The overcomplicated story

There’s a reason I’ve lost faith on what I’ve written in the past: I set out to achieve something and either I worry it’s too basic and it needs more stuff – more twists, more bad guys, more dynamics, etc etc or that characters need to be more real. Sometimes I get hung up on the old mantra of a single idea not begin a story (which is true) and so try to cram a load more in and overbake everything.

Being ruthless is a great thing so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone who isn’t already fictional, and if it doesnt work, you can put what you cut out back in or revert to an earlier draft (version control as the tech world calls it).

I felt like too much was happening in my story – especially given that I wanted to create a series, and although I wanted to throw the kitchen sink at establiahing my world and ideas; nothing felt flesh out enough and it began to feel like both myself and my characters were making zero decisions.

Some things, I realised, could be cut out entirely or explored in later entries. Suddenly, after a few more of these cuts I felt like the novel could breathe and had refreshed purpose. I could more easily define whaf it was about. In short, I felt at ease, and knew then that I was onto something.

Jack Knife update. Current wordcount: 36,327

Long have I toiled over my ideas and stories. Long have I made mistakes, procrastinated and ultimately, gone back to plan some more. As mentioned, last year was for the most part a writing gap year. I am writing again though, and I’m hoping to have “Jack Knife” in some sort of publishable state this year. Finally getting beyond the infamous one third hump!

Keynsham Writers 2.0

After a busy few weeks (including a big question mark over wether we should move area, and how the workshops I helped facilitate for clients were going at work, etc, etc) I forgot all about the writers group kick-off meet I’d organised until on the day; which is not like me at all.

As it happened -and despite zero expectations- the venue worked out and the people worked out (as in they came – there was no exercise involved!). I’d picked the place I assumed would be quietest on a Monday night on Keynsham highstreet. OK, so there were only 4 of us, but nobody dropped out, and an extra person turned up. Plus, they all seemed nice and friendly, reciprocal, and two were already published! Chats and drinks ensued, despite no format imposed by moi. We set up a rough structure for upcoming meetups, had a few laughs and went on our merry ways.

I’ve tried Meetup dot com to organise the group before, but their business model seems to be an automated tool inviting a bunch of people to your new group (regardless of any real vested interest or commitment on their part) so you think you’re making it a success from day one. Very few of these “interested” parties communicate or turn up (I myself am a member of many groups I’ll probably never interact with). Once Meetup has invited folk its algorithms deem appropriate, they join (this can be as simple as clicking a link in an email). Meetup then warns you that you need to pay more when you inevitably max out your members on their lowest tariff. It’s already expensive, soooo no. Just no. I went for a Facebook group and page, which requires a bit more legwork and marketing, but they chucked me a free £5 budget (with the caveat that I could only trigger a “boosted post” about my writing group if I forked out £5 of my own cash to make it up to a tenner). I haven’t distributed any flyers/cards on the high street yet, but did ask for the updated group to go in the local paper, which is free to do and hopefully we’ll gain some more traction from it.

Which goes to show that literally anyone can pull off setting up a group with a small amount of effort, especially in this technical age. OK, so it may all go belly-up from hereon in unless I pull up my socks and regulate it, but there you go. My choice, really. I’m sure you can do the same! If it does continue positively then I’ll post updates and tips on writers groups as my experience grows.

Tools of the trade: Aeon Timeline

As detailed on the official Aeon Timeline website, it is a tool for writers, project managers and legal practictioners to plan, visualise and analyse data.

Aeon Timeline
Participants and arcs in Aeon Timeline

I’ve always had problems recording and recalling dates and times for my story and characters, without losing my notes (and my shit), which is why Aeon timeline is such a fantastic bit of kit. For me it represents the missing piece of the puzzle. I can now record births, deaths, important story and world events and everything in between visually, all in one place and -I’m tempting fate here- without creating massive plotholes; or at the very least, having an easier way to root them out.

Alternative views in Aeon Timeline
There are several different views in Aeon that are useful depending on how you work.

One of the best features for me is that Aeon can link directly to Scrivener, another great writing tool, enabling you to drag across all of your chapters and plot them on a timeline. You can create “arcs” (e.g. a character arc) on the timeline, so everything can be compared, collapsed and exapnded fludily in one view. You can zoom into minutes and seconds and out to your heart’s content. You can jump between important story milestones in the form of shortcut buttons. Births/creation dates can be defined, and also assigned to locations and any other entity; so you can see how old anything is at any given time on your timeline.

Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline
Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline

I’m still learning the intracacies of the software, but I have it down for basic stories without crazy otherworldly calendars, although this is entirely possible and I’m sure there are plenty of comprehensive online tutorials out there if that’s what you need Aeon to do.

Managing entities in Aeon Timeline
Managing entities and birthdates in Aeon Timeline

Aeon Timeline is not free, but there is a 20 day trial period (link below). You don’t need to put in any card details to try it, so there’s no risk of forgetting and being hit with a sudden direct debit. At the time of writing a full copy is £42 ($54). It is a one-off fee and for my money, more than worth it for all of the time it has saved, and no-doubt will save going forwards.

Here are some ace videos that helped me get up and running with the basics of Aeon Timeline:

Setting up Aeon Timeline as a writer. This is a simple, practical and no-nonsense guide to getting set up, without going too bonkers or expansive!

A tutorial on synching Scrivener directly to Aeon so your chapters appear within it on your timeline.

If you’re not sold on Aeon Timeline or it seems a little too much like overkill, here’s a discussion around other timeline software.