Thursday, April 13, 2017

Untitled story with a moral

I heard what sounded like a bird near the little room housing my apartment's heater. I thought there was a bird in my vents at first. This was followed by an eyeless thing with a wrong-shaped head touching my foot and disappearing. I knew it was neither mouse, nor mole.
I experience visual snow, and one side effect of that is I basically see all my floaters. As I have aged, it is now quite normal to feel like I have shadows swimming around me at all times. That shiny darkness that disappeared silently after touching my foot begged to simply be forgotten, ignored like a temporary visual artifact.
That piercing chirp, though. That contact against my foot. As much as I wanted to just disbelieve it, I could not.
In my mind, this was just the herald: the one informing me that my doom was fast approaching. Nothing I could do would prevent a long stream of deformed and peculiar creatures from visiting me, confronting me.
Had I wronged them? Had I offended some hoary god that dwelt in shadows? How soon would I be made a sacrifice?
I tried to keep my composure as I relayed my concern to the apartment management. I knew nothing could stop them, but still, I needed to go through the motions. An exterminator would come.
Inside, I knew the exterminator must come so that the dark forces could display their might and be victorious. The truth of the inescapable doom wouldn't be felt in my bones until I had at least gone through the motion to escape it. Given time, I would know this to be true.
The exterminator set some glue traps and put some steel wool in the opening the voles had been using. The problem did not persist.
The moral of the story is that it is easy for some of us to freak out about anything. For some of us, it is best to acknowledge the feeling, while ignoring the perceived source. The perceived source is usually wrong.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What does my outline look like?

Someone asked for an example of an outline. I realized that none of the information on the site currently shows anything close to what I currently use.

For me, my "Outline.txt" is the single most important file for a novel and everything centers off of it.

I divide my files up in to scenes, and have a program to put them together in to chapters based upon the order in the outline file.

It also preloads template files with the information in the outline (to give me an idea of where I'm expecting the story to go and who will be in it and what I need to accomplish).

Here's an entry for the first scene of "Veggie Time".

   * :doc:`Selling to couples 

     :POV: (3PL) :term:`Randolph`



            Introduce the 
            :term:`unintentional homosexuality`;

     :Tension (Moment): What is being sold?
     :Tension (Overall): 

            What kind of person is Randolph?

            :term:`food worms`;
            :term:`unintentional homosexuality`;

            :term:`high on grass`; :term:`alien food`;
            :term:`life of eunuch`;

     :Place: :term:`Rick's Apartment`
     :Date (Relative): 25 years after aliens invaded

The format of this is reStructuredText with Sphinx extensions. The ":term:" entries reference primarily glossary entries, but the glossary entry may reference additional resources or may actually be located in a file with additional information. The earlier it is in the outlining process, the more the glossary just sits at the top of the Outline file.

This is actually a rather well filled-out entry. I frequently haver far less information actually present. In fact, in a later outline, I just started out with less information in the outline.

In a later book, I tried a much reduced outline. Here's a scene from"The Chicken Dinner Man":

   * :doc:`The Birth of the Green 

      :Scene: (1016 words) The Birth of the Green /

              Grandmother’s Escape

            A loner works in an isolated cabin trying 

            to produce food using magic. He’s clearly 
            comfortable being alone, perhaps unusually
            so. He’s attempting what has been accepted
            as being impossible, and like any quality
            mad scientist, he’s had mixed success. This
            latest failure was alive, and worse than 
            that, it escaped.
      :Setting: :term:`Brown County` in 2010.
            Establish time. Draw connection between 

            previous scene and this one. (college 
            ring? explicit proximity to campus? 
            explicitly mention problem professor?) 
            This also sets up the :term:`Mankiller`.

If you notice something, the ":Scene:" line here seems a little out of place. Check this entry, further in to the outline for that story:

# Chapter 4

   * Scene: (1016 words) Chicken Dinner decides to help
   * Scene: (1016 words) Mankiller and the oncoming storm
   * Scene: (1016 words) The cat and the demon

The first thing I did was decide on how many words I wanted the total story, and then look at how long my typical scenes were and try to pick an average scene size. The goal isn't to be anal about the scene size, so much as have some goal where I knew if I stayed close to that size, I'd be close to both the story goal as well as the word-size goal. If one chapter is 7k words or another chapter is three words, that doesn't matter as much as the average.

You can also see that the first thing I did was decide one-line descriptions of the scenes, then I broke then up in to chapters that made sense with two or three scenes.

This "start small and work up" logic is recommended as while you expand details in one area, you can think of important points for others. It is far easier to change a key detail in an outline than it is when you're 50% in to the story.

This sort of outline can totally work, too, as it provides enough information for me to know what is going on in the story. Even though the scenes are described in single lines of a few words, I had to double-check that I only actually wrote half of that novel, as the whole story is so clear to me.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Fermi Paradox and a biological basis for sin

It started as a social media post. It explains my answer to the Fermi Paradox.
Humans are perfectly evolved to their environment. Their environment is human civilization. More so, all of the things which make humanity different than the animals are fundamentally ways to be rotten to other humans.

We can't run fast compared to animals, but we can run faster than many humans -- and we can do it holding their stuff. We the ability to communicate a rich array of emotions with our face -- which we can consciously use to lie about how we're feeling. We rely about a spoken language for communication, which allows us to convince our neighbor to do things clearly not in their best interest. We have no clear signs of estrus, and we can mate for pleasure, so we can lie about the fatherhood of our children. We've use clothing to lie about our physical imperfections.

We're basically evolved to lie, cheat and steal from other humans.
It's like a biological basis for original sin, where the ability to know all of these higher-order things is tied deeply to our ability to commit evil. (Religion, then, at its best acts as a filter to tie us back to the kind, social animals of our beginning.)

This would be the filter preventing intelligent life from reaching higher states. It becomes exceptionally hard to escape the fact that you're evolved to be evil to your kin. Backstabbing and distrust is basically baked in to the design. Your environment is your own civilization, and the natural impetus is to become a super-predator there.

It is deeply human to be rotten to each other. The exploration of this rottenness, both in fiction as well as non-fiction, is what daytime television is made of.

Evolution doesn't just stop because you've mastered your environment. It doesn't stop when you've mastered it locally on-planet, and it doesn't stop when you've mastered it and you can play with the stars themselves. Until a race stops having children, it keeps evolving. Shoot, even without children, if people can upgrade their physical form, there's still the ability to evolve.

From an extraterrestrial-visitor context, things go from bad to worse, as the likelihood of other life having solved our problems decreases. Militarized states and power struggles, the abuse of the lower classes, these become universal to the point that surviving them may mean mastering them in ways we've not considered. The notion of extraterrestrial con artists buying planets for baubles becomes all too realistic.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Further libretto research

I was feeling self-conscious about my libretto design, so I wanted to research some further examples.

I ran in to and the first one that struck my eye was the The Pirates of Penzance. This was handy because it seems the majority of musicals the "simply scripts" site links to a Russian site that is now offline.

The Pirates of Penzance libretto is hosted on the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, which might be useful for some, but since it likely uses a similar libretto design for all of them, it is less useful for me.

Of the Pirates of Penance libretto, on the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive page there's a section called "The Words", the first item of which is "Libretto" with three versions, plain-text, Microsoft Word and PDF. These are the versions I will be investigating in this post.

The plain-text version looks like a machine conversion, and has the problems you'd expect with such a conversion. Unicode characters were converted to the "unknown" square box. Line-wrapping is weird at best and hard-to-read at worst. (etc.) It means the plain-text first approach of reStructuredText -- even with the idiosyncrasies it has -- is much easier to read.

This is the first full libretto I've seen (ever). This means the existence of a title page and a "Dramatis Personae" list -- and even the very fact that each act has a distinct location associated with it -- are all new to me. (I had gathered that there should be two acts, and that some plays with one or three acts will eventually be converted in to a two act structure.)

However, my use of "small caps" instead of all caps seems to be backed up, as this is done for the actor names.

The design could be said to use the "Scene" as an actor. The scene setup has the word "Scene" in front of it, styled like any other actor. I like this approach, particularly if some aspect of the scene changes within the act.

There's a use of a period as a separator between the actor and the speech, instead of a colon. I don't understand this. I wonder if this is a vestige of the age of the libretto, as this doesn't make more sense to me than a colon.

One big change between the two designs is the actor's sung parts are formatted differently. Well, specifically, the sung lines are formatted the same, but the location for the singer's name is basically the same as for an actor, while in the design I mentioned in the previous post the singer's name is centered above the sung part.

I think being centered above the sung part is a lot easier to read. I'm glad I saw the other libretto first, because this design would also be harder to deal with from a reStructuredText stand-point.

As an added bit of confusion, the style changes if there are multiple parts sung at once. In this case the singer's names are above the sung parts. If it makes more sense in that context, we add useful consistency if that's the placement all the time.

This libretto actually has standard indented paragraphs with very little space between parts. It makes the spoken parts harder to read. My simple solution with hanging-indented paragraphs is so much nicer than this.

There's explicit mention of the song. It sort of surprised me that appeared absent in the earlier libretto.

There's some spacing weirdness in some of the songs that is basically what you'd expect when folks diddle around with indents and spaces. It adds unnecessary variation.

The first thing I noticed with the "Word" version is the libretto is 9,220 words. That backs up the notion that I had from previous research that 10k may be big for a musical. The second thing I notice with the Word file is that there appears to be zero thought about "styles" in the document. This means there's nothing that can be learned from the Word file that can't be learned from the PDF. It also explains the apparent diddling with indents and spacing -- without styles all formatting is just diddling.

Overall, most of the formatting differences were covered with the article that accompanied the other libretto example. The big things were really just missing pieces... that anyone familiar with a libretto would have remembered.

I'm left kind of wanting to convert the Pirates of Penzance libretto to my format...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Writing a libretto in reStructuredText

I'm adapting my February Album Writing Month (FAWM) album in to a musical. I have no experience writing scripts of any sort, so it should be fun.

I was pointed to as a good example of a libretto. I liked it, it looked good. I can now produce something quite similar, from a completely text-based format (by way of an ODT file, allowing third-parties to easily tweak things).

See, the album it is based off of is an art concept album about copyright in the guise of hymn-filk. It was always planned that it would include full sheet music and be released with the most flexible license. This means that the libretto for the musical will be released with the same flexible license (Creative Commons Attribution) as I actually want people to be able to easily modify it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New tools this year

I had a post a while back about the use of Markdown which then got converted in to ePUB and then to MOBI for Kindle.

I've moved on from that to reStructuredText with Sphinx extensions.

It's a simple plain-text markup -- but far more flexible than Markdown.

It also has direct ePUB output support. The initial "epub theme" isn't super awesome for novels -- it is considered "experimental" -- and the entire tool was designed for technical documentation, but tweaking the theme is straight-forward. I'll be providing a link to the theme I use.

I use a script to give myself a little more flexibility. On its own, Sphinx is great, but I wanted some specific features that weren't available out of the box.

I'll be talking about this more in later posts. I think I have a system in place that will allow me to keep my world notes for all novels in a shared world together, plus single-source an annotated behind-the-scenes version of the novel along with the released version. I should even be able to manage the issue of edits and tracking changes/comments on the source without using Microsoft Word's "track changes" feature.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Procrastinating with the Rijks Museum

I took a break from working on my NaNoWriMo novel to head over to and whip up a quick cover and banner.

"Veggie Time" is the working title of the book. I'm not really happy with it, but it gave me something to stick in the Gimp and can be easily changed later.

This uses the Amazon-recommended best dimensions for a Kindle book cover. I've heard people complain these dimensions look a little thin -- but when I loaded up the image on my phone it all made sense as it almost filled the whole screen.

The Amazon recommendation for the cover is located at and the current "best dimensions" as of today were
1563 on the short side, and 2500 on the long side.

The aspect ratio is different than the one required to upload a cover to the NaNoWriMo site, so I had to make a separate cover for that. I got best results actually creating a separate cover. The vast change in dimensions (230x300) meant that the subtitle ("A novel about vegetables and parthenogenesis") was illegible when I just scaled the text.

As an extra NaNo bonus, I've since realized I misspelled "parthenogenesis" on the cover. Since it is
saved as separate layers in The Gimp, it is trivial to fix.