In my search for inspiration, I tried looking at random words in my dictionary (the brilliant Wordweb Pro lets you search for random words). But it occurred to me that there must be a way to do this for multiple words and, since I don’t have the programming skills to do this myself, I went looking for apps and I found two.
The first was the amusingly named Liptikl from Intermorphic. This software is chiefly designed for song writers but it also stimulates the brains of blocked fiction-writers. It has three boxes in which text can be placed and it scrambles the words from those boxes and churns out nice poetry-sized chunks of words. You can set the line lengths to get the right feel. It is quite delightful.
The next app was Amusement. This churns words from its own database, but you can specify the frequency of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, interjections, pronouns and articles. Great fun.
Like all good software, these apps are a pleasure to use and quite entertaining. Good luck with throwing your word-dice!
I was trawling through software to help with fiction writing when I came across Namebook by Hexagon Star Softworks. This is a delightful app, well thought-out and entertaining. It has a large database of first names and surnames which it churns to help with naming fictional characters. Obscure and amusing names are spewed out along with their meanings (when available). This offers great entertainment (above and beyond its utility in naming characters) for many of the names are highly evocative. Names can be conveniently sorted alphabetically, by gender, theme, origin, meaning, type, and format. Selected names can be added to a second pane which means that you can collect your favourite outcomes. Names can be further randomised to generate weird and imaginary names (ideal for science fiction and fantasy). Highly recommended.
Leonardo da Vinci advised artists to check their work in a mirror. The flipped image is unfamiliar, and the artist sees his mistakes. I used this technique with drawings and paintings–particularly portraits–and the mirror often revealed hideous distortions. The sad picture–stark in all its horrors–could be repaired or discarded. Often discarded, for the faults were too deep.
But writing is different. A mirror does not help (Leonardo did mirror writing, but that was something else). But there are ways to trick the mind–to make the writing seem unfamiliar–as I discovered when I read an early Scrivener draft of Time Aerials as an ePub on BookReader. My words looked fresh in their simulated book–a two-dimensional thing with stitches and a cover and textured paper and page numbers. The faults jumped out, as obvious as typos on a real print job. And I hopped between both versions, outrunning my mental filters.
The effect was even stronger with the Hemingway(app). It coloured swathes of text with chiding yellow. An overwrought sentence screamed in red, like a badly drawn mouth. Once back in Scrivener, the monochrome page revealed more problems. My writing became visible, as if written by someone else (Leonardo’s other master). So now I go from ePub to Hemingway(app) to Scrivener. And I’m thinking of adding more apps to the pipeline…
Ebook readers that mimic real books are skeuomorphic designs. Such attempts to import real-world features into graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are going out of fashion–but they clearly have their uses.
Writing apps could hold up a mirror by offering novel views of a manuscript–without losing the underlying formatting. The application might randomly change the display typeface, font-size, page colour, and paper texture, bamboozling the writer and distancing him from his work (or her work, of course). Now there’s a thought–it could shift genders, too. Just for display purposes, of course…
Yesterday I searched for an elegant way to highlight passive voice expressions in my writing. I found Hemingwayapp. It is free to use on the web but I bought the app. And I love it. It highlights complex sentences, complex phrases, passive voice use, and adverbs. The great lines of colour slice through my verbose verbosities and make me want to quickly please the machine…
It’s hard to keep track of events, especially when you write about time travel. I started by using a multi-coloured ballpoint pen (and that works well for initial ideas and broad outlines – and such pens feature in my book) but it soon got messy and unreadable, so I went searching for electronic alternatives that were neater, editable, and easier to store and retrieve. Then I found them:
2. Aeon Timeline. Totally different, and great for keeping track of dates and ages.
By making my plot maps legible I found it much easier to understand my story structure. And I had new ideas, ideas that just would not come (at least to me) without some kind of visual aid. Of course, I am used to working with pictures.