Where ya been, Nick?

So I’ve been dark for a couple of weeks. I’d love to say this was because I was locked up in my Writing Cave, pounding out thousands upon thousands of words in the WIP. Or I’d love to say that it was because the Justice League had recruited me for a secret mission in an alternate dimension and I’ve been out saving the world. The truth of it though, is that I was horrifically sick. I had to be hospitalized twice due to a very high fever and the fact that I couldn’t keep fluids down. So it was an unpleasant experience in every possible way. It’s mostly over now though, and I’m slowly getting things back to normal.

So let’s celebrate my return with a writing prompt. Invent a sickness that does terrible things, but also provides one positive effect to someone who survives it. Maybe it’s a flu that destroys 90% of your lung tissue but gives you psychic powers, or something like that.

Happy writing, and everyone stay healthy!

Using Snapshots in Scrivener

Sometimes, you’ll write a scene, make changes to it, and then later decide that the original scene was better. When I was writing in Word and this happened, I used to copy the scene and paste it into a separate document. Then I could make changes in the original doc and if I later decided my first scene was better, I could re-copy the scene back in. This got to be a pain, especially when a scene went through multiple incarnations; I’d end up with four or five different files that all corresponded to slightly different flavors of the same scene. I wound up with a folder with files named things like Chapter2Version1CharactersGoForIceCream,Chapter2Version2CharactersGoForDonuts, Chapter2Version3CharactersGoForThaiFood, you get the idea.

Luckily, Scrivener has a built-in feature called Snapshots that manages this process for you. Let’s say you’ve got a scene that you want to tweak, but you want to be able to go back to the original version. Just press Ctrl+D, and you’ll hear a camera shutter sound effect. Then, click on the Snapshots button on the lower right toolbar to see a list of Snapshots associated with the current scene. You can create as many Snapshots as you want for a particular scene, and then restore a scene to a previous version by clicking the Roll Back button.

This short video shows Snapshots in action. Enjoy!
Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Name that Character!

When I’m creating my characters, I spend a lot of time trying to find a name that fits them. I want something that suits their nature, says something about them, conveys a bit of them to the world. However, there are other times when you just need to name the guy who’s selling sausage sandwiches on the sidewalk, and you don’t want to agonize over what to name him. For those moments, there are a bunch of name generators online. Here are a couple that I’ve found helpful.

The Seventh Sanctum has a whole collection of name generators. Just click on a link on their site to randomly generate the type of name you’re looking for. You can get regular names, elf-sounding names, Lovecraft-sounding names and more. For example, when I clicked on their Pirate Ship Name, I got The Dirty Raider.

FakeNameGenerator can generate regular-sounding names, but will also make up phone numbers, addresses & email addresses. If you ever need to quickly whip up an obituary or a want ad for your characters to read, this is the place to do it. It’s also a good place to just randomly generate stock characters. When you generate a fake name, here’s what you get:

Behind the Name gives you some flexibility in choosing the ethnicity of the name that’s generated. So if you want your sausage vendor to have a Greek name, you can check the Greek name box and get Alexandros Iosif.

Also, if you’re using Scrivener, you have a random name generator built in. Just go to Edit>Writing Tools>Name Generator… and you’ll be presented with this screen.

The nice thing about this is you can generate lists of names, and you can also view their meanings by clicking on the Name Meanings tab.

So now the next time you need to name a sausage vendor, you’ve got a bunch of resources to tap. Enjoy!




Urban Fantasy Writing Prompt – Rare Minerals

One of the things I love about urban fantasy is how it can be used to explain conspiracy theories and other unexplained phenomenon. For example, Chris Farnsworth’s The President’s Vampire does a nice job of telling what happened both to JFK and John Wilkes Booth. But stories don’t have to deal with a national threat to be interesting. I came across this article about rare minerals on Wired.com, and found it to be a goldmine of writerly potential (yes, pun intended). It’s not because the article has any earth-shattering info; instead the article tosses out some interesting factoids about each mineral’s discovery (or disappearance). There are almost no properties listed for these minerals, or what they could be used for. That means it’s open season for someone with a little imagination.

So, here’s a little writing exercise for you – pick one of the minerals listed and use it as the focal point of a short story. It can be something like “Wawayandaite is 300% more deadly to fae than iron, and a group of renegade Druids is about to turn on their former fae allies” or “Tugtupite is the most powerful aphrodisiac for Chupacabras, and someone’s been dumping it in large quantities, causing the Chupacabra population to increase and they’re now openly attacking humans.”

Have fun, and if you’d like, feel free to throw your idea out in the comments to inspire others!





Tracking Progress in Scrivener

When I was writing the first novel in my series, I wanted to track how much progress I’d made toward my target word count. As mentioned in a previous post, I was shooting for 80,000 words. Each time I finished a writing session, I’d jot down how many words I’d written, add that to the total number of words I’d written so far, and then divide that number by 80,000. While this worked well, it was a manual and tedious process. Then I found Scrivener, which can calculate that for you.

(Note: I’m using Scrivener for Windows, so things may be in slightly different places or have different keystroke combos if you’re on another OS.)

There are three Project menu items that can give you more information about your WIP: Project Statistics, Text Statistics, and Project Targets.

Project>Project Statistics (or Ctrl-Shift-T)  –  This gives you the total word and page count of your draft in Scrivener, and provides some options for configuring how those values are calculated.

Project>Text Statistics (or Ctrl-Alt-T) – This  gives you the total word and page count of the currently selected Text item in Scrivener.

Project>Project Targets (or Ctrl-T) – This is the big one. This allows you to specify how many words your WIP should be. As you write more, Scrivener updates both a numerical value and a progress bar so you can see exactly how far along you are. It also provides a Session Target, which allows you to say “I want to write 500 words this sitting” and then Scrivener will track how much you’ve done. Warning – don’t press the Reset button until you’ve finished your  session! Pressing Reset wipes out any progress you’ve made toward today’s Session Target. So if you start out thinking you’ll write 500 words, and then decide you want to increase it to 750, just change the number, don’t press Reset. The Session Target will be recalculated for you automatically.

The Project Targets dialog in Scrivener

All in all, this is a great way to measure your progress, and it sure beats doing the calculations by hand.



Distraction Free Scrivener

I’ve been working with Scrivener since Literature& Latte announced the Windows Beta late last year. It’s an awesome program and has made it very easy for me to organize my current WIP. However, like most tools, there’s a lot going on in its UI, and sometimes that can be distracting when you’re trying to bang out a scene. To help me focus, I customized Scrivener’s Full Screen view so it’s more like an old school word processor – black background and green text. This short video shows the steps I performed.
Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

One thing to note – the video shows some lines at the top and edges of the screen after these changes have been made. Those lines aren’t actually visible in Scrivener while you’re using it.

If you’d like to try out Scrivener for Windows, head on over here.





Word Count Workout

When I got serious about writing a novel, I buckled down and decided that I needed to write X words per day. The problem was, what should X be? At this point, I need to mention that algebra was probably my weakest subject, and suddenly needing to solve for X in order to determine a crucial step in my writing career was somewhat off-putting.

Regardless, I had read Stephen King’s fantastic book, On Writing, and in that he states that a writer should produce 2,000 words per day. Ok, I said, that’s what I’ll do. And so I sat down on Day 1, fired up the laptop, grinned at my blank screen and cracked my knuckles.

And I produced about 213 words.

Here’s the thing. Writing is a mental exercise, with heavy emphasis on the word exercise here. Let’s compare it to physical exercise. Let’s say you want to run a 4 minute mile. If you aren’t already a runner, there’s no way you’re going to be able to run that fast for that distance and not have a heart attack. You need to start off slowly, and as your body gets in better shape, you can go faster. Writing is the same way. I found that working up to my target word count was much more effective than trying to hit the target count right out of the gate.

To start my writing regimen, I looked up how long the average urban fantasy novel was, and found it was between 75,000 – 90,000 words. So I made 80,000 words the initial target word count for my novel. That meant that every 800 words I wrote was 1% of the total word count of my book. I set my first goal as writing 400 words/day, and that way I’d have written 1/2 a % of my book every day. Not great, but it was something. It also let me say, “All right, if I write half a percent every day, then in 200 days I’ll be done.” The thing was, it didn’t take long before I could write 800 words in a sitting. A week or two later, I could do 1,200 words, then 1,600, and then I was doing 2,000 – 2,400 words consistently. I found if I really pushed, I could put out 4,000 words in a day. Suddenly I was able to complete a draft in 30 days, instead of 200.

So if you’re just starting out and you’re frustrated with your progress, consider giving this a try.  Set 400 words/day as your goal. If you write more than that, great, but make 400 your target. Do that for a week. Then bump up to 600 words/day for the next week. Each subsequent week, increase the target word count by 200 words/day until you hit your ultimate goal of 2,000 words. And if you find that a particular target is too easy, figure out how many words/day you can do comfortably and increase that by 100-200.

Building up to those X words per day is a lot less frustrating, and much more rewarding when you realize just how much you can do. If you’ve got any productivity tips or tricks to help a writer boost his or her word count, sound off in the comments.



Kevin Hearne is running a contest where you can win an autographed copy of his debut novel, HOUNDED. All you have to do is create a Nerdscape, which Kevin defines as a photo that includes an action figure, a book and some junk food. Here’s mine; I call it “Bite-Sized Heroes Make a Stand For Romulan Ale”


Bite-Sized Heroes Make a Stand For Romulan Ale

(Click to enlarge)

You can get the full list of rules over at Kevin’s site.

And if you’d like to pick up a six pack of Romulan Ale, head on over to Thinkgeek. Yes, it is blue, and it tastes like blue raspberry. It’s quite good, and it’s much easier to get online rather than trying to sneak it across the Neutral Zone.


I love fantasy. I love a good epic fantasy – Sanderson, Rothfuss, Jordan, and of course Tolkien. But a good urban fantasy is just as satisfying. Simon Green, Jim Butcher, and Anton Strout are all great writers.

It was Jim Butcher’s storm Front that made me want to write an urban fantasy novel. I had been struggling with an epic fantasy for some time and finally realized I wasn’t a good enough storyteller to do that particular tale justice. It was a depressing experience. But I decided I’d try my hand at UF and see if the change would do me some good.

Did it ever.

The main difference I found about writing UF vs EF is that the world building process is a heckuva lot shorter. Since I’m working in the “real world”, I’ve got a bunch of parameters already established. That lets me focus only on those things I care about – my characters, their powers, their relationships. I don’t need to build the whole planet from scratch.

Now, don’t get me wrong, world building can be fun, but I found I’d get bogged down and discouraged by minutiae. Case in point. Let’s say I’ve set my epic fantasy in the stereotypical medieval Europe-esque kingdom. My main character, Dirk Manly, is having breakfast at an inn, and orders a cup of coffee. This simple act sets off a massive plague of minor, unimportant details. I need to make sure my kingdom’s climate is one that can support the growth of coffee beans. If it’s not, then I need to determine where the coffee beans are grown. How far that location is from my kingdom? Then I need to establish the trade routes that get the coffee from there to Dirk, and spend some time fleshing out the cultures and political climates that may influence those trade routes. Then there’s the question of stability and security along the routes – are they patrolled and well maintained, or does Juan Valdez get robbed every other trip? I also need to explain the technology that allows the coffee to be brewed, the people who perform that process, and the cost of coffee itself, taking into account that it could well be a luxury item, and if that was the case, could Dirk Manly afford it?

That’s just too much crap for a cup of coffee.

Contrast that with an urban fantasy set in Boston. Here, Dirk Manly goes into a Dunkin Donuts, gets a large coffee with cream and sugar and that’s it. I can focus on who Dirk is, what he does, and trade routes be damned.

Unfortunately, Epic Fantasy tends to get bogged down because the author has to explain every detail of how his or her world works. There’s a point in the Wheel of Time where Nynaeve and Elaine are traveling with a menagerie. One particular scene details the mechanics of Nynaeve *brushing her teeth.* I love Robert Jordan, but I was like “ok, I get it, she’s brushing her teeth, let’s get on with life.” Just the same, I understand why he had to do it; it’s not like Nynaeve can just pop into CVS and pick up a new Reach toothbrush and a tube of Crest. But having to work stuff like that into my stories was frustrating because I felt it was taking away from the tale I was trying to tell.

In UF, all that mundane stuff is taken care of for you, courtesy of the real world. I think that’s part of the appeal of UF, it’s easier to get into because the setting is immediately familiar. As readers, we only need to focus on how Harry Dresden’s magic words work, how Shaman Bond’s golden torc operates, or what insights Simon Canderous’ psychometry reveal. As writers, we only need to worry about defining those things which set our characters apart from normal people; we inherit our world from the real one and then tweak it, instead of starting out with a totally blank canvas and saying “In the beginning…”

I know I’ll go back to that epic fantasy someday, but for now I’ve got some pretty big plans for my urban fantasy series and its hero. Future posts will talk more about my version of Boston, my hero, and the role he plays. I’m glad to have you along for the ride. Stay tuned, it should be fun.