Background music for writers

Some of my writing friends listen to music for inspiration, mostly notably Lia Keyes who is working on her steampunk novel and listens to Phantom of the Opera. Seems like the perfect choice for what promises to be a deliciously, dark mystery.

Normally I don’t listen to music while I write, but I’m intrigued by the idea of using my auditory senses to help ‘set the mood’. 

Here’s my dilemma though. What in the world would make good background music for a book with cats as the main characters, an evil professor and his Whisperer, a magical book of power and a host of mythological characters ranging from the dark to the light side, and settings that range from the ancient Library of Iskandriyah to a small public library in the foothills of California.

See what I mean? Suggestions welcome.

In the meantime, I’m going to check out Five great ways to find music that suits your mood,  a Mashable article that reviews several websites that let you pick out music according to your moods and emotions, rather than artist, genre or title.

What do you listen to, if anything, while writing?

Urban Dictionary — resource for writers who lead a sheltered life

From my Writer’s Toolbox: Here’s a good resource to keep you from ‘stepping in it’ literally when it comes to slang and the new urban language. For instance, I want to use the word ‘wuss’ in a children’s book and I need to know if it has any off color overtones that would be inappropriate for my young readers. I’m not ‘up’ on my slang or ‘tween language. (Who is?) and many words these days are used differently than when I was…um…younger. With the  Urban Dictionary I’ll know what to use and what to avoid, especially since I am writing for the YA and children’s market.

I checked ‘wuss’. It means: A person who is physically weak and ineffectual. Often a male person with low courage factor, as in “Tobias, you’re such a WUSS!”  So it means what I thought it did and it seems safe to use for my middle-grade fantasy.

Be forewarned though. The Urban Dictionary is not for wusses. Anyone apparently can add a new word, or define a word and it contains a lot of sexually explicit verbage. What it will give you is very current, up to the minute social connotations for any word you enter in the seach bar. There’s close to 5 million definitions and the Word of the Day section is updated daily with words and phrases you’d be hard-pressed to find all in such a convenient location.

Here’s some examples of the ‘cleaner’ entries:

Fax potato: A person who faxes from one floor to another instead of getting up and running the information because they’re too lazy to get out of their chair.
Protohype: The process of leaking a prototype device to generate buzz about a product you don’t quite yet have ready for market to a friendly tech website who will promote the gizmo well before it’s ready to go.
Tree-book: A book printed on dead trees, i.e. paper, as opposed to an e-book, which only exists electronically. Compare with snail mail.
Pi Time: The time of the day where a digital clock reads 3:14.
Child supervision: When an older person, especially a parent, needs a tech-savvy kid to help him/her with computers or other electronic devices. 

Do you write for middle grade or young adults?  How do stay current with their language and their world?


Google ‘street view’–the next best thing to being there

How do you imagine the settings in your book? This is one of my weak spots, especially since one of my settings is in a place I’ve only visited in my imagination. Much as I would prefer to travel and do ‘on location’ research, I’m not at liberty to pack up and fly to London at the moment.

I thought a few images would help round out my descriptions and make them more realistic, so I went to Google maps to search ‘London, secondhand bookshops’. I clicked on ‘street view’ and explored further. Now I’ve played around with Google maps before, but no where quite as interesting as the back streets of London.

I roamed around for, well…way too long…and got lost trying to find my way back to one particular bookshop. I turned corners, zoomed in and out, all without the hassles of getting a ticket because I was on the wrong side of the street.

I swear I felt like I was actually there and could practically enter the shops. I ended up with plenty of visuals that helped me add just the right descriptive touches I was looking for. 

Pretty cool, I thought and I wanted to share with you. Have any of  you ever used Google street view to help bring your story’s setting to life?

Writing software or index cards? How about a storyboard!

I’ve been researching and testing fiction writing software for the last week or so.  The kind you need when your notes overtake your life and your dining table. Like so.

My new script is in the plot and character development stage and every time I get a brilliant flash I grab a sticky note, a scratch pad or any handy notebook, unless I’m actually sitting at my laptop. The story is starting to get unwieldy with subplots and characters and it was time to come up with a plan.

I used up all my giant yellow index cards on my last book and I thought my new project deserved an upgrade to software. So I ‘googled’ and found that Power Structure had the best reviews. All kinds of published writers swore by it and they couldn’t be wrong, could they?

So I clicked on ‘Buy Now’ ($129.00) praying that it will be worth my money. Here’s my review so far. You have to read the entire pdf manual. It is not very intuitive. I tried that first, but I couldn’t figure it out. So I read the whole manual and tested the Jack and Jill script at the back.

PS is definitely a learning curve. (But then I find QuickBooks too much of a learning curve.) Still, I hung in there. After all, this wasn’t freeware, so I played around with it until….Wouldn’t you know just when I was beginning to get the hang of it, it started getting buggy. I got ‘error notices’, ‘access violations’ and  ‘unable to send’ messages. ‘Terminate program’ had the truly fatal results that the message heralded.

When I lost three hours of work, I gave up. PS tech support is supposed to get back to me, but it hasn’t happened yet. Even if I get the bugs exterminated, I don’t know if I can depend on it…. wondering  if they are going to eat all my beautiful ideas.

So it was back to the index cards.  They were starting to look better all the time.

However, while researching ‘how to use index cards to structure your story (I’m a habitual ‘googler’) I found an interesting piece of organizational software and this was free. FREE! I It’s called Text Block Writer which is a virtual index card program for writers. You can organize any kind of writing the same way you’d use index cards. Rearrange them to your heart’s content. And they can also be exported as a WordDoc RTF which means you can print them out and tape them on cards if you like. It’s easy to use and easy to customize.

But even this wasn’t working for me and I think I know what it is.

Working at the computer doesn’t allow me to see the Big Picture. It keeps me hunched over, peering at the details, when I really needed to see where this story was going and where the plot holes were.

So in full circle I came back to index cards. But my bulletin board was too small. Too square. I wanted something to stretch out on. Give me room to spare so I wouldn’t feel claustrophobic.

I love my storyboard!

I thought about this a lot because I wanted something I could easily move if I’m not ready to share my right brain ideas with dinner company. Another requirement was that it wouldn’t leave holes in the wall or be too unsightly. Third and fourth requirements: it had to be cheap and easy.

Voila, this storyboard meets all my standards. Three foam boards and push pins. The push pins are just long enough to go into the wall.The 3 boards are roughly designated as the beginning, the middle and the end of the plot. I love it!

So I’m thinking it’s not a matter of writing software vs. index cards. I think there’s a need for both and I’m hoping to integrate the two tools so I can work out the details on one and have the Big Picture spread out before me on the other.

What do you think?

Let me know how you organize your work. If you use writing structure software, what do you think of your program of choice?

If you use index cards, how do you use them?