So then. Neil Gaiman on ten mythological characters who haunt him.
In the Guardian article, he says,
“It’s hard to say exactly where myths end and folk tales and religions begin. I like to think that myths are ways of making sense of the world: the people in them don’t change …but the worlds and the worldviews tell us so much about other cultures and about ourselves. Characters in myths are there to serve the story, but some of them haunt me. Here are 10 of them that do.”
He goes on to enumerate Loki, Penelope from the Odyssey, Icarus and Daedalus, Medusa, Rhiannon from the Mabinogion, Anansi (this one succeeded in the haunting, Neil Gaiman wrote a NOVEL about him…), Lillith, and one which I haven’t personally met before, someone who is described as the mythic Boy Jesus described thus:
He turns up in one of the “lost gospels”, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, in which we learn of the miracles that Jesus did as a boy. He brings clay birds to life, resurrects a kid who falls off a roof and kills or brings blindness on anyone who displeases him. “If he’s going to keep killing people,” Joseph says to Mary, nervously, “We are going to have to stop him leaving the house.”
(Why hasn’t anybody written this novel…?)
But the one whom he also singles out, and which is personal to me, is Coyote, the “Native American creator and trickster”.
Funny, that, seeing as I am engaged in writing about said character myself – over the course of my Worldweavers novels (all three of them – Coyote appears in a bit part in “Gift of the Unmage”, graduates to a dangerous meddler in “Spellspam”, and a full-on antagonist in “Cybermage.”And then he changes completely in the final installment of the Worldweavers saga currently being written, “Dawn of Magic.” It is only to be expected, really, he is the Trickster after all and he just doesn’t stay the same, by definition. He’s been an incredible character to write and a very difficult one to get a complete handle on – which is all as it should be.
Neil Gaiman is unlikely to pick up the books and Tweet about them, but in the absence of that let ME invite you to come by and pick up those books and Woot! Look! You get to meet one of NEIL GAIMAN’S OWN PERSONAL MYTHOLOGICAL CHARACTER FAVOURITES!
(You can, ahem, pick up the books right here, at this very website… they aren’t very far away… just go here: http://www.almaalexander.org/all-my-books/ )
But since I’ve got you here, here are a few of my own favorite characters from fable and mythology.
Okay, I’ll go along with Gaiman on the trickster characters – Loki was by far the most INTERESTING of the Norse pantheon, really. And the very fact that I chose to pick up Coyote as a full character in my own novels speaks for itself.
But then we have…
- Isis – she was one helluva capable multitasker as a Goddess – that, or nobody had a clue as to what she really was. In ancient Egypt, she was worshipped as the ideal mother/wife (the Ultimate Woman) as well as being in charge of such overwhelmingly sweeping subjects like Nature, and Magic. She is described as being a friend of the downtrodden – but she also apparently listened closely to the prayers of the aristocracy. She restores life to the dead. And at least one source cites a popular image of her, suckling her son (under one particular version of that legend, anyway) Horus, as something that the Christians picked up and transformed, like they did with so many pagan rites and images, into Mary suckling the Baby Jesus. Isis was a sort of a Goddess Motherlode. Dip in and you’ll find EVERYTHING you need, sooner or later. I kind of always admired that. It takes cojones to be all things to all people all of the time….
- Keeping it Egyptian for the moment, Bast. Oh, come on. I see the Cat Goddess every day in my own domestic shorthair when she Strikes Up the Regal Pose – and then goes goofy in the very next moment. There is something utterly irresistible in imagining the Egyptian depictions of the dignified Bast playing at the shenanigans that our beloved pets do – and I am certain Bast PLAYS. She’s a cat, after all. I’ve always had a soft spot for Bast. And when at least one of my beloved cat companions passed, I wrote prayers in their name to the goddess who rules their kind and commended their souls into her keeping. In some ways, I believe completely in the existence of a goddess, or even just a spirit, who takes care of these creatures who were so loved during their time on earth when it comes their time to leave it. It makes it easier, in a way, to say goodye.
- Koschei the Deathless. Him, too, I tossed into the soup in one of my books. Here’s the odd thing – when I was writing that book, I remembered PERFECTLY the entire story of the thing that I wanted to put into the novel, but for some reason I could NOT remember the name of the character – it was something that had embedded itself into my psyche when I was young but the name had fled into the shadows of my mind and I had to work to dig it out. But the entity itself – how do you forget something like that? How do you forget the creature that can only be killed by breaking a needle against his forehead – and the needle is in an egg – and the egg is in a duck – and the duck is in a rabbit – and the rabbit it is an iron chest – which is buried under a specific tree – which is on a lost island somewhere in the middle of a trackless ocean? (Oh, the pitfalls. First you have to find the wretched island in the midst of the open blue sea – tried doing that, without a map or a GPS? – and then you have to track down a specific tree, and you have to dig in the precise spot where something is buried, and even when you find the damn chest there are multiple layers of creatures to catch and dismember before you can get the object of your desire, which is that needle. And THEN you have to retrace your steps and catch Koschei sleeping and break the needle against his head. Can someone calculate these odds…?)
- Vasilisa Prekrasnaya, or Vasilisa the Beautiful, from Russian mythology and fairy tale. I was always particularly fond of the story where the three princes (the two older brothers and the proverbial Ivan, always the youngest of the three Russian princes in fairy stories) are asked by their father to shoot their arrows into the air – and where the arrows land, if there is an eligible bride waiting there, then that is whom they will marry. The eldest of course gets a duke’s daughter; the second son gets a rich merchant’s daughter; the hapless Ivan shoots his arrow into the swamp and it is picked up by a frog whom he is then, by the decree of his father the King, obliged to marry. Shenanigans ensue when it turns out that she is in fact an enchanted princess and shows up the other brothers’ brides in ways that bring out an excess of schadenfreude which it was quite unseemly for me to feel as a young girl. I LOVED this story.
- Dragons. Any dragons, anywhere. Oh, okay, I’m pushing the boundaries here – some might say that they are pure fantasy and not in fact “mythological” in the sense of a pantheon of deities or that kind of thing but then – sue me – I’ve already crossed into that territory with Vasilisa who is strictly speaking an archetype and not a “mythological” character although I recognize the distinction is rather a fine one. But, DRAGONS. Like Professor Tolkien, I crossed paths with the image and the concept of a dragon and after that I ‘desired dragons with a profound desire’. It was dragons who pushed me into Anne McCaffrey. It was a dragon who ruled “The Hobbit”. Even the HBO version of Game of Thrones is much better with dragons. Dragons are something visceral and fundamental and dammit if they never existed *they should have done so*. There was a ‘documentary’ that we had taped which covered the subject of dragons, of how some version of them appeared in just about every culture on Earth even when such cultures were widely separated by time and space – and the documentary treated them as UTTERLY REAL, as something that had to have existed in order for them to have left such a lasting impact on the human psyche everywhere. We lent the tape of the documentary to someone who never gave it back and I am really sorry that we lost it, because it was a magnificent piece of filmmaking. It separated dragons into species (mountain dragons, forest dragons, water dragons…) and traced their relationships; it explored how dragons breathed fire and how they flew; it explored their lifecycle from eggshell to death, and told the story of how they became extinct in the end, just like the dinosaurs did. For that matter, who’s to say that some dinosaur who survived the extinction event didn’t create the dragon legend in the little furless mammals who came after the giants walked the earth? And why CAN’T I put them into the mythological creature cast…?
There you go. An overview of a personal mythology Top Five.
What’s YOUR favorite myth? And who lives in it?
This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.
The prosecution of Jimmy Blake was going smoothly. He and several of his friends had been accused of conspiring to set a series of fires in government buildings. Unfortunately for Blake, one of his recently acquired accomplices was an undercover agent who had managed to audio tape Blake discussing the plan during a meeting Blake had held in his house in the late afternoon of October 28. A prosecutor presented the tape as evidence during Blake’s trial, and it represented major evidence against him.
The case appeared to be open-and-shut until Blake’s defense attorney challenged the court’s acceptance of the tape as legitimate evidence. He claimed the tape could have been altered by simply patching separate recordings together. He stated that, although a naked eye can see that an audio tape has been cut and spliced, such a discovery could be prevented by simply recording the spliced tape onto an unspliced one. He also called Blake’s wife to the witness stand, and she testified that he had been out of town with her all afternoon on October 28.
The attorney prosecuting the case explained a bit of physics to members of the jury. As many persons are aware, in most areas of the United States, electric energy arrives at their houses and businesses as what is generally referred to as an alternating current (AC) having a frequency of 60 hertz (Hz). Some persons might recall a time when a hertz was referred to as a cycle per second. A graph of a 60 Hz frequency would show a wave having 60 pairs of peaks and valleys per second, each pair representing an alternation in the direction of the flow of electric energy. Direct current (DC), as its name implies, refers to electric energy flowing in the same direction. Blake’s house was supplied with AC.
The frequency of supplied electric energy is quite constant, but it varies slightly over time by an order of a few thousandths of a hertz. The variations are in response to continuous variations in demand by consumers for electric energy. Variations in demand are, of course, random and thus unpredictable; so the frequency variations are likewise random and unpredictable. If the demand for electric energy exceeds the supply, the frequency will decrease. If the demand is less than the supply, the frequency will increase.
Electrically charged particles in motion create electromagnetic fields. Electromagnetic fields caused by oscillations of AC emanate from many sources. Examples range from high-voltage electric transmission lines to household lamp cords. The fields induce electric currents in such items as audio circuitry in recording devices, introducing what is referred to as “hum.” Consequently, audio recorded anywhere near a source or carrier of an alternating current, will likely have a background hum. The frequency of the hum will vary as described in the foregoing paragraph.
The United States has five electric energy grids, each of which distributes electric energy to users within a specific area. The unique patterns of frequency changes of the hum in each area are continuously recorded, as are times and dates, to create a data bank. The frequency-change patterns of a hum recorded by an audio recorder such as the one that recorded Blake’s plan in his home can be compared to patterns of those recorded in an associated data bank. If they match, the date and time of the recording can be accurately established. Such an analysis is referred to as an electric network frequency (ENF) analysis.
The hum on the tape entered as evidence in the Blake case was so compared. The tape was found to have not been edited and to have recorded Blake’s plan in the late afternoon of October 28. Jimmy Blake now resides in a different home.
Advances in technology might limit some applications of electric network frequency analysis, but it is presently being used effectively in a growing number of countries.
Interestingly, and as most quantum-theory buffs know, electric charge does not flow as a continuous stream. It is quantized, that is, it exists only in integer multiples of an elementary charge (e). Exceptions are quarks, which are elementary particles that are components of matter. Quarks have charges of either one-third or two-thirds that of the elementary charge.
One might wonder how quarks can have fractional charges. The reason is that the discovery of quarks and their charges occurred after the elementary electric charge had been established. The assigned names of their charges simply reflect their relationships to the previously defined, elementary electric charge.
I think that anyone who has the book bug has been to this one single strange place at some time or another during their book collecting days: the aesthetics of it all.
There is something innate, a sense of beauty, a sense of symmetry, an aversion to helter-skelter chaos on one’s bookshelves, that demands that if you own a book which belongs in a defined series then you owe it to – I don’t know –yourself, your bookshelves, the look of your library, a higher force – to have your series books be good soldiers. You have to be able to glance at a shelf and see a matching set of spines and know that you are looking at “a series”.
Trust me, I know. I’ve done it myself. I have an early paperback edition set of the first three books in Mary Stewart’s Merlin saga, and they have been well read, thank you very much – their spines are raked by the fine cracks of having been held open by avid hands. These are the editions that I know and love. I could probably find you any passage you wanted in the context of the books because I know where in these editions those passages fall. These have held a proud place on my bookshelf for many years.
But then the fourth book in that series came out, the Mordred one, and uh, alaaaaarm, it was a different edition, different cover, different everything. It looked… odd and mismatched next to my old loved trilogy. And not just because it was pristine and new when it was added to the shelf beside the well-worn books which had graced it for years. It was other stuff. It was the presence of color next to the black spines of the other books. It was a different font and typeface in which the title and the author appeared. It was… an accretion of all of these things.
And so I caved. I now have two sets of the Stewart Merlin books. My old trilogy, as beloved and well known as ever, and a whole newly reissued and now matching four-book set of the original three books plus the fourth novel. Which now looks perfectly at home next to these new books, because it matches them perfectly. But here’s the thing. The three books in the “new” trilogy, there on the shelf – they look wonderful and it all fits together again but will I ever read THEM? Those books, as opposed to the old editions that I own and know so well? Or are they just window dressing for the Book Collector within me…?
This popped out into the open because of a similar situation brewing with my own work. On my blog I had announced the reissue (with different covers) of the first three books of my Worldweavers trilogy to be followed in turn by a Brand! New! Story! set in that world – a finale, if you like.
A reader by the name of Kat left a comment giving voice to exactly this conundrum – that she is looking forward to reading the new novel when it comes out but that she’ll be leery of putting it on the shelf with the rest of what she calls “these wonderful books” (thank you, Kat!) because “it won’t match the original covers”.
Let me now circle back and do a devil’s advocate argument. I started out by saying that I collect matched-set series and have been known to purchase an entirely new set of books so that things will look right on the shelf. But I don’t ALWAYS do it, and I have books on my shelves that definitely do not match at all – and without which my shelves would be the poorer. There are books I wish to own NO MATTER WHAT – and if the price of owning them is that they look ridiculous next to the rest of their ‘book family’ on the shelf then so be it. Sometimes the price of having what you want is giving up a little of what you think you absolutely need – and when it comes to HAVING a book I want or NOT HAVING it because I can’t find it in a matching edition, well, there is no contest.
Let me use another example from my own shelves – books by a breathtakingly good historical novelist by the name of Sharon Kay Penman. I own three of her books that vaguely “match” – the rest of the novels with her name on their spines are a mismatched hodgepodge of editions (paperback, trade paperback, hardcover) depending on which book I could lay my hands on at any given time and how badly I wanted to read it.
There are, in other words, instances in which CONTENT really truly trumps APPEARANCE – and I think that those of us who truly love books eventually gravitate to that place and away from how things “look” on our shelves. It is not at all the same thing and this is not what I am saying but in one sense I am personally aware of this basic choice in the context of turning away from that concept of “books as decoration” and “books as an aesthetic value” to just “BOOKS, dammit, and I want THAT book and I don’t care what it looks like” – a turning away, if you like, from the ultimate awful hell to which the books-for-looks system can take you, and that is buying books “by the yard”, for the binding, in order to make a statement of décor in your home.
Physical books are, in that particular instance, irrelevant – because there comes a point where you realize that you own the book because of the story which it contains and which you love. And you almost stop seeing the covers of the editions in which you own these stories at all, because they’re filler, they’re irrelevant, they’re just the brackets which are necessary in order for the rest of the book, the important bits, the pages with the words on them, to hold together in a format in which you are able to hold it and read it.
Book covers have morphed amazingly in the ebook age. The criteria are different, because ebooks, seen on the computer screen, have to “work” as tiny thumbnail images. That requires large readable fonts spelling out the name of the work and its author with the background as simple as possible. There is no real room here for the intricate and lovely art of some of the tomes of yore because, frankly, you barely SEE that cover, and often if you have just a plain black and white reader even things like color doesn’t really have an impact never mind some of the really detailed background. If you were looking at a steampunk cover in a “real” book format and an ebook you would probably find that the paper book’s cover may have teeming details on cogs and levers and wheels and what have you and the more you look the more you see while the ebook has a cover “code”, with only a few plain and well chosen images which need to convey the idea of the whole steampunk thing without its clutter and intricacy and drama.
It would not occur to anyone reading ebooks to “match” the covers of any particular series.
There may be some of the sentiment left in the marketing of the ebook – because you are still visually buying it, and a set of covers which actually manages to keep a certain look that alerts you that you are actually seeing a new book in an ongoing series which you might like is a marketing tool which draws the buyer’s eye to an extent of that buyer realizing that oh, I own books #1-3 in this series, here’s #4, click “buy” right now. But after that… it doesn’t matter.
The virtual bookshelf is a far more forgiving place than the packed old-fashioned and warmly familiar shelves in your study.
I don’t know that there’s a bridge between these two things, or not an immediately obvious one, anyway. These are two ways of thinking about the book (and of judging it by its cover, in one sense) that run on parallel tracks and do not really meet.
For the collectors (this is for you, Kat), all I can say is that the reissued Worldweavers books are hopefully going to be graced by a “set” of covers which will now include the new material that will thus be taken under the mantle of the series and declared to be canon (because of the visual signals that it is so) – but also that, at least initially, these reissues are going to be in ebook format and so the problem of the new novel “mismatching” the books already someone’s shelves won’t actually arise, in real terms.
Down the track a ways the new Worldweavers books might well turn up in a new set of paperbacks – and at that point the collector will have to make a decision, as I did with the Merlin books, whether to invest in a whole new set of books because they need to match one another properly… or to decide to discard the “it’s gotta match” view and (hopefully) purchase the new book anyway because the story inside… the story that picks up the tale of Thea Winthrop and concludes it in sparkling style, and it’s this story, the finale, the end of the story that Thea had to tell, that will matter more than the font on the book’s spine and the fact that it is different from the books that came before.
This I leave to the readers, and their decisions will likely be much like mine – arbitrary, and irrational, and perfectly fine for any one given individual no matter what they do. But I very much hope that Thea has achieved enough of a presence, as a character, as a protagonist, to deserve her fans stepping across the great divide if they see her standing on the other side holding out a hand.
All I can promise you is that Thea and I will do our best to make that choice one which no-one who has read and enjoyed the Worldweavers books will ever have a reason to be unhappy with.
Even if the font on the spine of the book is different to the rest of the series.
This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.
Smithereen is a powerful word. If one reads that something has been broken, it usually conjures an image of something that can be fixed and made useful again. If one reads that something has been smashed to smithereens, however, it conjures an image of tiny fragments of what is now utterly useless. There are persons, though, who often find smithereens extremely useful. These special persons are forensic examiners. The following describes a case in point.
Within the first 38 minutes after takeoff from Heathrow Airport in London, a Boeing 747 had reached an altitude of some 31,000 feet. Clearance to begin an oceanic segment of a flight to NY had been issued. A blip representing the plane on a tracking radar screen confirmed that it was right where it should have been. All seemed to be proceeding smoothly when the single blip suddenly disintegrated into a number of blips, the movements of all indicating a new, downward course. A bomb had exploded inside a baggage compartment of the plane. It was four days before Christmas in 1988.
What must have been an unimaginable, horrific scene within the plane was shared with observers on the ground, who watched as body parts as well as aircraft parts and flaming fuel showered downwardly. Wreckage was spread over an area of 50 square miles, and debris, over an area of 845 square miles. A wing of the plane struck the ground with such force that it plowed a crater 155 feet long, displacing some 1500 tons of dirt as it did so. All 259 persons aboard the plane were killed, as were 11 persons on the ground, and 21 houses were completely demolished. Thus ended the flight of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The explosion initiated an intensive investigation whose research extended into more than 40 countries. Some 180,000 pieces of evidence were examined, and 15,000 persons were interviewed. It was determined that the bomb was made of Semtex, a malleable, general-purpose, plastic explosive used by civilians and military personnel. It was favored by terrorists because it was extremely difficult to detect (which is no longer the case). The explosive was secreted within a Toshiba radio-cassette player packed in a brown, Samsonite suitcase.
Fortunately, in a forest 80 miles from Lockerbie, a man walking his dog discovered a T-shirt having pieces of a timer suspected to have been used in the Lockerbie bomb. Examination of the T-shirt and timer pieces ultimately provided the names of two men suspected of being responsible for the explosion on the Pan Am flight. It took eleven years before the two suspects could be brought to trial in the Netherlands. In 1999, one of the two suspects was sentenced to life in prison, and the other was acquitted.
The lives of the 259 persons on the plane and the 11 on the ground need not have been lost had a device capable of detecting the explosive that brought the Pan Am plane down been used to screen items and persons being loaded aboard it. Due to terrorist activities, interest in developing such a device has been keen. A promising device has been developed that reportedly equals or betters the performance of highly trained sniffer dogs, which have long deserved a commanding reputation in the various fields of sniffing. Fittingly, the device is referred to as Fido.
It can be handheld or mounted on an apparatus such as a tracked military robot that can take it where humans dare not go. Fido can detect both explosive vapors and particulates. It’s sensitivity is such that it detects explosive materials in parts per quadrillion (ppq). Fido can detect vapors from buried land mines and has even, without the aid of preconcentration, detected a plume of explosives in sea water. Fido has seen duty in explosive ordnance disposal (OED) applications in such foreign hotspots as Iraq and Afghanistan, and it has been used in the U.S. for explosive detection operations. It’s usefulness has been recognized by having won the U.S. Army Greatest Invention Award multiple times.
A major key to the Fido operation includes amplifying fluorescent polymers (AFP). Electrostatic and oxidation-reduction properties of AFP, contribute to a high level of selectivity, minimizing false alarms.
The inside surface of of a glass capillary tube is coated with AFP to form therewith a sensing element. The presence of explosive vapors in surrounding air can be detected by inserting the sensing element into the detector and exposing it to a light source having a specific wavelength . The light stimulates the AFP, causing it to fluoresce. While the AFP is fluorescing, surrounding air is pulled through the sensing element. Traces of explosive vapor will react with the AFP, causing the fluorescence to dim, or “quench.” The structure of a chromophore chain in the AFP amplifies the quenching effect, which provides ultra-low detection limits. A quench is detected and maximized by optical and electronic components, which also maximize the sensitivity of the detector and notifies a user of the detector of the quench. Within a few seconds, the sampling response can be reversed to prepare the detector for additional samplings.
In addition to buried mines, bombs and such, a person’s skin, their clothing, tools, residences and means of transportation can also be sources of explosive vapors. Explosive detectors can be used to scan the sources to expose evidence that a suspect had been in contact with and possibly assembled or transported an explosive device.
As a parting thought, consider that, buried around the world, there are estimated to be millions of buried landmines and millions of acres of land containing live ordnance left from past battles. It makes one want to search catalogs for a pair of explosive-detecting shoes.
AFP was invented by MIT Professor Timothy M. Swager.
In a short-scale country like the United States, a quadrillion is equal to 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one thousand million million or ten to the fifteenth power).
A chromophore is a portion of a molecule that provides color.
A glass capillary tube is a tube having an inner diameter of a proper size to draw in a liquid as a result of capillary action.
Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance in response to having absorbed electromagnetic radiation such as visible light.
A number of persons have taken advantage of the fear generated by widespread bombings to market fake explosive detectors. One person took advantage of countries having no technology capable of testing his phony device and made millions of dollars. Tens of millions were from Iraq, which equipped hundreds of check points with them. The worst result was the loss of lives caused by trusting the devices to discover explosives. Unbelievably, Iraq was still using the devices several years after they had been found to be fake and its seller had been sentenced to serve 10 years in prison.
After a long hiatus while working on other things, I’ve finally reached a place in my schedule where I can focus on a novel again. I’m not exactly starting from scratch: I have a 3000-word chapter that was thoroughly critiqued by some writer friends a couple of years ago and a fairly solid idea of where to go next. I went on a research trip to an important location a couple of months ago and took along the video camera to film the locale. I know the main character quite well, because I’ve written about him before, though only one short story featuring him has been published, and that in a fairly obscure anthology.
This isn’t my first time at the rodeo. I’ve written four or five novels already, one of which I worked on extensively with my agent over a period of about two years. That was a learning experience, even if the manuscript ultimately didn’t attract any publishers. However, I’m going to approach this book a little differently from my previous efforts. One of the biggest changes is the tool: instead of using the old tried-and-true Word, I’ve decided to shift to Scrivener. I’ve had the program on my computer for a long time, but until now I haven’t taken the time to explore its features. Now, after watching a few tutorials, I’m hooked.
It’s just a tool, little different from a pen and paper in the end, but it has a few attractive features. The one that caught my attention in the first place was the fact that it’s more than a word processor—it’s a workspace. Once you’re inside the program, you don’t have to leave it to pick up your research files or other related documents. You can attach them to the workspace so they’re all in one place. You can open up a pdf or an image or even a video and overlay it with what you’re working on. You don’t have to rummage around on your hard drive to find the document. Even if you’re really organized, that can take some doing. Here’s a screenshot of my workspace, which is in its infancy:
The “Binder” on the left is your project. Everything under “Manuscript” is the work in progress. But there are also sections for character sketches and place descriptions, plus the Research folder, which in my project currently contains the video from my trip and an image.
Note the main area of the window, which resembles a cork board. In Scrivener, you write in scenes which are collected together into chapters and, ultimately, the entire manuscript. This cork board display makes it easy to move scenes around until you find the optimal order. My cards above are currently blank except for a caption, but once I get to work they will contain short descriptions of what happens. You can also have Scrivener automatically create a synopsis of the scene, though I haven’t tested that feature yet to see how effective it is.
When you get down to the writing, you click on your scene and type. You don’t worry about formatting—only content. Formatting is the last thing you do, when you assemble the manuscript for output in one of a myriad of supported document types. Just type. Write. Put down words.
You can split the screen (horizontally or vertically) and open the document twice so that you can refer to text earlier or later in the scene without constantly scrolling back and forth, which can be quite helpful. Or you can open a second document in the split screen for reference. Got a web page that you keep referring back to? Simply drag the URL into the reference area and the whole page will be imported into your workspace. Or export it as a pdf and add the pdf version to the reference area, which ever works best for you.
Do you use real people—actors or actresses, for example—as models for some of your characters? I’ve been known to do that in the past, creating folders of images I culled online. In Scrivener you can create a pinboard to which you add these images randomly, along with whatever notes you want to insert. Have you ever seen one of those boards on TV created by a character who is obsessing over something? Messy affairs with strings connecting items from different parts of the board, everything haphazard to a casual viewer, but which has an internal logic to the creator? You can do that in Scrivener.
Stuck coming up with a character name? Scrivener has a built-in name generator with a ton of options, including specifying whether you want a common or rare name or a name in a different language.
Another nice feature is the fact that you can go into full-screen mode, which really keeps your head in the game. Once you have everything you need set up, all your research and images and related documents, you can blank out the rest of your screen and tune out such distractions as email, Facebook and Twitter.
For me, this latter aspect is one of the most intriguing. My writing time is limited, so I want to make the most of it. The software is intuitive and you can get going quickly without doing much more than watching a 5-minute intro video. Then it’s game on. Avoiding distractions, not having to search for research documents, being able to overlay images when I want to describe something…everything about Scrivener is designed to make it easier to get the job done without venturing into the Internet during your writing session, where all manner of traps and lures await to distract you from the manuscript.
Check back next month. If all goes well, I should have an update on my experience with this new (to me) program, which is available for both Mac and Windows users.