Saturday, February 15, 2014

For writers. For marathon trainees.

Let's start with the writers. Just because. As some of you know I recently sent my NaNo novel out for comment to a select group of masochists, I mean, friends, to read and let me know what they thought. They've all been very gentle, pointing out the various flaws with exquisite politeness.

I struggled with keeping the ages consistent as the novel progressed, and even at the time I was pretty sure there were minor slip ups here and there. I tried sketching it out, and got lost. Then I figured, there has to be an app for this, and there is. It's called Aeon Timeline.

It's awesome, is what it is. This isn't intended to be a full blown review of all the features. Essentially I've been working with it for a day or so, plugging in people and events from the current version of the novel. It looks like this.

I discovered several things about my book. There is a touching scene near the end between Veronica and Thomas, where they talk about Thomas's long dead wife. I had just assumed they had met at the plant where Ronnie works, and where several of the other characters work. Oops. Their time at the plant hadn't overlapped at all, so I need to play with that a bit.

What's really cool is that as you create characters, you create a birth date, and potentially a death date. Then as you add events, those vertical lines you see are created. At the intersection, you can put a dot to indicate if the character is a participant or observer of that event. (I could, but I won't get into a philosophical discussion if the observer is participating in the scene.) You can toggle on or off a feature that tells you how old each character is for each event.

If the scene involves something that's age dependent, like driving, or voting, or drinking, or renting a car, you can be sure the person is the appropriate age. At once spot I had one character say to another, "I'm twice your age and still trying to figure it out." It's not a killer line or anything, but it flowed naturally for the conversation. If as I play with the birthdays, and the event dates, I'll know if that line can stay. Or not.

It's really easy to drag any of the events around, and it updates everything on the fly. You can specify the date right down to the second if you like, and can control the level of detail for each event. I'm currently playing with the dates for when a major event happens in Hardisty's life. My thought was that he Janice had got married just before that, at ages 22 and 20. Not unreasonable, if a little young, especially given a conversation about that. But then that meant Janice was 37 when she got pregnant. A little old, but not unreasonable, but I hadn't realized it had been such a long time after marriage. I could leave it, but I'm playing with the dates a little bit. I'd like to open the book  with that major event, so it helps to know how old they are, and when it happens in relation to the other events. The other constraint is that it's a major injury, and the current opening has Hardisty doing Chinook half ironman in about 5:30, so the injury couldn't have just happened. It would take at least a couple years to recover.

Another major problem concerned a father daughter talk that took place much, much too late. Erin was in her early to mid-20's when it happened, and it's much more reasonable that it would have happened mid-teens. But that drags in the whole question of when Thomas became a widower, and exactly how old Erin is in relation to Kelly, since one of the minor plot points is that Erin babysat Kelly. That implies a fairly tight range of ages, and as I marked it out, I could see I had goofed there too.

Events can have a duration. I used this to mark out when people had worked at the plant, and Janice's pregnancy, since the timing of that determines some of the conversations at a party, and baby care during some other events. In a more subtle way, it changes the flavor of some of the heavy duty conversations if someone is pregnant.

There is a lot of functionality around all this. I'm really quite impressed. Plus, and I haven't played with this much, you can group events into arcs. Right now I've just got 2, a background one and a global one. The background one is where all the birthdays go, and time at plant lines and a few other events. The events in the global arc are the ones that will make it into the novel. This will really shine if there are events happening in separate locations that need to come together just right. You can use these arcs for filtering as well. There is lots of search features, and you can change the scale of things on the timeline.

Best of all, you can export it to Scrivener and other writing tools. If you do it right, and it looks like it's a bit of a fussy procedure, all the data gets dropped into Scrivener as meta-data, and all your events are there. I think the characters get listed somehow too. You can determine what gets exported.

I wrote the NaNo novel flying by the seat of my pants. I never knew where things were going some days, and I discovered some really interesting things. However, now I'm trying to iron it into an actual book, and that means the details matter. Aeon Timeline is a great tool for outlining and sorting out your timeframe references. It even does custom calendars for your fantasy or alien world. Check it out!

The marathon training is chugging along. Today's run was very nice, 13K in 1:35, nice and easy. I could hear the pace times today, and it was really even all along, about 7:16 plus or minus a few seconds. On the way up to the reservoir I had the wind at my back so it felt really easy. Easy chatchatchat pace though there was nobody to chat to but myself.  I figured out how to combine two events for a revised book opening. On the way back I was into the wind and had to work a bit harder.

It was a beautiful day for a run. I was thinking about keeping my shoulders relaxed and trying to run with light feet. I nibbled a bit of a Clif's bar along the way. As soon as I dug a piece out and put it in my mouth my breathing started deepening. Now that it's warmer I need to start carrying liquid nutrition again.

I had both Runmeter and RunKeeper going, and both behaved, producing almost identical results. Maybe they know they are in a competition to the death and are on their best behavior. One thing that is nice, though I didn't set it up this way, is RunKeeper talks to me every 5 minutes, and Runmeter every K. Both with time, distance and pace information, so it's much easier to keep track of pace and where turnaround is. 16 K next weekend. Anyone looking to run around the reservoir Saturday or Sunday, whichever has nicer weather?

Here's the splits, because I know some of you love the numbers. Very even pacing for me.

Let's see, a nice swim on Wed, 1 K just under 20 minutes long course, and another K mostly pull and easy kick. The intent was to join Katie on Friday, but I felt like crap. I'm not sure why, but much of Thursday and Friday morning I felt very bloated and gassy. At least Friday afternoon I got in a good stretch session with some core.

Tuesday was a spin session and core.

Overall I'm pretty pleased with the training so far. Now that the weather is a bit less extreme I'm hoping to be out running more regularly. My legs and feet are feeling pretty good, though I think it's almost time to start another pair of shoes in rotation. I think getting a pair much like the current ones, but a half size bigger, as well as ones with a bit more cushion for the longer runs would be a good idea.

Lastly, just because. This was today after the run. Having two cats on your legs, purring, is great recovery, almost as good as legs up the wall.

We had a beautiful sunrise the other morning. The actual photos of it didn't turn out all that well, but I liked this one of the reflections in my neighbor's truck.

And another one of Curtis, because, well, he's just so distinguished.


  1. Wow, interesting program for your novel, Keith! I could see why that would be a benefit considering your time frame for the story is so huge, and there's lots of characters interacting! And it sounds like it's got you thinking strategically for the re-write/revision process. My stories usually take place in a relatively short period of time - and I'm old school, so a blank calendar page gets pencilled in with events as they happen. As for characters, old school again with my trusty notebook and sticky notes. I have Scrivener, but I just can't seem to make myself use/get used to it!

    Good job on the run and great pics :)

    1. Once I started Scrivener I never looked back. Yes, there's a bit of a learning curve, just like with Aeon Timeline, but if you're writing anything beyond the most straightforward chronological timeline it's the most amazing thing since the word processor. If I were to find out someone was putting on an all day, or even a weekend Scriviner workshop here, I'd plan to attend. There's lots more it can do that I haven't even scratched yet.

    2. Not sure if you're aware, but there is Scrivener for Dummies - and the author, Gwen Hernandez, has online classes (there's one starting on Feb. 24th). Here's the link:

      I've heard such great things about it, I just have to get over my reluctance to try something new - get in there and play around.

  2. Wow. Aeon sounds like a great tool. Would be especially useful if I ever get around to revising the murder mystery I drafted last fall. Thanks for taking time to review it. I was struggling to make all the timelines jive. Glad to hear you're still plugging away on yours and that marathon training is going well. Your descriptions of your swims almost make me want to get back in a pool. Almost. :-)

    1. Almost is almost good enough. Don't cha just love the smell of a pool in the morning? Almost as good as coffee. Pity about the other people, though. I haven't export my Aeon work to Scrivener yet. There is a bit of writing happening but it's just going in the current work. Then I'll drop it into the second draft version, and lots of rewriting shall commence.


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