Categories
Fearless Self-Publishing Guest Post Self-Publishing Software Review Uncategorized Writing Help Writing Life

A Writer’s Guide to InDesign

By Kaytalin Platt – Cross-posted on Kaytalin’s website here!

I created the Author’s Guide to Typesetting in InDesign for authors who want a little more control over their book’s interior layout. InDesign can seem like a daunting program. There are a lot of tools and features, and many of which you won’t need for typesetting or layout. In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step, start-to-finish guide on how to publish your book with a custom-designed feel. We’ll discuss creating a document, creating the rules which will govern your document, laying out text, and exporting for print.

InDesign is the leading program professionals use for book layout and production. It’s complex features make for high customization and professional quality. Mastering the program can give you a leg up in production and save you money.

Note: Before starting your typesetting in InDesign, you should have completed all rounds of editing in your Word document. Your manuscript should be as close to perfect as possible before laying it out in book form. 

Working with a Template

Amazon doesn’t offer InDesign templates, but they do offer Microsoft Word templates. This has to do with the fact a lot of people don’t have access to InDesign or know how to use it. You can, however, still layout your book in InDesign and upload it to KDP.  

For the purpose of this article, I created a template for myself using the methods I’ll outline below. I’m making it available for anyone who would like to use it as a branching off point to create their own. 

Tools of the Trade

As I mentioned, InDesign has a variety of options you can use to build out your document. These are separated on either side of the screen. We have Left Screen Tools (located on the left side of InDesign) and Right Screen Tools (on the right side of InDesign). You can add more tools to the Right Screen by going to the Window dropdown in InDesign’s menu bar. 

Left Screen Tools:

The basic tools you’ll need for working on novel layouts are below. If you hover over the tools, their names will appear. These are in order from top to bottom on the tools panel, but I’m excluding a few you might not necessarily need for your project.

  • Select Tool – Selects an object or group.
  • Direct Select Tool – Selects a single object within a group.
  • Type Tool – Creates text boxes, highlights text.
  • Line Tool – Create lines to add interesting elements to your page.
  • Rectangle Frame Tool – Creates boxes you can place images into.
  • Free Transform Tool – Changes the size of objects
  • Color Fill – Changes the color of objects. To change text, select the text box with the Select Tool, and click the T beneath the Color Fill section. This will allow you to change the text color. Another way to do this is to Select All the text, and change the color using the Color Fill box. 

Right Screen Tools:

If you look at the menu bar running across the top of InDesign (following along behind File, Edit, Layout, etc), and select Window, it gives you a variety of tools to add to your workspace. You also have the ability to select pre-organized Workspaces. 

I, myself, work in Essentials Classic. But, there are other options. You may wish to work in the Book workspace, but, for the sake of this article, everything I’m describing is found by navigating using Essentials Classic.

Right Screen Tools you’ll need:

  • Pages – You will have a LOT of pages in your book. This is a compact way of viewing and organizing them. The Pages panel also allows you to create Master Pages, which you can style and apply to hundreds of pages at a time, without having to add elements to each individual page. This becomes handy very quickly, and we’ll go into more detail on this feature later. 
  • Layers – You may not use this very much, especially if you’re utilizing the Master Pages feature. It allows you to put elements on different layers and turn them on or off. This feature is especially nice for placing a Template on an InDesign page and hiding it away periodically as you work. 
  • Links – Any images you add to the document will be found here, in list form. It allows you to see, at a glance, any altered or missing links you might have. An altered linked (signaled by a yellow warning triangle) means you’ve edited an image and haven’t re-synced it with InDesign. To fix this, double click on the yellow triangle. A missing link (signaled by a red circle and white question mark) means the image you placed in InDesign no longer exists in the folder you got it from. If you don’t fix missing link issues, you’ll have pixelated images when you go to print. To fix a missing link issue, you must put it back in the original folder, or replace it in your file from the new location. You can also click the “chain” symbol to re-link manually to the new folder.
  • Stroke – Allows you to adjust the thickness or style of the line you’ve created. You adjust the color of the Stroke in the Fill Tool section on the left. Click the hollow box behind the Fill Tool solid color and it will let you access the stroke color fill options. 
  • Swatches – Quickly access commonly used colors or colors you’ve saved as swatches. 
  • Effects – Adjust transparency, create drop shadows and other stylistic changes to objects. 
  • Character – Select your font, style, character size, spacing between lines, and more in this section. 
  • Paragraph – Adjust your paragraph text to left, right, centered, or justified.
  • Glyph  allows you to add special characters into your text. I usually manually add this tool through the Windows dropdown at the top of the program.
  • Text Wrap – allows you to adjust your text around any images you may have added. 

Creating a New Document

Depending on which version you have, your document setup screen may look a bit different. I work on InDesign CC at work and InDesign 6 at home (probably soon to change now that I’ve updated to IOS Catalina -_-). 

When you select File → New → Document, the New Document screen pops up. 

Width & Height

In the Width and Height area, you might see numbers displayed a bit… odd (unless your version of InDesign is already set to inches instead of picas). Change the unit of measurement to Inches. If you’re in America, you’re probably more used to working in inches. 

The most common indie published book is 6×9. For the purpose of this tutorial, this is the measurement I’ll be using. You’ll want to set your document to 6” wide by 9” tall. But, don’t get carried away and click Create. We need to setup your margins and bleed. 

Margin

Margin can be tricky, depending on the thickness of your book. You may want a wider margin for super hefty tomes. But, for the typical 6×9 book, you can use these measurements below.

  • Top Margin: 0.875” or 1”
  • Outside margin: 0.625” 
  • Bottom margin: 0.875”
  • Interior margin: 0.75” or 0.875”

Bleed

Bleed is the term used to describe the content that flows off the edge of the page. You may not need this feature, but set it up anyway. You’ll want to export your document with bleed settings at the end of this tutorial. 

Most people suggest 0.125” all around for bleed, but I like a lot of bleed. I usually set mine to 0.25” all around. Better safe than sorry.

Once you’ve adjusted your margin, and added your bleed, you’re ready to hit “Create”. 

Building out your Template

After creating your document, you’ll set all the rules the document will live by. This will help you streamline your layout process and save yourself time-consuming edits later. 

Take a moment to think about how you want the interior of your book to look. Grab a few books off your shelf and flip through them, maybe use one as a guide in setting up your design. 

  1. Once you know how you want the inside of your book to look, go to InDesign and select the Pages tab on the right side of the screen. It’s the first tab, and looks like two pages side-by-side.

The Pages tab is divided into two sections. In the first section, you’ll see a list  of two items: [None] and A-Master. Beneath that, you’ll see a single page, which is the first page of your document. At the bottom of the panel, right to left, you’ll see the trash bin icon (to delete pages), a + icon (to add pages), and an overlapping vertical and horizontal pages icon (change paper size icon). 

  1. Let’s go ahead and add some pages to our document. There are two ways to do this. The long way is to repeatedly click the + icon. But, our document will require a lot of pages, so right click on the gray area within your Pages tab, next to your one, lonely page
  2. Select Insert Pages and enter the amount of pages you need besides the one(s) you already have. Don’t worry, you can always add or delete pages later. If you’re unsure how many pages you’ll need, take your manuscript word document and multiply the page count by 2. This will get you close.
  3. After adding pages, go to the area above the page list, where it says [None] and A-Master. Right click on the area beneath A-Master.
  4. Select “New Master”. Hit Ok.
  5. Once your new master page is created (should say B-Master, but you can name it whatever you want), double click on B-Master. This will take you inside the master page, and allow you to edit it. 

Why are we editing B-Master instead of A-MasterA-Master is going to control the part of our document which should be void of stylistic elements like page numbers, title, or author name. A-Master is for the places you need blank pages, where you’ll be custom adding information, like the copyright text, dedication, and title page. 

B-Master Page Design

I like to add the stylistic elements which will carry through a majority of the book to the B-Master pages. Here, I’ll add my page numbers, title, author name, etc. 

Build out your B-Master how you’d like. Choose the font you want for your whole document, or use something a little different for this section. Be mindful of font and element sizing. I recommend going on the smaller side (but not too small) for these elements. Make it readable, but not distracting. 

Page Numbers

How to add page numbers to your document. 

  1. Create a text box using the Type Tool.
  2. Add a letter or number, it doesn’t matter which or what.
  3. Highlight the letter or number you’ve created, then go to the Type dropdown menu at the top of InDesign.
  4. Select Insert Special Character → Markers → Current Page Number

You should do this for both the left page and right pages. You won’t see a page number. That’s okay. This is just a rule you’re setting for these text boxes which will apply to all the pages you connect to B-Master.

Page Layout

Once you’ve created your B-Master page design, you’ll set it aside for right now. Click out of it by double clicking the first page of your actual document in the Pages tab. This will take you to the live section of your document. 

Use the Type Tool to do a rough organization of pages. Just create small text boxes for each page and write what will go on that page. You’ll typically need:

  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Table of Contents (if applicable)
  • Acknowledgements (if you want them in the front, typically go in the back)
  • Chapter 1

When you reach the first page of Chapter 1, go back to your Pages tab on the right. 

  1. Select the first page of Chapter 1, and all the remaining pages beyond it.
  2. Once they’re all highlighted blue, right click on one, and select Apply Master to Pages
  3. Select B-Master.
  4. Click OK. 

Now, the B-Master design you created earlier has been applied to all appropriate pages. 

Take a look at the first page of Chapter 1. You’ll notice Chapter 1’s page number doesn’t start with Page 1 (as it should). Don’t worry. We’ll fix this later. For right now, we need to decide how the text should be styled—type size, line spacing, font, etc. 

Text Styling

Font

The font you choose is extremely important. Different fonts work for different jobs. A serif font (fonts with little wedge feet) are best for print because they are the easiest to read. You rarely want to use san-serif fonts for novels. 

San-serif fonts work best for digital platforms like websites or mobile devices (but not e-readers). Choose your serif font wisely, but don’t go crazy. Sometimes the best choice is the most common one. I’m particularly fond of Georgia, Garamond, and Lora.

Font Size

Font size is crucial. Too small, and it’s hard for the reader to see. Too large, and you’re wasting space in your book (and it can seem unprofessional). My design professor used to say anything over 11pts was for geriatric people, and would be considered that on viewing. So, I usually like to stick to sizing fonts between 9pts and 11pts, depending on what font I’m using. 

Different fonts appear in different sizes. With Georgia 11pts and Garamond 11pts, one can appear larger than the other. The best way to judge the appropriate font size for your chosen font is to create a test page to gauge varying sizes and line spacing.

Let’s do that. 

Creating Test Page

I’m going to ask you to do this in InDesign and not in Word. InDesign and Word treat fonts differently, and, as you’ll be typesetting in InDesign, you’ll want to test your fonts there.

  1. Go to your Chapter 1 page. 
  2. Create a text box that stays within your pink margin box. 
  3. Pull a short paragraph from your story, one or two sentences or one long sentence.
  4. Paste it into the box. 
  5. Add a line of text above it which says [Insert Font Choice] Size 9
  6. Select your pasted text. 
  7. Change it to your font of choice using the Character tab on the right side of InDesign (A icon). 
  8. Then, change the font size to 9. 
  9. Choose line height (directly right of font size). Adjust until it looks good to you. 

For example, I chose Georgia as my font, and set the font size to 9pt and spacing to 13pt.

  1. Once you’ve made your selections, copy all the text from the Font Choice + Size title, down to the end of your paragraph. 
  2. Paste the copied text 3 times beneath your styled paragraph. 
  3. Now, for each copied paragraph, go up a font size and spacing. (10pt/14pt, 11pt/15pt, 12pt/16pt). Be sure to keep track of your chosen size and spacing in the title above each paragraph. This way, you’ll know what you’re looking at when you print. When you’re finished, you should have 4 different sets of paragraphs at different sizes and line spacing. 
  4. Print this page out. (ctrl+p) Select range of pages and enter the page number of your font test page. 
  5. Hit print. 

Once printed, sit down with it. Have a look. Analyze the sizes. Find a font size and spacing you think works best for your size book and audience. You’ll use that font size and spacing going forward.

Go back to your document and paste a page of text into the text box you were using. Style it with your chosen font, size, and line height. Now, play with the line spacing. Adding, subtracting, until you find the look you want.

Having a good amount of line spacing between sentences is nice. It doesn’t make the reader feel crowded and lets the book breathe. Too close together and things feel muddied or crammed. Too far apart, and you’re wasting space.

For me, I went with Georgia 9pt font size, and 13pt line spacing. 

  1. After you get this set up, Select All. 
  2. Click the Paragraph tab on the right side of the screen and uncheck Hyphenate at the bottom of the panel. 

Tab Indents

Next, we need to set our tab indent. Tab a few of the paragraphs, if you haven’t already. 

The space of a tab should be around 5 characters wide. It can be a little less, but shouldn’t be much more. 

  1. Create your tab spacing by Selecting All text. 
  2. Click the Type dropdown at the top of the program. 
  3. Select Tabs
  4. Align the tab box over your text so you can measure 5 character spaces. 
  5. Click on the ruler in the area you feel is around 5 character spaces (usually just past the 0.25” mark). Your tabbed text should adjust to match this rule. 
  6. Click out of the Tab box. 

Grids

I like to add grids to my document so I can adjust everything to baseline, helping all the text align from one page to another. 

For Mac users, this is in the InDesign dropdown to the left of File. For PC users, it may be labeled as a Setting or Preferences dropdown, I’m not sure. 

When you find it, select Preferences → Grids.

Set the following:

  • Color: I set mine to Charcoal. Just don’t choose blue (all element boxes are blue).
  • Start: 0
  • Relative to: Top Margin
  • Increment Every: [Chosen Font Spacing pts]
  • View Threshold: 75%

Save your settings. 

Creating Paragraph Styles

Now, let’s create a Paragraph Style which will carry throughout the document. 

  1. Click inside your text box. 
  2. Select All. 
  3. Look at the Toolbar running across the top of InDesign. You’ll see a dropdown menu which reads [Basic Paragraph]+
  4. Click the series of lines on the right of the dropdown. There are two stacked on top of eachother. You want the one where all the lines are matched up. This will line your text to the grid we created earlier.
  5. Next, on the left side of the dropdown labeled [Basic Paragraph]+, click the Paragraph symbol. 
  6. Select New Paragraph Style
  7. Name your Paragraph Style (I named mine Chapter Text). 
  8. Set Based On to Basic Paragraph
  9. Click OK. 

Now, your document is ready to begin layout. Let’s start with Chapter 1. 

Laying Out Your Book. 

Start with Chapter one. Determine how you want your chapter lead-ins to look. Grab a few books to flip through to get an idea of what other typesetters have done. Once you’ve made your choice, go to your Chapter 1 page and start laying it out. 

I like to create separate text boxes for the Chapter Header and Chapter Text

Chapter Header

Feel free to get creative with your chapter heading, change it to a different font from your Chapter Text or leave it the same. It’s completely up to you! 

  1. After you’ve styled your Chapter Header the way you want it, select the text. 
  2. Go to the paragraph symbol next to the [Basic Paragraph]+ dropdown and create a new Paragraph Style for your Chapter Headers. You’ll be able to use this to style your Chapter Headers moving forward.

Chapter Text

I usually start my chapter lead-in textbox about 5/8 to 1/2 down the page, and go to the edge of my margin. 

  1. Paste your Chapter 1 text in. All of it. You’ll notice, it won’t all fit. That’s okay. We will link text boxes across multiple pages. 
  2. Select All your text (ctrl+a). 
  3. Go to the Paragraph Style dropdown at the top and change [Basic Paragraph]+ to Chapter Text, if it doesn’t already say that. This will convert your text to the style we created earlier.
  4. Next, at the bottom of your blue text box, you’ll see a red + symbol. Click it. 
  5. Then, click at the top of the margin on the next page (pink line). This will create another text box, carrying the hidden text over. Repeat until Chapter 1 is laid out. 
  6. Repeat the above steps for the remaining chapters of your book, until you reach the end. 

The Finishing Touches

If you have extra pages after laying out your chapters, that’s great. You can easily delete them using the Pages tab on the right, and trash can symbol in the bottom corner of the tab. More likely, you’ve had to add pages. (And hopefully applied the B-Master style to them along the way). After laying out all your chapters, add the “closing” pages to your book: the acknowledgements page, glossary, etc. You can keep the B-Master styling or apply the blank A-Master styling, this is up to you.

Page Count

Look at your page number count. In order for your book to print, it has to be divisible by 4. If you can’t evenly divide your book by 4, you must add a few pages to make this happen. You can fill these pages with individual thank yous, sponsors, or a glossary of terms for your novel. 

Page Numbering

Earlier, we created our page number styling on the B-Master page and left it at that. To get the numbering to work as it should, we must return to our Pages tab on the right side of the screen. 

  1. Select the first page of Chapter 1, and then all the corresponding pages until the very end (or when you would like to stop tracking page numbers). 
  2. Right click on the blue pages and deselect Allow Document Pages to Shuffle. This will remove your ability to move pages out of order. It also makes it a pain to add new pages randomly. But, why would you want to do that? At this point, you shouldn’t need to. 
  3. Select the first page of Chapter 1 again. 
  4. Right click. Select Numbering & Section Options
  5. Click Start Page Number at: and set it to 1. 
  6. Click Ok. 

Chapter 1 should now start on page 1, and the subsequent pages should follow. 

Proofreading 

Once you’ve completed your layout, you should print a copy of your book to review and markup. Use the directions below to submit a PDF for print. This helps you spot any issues you didn’t notice through the seemingly hundreds of rounds of edits you did before in Word. It’ll also help you spot any styling issues or errors you missed during typesetting. 

You can have proofs of your book printed through your printer, or you can print the document in spreads on 11×17 pages from a local print shop. It will be costly, but worth it. 

Time to Print

Once you’ve “proofed” your book and corrected any errors, export your book as a PDF from InDesign: 

  1. Click File → Export
  2. Name your document.
  3. Select Adobe PDF (print).
  4. Click Save. 
  5. At the top, in Adobe PDF Presets, select High Quality
  6. On the General Tab make sure All pages are selected. Export as Pages (not spreads). 
  7. On the Marks and Bleeds tab, select Use Document Bleed Settings. Don’t worry about anything else. Most printers, unless you’re doing single sheets, don’t need crop marks for books. 
  8. Click Export

You’re book is ready to send to your printer. 

As far as your cover, I suggest hiring a designer if you can afford one. It’s relatively easy to find one that works with your budget using the internet. Covers can range between $50-$500 depending on the designer you choose. (I typically do them for $150). A professionally designed cover can add value to your book, make you seem more professional as a writer, and draw attention to your work. But, if you can’t afford a cover designer, most printers have templates you can use. I know KDP has a few. Just remember to stay inside the margins and input the correct total page count into the template generator. 

I know this post contains a lot of information, but if all else fails, feel free to use the template I’ve made available for you to download. I’ve also included this post as a GoogleDoc for your printing convenience. 

There are also a lot of YouTube videos available to help you more. 

For more author design and marketing tidbits, follow my blog or subscribe to my newsletter. If you’re looking for a designer or typesetter to help with your next project, check out Copper Owl Press

Kaytalin Platt is an author and graphic designer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Raised in Deer Park, Alabama, a rural town north of Mobile, Platt enjoyed spending time in the surrounding woods and working on the family farm. Growing up on a farm gave Platt a peculiar set of skills, which she enjoys using on the random chance their needed–especially if it involves welding.

Platt’s mother contributed heavily to her passion for writing. They would listen to instrumental music, film scores mostly, and she challenged Platt to write down what she imagined happening as the music played. Platt’s love of music and writing only grew, and she began work on her first full-length novel during college. She worked on the novel, writing and rewriting, for nearly a decade before submitting it for publication in 2016. The Living God, Platt’s debut novel, was published in May 2019.

Currently, Platt is working on the followup to The Living God, and experimenting with stories on Wattpad, a reading platform home to over 80 million users.

Please share!
Categories
Software Review

The Tools We Use: Aeon Timeline

When writing a novel, the fastest way to inconsistency is to lose track of your timeline. For some stories, the timeline can be simple, flowing in chronological order from a single character’s point of view. But for others, it can get mighty complicated. Think about all the interweaving threads of Game of Thrones, or the out-of-sequence time-hopping of The Time Traveller’s Wife.

There are a lot of ways you can track a timeline, and it doesn’t require dedicated software. It can be as simple as post-it notes on a wall, or an outline in a word processor, where each scene is captured in chronological order. If you’re feeling spicy, you might employ a spreadsheet. But, none of these options worked for me. Word documents made it too hard to visualize how different events interacted. Spreadsheets were a little better, but not great, and a pain to maintain. The classic post-it notes on a wall solved the visualization problem, but I don’t work in just one place, and it’s tricky to take the wall with me. So I went looking for tools to help.

What I found was Aeon Timeline.

The basic timeline screen of Aeon Timeline

Developed for writers, program managers, and legal practitioners, Aeon Timeline has become an integral part of my writing process.

Why I like it

I love Aeon Timeline for a few simple reasons:

  • Its flexibility.
  • Its visualizations.
  • Its ability to sync with manuscript projects.

Flexibility

Aeon Timeline has been designed to let you capture whatever you want, starting with the style of calendar: you can opt to work with real dates (at any point in the past, present, or future) or with relative dates/times (e.g., day 1, day 2, etc.). Working on a project set in a fantasy world with its own calendar? No problem. Define your personal calendar with its own eras, months, and weekdays. One weakness here is that out of the box, it only provides the Gregorian calendar (no Chinese, Bhutanese, Julian, Hebrew, Hijri, or Buddhist options as of yet).

Once you have your base calendar configured, you can set what you want to track. You can define the core properties used on events, and any number of “entities” that can be linked to events (such as characters, arcs, locations, etc.). For each type of entity you define, you can then determine what properties are captured about those entities. For example, characters can have a “Birth Date” that will allow the software to calculate and display the ages of any people linked to the event. Events can also be color-coded. The available colors, and the labels assigned to those colors, can be configured as well.

By now you’re probably getting the idea.

To you get started, the software comes with a bunch of pre-configured templates. The standard templates include things like fiction, project management, legal, historical, and screenplay, plus some more generic options. If you start using the software a lot and the existing templates aren’t quite right, you can create your own easily.

Aeon Timeline's new project templates.

Visualization

Aeon Timeline only offers two views, yet its ability to visualize my timelines is a selling point. This is partly because those views are all I’ve needed, and partly because you can filter and configure those views to suit the circumstances.

The two views are “Timeline View” and “Relationship View.”

Aeon Timeline "Timeline View".
Screenshot saved from Aeon Timeline website: https://www.aeontimeline.com/features/events-relationships-groups/

Timeline View is your standard timeline, with each event drawn on its own row according to dates/relative times marked across the top. By default, each event is displayed as a colored line with an identifying label (ID, title, start and finish dates & times). You can expand an event to show a summary card, or select it to see all its information in a properties panel on the side. You can configure some basic settings for the main view (light or dark theme, hide IDs, etc.), but more importantly, you can set what is displayed on the summary cards. These cards can include any of the properties you’ve defined for the event and place them in one of two columns, making a bunch of information available at a glance. For example, I like to keep track of the moon phases and weather as properties of events to help me avoid inconsistencies. I’ve added these to the summary information, so I can instantly check what I’d said the weather was doing in a particular scene.

Expanded Summary Card in Aeon Timeline.

In addition to customizing the summary display, you can also group events by entities (e.g., by arc, character, or location) and filter events (by entity or property, such as character, location, weather, duration, tag, etc.). Filters can be multidimensional and saved for easy re-use.

Aeon Timeline screenshot showing collapsing groups. Screenshot saved from Aeon Timeline website: https://www.aeontimeline.com/features/context-and-focus/

The other built-in view is the relationship view. This lets you create a cross-reference table of entities against events. Events are displayed down the table in rows, and the entities you pick are displayed as columns, with color-coded symbols displayed on the intersections to show which events have those entities and what role they play. For example, it can provide a cross-reference of characters against scenes, making it easy to see if a character has mysteriously vanished for a while. Once again, you can group the information in the table and filter the results.

A screenshot of the relationship view in Aeon Timeline.

Project Synchronization

All this functionality is great, but at the end of the day, we need to write our manuscript (and our outline, if you’re like me). One of the pains of managing a timeline is when it comes to editing because you’re now handling the information in multiple places. Aeon Timeline attempts to alleviate this by providing built-in project synchronization with two popular manuscript tools: Scrivener and Ulysses. Connect your timeline to a project in one of these tools, and you get some cool abilities:

  • Selectively import scenes directly from your writing project to the timeline.
  • Link properties in your timeline to metadata in your project and sync the information (including start and end date/times).
  • Two-way sync connected events with your project (update your timeline with changes from the manuscript/outline and update the manuscript/outline with changes from the timeline).
Aeon Timeline syncing with a Scrivener project. Screenshot saved from Aeon Timeline website: https://www.aeontimeline.com/features/data-exchange/

Alternatives

As I mentioned up top, Aeon Timeline isn’t the only way you ca. keep track of your story’s timeline. You can do it physically with sticky notes on a wall, or you could track it in a word/google doc file or a spreadsheet. If you use writing software like Scrivener, you could track it in scene metadata and create binder views to display the timeline of events. But when I set out looking for a tool, I had some specific requirements:

  • Simple tracking: I find keeping tracks of dates in spreadsheets or outline files cumbersome.
  • Visualizations: I hate looking at a table of dates and would much rather see a visual timeline of events to help me think through sequencing.
  • Minimal duplication: I didn’t want to be double entering information in my story bible, project, and timeline.

Caveat

As I noted at the start of this article, Aeon Timeline advertises it is also a product for project managers and other professionals. I’m not making any representations as to the suitability of the tool for anything other than writing, as I haven’t used it for anything else.

Try it out

Aeon Timeline provide a free, twenty-day trial to see if you like the software. It’s available on Windows, macOS, and iOS. The developer has more information on their website, here.

Note: Aeon Timeline have offered members of the Writing Bloc a discount. Join our slack channel to get more details.

Thoughts?

Have you used Aeon Timeline? We’d love to hear your thoughts/experiences with the tool: Do you like it? Do you still use it? What are the best and worst features? Join us in our Facebook group to discuss.

We also discuss Aeon Timeline on our latest podcast episode on World-building. You can listen to that by clicking here.

Disclaimer

The author paid for their copy of Aeon Timeline. The Writing Bloc do not have a commercial relationship with the developers of Aeon Timeline and do not receive any referral incentives or commissions (nor have they asked for such).

Please share!
Categories
News podcast

Approaching World-building: Part 2 (Writing Bloc Podcast)

On the most recent episode of the Writing Bloc Podcast, hosts Christopher Lee and Jacqui Castle continue their conversation on world-building, this time with featured award-winning fantasy authors Maximian Held and Joshua Robertson.

In this resource-heavy episode (be sure to jot down some of the great, free resources for world-building we discuss) we dive deep into the nuts and bolts of building a fictional world. Listen below as we discuss everything from drafting habits and organizational styles, to our favorite map-building software!

Resources/links

Joshua Robertson’s website: https://robertsonwrites.com/

Max Held’s work: http://bit.ly/MaxHeldBooks

Aeon Timeline: http://aeontimeline.com/

Archivos: https://www.archivos.digital/

Visit Writing Bloc to sign up for our newsletter, find a copy of our short story anthology, “Escape,” and read detailed articles about the indie author experience: https://writingbloc.com/

Get your very own comfy Writing Goat T-shirt here: http://bit.ly/WritingGoatShirt

Continue the conversation!

Chime in with resources, tips, tricks, and questions on one of our channels: SlackFacebook, and Twitter.

Please share!
Categories
Software Review Uncategorized Writing Life

Freewrite Portable Typewriter Review

When I first sat down to write this review, I pulled out my laptop. I know, I know. What was I thinking? But, habits are hard things to drop, which is why we all need a bit of help sometimes.

Luckily, I realized my mistake and quickly closed the laptop and grabbed the Freewrite. And that, my friends, is how I am writing this review. So, be prepared for a freeform, word-vomit salad of a review in the true spirit of the FreeWrite – a tool designed to help authors write without looking back.

I’m an author and freelance writer. I spend 4-6 hours a day writing. I also get distracted easily. I know this about myself, and yet I don’t always take the steps to optimize my writing time even when I know what those steps are. Close the tabs, don’t check social media, just get 1,000 words down without stopping to research when you get stuck. Just. Keep. Writing.

Enter the FreeWrite. The idea was instantly appealing, and I didn’t think long before I ordered one(thankfully for me, they have a payment plan). Since I received this marvelous little machine, I’ve found I can double or even triple my wordcounts during a writing session.

The FreeWrite is an electronic typewriter designed as a forward-momentum only, first draft writing beast. It’s not for editing. In fact, you can only make the minimal edits possible through pressing the backspace key. No highlighting, no cut and paste, no ‘let me just check one thing real quick’. Onward you must go. The small screen has enough room to display one to two paragraphs at a time so your mind is always kept in the present or future.

When you are ready to upload your unedited, free-form masterpiece, simply switch on the WiFi button and the content will sync to the cloud. This is where the Freewrite earns a big leg-up for me when compared to good old pen and notebook – no need to transcribe anything later.

Let’s see… what else do I like about it? Hey, I warned that you were getting a Freewrite-style review here. Though compact, it has a full, weighted keyboard that I find therapeutic to type on. The E-Ink screen backlight is optional, and so you can turn it off and can sit outside at a coffee shop or a picnic table and not worry about glare on your screen.

The entire thing is fairly light. I can fit it into my computer bag along with my laptop as long as I move a few things around. What else? Oh, there are multiple folders you can toggle through, allowing you to work on several projects at once if needed. Also, there are options for starting a timer, or tracking your word count if you are sprinting or are trying to achieve x number of words per a day(this would be a great tool for National Novel Writing Month).

The best part? When you find yourself distracted, when you otherwise would have started researching obscure facts from the 1940s or switched over to a social media tab for ‘just a minute,’ instead, you look up and take in your surroundings. You employ the far off gaze of a writer at work and you wait for the next spark of inspiration. Eh, what do I know? I’m mostly rambling. But, that’s the beauty of the Freewrite.

What can I say? I’m really enjoying it so far. But, I realize this wouldn’t be a balanced review without throwing in a few caveats. The keyboard could be a quieter. There is also a slight lag when typing quickly, so you will find yourself waiting a second for the words you just typed to appear on the screen. If either of those are deal breakers for you, then there you have it.

So, what are my final thoughts? I love my Freewrite, and the times that I remember to use it I am more productive, no question.

It is not for anything other than first drafts, so anyone who buys one thinking otherwise will be sorely disappointed. If you are a writer with excellent focus who can always keep their mind on the task at hand and who writes for hours a day with no thought of anything else, then congratulations, you win. Maybe it’s best to spend your money elsewhere.

So, in conclusion, if you find yourself craving a tool that allows you to type on a full keyboard, seamlessly send your work to your computer when you are ready for the editing phase, but otherwise devoid of other temptations and distractions then this might be the tool for you.

Cheers and happy writing.

-Jacqui

Please share!
Categories
Fearless Self-Publishing Self-Publishing Software Review Uncategorized Writing Help Writing Life

Fictionary, a revolutionary developmental editing tool for writers!

Well, I’m a sucker for new toys, particularly when it comes to my writing craft. Anything that can help me wrangle the herd of cats within my wild imagination is a plus, especially when it comes to story structure. That is why when I came across the trail of Fictionary, I was instantly curious. I got an email with a package deal for another year license for ProWriting Aid, which I recommend to all writers, and with it was a new developmental editing software called Fictionary.

I signed up for a free trial and was blown away by the level of detail the creator and fellow author, Kristina Stanley and her team had created. Fictionary allows you to upload your manuscript from Word or Google Docs directly into their user interface so that you can take a bird’s eye or 30,000ft view of your story and its structure. What I was most amazed by was the simplicity of the surface of the program as well as how deep you could go.

Fictionary breaks your manuscript down for you!

There be a number of bells and whistles under the hood of Fictionary and I don’t profess to know how they work in full, but after inputting my old manuscript for Nemeton: The Trial of Calas, I was instantly presented with a visual element that tracked my story’s narrative arc against that of prototypical or common story lines. This was a super cool feature right off the bat that let me see just how far off my original vision really was. This was helpful in many ways as, I am currently in a revision or rewriting phase with my previously published work.

But, where Fictionary really shines is in the scene by scene evaluation. The Visual components allow you to track the primary story arc as well as different character arcs and subplots across your manuscript, and that can be super helpful if you’ve got multiple arcs.

The three core functions of Fictionary.

Fictionary breaks it down to three key pieces, visualizing your arcs, evaluating your scene by scene story structure, and then exporting the monster once you are done with it. You can make edits on the fly, or edit your work 100% within the Fictionary software, kind of like Scrivener, but with a simpler interface.

Visualizing your story’s arc.

When Visualizing your manuscript you can check the full story arc, the amount of words per scene to aid you in nailing down your pacing, and also track how many times characters are showing up on a scene by scene basis. Though these three features seem potentially slight, they are remarkably powerful, not to mention I’ve got it on good authority that soon they will be rolling out even more powerful features.

Evaluating your manuscript scene by scene.

When Evaluating your scene by scene, Fictionary aids you by dialing in your character, plot, and setting down to the real nuts and bolts. Each scene or chapter has an interface to the right that highlights a number of tabs under which there are a list of critical questions that you should have asked in your first draft, but most likely didn’t if you are anything like me. Beyond the questions, each field is complimented by an infographic tip that educates you on the precise reason for each question or field. This is where the real power of the Fictionary software resides.

The Character tab features a range of questions like what character appear in the scene, who has the POV, what are the internal and external goals, what are the stakes and consequences, and the impact on the protagonist as well as other characters. The list goes on including an entire array of illuminating questions that, at least I often forget to include in my first draft. Plot, setting, and additional notes further aid you in dialing in your edit.

Fictionary, is it the next big thing?

I can’t speak to that yet, as Fictionary is a relatively new tool and I know that many writers are super comfortable with Scrivener. But overall, I think the interface is much more user-friendly. The primary draw is for writers who have already finished a rough or first draft of their work and want to import that manuscript in order to take it to the next level. I found the detailed list of questions and fields aided me in further cementing my story’s structure, theme and message.

Fictionary offers a free trial so that you can take it for a test drive, but I personally recommend that after you do so you take the dive. A year-long license won’t break the bank and I know that they are working hard at rolling out some key features like multiple manuscripts and an autosave feature to prevent losing precious progress. Overall I think Fictionary is a killer tool for novel based writers to explore.

Writing Bloc has your back!

We have partnered with Fictionary to provide all of our members with a killer discount on your first three months or on your first yearly license!

Fictionary is offering Writing Bloc writers and readers a 50% discount on the first three months ($10 per month, regularly $20 per month) or 50% off Annual subscription ( $100 per year, regularly $200 per year)

Half off ain’t half bad, is it?

Please share!
Categories
Software Review Writing Life

The Writerly App Is A Must-Have For Your Writer’s Toolkit

Like anything else, becoming a good writer requires practice. There are no rules for how to practice, but sometimes a little direction feels nice. Books and websites filled with writing prompts help, and there are contests and other challenges that are easily found as well, but far too many of these “services” cost money. I’ve thought for a while that it would be a great resource for writers to have something to inspire practice; an outside source of inspiration and challenge in order to build up those writing muscles.

Then I came across the Writerly App.

Writerly iPad.jpg

An App Custom Made For Creativity

The Writerly App is free and available for iPhone and iPad only at the moment, which is my only argument against the app. Otherwise, Writerly is a fresh take on writing assistance software. They are a self-advertised “one-stop source of inspiration and information to get your ideas flowing.” It was developed by award-winning fiction writers, creative writing instructors, and literary consultants. The app is filled to overflowing with prompts, information, and guidance for writers of any level of experience.

Writerly takes a fun approach toward developing your writing while using an educated background. The entire app is built on the concept of writers working with two fundamental elements during the writing process: Creativityand Craft. Creativity is the basic flow of ideas, the burst of inspiration, the transformation of thoughts into words. Craft is taking the work accomplished during the creativity phase and analyzing it, transforming it into a developed piece of writing that is more enjoyable to the readers. Writerly acknowledges this mental struggle between creator and editor in the writer’s mind.

By separating these concepts, Writerly aims to improve your writing by offering exercises, games, and quests in order to help stimulate your inner creator, and then offering other exercises to help you get the most out of your inner editor. The app blends these exercises together in order to get these two parts of your mind to cooperate, the result being an improvement in your ability to express those amazing story ideas you get on a daily basis.

Writerly Inspiration.jpg

Writerly is for everyone

There is no restriction on who would benefit from writerly. It is an open-ended app. The app does not offer a word processor, meaning it does not force you to be restricted. If you prefer to type in Word, you still can. If you prefer to use a beautiful fountain pen on expensive parchment, the app still works for you. It is intended to accompany your current preferred method of creation, not replace it.

Part of Writerly encourages you to abandon the keyboard in favor of pen and paper, and I find the reasoning interesting. The creators argue that our electronic devices connect us with other people on a constant basis. We are often interrupted by other things and other needs when we are using a phone or computer as a creation tool. Paper, they argue, allows us to have a direct and uninterrupted connection with our own thoughts. Additionally, electronic devices have delete buttons that are far too tempting to use during the creative process. Deletion is technically editing. By writing with pen and paper, the writer still has access to his or her “mistakes,” just in case they become useful later on. They call using the delete button “censoring your work in its early stages,” which is a painful yet glorious truth to learn. It makes me wonder what ideas I’ve errantly tossed aside while creating.

The creator’s request to use paper is quite specific, actually. They suggest getting three notebooks: one legal sized, one half that size, and one that can fit into your pocket. The large notebook is for ongoing projects, such as stories, projects, or all of your writerly exercises. The medium notebook is for notes and quick ideas, or even dreams and random thoughts. They recommend keeping this notebook at the bedside. The small notebook is so you don’t miss any random inspiration or fragments of ideas while away from your writing spot.

Give your storytelling an exercise routine

Writerly App is a free app with a noble cause: to inspire and hone the craft of writing in anyone interested. It is well organized, easy to use, and the information and exercises are supported by years of experience. I plan on using the app as often as possible, as it will only serve to make me better at my craft.

While on the subject of writing, I found this video on “The Mystery of Storytelling” to be quite enriching. It is told from the perspective of a literary agent. Enjoy:


Related Links:

Writerly on the App Store

Please share!
Categories
Software Review Writing Life

Why I Love Using The Hemingway Editor App

We all need an editor. Sure, asking friends or family can help, but sometimes you need an impartial set of eyes to look over your work. Having someone else to catch those simple errors or mistakes in flow is necessary for any writer. Many apps have arrived online over the past few years to help. A mainstay has been the Hemingway App, and with good reason.

The homepage of hemingwayapp.com greets you with beautiful simplicity. Everything the app does is explained in neat text on one screen. Read everything there, and you know how to use the app. Proceed, and begin editing.

Hemingway Keeps it Simple

At its core, the Hemingway App is a simple word processor. You can turn off all its editing tools by clicking on “write” in the upper right-hand corner. Once you do, the app gives you a simple distraction-free place to compose. Simple formatting tools line up across the top of the screen, and the composition area is in the center. The simplest options are the only ones available, though. No extensive font choices, no limitless point sizes, no colors. If you want more extensive for your writing process, you are welcome to copy and paste the text from any other file. Once you do, though, your text will revert to Hemingway’s font and size. This may annoy you, but it shouldn’t. The editing process is about the words, not the frills. You can reinsert all the fancy stuff after you pass through this process.

Once you finish writing, no matter where you do it, it is time to click on the “edit” button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. This will engage the real power of the Hemingway App.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 9.51.47 PM.jpg

The Power of Editing Mode

With editing mode engaged, your text becomes colorful, and a stats bar appears on the right side. This area of the screen displays the value of the app. The first thing you see is the “readability” of your writing, measured in grade level. This is based upon sentence structure and level of vocabulary used. Contrary to what you might think, the lower the grade level, the better. Ernest Hemingway’s own writing and books have been analyzed, and the consensus is that his most popular works are at a 4th to 6th grade reading level.

Why is this important? Why not try to make your writing be at a 12th grade level? The answer lies in your audience. Just because you are writing at a simpler level to read does not mean that your message has to be simplified. For example, why say “I am attracted to you in such a manner that is virtually unidentifiable in description other than to say that I feel this way toward no other human being on this or any other planet in the universe, past or present,” when you can say “I love you”? Keep it simple. If more people can understand your writing, then more people will read your writing. It’s as simple as that. The app only gives you a warning when your writing is at the 12th grade level, which should be reserved for academic papers.

A Plethora of Useful Stats

Below the readability analysis, a drop-down box of basic stats appears. This gives you facts about your writing that you may or may not find useful. If you do not find these stats useful, everything but the word count can be hidden from view.

Below the stats area is the bread and butter of the Hemingway App. A legend of five colors appears, corresponding to the highlighted portions of your writing. These are five important areas to focus on when reviewing and editing. The app can discover adverbs, use of passive voice, phrases or words with simpler alternatives, hard to read sentences, and very hard to read sentences. These areas are highlighted in your text, and the color-coded boxes on the right display statistics with suggestions inside.

For example, the app is not telling you to cut all adverbs, but it will suggest that you bring your count of adverbs down below a certain number relative to the length of your writing. Sometimes, the app misses things. Other times, the app highlights words that end in “ly” that are not adjectives. It’s not quite perfect, but it catches at least 95% of these typical problems in writing.

New 2.jpg

You Still Have Control

The app will not correct things for you. You still have to do the work, which is how it should be. It will suggest simpler alternatives for the words and phrases highlighted in purple, but that is the most direct way in which the app will intervene. Whether to take the app’s advice is completely up to the writer. But chances are, you will perform many edits based upon the Hemingway App’s suggestions.

The app can handle a tremendous amount of script, too. I’ve copied and pasted up to 75,000 words of text into the editor and it analyzed it in seconds. Quite impressive.

The online app is free to use, as well. The only drawback is that it will not save your work. To get that feature, you can buy the desktop version of the app, which goes for $19.99 and works for both Mac and PC. The desktop app comes with many benefits, including the ability to import and export to and from the most popular types of text files. Also, the app now has the option to publish your writing directly to your account on either Medium or WordPress.

With its simplicity and power, I find the Hemingway App to be an essential tool in my writing arsenal.

Here are before and after shots of this very article, as I used the Hemingway App to edit it:


Before

 


After

If you’re curious to learn more, here is an incredible video about Hemingway’s style and how it influenced the creation of the Hemingway App:

Related Links:

Hemingway editor App

Please share!
Categories
Software Review Writing Life

Review of Flowstate: “The Most Dangerous Writing App”

Writing and editing are two different things.

Writing itself should be a simple task. All you have to do is put one word after the other, form sentences, form ideas, and make everything you’ve done come together into one great work that is sure to express your heart and soul exactly as you intended. But that’s not really writing. That’s writing and editing put together. 

With all of the details, heart, emotion, ideals, characters, love, and everything in between that is invested in even the simplest of fiction pieces, sometimes the task of writing can feel so insurmountable that simply getting started can seem impossible. Other times, continuing an idea that has already been started is even more difficult. 

Some enjoy calling these difficulties “writer’s block,” and most proposed solutions involve doing things other than simply writing. What keeps those first few words, no matter how flawed they may be, from flowing onto the page is simple doubt. Doubt is the writer’s worst enemy; however, doubt is simply a large amount of misplaced energy. If the writer could take the energy being put into doubt and convert it into an outrageous stream of productivity, then that would be something. 

Getting the words out is the only true form of writing. You are either writing or you are not. If you are unable to write because you want the words to be perfect right out of the gate, then you are trying to write and edit simultaneously, and this can cause writer’s block, a lack of productivity, and doubt. Staring that blank page down and allowing doubt to wash over you prevents the all too essential first draft from being born. If only there were a way to force a writer to quit stalling and dish out that first draft without looking back…


Enter Flowstate.

Most writers might think it insane to use an app that erases everything you have written if you stop writing for five seconds. And at its core, that’s all Flowstate does.
That’s right: Everything you’ve written, no matter how long you’ve been writing for, gets permanently erased if you stop writing in Flowstate.

It might be disguised in what sounds to be an evil premise, but I maintain that Flowstate is the first draft’s best friend.

Flowstate is simple in both its layout and its function. Basically, it’s a basic, yet beautifully sleek, word processor. The program gives you five fonts to pick from and a blank page. No other frills or distractions. What makes Flowstate unique and, in my opinion, wonderful, is that there is only one other main function you must choose prior to writing a document: how long you will be writing for. The timing starts at five minutes and goes for as long as 180 minutes (for the truly crazy ones out there). So once you title your document, pick a font and a time, you are ready to go.

Simple setup, horrifying premise, but great results.

Flowstate gives you a blank page with the time you’ve chosen in the upper right corner. As soon as you begin writing, the timer begins counting down. Type away as quickly or slowly as you’d like, but if you stop making keystrokes, your entire document begins to fade away and will disappear completely if you do not press a key within five seconds. Let five seconds run out, and all of your work is gone. There’s no safety net, no autosave. It’s just gone. Forever.

Why would anyone in their right mind do such a thing? Because it’s brilliant. Do you need to write and you keep putting it off? Do you need to complete your first draft but you keep questioning your story? Are you easily distracted when you should be writing? Well, then Flowstate has a tremendously effective answer. As opposed to other software that simply attempts to block out distractions, Flowstate directly threatens your progress should you not keep going and get to your work. It forces you to focus by holding your work hostage. 

You earn the right to save and edit.

Once the timer runs out you can continue typing, knowing that all of your hard work will (thankfully!) be saved. You can then return to it and edit it, or export your work to another format altogether. Go on, you’ve earned it. 

Although being threatened while being creative might not be for everyone, I find it to be exhilarating. If I only have ten minutes to write, then I can set my timer in Flowstate and know that I will use that ten minutes to its fullest. 

The app is available in the Apple Mac Store for $9.99 or in the App Store for $4.99, and both apps synchronize together over the iCloud so you can edit any of your drafts anywhere. While $5-$10 can seem like a bit of money for a simple app, you are making an investment in your creativity that can certainly payoff quickly and change what you thought you knew about your writing process. 

Here is a helpful video that shows how the app basically works:



Related Links:

Please share!