Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

5/12/2017

Character Records

Filed under: Fun,On Creativity,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Keeping your dramatis personae straight can be a chore.

Back in the day, when I played Dungeons and Dragons, my favorite part of the game was creating characters. I know, it’s weird, but, there it is. I don’t know what it was about filling out the forms, either the ones we created or the fancy pre-printed ones you could buy, that used to entertain me so, but it did. It’s funny, because I don’t like filling out other kinds of forms, but I do still get nostalgic about character record sheets. Years later, when computers became an essential part of role-playing games, there were even programs that did most of that work for you. I enjoyed them, too, even though I had stopped playing years before. There’s something about codifying and quantifying an imaginary character that just appeals to me, I guess.
That odd propensity carries over a bit into figuring out characters for fiction. Though, I have to admit, I tend to do more character generation than actual story-telling, too. It’s a bad habit, I suppose, but one I’m happy to encourage in others.
And, that brings me to the links I’m sharing with you, dear readers, this week.
First, there’s the Character Chart from Rebecca Sinclair. It’s a good, complete informational form to fill out so that you can get to know your characters in detail. Even if you never use them in your story, knowing the details of a character makes them feel more real to you, and your readers. A better version, in my opinion, of that chart, is the downloadable, fillable character chart, which takes that questionaire and makes it a fillable PDF form. It’s pretty excellent.
And, since a character’s starting equipment was always one of the most important, and fun, things to work out, I whipped up the Random Fantasy Pocket “Liter” Generator and, for more modern settings, the Random Daily Carry Generator. These also feed into some of my favorite kinds of stories, wherein the protagonist finds themselves in the thick of the action, in media res, if you will, and only has what they’re carrying on them at the moment to survive their adventure.
And, finally, the oddball link. This is really meant, I think, for genealogists, but if you’re writing a sweeping epic and need to keep track of an extended family, the Family Echo family tree creator is a nifty free tool to help you out. If you want to save your trees, you need to make an account, but the hassle may just be worth it to keep track of your fictional family.

So, there you have it. A somewhat random collection of writing links for your Friday fun. And forgive me if that doesn’t work for you, but my wife and I are closing on our mortgage refinance today, so I’m a little distracted.
Enjoy your weekend and I’ll see you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

4/21/2017

Magical Maps

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Autogenerated fantasy landscapes feel like randomly programmed dreams.

I wouldn’t really call myself a writer any more, since I don’t really write regularly, outside of emails at work and these weekly desperate blog posts. But, I was once, and when I was, I would obsess over what fantasy writers and fans call “world building”. In fact, eventually, that obsession took over all my time and energy and became my primary excuse for not writing. Still, I find it hard to let go of the idea that if I’m writing a fantasy story and don’t know where people are, or are from, or are going, that I can’t relax into telling their story. I know I’m not alone.
So, that leaves a writer with a couple of choices; steal someone else’s setting, or make your own.
I’m not a big fan of stealing, or even borrowing, someone else’s fantasy setting, because there’s always the possibility that you may need to pay royalties one day, if your new work sells. Or, that other author, or their estate, may squash your work altogether. It’s been known to happen. So, then, your other option is to build your own.
Personally, I’ve always loved the maps that come with my favorite fantasy stories. And, when I tried to write, I often would spend inordinate amounts of time trying to draw my own.
Now, though, there are other options. The one I’m sharing with my faithful readers this week is Uncharted Atlas. It’s a Twitterbot that automagically generates a pretty random fantasy map every hour. Yeah, a new fantasy world every hour. And some of these maps are pretty damn good! You can read some notes by the developer, Martin O’Leary, at his website about both how the maps were generated and < href="https://mewo2.com/notes/naming-language/">how the names for the maps were generated. Also, that page explaining the code includes an interactive, step-by-step example of generating a map. It gives you a bit more control over what the final map looks like and is a great way to waste a few minutes on a Friday.

Okay, so this isn’t likely to really fix any writer’s block issues, or even jump start my own writing, but, hey, it IS a great way to waste a little time on a Friday!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words

4/7/2017

Blog Posts

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Geek Work,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

My creative blog posting well is dry.

So dry.
Seriously, if you count my original blog, I have been doing this blogging nonsense for almost 17 years. My first blog post went live May 4th, 2000. How crazy is that?  Back then, I hand coded every page, making the HTML myself with Microsoft Notepad.  Then, I installed Moveable Type.  That was followed by a definite upgrade to WordPress during the great licensing debacle of 2004.  So, yes, I’ve been using WordPress since version 1.2  A lot has changed since then, but I can tell you one thing that hasn’t; the terrible struggle to create new and interesting content.
My wife, The Organizing Decorator, and I were talking about this very thing recently.  She just finished moving her site to her own hosting and content management system, so that I wasn’t responsible for her site as well as all of mine, and she told me how she need to stop tweaking and tampering with it.  My response was that it was a lot easier to mess with formatting than it was to actually create content.  And, after 17 years, I’m really feeling tapped out.

So, what’s my response?  To share with you two links about generating content!
First, a post from the very brainy and entrepreneurial Growth Lab titled How to find 20+ blog ideas your audience can’t wait to read.  It’s a process, but it’s a process that will help you generate content tailored to your blog, brand, or business.
The other is How To Think Outside The Box with 200+ writing prompts by CoSchedule.  And, it’s just what it sounds like, a list of prompts with blanks to get you started on a blog post.  They’re pretty generic, but they may not all be applicable to your chosen subject matter.

Well, there you have it.  Two links that are free and useful, if not exactly “fun” for non-bloggers or content producers.
Maybe I’ll have something better for you next week.
Maybe not.  Only time will tell.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

2/17/2017

Unleash your Creativity Scientifically

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,On Creativity — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I am NOT feeling creative this week.

And, I mean, not at all. Not even a little bit. So, what’s to do? Well, for one thing, I’m going to go ahead into work and be not creative there. I might as well collect a paycheck for not feeling creative and force myself to solve problems for profit. Honestly, when I read about breaking writer’s block, one of the most cited solutions is to just sit down and write anyway. I know for me, having a set routine helps me a lot. But, I’m a big believer in science, so what can science do for me when I don’t feel creative?

As it turns out, quite a lot, and Scientific American magazine happens to be running a special issue on just that subject. So, what I’m going to do is go into work and do things and leave these links here for you.
Six Articles on Creativity from Scientific American:
1. Your Fertile Brain At Work
2. The Science of Genius
3. Triumph of the City; Engines of Genius
4. Answers In Your Dreams
5. Living in an Imaginary World
6. Let Your Creativity Soar:

Hopefully, one of those will appeal to you and help you have a more creative weekend. Read them quick before they disappear behind a paywall!
And, we’ll see you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

1/20/2017

Building a Great Minimalist Studio

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity,Photography,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Another resource for photographers.

I think one of the reasons I initially was interested in photography was because I was shy, but wanted to meet people. I figured that a photographer would meet beautiful people, which seemed like a great idea in my teens and twenties.  Actually, it’s still not a bad idea, except I’m a little less invested in meeting new beautiful people now that I’m married.  Now, I’m strictly interested in the photography.  But, like a lot of amateur photographers, I don’t really have the time, space or money to justify having a big, fancy, dedicated photography studio in my home. I’ve mostly made do with some seamless paper in my garage, which, to be fair, has pretty much worked okay. It worked well enough, in fact, to take not only my LinkedIn profile shot, but also get paid for taking someone else’s LinkedIn headshot.  So, you know, it works well enough.  But, what if you want to go a little farther than that?  What if you want to do more than just the occasional headshot?  Well, my favorite commercial photographer and author of Studio Anywhere, Nick Fancher, has written an article for PetaPixel about just this subject titled You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune to Have a Great Photo Studio.
It’s a great article and shows you some really creative options for a small, but very versatile studio you can use to make some really inspiring photos.
To his article, I’ll only add that you can get really creative with cheap LED lights and shop lights, not to mention rechargeable light bars and automotive lights.  I recently shot some still life photography in my kitchen using a glass shelf and some cheap LED flashlights and was very pleased with the effect.
So, go read his article and see what Nick has to say about textures and space and see if you can’t apply that to your own situation and find some available space for a studio, even if it’s temporary.

But, above all, keep shooting!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

1/6/2017

Daily Photography

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity,Photography,Stimulus and Production,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

I encourage you to indulge in your hobby daily.

My favorite hobby is photography.
I’ve wanted to learn photography since I was in high school, but, until the birth of digital photography, it always felt beyond my reach.  I got interested again because, about ten years ago, someone asked me what I liked to do for fun.  At the time, I was stymied for an answer.  My shock at not having a hobby led me to take a good portion of my savings at the time and buy my first DSLR.  That led me to a Flickr account and some fooling around.  That led me to doing the 365 Project, just as a way to learn my camera.  And, I can tell you, shooting a self-portrait every day for a year straight was an amazing experience.  I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to say it was “life changing”, but it sure did make me a lot more comfortable with my camera.
If you’re one of the lucky people who got a new camera for Christmas this year, you may be looking for a project to get your feet wet.  I highly recommend some kind of 365-day project.  If the idea of a self-portrait every day is too much, why not take a look at the 365 Days of Shooting Prompts Challenge at Photoblog?  They have a shooting prompt for every day of the calendar year in 2017, all in a downloadable calendar.  I know this is posting on the 6th, but you can easily catch up, or just go until January 6th, 2018!
I’m firmly convinced that your photography will improve with shooting every day, whether you use a professional-grade DSLR or the camera on your smart phone.  What do you have to lose?

Incidentally, I think photography is going to be my theme this month.  Not everything will be entirely free, but I’ll probably include some links to free tutorials for paid software, so it’ll be pretty close.
Enjoy and have a great 2017!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

11/4/2016

Writing Advice

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

And encouragement!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, you should be four days into your book today.  But, maybe you’re cocky and are really just going to get started tonight after work.  Either way, you can still do it!  Fantastically prolific authors, especially some of the more well-known pulp writers, churned out books in very short amounts of time.  For instance, Michael Moorcock, creator of the infamous Elric series of books, is rather infamous for regularly cranking out books in as little as three days.  Yes, he had to do it by a formula, but, honestly, considering what he created, is that so bad?  And, more importantly, do you want to know how he did it?  Then hop over and read How To Write A Book In Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock over at Wet Asphalt.
Basically, he uses the same formula that Lester Dent used to great effect writing, among others, the Doc Savage series.  Basically, he breaks up the work into four parts and then breaks that down into smaller parts, each designed to ratchet up the tension at every step of the way.  Moorcock takes Dent’s formula and stretches it a bit, taking it from a story formula to a book formula.  Either way, it sure worked for them.  Between the two of them, those guys cranked out a hundreds of books, so, say what you will about the formula, but it seems to be effective.
Also, if you decide to use one of the tools I shared last week, Scrivener, you can download a Scrivener template specifically designed around the Lester Dent Master Formula.  It’s worth a look for Scrivener users!

And, if you’re already writing and just need some encouragement to keep going, or get some momentum built up, you can check out some slightly harsh, but funny advice from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

10/28/2016

Actual Writing Tools

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Now, you’ve got your setting, characters and story, so all you have to do is write it. Easy, right?

Okay, maybe not so much, but still totally doable, so don’t despair.
This week I’m going to talk exclusively about tools to do the actual writing with.  There are a lot of fancy software packages for this out there and what you choose to use is a personal choice based on who you are and how you write.  That said, let me share some of the more popular programs and tools to go with them.  First off, I would imagine a majority of people use Microsoft Word, because they have it available to them.  It’s not a bad way to go, actually, because you’re probably already familiar with it via school or work, so it won’t get in the way.  If you go with Word, William Shunn has some free, downloadable templates that will let you get started with a pretty standard manuscript format.  If you like Word, but don’t want to pay Microsoft for it, check out Libre Office instead.  It’s a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office and it includes a very good replacement for Word called Writer.  And, I even have a basic manuscript template you can download and use for Libre Office Writer, also free.
If you want to get fancier, there are a lot of alternatives, but Scrivener is specifically written for fiction writers and is often offered at a discount to people attempting NaNoWriMo.  And, while I have absolutely nothing against the creator of Scrivener, there is a free, open source alternative called Plume Creator.  I don’t have any real experience with either of these, but I always favor the free, open source alternatives whenever possible.

For myself, while I used to mostly work in whatever word processing package I was currently using, I’ve gone to pretty much only using straight text.  I made that change for a number of reasons, but I was heavily influenced by an email exchange I had with Steven Brust about his writing tools.  I was surprised to find out that he wrote exclusively in emacs.  I found out after a bit of digging around that he’s not the only one.  Vernor Vinge, a brilliant science fiction author, also uses emacs to write his fiction, though it’s less surprising to me since he also teaches computer science at the collegiate level.  So, now, while I’m still working on the actual text, I just use my favorite text editor, which in my case is the same tool I use to write Perl code and edit server scripts and web pages, UEStudio, which is an extension of UltraEdit, a tool familiar to serious programmers.  Incidentally, keeping everything in straight text with out any formatting not only limits distractions, but makes for the most compatibility between systems, which, ultimately, is why I decided to make that change.

So, now, finally, you should have all the characters, setting, plot ideas and writing tools you need to get started with National Novel Writing Month.

This post originally appeared on The Fantasist’s Scroll.

10/21/2016

Build Your World

Filed under: Fun,Life Goals,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Now you have a story and the characters in it, but what about the rest of your world?

Most people think that only fantasy or science-fiction writers have to create a world for their writing, but even writers who create contemporary stories create their worlds. They just create a fictional world based more closely to our real world, which is pretty subjective in any case.  I’ve been assuming that you are following these posts in order this month, but there’s certainly no reason that you should start with a story and not your world.  I know that I often start with a setting when I’m thinking of stories and, especially when I’m thinking of fantasy stories, a map is often a great place to start.  In fact, in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card writes about starting a novel by essentially doodling a map.  And, thanks to the internet, there are an almost endless number of pages about making maps.  Let’s start with A Guide to RPG Mapmaking.  It’s focused on fantasy role-playing games, but everything in the guides and tutorials are applicable to other kinds of fantasy maps.  And, if you like that, check out Observations of the Fox: Map Tutorials for even more details on creating detailed maps.  Most of the techniques there are pretty applicable to any tools you might use, and there are many to choose from, but if you’re serious about making maps and aren’t a professional artist, I highly recommend ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer.  It’s not incredibly expensive, and there is a bit of a learning curve, but I think it’s worth the investment in time and money for some of the results.  To see what some of those results can be, with practice, as well as Campaign Cartographer specific tutorials, be sure to visit Ralf Schemmann’s site Maps and More.
And, if you just want some inspiration, check out Fantastic Maps or Fantasy Cartography by Sean Macdonald.

Of course, you may not need a map at all, but want to create some other details about your fictional world to make it seem more real.  For that, I humbly submit Fantasist.net’s own World Building resources for your use, which includes, among other things, an on-line Timeline Generator to create a little history that your characters can refer to in conversation.  It also has a link to the incredibly complete Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede, who covers pretty much every detail you could ever ask yourself about a fictional world.

As much as I love worldbuilding, in recent years I’ve realized that I can easily get so lost in world and setting creation that I never get around to actually writing fiction!  Don’t fall into that trap!  Make enough world to get your story going and then let the world create itself as you go.  For some more helpful worldbuilding ideas along those lines, take a look at Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding.  It’s a very up-to-date approach and I found it quite helpful!

So, now you should have characters, setting and plot nailed down and you can start letting that marinate before actually starting National Novel Writing Month in November.  But, come back next week to see what final tools I have for you before you launch your NaNoWriMo project!

This post originally appeared at The Fantasist’s Scroll.

10/14/2016

Create Your Characters

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Now that you’ve got a story idea, who are the people in it?

Often, a story is centered around a single, strong character, and you’ve already answered that question. But, what if you haven’t? Well, then, maybe I can help.
First, if you need to flesh out an entire character, including a bit of family tree and a biography, I’ll send you back to a site I referenced last week, albeit at a different page. They call it the Name Generator, but, really, if you choose the right options, it will make a pretty complete character sketch.
But, maybe you just need some specific details to fill in parts of your character sketch that seem light or are missing entirely. Again, I’ll send you to a site I’ve referenced before, Seventh Sanctum, where you can find an entire page of character-related random generators. They have everything from complete, generic character generators to genre specific character generators to name and naming specific generators. In fact, they have a full page of random naming related generators, if you’re having trouble in that regard. But, if you want to pick something more specific, you can check the Most Common Given Names, according to Wikipedia. Or, for last names, the Most Common Surnames. Surely, something there will suit.
And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include our very own Funny Name Generator!

Also, if you want to fill your character’s pockets with some random things, Fantasist.net has the Daily Carry Generator, for modern settings, and the Fantasy “Pocket Litter” Generator, for, well, more magical settings. And, contrary to my normal habit of hiding my source code, mostly because I’m a very, very amateur programmer and my code is generally junky, I’m giving you all a download link to grab the PHP files for those last two generators, which is available at the original post on Fantasist.net only. No warranty is expressed or implied by offering that code! Use at your own risk! (But, it’s pretty simple and shouldn’t cause you any grief.)

Come back next week for more world building tools!

This post originally appeared on The Fantasist’s Scroll.

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