Writing Apps for the iPad Pro

scrivenerRecently my son convinced me to get a new iPadPro. I went for the large 12-inch version and bought a Logitech cover/keyboard, which means I can use it as a substitute laptop if I want to.  The graphics are amazing. The question then arose as to which writing Apps I should  buy to help me with my writing.

First I need to explain that I am a relative novice when it comes to IOS devices. I have an iPhone 6 plus, but I use it primarily to make calls and check e-mail. I don’t use its apps other than the calendar, email and contacts. I don’t see the need to surf the web on a small screen when there are easier ways using larger screens. And when I am home my iPhone is normally switched off. I prefer it that way.

Most of my writing is done using using Scrivener on my MacBook Pro. It’s an incredibly powerful writing app. I have now published two novels in print and ebook format solely using Scrivener; and am close to finishing my third. Like many other writers who love this software, I would be lost without it.

If you’re a writer and haven’t tried Scrivener, I would suggest you do. It can at first seem complex, but you don’t need to use all it’s functionality to reap the benefits of using the program. It’s not just a word processor, it’s a project management system for writing and editing novels and scripts. There’s lots of useful guidance on YouTube and on the Literature Latte website. And there’s also a great little book on Kindle by Ed Ditto, “Format Your Novel For Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, & CreateSpace”, which is a step by step guide to publishing your book in the different formats.

Fortunately for me, last week Litterature and Latte released an IOS version of  Scrivener.  Now I can work with my third novel on either of my MacBook Pro or my iPad Pro by using Dropbox. I can tell you it’s simple to set up and it works. If you want to synch in the cloud you’ll need a Dropbox account. But you can get a free account which gives up to 2GB of storage. This is more than enough to write your novel. If you have any difficulty there’s guidance on YouTube. Just search for ‘Scrivener and IOS’.

Srivener is great but it’s not the only writing app on my system. I also chose the  Ulysses App. Why? I simply like the Ulysses for writing quick articles like this one. It’s simple to use and has some similar features to Scrivener without the same level of complexity. Unlike Scrivener, Ulysses uses iCloud rather than Dropbox to store files on-line, although neither app requires you to store files on-line if you don’t want to. I like the fact that Ulysses uses Markdown which can easily be exported easily to different formats such as text, HTML, ePub, and Docx.

What other Apps have I found useful for the iPad Pro? Duet is an interesting app that turns the iPad Pro into a second screen for my MacBook Pro. That is I can work from my MacBook Pro keyboard and move the curser from one screen to the other as though they were joined. For example, I can use the QuickRef function in Scrivener to float a text box from one screen to another. This is useful if you want to refer to research material on a separate screen  while working on the other. Yes, I know that Scrivener can also give you a split screen, but two screens are much more fun that just using one.

Another useful and inexpensive app for writers that I found in the iPad App Store is Plotline. It’s a very simple but clever app that lets you set up different plot lines and scenes for your story. Each scene is associated with a plot line, has a title, details and an intensity score. Scenes can be moved around and between Acts very simply by dragging them. Plotline is a great little planning tool that gives you a visual overview of your story by each scene’s intensity, and you can print out a scene by scene outline.

These of course and not all the writing Apps I have on my iPad Pro, but the ones I think are worth drawing to your attention. As you might have guessed I am not a technophobe. Far from it. I am a relative novice in IOS terms, but I’m learning about what works for me. And I hope they will work for you.

Story boarding

In my previous blog, I put forward the view that a writer should know his/her story before he/she starts writing. Once a writer has a story concept, a character with a goal, a source of conflict, and stakes at risk then they have basic ingredients for a story. But as any chef knows, ingredients can be put together in a million different ways to produce very different cuisine.

For some writers the ingredients are enough for them to start writing and see where their characters take them. And some very successful authors write this way. For me, there are still too many different paths a story could take and I need to feel out which is best path before I commit to write.

There are lots of ways a writer can do this: working on character  sketches and story lines for each of the main characters, identifying the key scenes, obstacles  and story turns that will impact the characters, and working back from desired ending. My favourite approach is story boarding –mapping out the key elements of the story line on scene cards.

There are many different ways you can do this. You can use a whiteboard marked out into four equal vertical sections, being Act 1, Act 2 (i), Act 2(ii), and Act 3. Scenes can then be added using post it notes to each area of the board as the scene ideas unfold.

An alternative approach is to use 5 x 3 cards and lay them out on the floor, or on a cork board.

Or you can use a powerful program like Scrivener to do the same thing . This is the cork board view of Scrivener for the first Act of my book, Alien Hothouse. Each card is colour coded to tell me the point of view character for each scene. Scrivener is an amazingly powerful piece of software for any writer and my chosen medium for writing all my books. But the purpose of my blog today is not sing the praises of this software, but to explain the storyboarding approach.

Scivener

Alternatively, you can use storyboarding  software designed for screenwriters. I have experimented with one of these products, Plot Control 2. Here is same first act mapped out under Plot Control 2. (There is also a further version – Plot control 3 that allows the main headings to be modified)

hothouse

The main difference between using this approach and a cork board is that the scenes are entered under twelve different captions:

  • Opening scene
  • Setup
  • Inciting Incident
  • Movement to Resolution
  • Plot Point One
  • Act 2: Tier 1
  • Midpoint
  • Act 2: Tier 2
  • Plot Point 2
  • Climax
  • Resolution
  • End Scene

Of course, if you wanted to use the same kind of structure in Scrivener it is quite easy to do so. You simply set up the twelve structural elements as though they were twelve  chapters. As a personal preference,  I like to use Plot Control 2 to ‘mess about’ with the scenes until I have the makings of the story and then I set up the the appropriate scene structure in Scrivener.

For my latest novel, I have taken the process one step further by turning the scene cards into a twenty page ‘treatment’ by adding further detail to the scenes. It is a bit like layering in further elements of detail as the story gets clearer in your mind. Hopefully, this should make the writing process more efficient.

No one can tell you which writing approach is right for you. But if you haven’t looked at storyboarding you might like to try it. You don’t have to use expensive software. You can use a pack of cards or post-it notes on a whiteboard, or  Scrivener. The approach is the same. It gives you a helicopter view of your story.

The First Cut

In my last blog, I said I was taking some time out from writing as I needed to think more deeply about where the plot-line of my new novel was taking me. After a short break, I looked again at the manuscript, which was about a third complete, and my scene cards. In spite of all the planning and preparation that I did before starting my second novel, it was obvious that something was missing. But before I could add it, the plot-line needed some drastic surgery.

The song goes ‘The first cut is the deepest’. The Cat Stevens song was not about writing, of course, but the words seemed to fit my mood as I slashed some 21 scenes and almost 10,000 words from the manuscript. I didn’t delete them completely; I placed them in my unused scenes folder. As I use the Scrivener software, this is a simple process of dragging the scene files to the unused folder. Some scenes might be used later in a reworked form. What was left was a lean more focused manuscript.

Not all writers would agree that you should start editing mid draft. KM Weiland, for example, suggests you should note down what has to change, but to write on as if those changes had been made until you complete the first draft. Only then does she suggest you start the edit process. It’s probably very good advice, particularly if you have problems finishing a first draft. But it’s not the way I can work. The inconsistency in the manuscript would constantly niggle me until I fixed it.

So how do you fix a plot line that doesn’t seem to work? Putting the manuscript down for some time does help to regain perspective. Then you need to stand back from it and try visualise main steps of the plot. Like some other authors, I like to use scene cards to map the steps in the story-line. In my case, I use some specialised screen writing software to play with the cards; but physical cards set out on a cork-board, or floor, can be just as effective. From the cards I identified the three key scenes that held the structure of the plot together. These are:

Turning point 1: The scene that marks end of the set-up sequences in Act 1 and projects the hero/heroine forward on their journey towards his/her new goal. The pursuit of that goal forms most of the action for Act 2.

Turning point 2: This is usually an epiphany scene at the end of Act 2 where hero/heroine finally realises what they are doing wrong. It marks the end of Act 2 and a new direction for the hero/heroine for the climatic ending in Act 3.

The Mid point: This is a scene at the centre of the story where something important happens: a twist, a revelation, false climax or false disaster.

Where I had gone wrong is that nothing important seemed to be happening at the mid-point. By simply asking what is the worse thing possible that could happened, I had my answer. (No I’m not telling you what it is. It would spoil things.)

The idea that something important must happen at the mid-point of a story is not new. Screen writers such as Syd Field have long known that something important occurred at the mid-point of most movies. But it is also a feature of good novels. In fact, James Scott Bell wrote a whole book about the importance of the mid-point: “Write your Novel from the Middle.” James Scott Bell’s thoughts are that you should find your mid-point first. Then you know what has to happen before it and if you know your ending you know what needs to happen after it. The point is it should be something big. The bigger the better.

So if you’re a writer, do you know what your big event/revelation is in your story? Does it occur broadly at the mid-point? And what type of a writer are you — do you make major edits as you go or push on and complete the first draft before starting the edit?

Publishing print-books and e-books using Scrivener

In a recent blog, ‘Indie Publishing on a Shoestring’, I wrote about how you can use Scrivener to create mobi, epub, and pdf files for publishing on Amazon,  Createspace, and other e-distributors, such as BookBaby, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital. The reason I wrote the blog was to convince new indie authors that it wasn’t that difficult to create these files using Scrivener and upload these files to the websites for publication. And that there was nothing to fear from technical aspects of creating these files. You don’t need to be a technical geek, or have a knowledge of hmtl to do so.

Scrivener is indeed an amazing piece of software, and it is difficult for me today to think how I could live without it. As a writer you might only use 10% of its functionality and it’s still a much better tool for writing novels than most other word processors on the market. And I have used quite a few, including Microsoft Word for most of my business career.

However, if you want to get the most out of Scrivener, you need to invest some time in learning about its capabilities. For example, formatting a pdf file for a print-book can be quite complex if you’re not familiar with  print-book design. You need to set different gutter and outer margins, force chapters to begin on a right side page, turn off printing headers and page numbering on pages with chapter starts, indent paragraphs (except the first paragraph of a chapter), turn off page numbering for the front matter content of the book  etc.

If you hunt around on the Internet you find out how to do this using Scrivener. Just google ‘Createspace and Scrivener’. The Scrivener Manual and various published Scrivener guides will also help. But it will take time.

Recently I bought e-book, “How to Format Your Novel for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, & CreateSpace in One Afternoon’ by Ed Ditto. I nearly didn’t. It has a rather naff self-made cover that almost put me off buying it (Sorry Ed, but it does). But the content  is brilliant. It’s a recipe for any author to publish their e-book and print-book. All they need is a copy of Scrivener to do it.  It is a step by step guide that takes you through the process. I only wish I had bought it months ago. Before I bought it I was familiar with about 85% of the content of the guide (having already gone through the publishing process myself). But it was still worth the buy just for the 15% that was new to me. If you are an author starting from scratch, and you have Scrivener, you will find this eBook amazing.

I would add that I have no connection to either Ed Ditto, or Literature & Latte, the software company that makes Scrivener.

Of course, Scrivener is not the only way to create mobi, epub and pdf files for publication. I just think it’s probably the most efficient. If you are wedded to Word then the alternatives would seem to be to convert your files using Jutoh, or Sigil (of which the latter requires a working knowledge of hmtl). Another recent product that has appeared on the Internet is KDPublishing Pro, which creates files for Amazon. Unfortunately I don’t have any direct experience of these products and can’t comment further. But feel free to comment on this blog if you are a big fan of these products.

Authors’ software

As a newbie author, I’m always on the lookout for new software that might make the task of writing easier. I have always wondered if there was that killer application lurking out there that would make life simpler, if only I could just find it. Other newbie authors might be thinking the same way. Therefore I thought it would be helpful to run-down of the software that I find useful. It’s not necessarily the best, but it’s what works for me.

Firstly, it is important not to forget that many great authors in the last century managed to publish their great works of fiction without much more than pen, ink and paper. The most important ingredient is therefore, and will always be, that piece of software between your two ears. But it would be silly not to recognise the power of personal computers, laptops, pads and even phones to make life easier.

The most obvious application is of course the word processor, and I have seen quite a few during the course of my business career. Today Microsoft Word clearly dominates the business market and has become virtually a de facto standard both in the business and publishing worlds. I have used it for over two decades and it is still my word processor of choice for general word-processing , spellchecking and editing. But it is not what I use for drafting or publishing fiction.

For most of my business career I was a Windows user. When I retired two years ago, I was looking for something new to do and I took a look at the Apple Mac. I had also heard great things about an application called Scrivener that then ran only on the Mac (A version is now available on Windows, but lacks some of the functionality of its Mac counterpart). I purchased a MacBookPro and Scrivener and started to write. I used Scrivener to write and publish my first book ‘Collision – a Sci-Fi Romance’. Scrivener is an amazing piece of software, so much more than a word processor that it’s difficult to describe. It allows you to write scenes and chapters in any order you like, move them about without cutting and pasting; and you can visualise the structure in either an outline format or as cards on a corkboard. And you can review your notes while writing on a split screen. It also allows you to compile your manuscript into a variety of formats including DOC, RTF, EPUB and Amazon’s MOBI and more. For an excellent review of the software see http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/02/04/scrivener/ or go to Literature and Latte’s site at http://literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

The other software I tend to use is a mixture of tools some of which run on the Mac others are Windows. For outlining before I start a project I tend to use OmniOutliner. This is a simple outliner for the Mac, which I use to map out the scene structure. It’s quick and efficient. You can also export files from to Scrivener into OmniOutliner and import OmniOuliner reports into Scrivener.

When I am developing ideas I sometimes use mind maps. There are many free applications available on the Internet. The one I used recently was MindMeister, which does pretty much everything I need. More recently, I have used the beta version of Scapple from Literature and Latte. It’s not really a mind map, but an application that mimics a large whiteboard. It’s great for putting down ideas in free-form as though you were using a big whiteboard. When it appears in the Apple Store I will be one of the first to buy it.

I use Microsoft Excel for analysing scene structure and all kinds of analysis. This might seem strange for an author, but for someone that has used spread sheets in the business world for over two decades it is the most obvious software for me to use. I’m simply used to it. If you don’t already have Excel, for other reasons, then I would suggest a simpler spreadsheet would suffice. There are many available on the internet, some of which are open source and free.

For general note taking, I find Microsoft’s OneNote is the best for jotting down ideas and thoughts. I’ve looked at Mac note taking software, but haven’t yet found anything quite as powerful as OneNote. However, for project specific notes, outlines, character sketches and the like I put directly into one of my Scrivener folders for access when I am writing.

There are also a variety of software products that claim to provide authors with a framework or structure for novel building. Some are very structured – a kind of novel building by numbers. This type of software doesn’t interest me. Others like StoryWeaver, Novel Writer and Contour have some merit as structured learning tools, but have limited value to me personally. The remainder seem to duplicate some of the functionality of Scrivener. The one exception I came across was StorybookPro. This is a story boarding application that has some useful visual features for viewing the different strands of a plot and for tracking the time line. I found its Book Summary and Character List reports useful. In my case I exported the reports as RTF files and imported them into a Scrivener folder for access for when I am writing.

Lastly, there are lots of software products that are aimed at helping the author with the editing, and grammar checking process . Most of this software seems to me to be over-hyped and expensive and the ones I’ve looked at didn’t provide any noticeable improvement over Microsoft Word’s own spellchecker and grammar checker, which I already use. Personally, I think it is impossible to produce a grammar checker that is totally reliable, because of the complexity of English grammar. Accordingly this type of software will always produce ‘false-positives’ to confuse the author. A writer needs to have a good grasp of grammar. And if he/she doesn’t then they’re in the wrong business.

There is one exception I would make to editing software and that is software that analyses word count and over-used words in your work. I use a software product called MasterEdit (Windows) which is simple and efficient and inexpensive. And if you’re interesting in analysing your writing style you might like to look at the free online sites http://prowritingaid.com/free-editing-software.aspx and http://editminion.com/

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any software relating to social media. This is because when it comes to social media I am a bit of dinosaur. For example, I only use my cell phone for telephoning and I have never sent a text in my life. But perhaps I’ll summon up the courage to dip into the social media in the near future. I never thought I would blog; and here I am.

That’s it. This was never intended to be a comprehensive review of all the software available to an author; only a list of those software products that work for me. If anyone out there believes, there is a killer-application that I have missed please let me know.