bad day.

writing-streak

While listening to Cloud Cult (Love album), I wrote about 800 words for my new story idea. It was one of the most painless story starts I think I’ve ever written. I got started in less than five minutes, and I just kept going without worrying about anything, not even saving my words externally from time to time. I am already loving this story and this main character. My world is clicking into place, I’m getting my ideas onto the page.

This may be exactly what I’ve been looking for. Since you don’t have to assign all files to a project, I made a file with the tag ‘scratchpad’ and wrote about 500 words in the last chapter of סוף העולם שמאלה for a monster battle.

Monster battles work by going into the bottom of the Play area and clicking the Battle button for a monster of your choice. The first area has four monsters. Each monster has a cute picture (seriously, the art in this whole thing is phenomenal), HP in the form of a word count, Battle Time, and item drop information. As I said, I was worried about the time limit stuff. I had to abandon 750 Words, because going fast was so integrated in how I used it, and not being able to type fast anymore just made me feel sad. Not good for productivity.

However, the monster battle limits look reasonable. The lowest level monster calls for 200 words to be written in 30 minutes, the next is 800 in 80 minutes. These are very reasonable word/time sets. They allow for time to think, unavoidable distractions (like children, pets, or keyboard battery death), and in my case, disability affecting typing speed. There are also apparently weapon equips later on that can add damage, taking out HP/words to help you defeat monsters faster. Beating the monster doesn’t even interrupt the flow of your writing very much, which is great if you forgot about the monster and just want to keep writing.

Everything looks good. Nothing gets in the way of writing. The gamification features are well-implemented. They aren’t inconsequential and they don’t overshadow the point. And all of the art is gorgeous. I can’t get over it. Lots of writing sites settle for sub par, boring, or just minimalist visuals. 4thewords does not go that route.

quests

battle

worldmap4thewords

The World Map

I like the forum interface as well, but there are very few posts, and the majority are quite old. I’m not surprised, since I think most writers are shy and/or solitary. I also don’t care about forums, so I don’t count it against the site. I would be more concerned if it relied on the forums too much.

Last year, I said that 4thewords took a bunch of ingredients and promised to make a flan. I have made flan (with help). It’s really difficult and time-consuming. But from the looks of things, they’ve put in the time and the work.

So guys, my final word is: Go sign up at 4thewords, start writing, and enjoy yourself a delicious flan.

homemadeflan

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What to Do When You Can’t Get Anything Done

The last two or three days have been incredibly unproductive for me. Rather than panic and ruin everyone’s lives, I sat back and thought about why. More importantly, I have thought about how many other people deal with this crap all the time. So I came up with some coping mechanisms for those times when, no matter your intentions or advantages, you can’t get anything done. This is mostly about writing, but it goes for anything.

  • Don’t freak out.

This is not the most important, but it is the thing you have to do first. Put a kibosh on the (perfectly understandable) desire to just flip your shit. It might feel good for a little while, but it’ll just wear you out and upset anyone you take with you. It doesn’t get back the time you lost, and it wastes more. It is not worth it.

  • Don’t blame anyone.

Blaming other people for you not getting something done–even if they absolutely contributed to it–will just make you angrier and likely lead to freaking out. If you really need to blame someone, then quietly admit that yeah, it is a little soul-sucking when that person just ignores your I AM WRITING SO FUCK OFF sign and starts talking to you. (multiple times…) Praise the fact that you were writing when they refused to GTFO. Or, if you were looking at Iron Man fanart instead of writing during your designated writing time, admit that Person was rude to you, but you also contributed to wasting your time.

  • Own up.

Don’t dwell on not being productive, but don’t try to justify it either. If you chose to spend your time doing something stupid rather than that thing you need/want to do, there isn’t a reason that can make it better. But it isn’t the end of the world either. There are setbacks that are in and out of your control. IT’S OKAY, I PROMISE.

  • Shake it off.

This one is the most important. It might not help with chronic procrastination, but maybe. It does help when you keep getting interrupted. Yes, it makes me want to rant about how everyone in the world must think they’re more important than me. Truth is… everyone in the world does think he or she is more important than me. Than you. We’re all horribly selfish. Your roommate will always think the fact that he’s playing Fallout 4 is more important than the fact that you are studying for mid-terms and hate gunshots and Inon Zur. Your mom will always think her cat puking is more important than you being on the phone with your insurance company after a recent car collision.

Deal with the distraction as best you can, and don’t let it stay with you. Be as selfish as They are. Their bullshit doesn’t have to stick to you.

This stuff works. I feel fine and I finished a blog post. I got something done.

Disclaimer: I don’t hate Inon Zur and my mother does not have a cat. I made up those examples.

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Old Review of 4theWords

UPDATE Sep 2016: Apparently, I should have kept my eye on this team. I’ve taken another look at the site and everything has changed. New review here.

The other day, I heard about this site called 4theWords. I will not link to it. Not because I think it’s purposely dishonest, and it probably isn’t technically harmful. But it is such an impressive bit of FUBAR that I don’t want to be associated beyond this one time that I will (sort of) publicly state my opinion.

It looks like such a good idea. The phrase they use is something like “a gym for writers” and it is basically 750 Words with more features. There is supposed to be a forum, like NaNoWriMo has, badges like 750 Words has (only more and possibly cooler), levels like HabitRPG, and two kinds of gamer-type currency. Like Duolingo has. So cribbing ideas from elsewhere like picking up eggs, sugar, and condensed milk and making flan.

Yummy_Flan_by_mkirby712Yummy Flan by mkirby712 on DeviantArt

Anything related to flan must be good, right? Wrong. 4theWords is not a delicious flan.

It’s an abysmally buggy site that not only has absolutely no business even discussing money changing hands, it also has no business being listed on the NaNoWriMo web site among legitimate writing resources like Evernote and Scrivener. This is old news (like five months old) but it’s still up on NaNoWriMo’s Sponsor Offers page. My respect for NNWM tanked years ago, but it does not help when they toot a horn for stuff like Zoetic Press and this bullcrap.

…an “honour” that a company can apparently buy with $6000 donated to NaNoWriMo. I think I just died a little. This makes it look even more likely that whoever is in charge doesn’t vet the sponsor offers at all. Yay bribes.

Anyway. I wasn’t aware of all of this until I decided to try it out. First warning sign is that even to sign up for the 30-day free trial, you have to set up a recurring payment with Paypal. It doesn’t look illegal or anything, it’s just not always good business practise. Simply because people don’t like it, and it stops them from ever being customers. It’s even worse when you realise that this site is STILL IN OPEN BETA. Oh, and they also missed basically every deadline they ever set. Old jokes about Peter Molyneux start to come to mind.

But the kicker was when I went ahead with the Paypal thing, and lo, I was kicked back to the sign-in page… and upon trying to log in, I found myself at the same page asking me to set up a recurring Paypal payment. Every Single Time that I tried logging in. I gave up. It wasn’t worth it.

From what I gleaned from people who actually managed to log in (many after having the same problem I did, and all of their comments 3-5 months old), the interface is both unappealing and unusuable. The forums don’t work like forums are supposed to work. And worst of all: Core Features, the gamification stuff like fake currency and levelling, literally don’t work at all. The general attitude in the thread that announced the site’s existence to WriMos was disappointment, irritation, suspicion, and even anger.

But since it is such a good idea, a lot of people were kind of cynically hopeful for the stable version. Personally? I don’t care if it does happen. I want nothing to do with any software engineer who ever thought that SHIFT-S was a good Save Shortcut Key in a WORD PROCESSOR.

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Trying out Scrivener

After taking a couple of days to go through the IMMENSE tutorial, I have already forgotten half of it. When people sell courses or books about learning this software, they aren’t joking around. However, it’s like that because it can be used by writers of basically every type, from novelists to lawyers. I’m tempted to use it to do some transcription. Because Scrivener makes that kind of work a million times easier than anything else does.

I’ve tried out a few templates, and just when I figured I’d scrap my current project to make a new template and then start over, I figured out how to make it work within the novel template. I have had some success working with phase outlines, both in testing my commitment to a project and in getting actual writing done. Since Scrivener is all about organisation, it is the perfect place to use a phase outline. Every part of the process can be done in Scrivener.

The last time I used a phase outline, I had to use Microsoft Word, Yarny, and Excel to do things the way I wanted. Oh yeah, and Dropbox. I’ll probably still use that for backing up. So all of this:

mswphase

yarnyphase

phases

 

Is pared down to this:

scrivphase

Even the need for Excel went away after I put in some phase completion tables. No spreadsheet fun, as far as I know, but a table works in mostly the same way I need it to. It’s just nice to have everything in one place, really.

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Dither’s “Plot Generator” Part 2

Yesterday, I had to add “part 1” to the title of my post, because I realised right after clicking Publish that I had forgotten to include something.

In keeping with the tabletop RPG character creation idea, there are ability scores and modifiers. Dither explained it to me thusly:

Condition, Complexity, Challenge, Difficulty, Relevance, and Influence.
  • Condition tries to “get” the protagonist before they get what they want. (It’s basically the Strength score.)
  • Complexity is the “spider web” that threatens to slow the hero down (it determines plot hit points, or “plot points”).
  • Challenge is how “appropriate” the plot is suited to the character, or vice-versa. (Sets the basic “Plot Armor Class.”)
  • Difficulty sets the arbitrary fairness/unfairness of the plot’s circumstances. This is how “screwed” the hero is.
  • Relevance is how easily the plot personally affects the hero.
  • Influence set the stakes for the “game” of the narrative.

My rolls gave me Condition 14/+2; Complexity 9/-1; Challenge 15/+2; Difficulty 12/+1; Relevance 12/+1; Influence 16/+3. When I realised I had no idea how to actually apply these, I emailed my hubby (whose thing this is).

You have several “good” scores which makes it hard to say in which way the plot should stand out “best.”

Perhaps the best vantage is to start with its lowest score, “Complexity.”

The plot is fairly straightforward (Complexity 9), whatever it is — and the main obstacles will be well-matched to the protagonist’s chief strengths (Challenge 15).

Whatever the plot is, it will be important to the protagonist (Relevance 12) more than not, but her interest may in fact be due to how “big a deal” the consequences will be for others (Influence 16 — the highest score). S/he knows that if she doesn’t get involved, then something Big and Bad is going to go down.

She faces pretty stiff resistance (Condition 14) at almost every turn.

…Really, “rolling” for the scores is to help highlight interesting differences and give you a place to begin developing a plot. It’s only when you’re desperate for inspiration that the most literal and mechanical interpretations of the stats/scores becomes necessary. The more you “play” with the system, the better you’ll get at interpreting the scores in interesting or different ways. Kind of like if you used a Tarot deck to write your story.

And that has to be it for today because this should have gotten done HOURS ago an my keyboardis effing borked.

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Dither’s “Plot Generator” Part 1

I’m not entirely sure that’s the right thing to call this, and I don’t think he’s absolutely done, but the project is ready for testing. I think.

Basically, it likens story/plot development to character creation as in a tabletop RPG. As it was explained to me, you begin by determining the protagonist’s objective. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll actually begin by determining the protagonist. Not having one does preclude the other.

Julia Striker, of Striker and Pumpkinhead Investigations. The Land of Za is breeding ground for the strange and wonderful, but most of their investigations are into deaths, missing people, and what Julia likes to call, “divorce cases.” She can summon cold mists to help if things come to a fight.

To determine her objective, we get a d8 and then consult a table. I rolled a 4, which gives me three options, categorised as “Warrior,” “Scholar,” and “Rogue” type actions. They’re class terms, but they imply the type of action involved, rather than options limited to a character by class. Warrior options focus on direct action. Scholar options are cerebral or in the line of information-gathering. Rogue options are generally roundabout solutions to problems.

Julia is a PI, which is a bit rogue-like, so I’ll pick Rogue. That means her objective is “track.” Sounds perfect. It also suggests that the thing she is tracking should be a person. Now it’s up to me to take that and spin it out into story language.

Everything kind of works on the idea that the protagonist is, in a way, literally “versus” the plot. In RPG terms, there are rolls to take out the plot’s hit points, or if you like, plot points.

Anyway, step two is to determine the plot’s strategy. There are four strategies: Puzzle, Problem, Secret, and Mystery. These don’t really pin to a genre, despite the use of the word “mystery;” they’re more vague than that. Puzzles and Problems offer information upfront, and leave you to make decisions. Secrets and Mysteries must be dealt with, or there are consequences. Puzzles and Secrets have one right answer, easy to figure out but difficult to actually perform. Problems and Mysteries have open-ended solutions that you can determine as you go.

They have individual descriptions too, but I’ll just pick one. “A mystery gives you very little, leaving you to decide when it begins and ends.”

Now to figure out where the story starts. The generator has with it what I think of as the line of events in a Cthulhu story. The begin and end points of which are, Someone Screws Up – The World is Consumed. It also works for Godzilla movies. You roll 2 d6 to determine where on this progression of events the story starts.

Rolled 5, Polarisation. “People are choosing sides, and you just know it’s going to get ugly. Whether the sides make any sense at all, you can see they’re starting to form-up.” So there must be a greater thing going on. Julia is tracking someone down while some kind of conflict is forcing the people around her to take sides.

This could also drive home, with her and Hank finding themselves quarrelling over which side to choose, or even going so far as to choose different sides. Personally, since this would be the first story I’d write with them, I’d want them to stay on the same side, perhaps in spite of it being an unpopular one, or to try to create their own side by abstaining.

And really, personal judgement and skill in story-crafting are key here. This sort of generator is better than the others I’ve seen, because it has a greater understanding of what goes into a story than most. But you have to keep in mind when using any generator that it can’t actually tell you what to do.

Let me repeat that: It cannot tell you what to do. These are all a case of you using a tool. Not a Kelley Armstrong novel with a man telling a woman what to do. Because if that were the case, you would be following orders like a dog in a show. (really really HATING Bitten!)

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Writing Trick for Remembering Details

Writing is hard enough. Then you have an ongoing condition that you have remember… and inevitably forget. (or maybe you don’t. I definitely do.) Sure, it’s the kind of thing that editing is for, but it can cause some major pitfalls.

Even minor things, like the main character sustaining an injury, can snowball into a big Oopsie. For example, let’s say the main character has an arrow in the back. It’s okay if you don’t constantly mention it. She might forget the pain while in the heat of battle. But then you have her sit in a high-backed cushiony chair without removing the arrow or receiving any form of treatment for any injuries. Let’s say that you make a point of not healing anything. And let’s say that since you’ve already forgotten about the arrow in her back, you describe her sitting in the chair with comfort and relief.

Oopsie.

Pretty much everything is fixable. However, I have a trick that will help keep immediately relevant story facts on your mind while writing, so this kind of thing doesn’t happen. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than simply trusting your memory.

Get a pen that you don’t use for anything else (so you don’t run out of ink) and a stack of post-it notes. I prefer the ones that aren’t freakin’ tiny, but if you write small and have to keep track of a lot of things, then you might want the bitsy ones. Higher up on the list would be getting varicoloured ones, again if you anticipate a lot of must-remembers cropping up.

Then just make a note whenever something happens that you’ll need to recall for an extended period of time. For me, this is a must whenever someone is injured or if there’s an animal around. (I’m terrible at pets.) Some might also like to use this for keeping track of character’s looks and clothes, especially for characters who change clothes and/or hair.

Once you’ve written up your note, whether longhand or your own version of shorthand, stick it to your desk, monitor, anywhere that it will be in your peripheral vision. If you’re worried about cluttering your view of your writing space, then put together some facsimile of a cork board. (I am too cheap to get a real cork board. Also I hate hanging things on the wall in flats and we don’t have a house yet.)

Important note: I know that there’s a Windows program that mimics post-it notes, but I do NOT recommend it for this. The point of this method is to have your reminders in very quick view. I don’t know about anyone else, but my desktop is never in easy view. Alt-Tab-ing is really disruptive to my writing. It’s also much easier to remember to turn your head to catch sight of a NEON PINK post-it than to look at the desktop.