I hit a road block a couple weeks back on writing my book. Seems I have a few important things about the world to figure out before I continue plotting and writing my book. Some of the things would even effect how my characters react to situations, so I really need to figure them out before pressing forward.

Due to the road block, I spent some time programming my writing software instead, but started feeling guilty for not writing. So, rather than getting discouraged at not figuring out all the important things yet, I’m writing some short stories to fill my writing time until I figure it all out.

One type of short story is called Flash Fiction. Flash Fiction is a bit ambiguously defined, but I like the definition of: Complete stories at no more than 1,000 words. Short stories have looser length requirements and could even range up to 10,000 words, though they tend more toward 3,000 – 5,000 words in length.

One nice thing about Flash Fiction, is you can write an entire story in a single evening. You can also have several stories in the works at a time, so you write one, revise another, write a third, revise the first, etc. Also, the short length make for excellent blog posts.

One final note. I’m not giving up on my book, just working on other things while I figure out those important details, so I keep in the writing habit and develop my skills for when I finally am ready again.

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New Stories Section

June 25th, 2010

As stated in an earlier post, I have 2 major projects right now, aside from family, work, and home responsibilities. The first is a program that will help me with my writing projects. Hopefully, as this software matures, it will also help others with their writing projects. My plan is to make the project open source when I have something reasonable ready for release. I’m a long way from that point, but I hope to have something usable within a month or so.

The second project is a book (which may actually be a trilogy). I’ve been trying to work out the details of the fantasy world, characters, and plot. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Some days I can’t write at all, or develop my programming project. Those days are pretty tough. Even on days when I can write I can’t always work on the book. On those days I’m trying to write some short stories.

I’m not worried about getting the short stories published, so I’ll be posting them when I feel they’re about as done as I’m going to make them (then only the ones that are any good). To that end, I opened a “Stories” tab on my header, into which all my short stories will be dumped when I post them. And so the category won’t be empty, I posted some of my older stories written while I was yet in school.

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Two New Projects

June 3rd, 2010

I’ve been busy of late, working on a number of things. First, I have my work and family that take up most of my time. Next, I’m in graduate school. Finally, I have a house with a yard that desperately needs care, which results in too many mandatory projects.

But, in the evening, when the kids are in bed, the homework is done (or being procrastinated), and the sun is setting, I have a couple hours to do – whatever. Okay, there’s dishes, cleaning and other stuff indoors, but that usually doesn’t happen while the kids sleep since they’re pretty light sleepers at indeterminate points in their cycle.

So with those couple of hours per day, I have two projects I’m working on. Neither one is really new, but I’m taking a fresh start on both of them.

The first project is a novel I’m calling “Bloodseal” for now. It’s about a high school kid named Braeden, who discovers he’s the living vessel for an old and powerful demon. He then must decide whom he can trust, pick sides in a war, and find the secret to controlling his newfound power before he loses himself to the demon.

The second project is for all those times when I sit down at the computer to write, but for one reason or another just can’t do it. It is a software development project. The software I hope to create is writing software. There are so many features I see writing software out there having, and many of them are good features, but what I haven’t seen (at least not inexpensively or without other complications), is a specific list of features I’ll be putting in my software. I’ll be writing it in Java, so hopefully I can find many plugins to do the hard work.

Some things I’d like this software to do:

  • Run on Windows, Linux, or Mac (I use Linux primarily at home)
  • Basic text editing and formatting (like Wordpad)
  • Tree oriented document structure
  • Full screen editing (bye bye distractions)
  • Skin-able backgrounds to get you in the mood to write (ie. not the same blue and gray windows you look at while doing technical work)
  • Version control (this includes tagging versions of documents as part of drafts)
  • Form inputs: ability to define forms, ability to easily use them to manage story data
  • Hot web interfaces to dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, search engines, etc.
  • Storyboard/Timelines
  • Other features as time and energy permit

So, that’s what I’m up to. I’ll likely be posting more about these projects in the future.

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Software Should be so Lucky

February 19th, 2010

It never fails to elicit an eye roll and a heavy sigh. The days of Deities descending in a chariot to save the protagonist may be over, but “Deus Ex Machina” has taken on a new (if you can call it new) twist has become the cliché that refuses to die.

I speak of course of how computers (and in particular software in any form) are portrayed in television and movies. You know what I’m talking about, the “who done it” crime shows where the right computer software can enhance an image, clean it up and add almost infinite detail if the right protagonist is manipulating it. Other examples include, hackers and viruses that can break into any system, even the most secure, even those that have no external connectivity, and sometimes those of other times, races, worlds and even galaxies. Yes, these computer programs are almost deified in their own right according to screenwriters (and other writers too I’m sure).

One “classic” example comes from Independence Day when the lowly Earthlings uploaded a virus to a never before encountered race of alien’s computers, dropping their impenetrable shields and allowing them to be destroyed by mere missiles and nuclear weapons. One might ask – How did this little virus some guy wrote know how to effect the alien systems? Is there any reason to believe the virus wouldn’t look like static noise to the alien system if it saw it at all? How did they get the alien ship to even interface with the human technology? Well, fear not – it was a Mac!

The problem here is this: as a software engineer, programmer, and computer scientist myself I find these plots, and devices so horrifically fantastical that it completely destroys my ability to suspend my disbelief. Whether the genre is basic fiction, science fiction, mystery, or any other I see how poorly they understand computers and it makes me wonder how badly they must understand law, police or military protocol, other sciences, and anything else that may be in the story.

If a computer centric episode that gets it wrong occurs occasionally, I can usually still enjoy the series (ie. Stargate-SG1 and Atlantis seem to throw these in now and then), but when the dependence on utterly wrong and impossible computing takes place 1-2 times per episode (ie. CSI, and similar shows) I lose all ability to watch. The cringe factor becomes too large.

For all of you writers out there, I have only one plea. PLEASE STOP! Stop, writing super viruses, hackers, and otherwise magical programs that can’t possibly exist. Unless you’re writing science fiction (and even then if you don’t have a good explanation) just say no. Just as you can’t extract blood from a stone (for the simple reason that a stone doesn’t have blood), you can’t extract additional detail from a digital photo! It just doesn’t have the detail beyond the original pixels. Yes, you can enlarge it and blur it a bit then sharpen the image, but that’s not more detail, that’s less and with increased uncertainty, and you certainly can’t do that to the extent done on TV on a weekly basis to solve crime. All of these things are blatantly wrong! They show ignorance. They mislead and misinform the public. But worst of all – they’re cliché.

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Goals are a funny thing. There are many kinds of goals. Goals are most frequently referred to as “long term” and “short term” which effectively implies that goals are a) time oriented, and b) categorized in only two ways (ie. long or short term). I see it differently, as I’m sure many people do if they think about it longer than the time it takes to spout the above quoted words.

In my mind goals split into many categories, priorities, and classes. For example, there are the life long goals: get an education, have a family, have a career, etc. These are nice to have and you can never really check them off because they are sort of on going. There are also the goals you set for things you want to do at least once in your life. One of mine is write a novel (that I can be happy with). I don’t feel like I have to get published or earn a living at it, I just want to develop my writing enough that I can write a novel that I can polish enough through revision and editing that I myself can be happy with it.

Another goal I have is to develop and keep talents. This is a sort of short term goal that is perpetual. Each day or week I have to set aside time to practice instruments, sing, create art, program games, or work at whatever else it is I want to have an ability to do. This is where priorities and classes of goals start to muddy my resolve to accomplish these goals.

You see, when I work hard at a series of my perpetual goals, (say, playing piano) I don’t have time to work on some other goals (writing a book). So it’s that time equation again.

I bring this up because last October-November, I was getting back into writing after having done little with it since college. I started writing a story I’d had developing in my head for many months in October and decided to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to writers to write 50,000 words toward a novel during the month of November. I succeeded at the challenge but feel I failed at the spirit of it.

As I neared my 50,000 words, I discovered my story was “all wrong,” which is to say in order to deal with everything I want to deal with in the story and with these characters I’ll have to split the book into three. That basically means I have to start over eventually to get it “right.” However I’ve heard the dangers of doing this, particularly if I don’t at least see the writing to the end before going back and fixing it, so I’m trying to figure out where the story should be going for this first book before I continue writing. So far, so good.

Except that NaNoWriMo is November. Which means right after it, there’s the Christmas holiday, our kids’ birthday, New Year’s and a host of other stressful and time consuming things. I’d hoped to start up my story again in January, but so far no dice.

Instead I felt a resurgence of another goal, creating games. During the week before Christmas I started to feel the urge to remake a game I’d done long ago (and others have done many times), the classic board game “Battle Ship” (called Naval Battle in my version). It took a bit longer to get the game written this time, but I am much happier with this version than I ever was with the one I did years ago. I also remade another popular game that I’ll release some time soon.

But I find I’m at a crossroads of priorities again. I’ve satisfied my game making itch that comes up ever so often, but I have momentum now that I could use to pump out another two or three games without them taking so much time or effort. Or, I could get back to my writing and complete my story (something that had momentum but has since lost it).

It’s not an easy choice, and I may not even have to make it; I go back to school again next week. If this term is fairly easy (as the last 2-3 terms have been) I’ll still have plenty of time for either writing or game making, but if it’s hard I may not have time for either…

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