Who’s on First?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. When I start a new novel, I usually have one or two basic ideas – a character I want to write about, or a setting, or a situation.  I’ve thought it about a little, and have a few scenes in mind. These scenes are not necessarily the beginning of the story, in fact, usually they’re toward the end. But I write ’em as they come to me.

I always find, about halfway through, that things are a little… confusing. I lose track of time in the story. Action A needs to happen, but does it come before Scene 30 or after Scene 22? Character B needs to argue about Action G, but how will that affect the timing of Scene 8?

I need to see the Big Picture. I need a timeline.

Ah, but the making of timelines in any useful way has eluded me. I’ve used spreadsheets, outline templates, tables… none of it does what I want. I want to see a real timeline with all the scenes listed, in a format that will let me see the entire thing at once.

There are software packages for sell. But at two or three hundred dollars, they don’t tempt me. I don’t get paid for my writing yet, you know.

There are few timeline templates available online. These are free – you just need to register and get busy. But I ran into snafus. In one case, you had to download the software, and I wasn’t going to do that without certain assurances and information about the host. But the links, such as “About Us,” or their privacy policy, terms, did not work. They had the links but not the information.

Too chancy.

Another one, after I downloaded the file, just didn’t work. It wasn’t a file type my computer recognized and I couldn’t find instructions on the site for what to do. So off with that one.

Some of the sites wanted monthly fees. Or their timelines just didn’t work.

But I think I’ve found the solution. See here:

Isn’t that pretty? I couldn’t fit it all into the picture, but it’s spread over three pages and I can see everything at once. It’s not perfected yet, but basically, it does what I want.

So here’s the secret. Start with a blank Excel spreadsheet. Then go here. This guy gives you step-by-step instructions for creating the timeline. I just copied his formulas into the cells. It works beautifully.

I admit I had my husband’s help with some of it. He’s the Excel King, but he’d never made a timeline before. Still, he was able to help with the chart part of it, so I didn’t go crazy trying to name things or make the timeline clean and readable. I ran into trouble because in the story, lots of action happens on one day, then there would be a few weeks between action, and a lot more would happen. Or there would be action over a few days at once.

That made it difficult to know what increments to use for the x-axis. These are the dates on the timeline. If I show every day, the timeline is too crowded with dates. And since the story takes place over a three month time span, there would be large blank spaces where nothing was happening. So after some experimentation, I set it to show every two weeks. My story is about a werewolf, so I had to keep careful (but simplified) track of moon phases.

Just putting this together forced me to solidify several actions in the story. It immediately all came together, showing me where there problems with my plotting, and helping me keep track of actions.

I haven’t tried to use this with my other WIPs yet, but I will. This is something I always need to do, and I’m excited about it.

Let me know if you try it. Hope it’s helpful.


Those Bonnie Dumbarton Drums

I’m joining the Vegetarian Brigade

Temporarily joining it, that is. I’m experimenting.

Amy got me started on it when she blogged about her own experiment after reading The China Study by Colin Campbell. I got the book and thought it made enough sense to give it a try.

I don’t really go along with deprivation diets or the latest fad of “eat this” or “don’t eat that.” Our bodies don’t work in isolation with nutrients. It’s all one big, synergistical (is that a word? It should be) party. We need a varied diet for optimal health.

We are also omnivores, and I think it’s a mistake to pretend otherwise. So I don’t plan on never eating meat again. But I do agree that we need far less of it than we think.

Two things have always bothered me about vegetarians. The first is that so many people think they just eat lots of pasta (white pasta) and rice (white rice), along with loads of cheese. Oh, and salads – lettuce, tomato, cucumber… And those baby carrots out of a bag. And maybe tofu.

What a joke. That’s not a healthy diet. Try replacing the pasta and rice with whole grain pasta and rice. Then spread out into the other hundreds of whole grains available. And then – here’s the kicker – start eating vegetables.

Then there are the vegans – same as above, except they substitute soy or other faux products for the animal ingredients. So they are eating soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy or almond milk, eggbeaters, TVP (textured vegetable protein that looks like meat), and things like veggie burgers.

The vegan diet bothers me most of all, because for me, nothing is more important than eating “real” food. I realize that soy is a real food, but it just seems like the vegan products go way overboard in their efforts to imitate animal foods.

Why bother?

The China Study author recommends a whole food, plant-based diet. No animal products, lots of vegetables, lots of whole grains.

That I can do, with the caveat that I’ll have eggs and cheese once in a while, and probably meat or fish once a week. I haven’t decided about milk yet, but I don’t use it much anyway. Ice cream is the main thing.

Must. Have. Ice. Cream.

And I will have it, occasionally.

I’ve been eating mostly vegetarian for about a week, now. We had a couple ounces of grilled buffalo on Sunday. Oh, and I had two pieces of bacon with my husband’s buttermilk pancakes, which have an egg in them. And yes, buttermilk. So Sunday was not a vegan day, at all. But the rest of the week was.

I haven’t lost any weight. Although I’m eating a lot less, calorie-wise, I think I started out eating too much, in an attempt to get all the grains in. Forget it – that’s just too much food. The grains really do fill me up more.

And I love them. I’ve always been a big lover of carbs, of the bread variety. Breads, cereals, grains… Bring ’em on. In fact, one reason I always feel deprived on my usual diet is because I never allowed myself to eat many grains. Not even whole grains. I could have one or two servings per day – say two pieces of toast, or one waffle square. That was it.

And I always wanted to eat everything in sight because I was never satisfied. What a conundrum.

Anyway, so far, so good. If I haven’t lost weight, I haven’t gained any, either. As usual, I need to exercise more. Some things never change.

If ye know how to cook bacon, it’s not so hard to cook potatoes, too, is it?

Sunday morning, I went outside to get the paper, and found a woman in my yard pulling weeds. My first thought was, “the neighbors are so pissed about all our weeds, they’ve started pulling them for us!”

But no. She was picking the dandelions to take home to eat. And was quite relieved when I knew exactly what she was talking about, told her I ate them myself, and set about pulling a few for my own dinner. I also told her she was welcome to take all she wanted, whenever she needed.

The moment thrilled me for a lot of reasons. One is that I just don’t have any friends in this neighborhood, and I’m always hoping to find one. I don’t know if we’ll be friends, but we’re the same age, with grown children and grandchildren, and evidently have the same ideas about food and herbs. Her name is Soon. I hope we get to chat more.

Her food knowledge is another reason I was thrilled. To my husband, dandelions are weeds. He knows the leaves occasionally show up in his salads, but he’s really uncomfortable about eating them. Also, they can be bitter and he doesn’t like that. But this woman knew a lot about the plant I didn’t, such as the whole thing is edible. I thought it was just the leaves, but you can eat the stems, root, and flowers, too. The whole plant is loaded with nutrition.

And we dump them by the bucketful into the yard waste container!

Even knowing all this, I still have too many dandelions for us to eat. So I’m delighted a neighbor will help. And I’m cooking some dandelion stems for dinner.

A Moment…

April 15, 2011

Ninety-nine years ago last night, the RMS Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

One year from now, I’ll be on the surface of the ocean above the very spot, for a commemorative moment honoring all those who died. They didn’t know it, but their deaths would buy not just new shipping rules, but a new social order. Titanic was part of a cascade of triggers in the early 20th century, all of them setting society on a New Course.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

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