A wiki wiki wiki...


I've been at this a little over a month, and here I am scribbling (typing) the third installment. I'm behind schedule, but what good procrastinator isn't? Well, tonight's going to be a real eye-ball scorcher to make up for it. The main topic is... Unconventional Writing Tools. Gripping, isn't it? Aren't you just filled to the brim with nervous anticipation, like a middle-aged virgin in a whore house?


Yeah, me neither. On with the show.

Over the course of the past 8-9 years that I've been toiling away on Ebon Tide (a fantasy novel that causes pants to spontaneously combust. See posts below for slightly more information), I've created a ridiculously large pile of notes. Were these notes not in digital form, they would likely swell to consume the entirety of my living space, like some wood-pulp version of the Blob. Instead, they occupy such a miniscule fraction of my hard-drive that I almost feel insulted. Almost.

To be clear, these notes are an indespensible part of the process. In order to have a fantasy world that seems well rounded, engrossing and immersive, it needs detail. Lots and lots of detail. A truely annoying amount of detail, much of which the reader may not even see.

Problems arise when notes are compiled over the course of 9 years by someone who can hardly organize his sock drawer. Names and dates change as the story world evolves, and file formats change as upgrades happen. Hard-drives fail, folders are moved and occasionally misplaced, and sometimes I take notes in places where I would never think to look for them later. At this point, I don't even know where to look for a ton of my background information, and some of it has been written, rewritten and re-rewritten because I couldn't find the original. I've got what programmers would call a Source Control issue.

He looks for a better answer.

At some point, I started fantasizing about a piece of software that would fix this problem... Sort of a unified, digital notebook. Wipe that look off your face. I'm sure you've fantasized about something just as trivial and nerdy. At first I just had a vague concept, but after a little thought it started turning into a design document.

Fortunately, I wasn't ever commited to the idea enough to waste a couple months of my life making it work. Honestly, it should only take a week to get that piece of software up and running in a basic state but... I'm a terrible programmer. 'Nuff said.

All I wanted this digital notebook to do was allow me to quickly and easily organize, edit and crosslink notes pertaining to my novels. At some point, I also thought it would kick-ass if I could output to a Wiki (like www.wikipedia.org), because I think they're an awesome way to organize information. What did I just say? Eureka! The answer struck me like a 20 lb. anvil, and I'm still nursing the concussion.

After 15 minutes of intensive research, I selected PMwiki (www.pmwiki.org), and in another half-hour had it running on my system. For the rest of the week, I patiently (and not-so-patiently) combed through my .doc's and .sxw's and .odt's, editing as I went, and built a wiki of my fictional world. Even at half-complete, my notes are so much more accessible that I wonder how I ever got anything done before. The Wiki has to be one of the single most important advances in writing tools since the word processor, and surprisingly... I don't think anyone knows.

I'm going to reiterate this in bold for undue emphasis. Wikis freaking rock.

The ease of organizing my notes has already started illuminating places that need more fleshing out, and having all of them crosslinked and unified has improved the hell out of the consistency. To boot, I can share this resource with my editor when the time comes, and perhaps even web-publish an edited version for fans. How completely awesome is that? If that doesn't beat the crap out of a thin glossary at the end of a book, I don't know what does.

That seems like about enough for tonight. For anyone interested, I've got a rough version of my world map (really basic, and lacking details I have in other versions). Point a browser over to http://home.pacbell.net/ven_rand/anyamap2.jpg to take a gander.

Until next time...


Assorted Flavors

We're going to be covering a couple different topics today. Some writing, a little gaming, a smidge of movies and a dash of software. Please keep your hands and feet within the vehicle at all times, as the animals are known to bite.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a writer of pants-igniting fiction. My current project is an epic fantasy novel (HEY, stop groaning in back!). The problem with calling something "epic fantasy" is that everyone immediately expects elves, dwarves, orcs and trolls, not to mention a dragon or two. This is a problem. Ya see, everyone in this industry (alright, not everyone) has been ripping off Tolkien for 30-40 years. Unabashedly, brutally ripping off, without thought, purpose or reason. In short, it sucks.

The way I see it fantasy's in a rut. It's like if sci-fi authors all up and decided Star Trek was "the" sci-fi setting. I mean, why bother inventing new alien races, right? We've already got Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans right? I'll tell you why. Because some of us are more vivid dreamers.

So, here's my goal: I am writing new fantasy. It's a new world, from bottom to top, with its own origin, gods and life-forms. There is only one creature in my universe that has been featured in the real world or any other work of fiction: People. Everything else is new.

As you might imagine, this is a collosal pain in the ass. A rewarding pain in the ass.

My first novel is entitled Ebon Tide, and it's currently about 1/3rd complete. After working on this project for the past 8 years, one might think I should be further along. One would be right. However, I've restarted several times already. There was something about my writing at age 17 that I just don't think would've cut it. Regardless, this is the end run. It's this revision or bust, and frankly... I won't take bust for an answer.

As of the moment, I've been "paused" on the current chapter for several months now. That's more than enough of a rest. I hereby proclaim that Ebon Tide will be finished by the 1st of January 2006. I'm sick of wasting time, and the damned book isn't writing itself.

I'd like to take a moment to hand out a congratulations to the Day of Defeat (www.dayofdefeat.com) development team. DoD:Source is a work of art, and absolutely some of the most fun I've had online in a long time. I've put several thousand hours into the previous versions of the game, and DoD:Source is a more than worthy successor... At least, it will be once there are a couple more levels to play on.

Oddly, the game has been the center of some controversy, mostly among veterans of previous versions of the game. Numerous claims have been flung left and right. Some folks are screaming that the balance of the game has been ruined. Others feel that the slight increase to weapon cones-of-fire has turned the game into skill-less, random dice throw. Most entertaining IMO are the critics who feel the game is no longer Day of Defeat, and more closely resembles Call of Duty.

In my own experience, the changes made are a vast improvement over the previous versions. I've not had problems with any of the weapons. In fact, they've done so much for the balance of the game that I often play random class, which I never did with the old DoD. I'm averaging a 1.5:1 kill-to-death ratio, occasionally going as high as 3:1... Which is pretty much identical to my ratios in the old DoD (maybe a smidge higher). I must be incredibly lucky.

None of this is to say the game is without it's flaws. It's not. However, it's not nearly so bleak as some would have you believe. Assuming the dev team can iron out some pretty minor bugs, and release a couple more maps in a timely-fashion, this game will be a real winner, and a more than worthy successor to the name.

In a rare occurance, I actually made it out to the movie theater last week to see Serenity. In short, this movie was fantastic. I'm not a Joss Whedon zealot, but the movie was incredibly well done, and easily surpassed my expectations. Sadly, it looks like it's taking a serious kung-fu asskicking at the box office. Here's hoping word-of-mouth picks up attendance a bit. I like to see good product do well.

Time for some open source advocacy... Dang it, didn't I already tell you folks in back to stop groaning? It's very unbecoming of young people.

What can I say? I'm cheap, and I like free stuff. Especially when said free stuff occasionally outperforms my old expensive stuff. I'll keep this light. Slackware 10.2 good (www.slackware.org). Amarok 1.3.3 awesome (amarok.kde.org). Open Office quite nice (www.openoffice.org).

Personal Crap:
Not much. Just quit smoking for the 13,634,611th time. I've been nicotine free for 7 days now and frankly, the feeling's really.... boring. I'm sure all that extra energy and good attitude people are always bullshitting about is just around the corner.

A question. What is it that's so dang hot about married women? Talk amongst yourselves.

Until next time,