Listening to Myself

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The felt goatee is the most important part.

With one thing and another, I almost forgot to blog again.  S has finished a giant fanfic project, so she and I were reading her story aloud together.  As we’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog, reading aloud is an important part of our revision process.  I’d go so far as to say, in fact, that it’s the most important part.  Reading aloud is the best way to catch little typos, awkward phrasing, and inconsistencies of plot and characterization.  And, of course, it’s fun if you can do it with someone you like.

But what happens if you don’t have someone to read with?  Or what happens if your writing partner happens to be working on her own stuff at the moment, and you want to read something over again for the third or fourth time, and it seems like something of an imposition to ask?  Well, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a way around this.  You can make your computer read your story to you.

I’ve actually been doing this myself over the past few weeks.  In addition to all the other little revision and reference projects I’ve been working on, I decided to reread all our Myrcia books in chronological order, starting with Keara of Glen Taran and ending with S’s Oleg Omdahl mysteries (a span, in the internal timeline of the Myrciaverse, of more than 2,700 years).  Right now, I’m at A Fatal Humor, which is just over halfway through.  The point of doing this isn’t just to pat myself on the back for how much I’ve written.  It’s to make sure I can remember all those stories and keep everything straight in my head as I write more.

Now, I could just sit in my comfy chair and read them the normal way, off my computer screen.  But I’d also like to get some exercise occasionally.  So what I do is to connect my Bluetooth headphones and listen to the books, two or three chapters at a time, while walking.

The first step is to save a couple chapters of the book as their own PDF file.

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Next, you open the PDF and use the “Read Out Loud” feature (under “View”).  Choose “Activate Read Aloud,” then open the same menu again and choose “Read to the End of Document.”  (Note the “Pause” option here, too.  And once you’ve paused, you’ll see “Resume” in its place to start it up again.)  I’m using Acrobat Pro, but Adobe Reader has similar options, as well.

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If you’re in a hurry, you can change the speed, as well, under “Edit” > “Preferences.”

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I’ve got mine set at 280 words a minute, for example.  So if I do three chapters, each of which is, say, 3,000 words long, that will take me a little over half an hour.

Now, obviously it’s always more fun to read with S, but she’s got her fanfic project to work on, as well as—oh, yeah—her job.  So the “Read Out Loud” function is a good substitute.  And there is at least one benefit to reading aloud with the computer instead of by yourself or with another person.  The computer can’t guess what you meant, and can only ever read exactly what’s there.  Sometimes, when you read aloud, you can cheat; you can make a clunky phrase work by reading it with a certain intonation.  The computer can’t do that, though.  It reads what you actually wrote, warts and all, in a flat, utterly pitiless tone.

At my current rate, I figure it’ll take at least the rest of this month to get through all our stories.  Maybe a few weeks of March, too.  But in March, I’ll have to take a break to start planning my April Camp NaNoWriMo novel.  Yes, that’s right—Spring is just around the corner, even if it doesn’t particularly look like it just now.

J

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You Can Take My (MS) Word for It

We promise that we really are going to get around to finishing our series on the best characters in fantasy literature. But our best friend just came to visit, and of course that means that we spent basically no time at all working on our writing projects over the past week. And my birthday is coming up next week, so perhaps soon we’ll have more time on our hands.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing around with the Office for Mac 2016 preview. You can install it alongside Office 2011, and it’s been fun seeing what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. I don’t use my Macbook Air quite so much anymore, particularly on vacation, when I don’t need to spend quite so much time outside the house.

I hear that "Lorum Ipsum" is quite a guy.

I hear that “Lorem Ipsum” is quite a guy.

I love the navigation pane there on the left. I just figured out how to make that show up in Office for Mac 2011; it’s a lot easier to use in the Windows version. But it’s an enormous time-saver when you’re looking through a 200 or 300 page Word document for that one certain time you used that one particular word. I can’t imagine what I’d do without that feature now.

Some people prefer other programs for writing, and more power to them. But personally I’ve always gotten along fine with MS Word. Here’s how I usually do it. (These screenshots are from my HP EliteBook, which is where I do most of my writing now.)

Every book I write has at least three files: one for the outline, one for the characters, and one for the text of the novel itself.

Not shown: blank space where the novel should be.

Not shown: blank space where the novel should be.

When I’m actually writing, I always have the text file open on one side of the screen, and the outline open on the other side. That way I can keep looking back and forth, checking to see that I’m not leaving something out, and keeping an eye on what’s coming up next.

Huh.  I thought she was taller than that.

Huh. I thought she was taller than that.

I keep the characters file open in the background, so I can switch to it whenever I need to check on the spelling of a character’s name, or remind myself where someone is from or how tall she might be. Other times, I have other files open, too, like our other books, if they have information that is important to the new story. We also have files for each of the various countries in our ‘verse. For Red Sand Girl, I kept open the file for the country where it takes place, so I could check the spelling of their various gods and goddesses and make sure I had the names right for their units of money.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to recently. We’ll be back soon with more about fantasy characters we like.

J

Presents of Mind

Christmas is almost here, and hopefully you’ve done all your shopping.  I finished up mine yesterday by getting presents for S.  If you’re a writer shopping for yourself, though, or if you’ve got a writer on your list and you’re still looking, here are a few last-minute gift ideas.

Cheap headphones.  I was in Best Buy shopping yesterday, and during the many, many minutes I was standing in line, I saw some really cheap headphones, and I nearly bought them for myself.  I kind-of wish I had, in fact.  Like most people, I have a “nice” pair of headphones, but they’re a bit too big to carry with me all the time, so I often forget them at home.  And then I end up stuck somewhere, trying to write in public, with all sorts of noise and distractions going on around me.  That’s the sort of situation where I would want some small, cheap headphones–small enough that I could take them with me, and cheap enough that if I lose them, I won’t feel bad.  I could just keep them permanently in my laptop bag, and that way I would never be without them.

A wireless keyboard.   The one at the link is the one I got for myself before NaNoWriMo this year.  It’s pretty nice, and I can use it to write while I exercise.  Someday I might post pictures showing how I do that.  Anyway, I imagine a lot of people already have bluetooth keyboards for their tablets, but you can always use a spare.

I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t remember the hand writers out there, like S.  Everyone can always use a good pen.  And I don’t mean fancy gold-plated things that get admired for two minutes Christmas morning and then get shoved in a drawer and forgotten because they’re too nice to use.  I mean real, practical, usable pens.  The kind that can be bought in bulk.  Here’s S’s favorite.

Books on writing make a good present for a writer.  S and I have previously mentioned My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, by Jeffrey Schechter.  It offers a really valuable way to look at the structure of stories.  It’s the last minute for Christmas shoppers, though, so here are links to the Nook and Kindle versions of the ebook.

And speaking of things that can be downloaded right at the very last minute, there’s Scrivener.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s writing software that claims to make it easier to develop and organize your novel.  We’ve never actually used it, but NaNo winners get a discount, and sooner or later I’m sure we’ll give in and buy it.

If you can’t get any of those things, or if the person you’re shopping for already has them, you could always just stop somewhere and pick up one or more of the following: chocolate, coffee, or wine.  Because those are always welcome gifts at any time of year.

J