Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Scrivener: How I use it -- Part 3

In part 1 I talked about using Scriveners Chapter and Scene titles as a condensed version of an outline, which makes navigating your novel a breeze later on.

Part 2 covered using labels to flag each chapter (and/or scene) with some specific thing that is important to your book.  In my case it was keeping track of whose POV each chapter would be from.  In yours it might be the location the chapter takes place in, or the time period, maybe various subplots, or something else entirely.  Whatever you think will be useful later when you might want to get a "view" of your story narrowed down to just one of these elements.  In my case, I liked to be able to get rid of everything so that Scrivener only showed me the chapters from a specific character's POV.

Now, I'd like to talk about the other key feature I use in Scrivener: comments.

The comments in scrivener work a bit like they do in Word, so if you're used to that this shouldn't be too alien.  The main difference is how they're displayed.  Well, that and how I use them.

Before that, let me explain a bit about how Scrivener organizes your book, because that is VERY different from Word and you might already be a bit baffled by it.

In your manuscript there are folders and text.

Folder = A Chapter
Text = A scene

This is the key thing to remember: A FOLDER CAN CONTAIN TEXT, TOO. I'll get back to this in a second. But repeat it to yourself now. Okay? Okay.

If you want, you can do your entire manuscript at the folder level and never make scenes within them. Hell, you can even just write your entire book at the "Manuscript" level and never break it down into smaller chunks at all.  For the purposes of this post I'm going to use folders and scenes, because that's what I do and that is something that opens up a lot of Scrivener's power.

Before we head back to our Star Wars example, I want to show you what I'm talking about with a blank "Novel" project.

Select File > New Project > Fiction > Novel

You should see something like this:

As you see the default project contains a top-level "Manuscript", one folder called "Chapter", and one text called "Scene".

Click on Manuscript.  You probably just see a corkboard with a notecard on it. Ignore that for now.

Click on this little button, which is "Edit Scrivenings":

Now you should see a blank view with a line across it.  Weird?  Let me explain.  You're looking at two pieces of your manuscript, the thing called "Chapter" and the thing called "Scene", simultaneously, and that's pretty cool.  Try this: Above the divider line, type in "This is the chapter".  Then below it, type "And this is the scene":

Now just click on Scene. You should only see the text for it.  Click on the chapter, you should see the text for both.  That's because we have that multi-document "edit scrivenings" view clicked.  If this is confusing to you, stop here and do the tutorial that comes with scrivener.  Or, just make some more chapters and scenes in here and play around with it.

What's the point of all this?  Simple: In Scrivener, you're in control of what you see.  From the entire manuscript, to a select sequence of chapters, to a tiny individual scene, you can narrow down your view to just what's important for your current task and get everything else out of the way.  In Word, you're always looking at everything, and that can make navigating a large project cumbersome at best. It may be hard to grasp why this is so powerful now, but trust me, when you've got a 50-chapter, 300 scene manuscript going, you'll love it.

The main thing you need to know is that when you're writing (again, this is just my personal technique), you should put the meat of your words in scenes.  I personally only use the "chapter" level for subheadings, like "Darwin, Australia 12.MAR.2282" or whatever.

So here's our Star Wars example so far.  Note that I have "Manuscript" selected in the binder.  Also, just so you're aware, I've pasted in text from the screenplay just so this isn't empty (I'll make this scrivener file available for download in case you want to look at it more closely.)

On to Comments, then!

Let's imagine you're in the process of writing your first draft.  You're in the chapter where Luke finds Leia's message (note: in the next screenshot that's the chapter selected, not "manuscript") and you've just written a throwaway line of pointless technobabble. An idea strikes you.  "I should totally bring this back up later and have it be important!".  But when?  I'm going to cover two scenarios here to give you a basic taste of how I use comments:

Scenario 1: You have no idea where to bring this up later, but you want to remember to add it at some point.  So add a comment right here:

Scenario 2: You know roughly where you want to mention this later, so click on that unwritten Chapter.  We'll say it's "Luke joins rebellion".  It's empty because you haven't written it yet, and you can't add a note to emptiness, so just put in a single "." or something and make your note:

(Pro tip: Doing this while writing can take you away from the spot where you were.  Learn how to use Scriveners split-screen mode and you won't have this problem.)
(Feature wish: Sometimes if it's important enough I'll add comments in both places, just to be sure the text matches in terms of details.  I kind of wish Scrivener had a way to link comments together, making it easier to keep track of these)

Comments can be for anything, not just when you want to remember to add something.  Maybe you've written what you know is an ugly line of dialog, but you're drawing a blank on a better choice.  Leave a comment to make sure you come back and fix it.  Or maybe you realize you need to research the name of a town but don't want to lose your groove; just call it "FixMe town", and add a comment to the word "FixMe" to correct it later when you have time.  This allows you to keep writing but not lose these kinds of things in the long haul.

Again, this is not too dissimilar from Word's comment feature, but I think it's better for two reasons:

1.  Remember earlier when we were looking at one scene, a chapter and its scenes, or the entire document? Well guess what, the comments listed on the side there correlate to that.  In other words, if you've only got your "Death Star" location scenes in view right now, you'll only see the comments you left in those scenes & chapters.  When editing, this ability to focus in on just what you're working on is very handy.

2. A more subtle difference is simply in the way Scrivener displays these.  While Word shows the comments sort of next to the text they go with, Scrivener just stacks them up on the right.  This might seem like a step back compared to Word, but I actually prefer it.  You navigate by clicking on the comments and seeing where they point, not the other way around.  The reason I prefer this is the main thing I wanted to get across with all this:

I use Scrivener comments as my to-do list for the manuscript.

Every one of these is something I need to fix.  Each time I fix one, I delete the comment, and I don't send off a manuscript to my editor until all the comments are gone.

Here's our Star Wars example with a bunch of comments added:

So there you go!  Questions?  Add a comment and I'll answer as best I can.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Doing NaNoWriMo? Some tips for success...

November is coming up fast, and right now there are 120,000+ people out there in the world getting ready to start writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month.

As you may already know, my novel The Darwin Elevator started life as a Nano project back in 2008.  That was the second year I participated (2007 being the first), and so I thought I'd share some tips that might help you succeed.

Here we go!

  • Tip #1 - Write a novel.  You might be wondering why I'm saying this, and it's because I'm insane.  No, wait, not that.  The point is, remember that it's 50k words of a novel that is your goal, not just 50k words. I know some people who do fifty 1000 word short stories, or any other combination you can imagine that results in 50k words written, and more power to them.  This post is not for those people.  You see, the prize for "winning" Nanowrimo is the knowledge of what it takes to write a book.  You are finding out if that is something can, and want, to do.
  • Tip #2 - Don't edit, just write.  I don't care how screwy your project gets at the halfway mark, don't toss it and start a new one (the old 25k-split... we're on to you!).  If you realize on November 13th that your story would have been ten times better if you'd just had that troll help the hero instead of attacking him, then make a note that you intend to go back and change that and keep writing as if you'd done it that way.  Or hell, decide the troll survived and shows up NOW to help.  Make it work, keep going.  No first draft is flawless.  The trick for finishing Nanowrimo is to learn how to resist the urge to edit.  This may not be the way you'd do things without this artificial deadline, but that's okay, because...
  • Tip #3 - Remember this: The prize you're getting from Nano is huge, and that prize is you.  You, the writer.  You, armed with the knowledge of what it a takes to write a book.  You, with the extra swagger in your step because you know you've done it.  You, on the path to knowing what your process is.  Everyone's goal with Nano is to finish writing a novel, and everyone will have a different way of going about it.  If you fail, okay, look back on it and figure out where things went wrong.  Come up with a plan to fix those things next time around.
  • Tip #4 - Track your progress.  Whatever method makes sense to you, be it Nano's own tools or the built-in project goals in software like Scrivener.  I use a spreadsheet I made.  The thing is, it's sort of like trying to lose weight.  You don't set a goal of losing 50 lbs. in a year, start eating better and exercising, but neglect to weigh yourself until a week before the end and realize you've only lost 15 lbs. so far.  You weigh in daily.  You celebrate every half-pound gone.  You redouble your efforts if you get behind.  Treat Nano the same way.
  • Tip #5 - Plan ahead.  It's already October 20th, so I'd say this post is 20 days too late because a month of planning is good.  But that's okay, you still have time.  There's 10 days or so left, so devote each one to a bit of planning.  Make an outline, then throw it out and make another one that's better.  Start brainstorming who your characters are, what makes them tick.  What's your world like?  Start jotting down ideas on these things.  Unless you're a pantser (someone who prefers the blank page, and who thinks that any planning just stifles their creativity.  Horseshit, in my opinion, but to each their own!).  If you're a pantser I guess maybe start clearing your mind now!  Either way, spend this time leading up to November getting your head in the game.
  • Tip #6 - Take it seriously.  Looking back on my Nano years, it's easy now in hindsight to spot the people who won't finish.  Most of them, anyway.  They were the ones who started making excuses before November even arrived. Little innocent caveats about how they "guess" they're going to participate, or how they'll probably start but because of that new job they just landed they might not have time.  All fine and dandy, and I still encourage these people to participate because there's value, but it's defeating the whole purpose of NaNoWriMo.  Nano is a marathon and you've just signed up to run it.  Don't start in with the "oh yeah I'll be there at the starting line but I don't have any good running shoes right now.  Plus I've got tickets to see a movie that same day so I need to duck out at the halfway point anyway.  Also my leg is broken, which might make it hard to finish.  Still, I'm THERE!!!"  Don't do this.  Take it seriously.
See, the thing about Nanowrimo is that it has no stakes except those you create.  That's not easy for a lot of people.  No stakes, no motivation.  No tangible reward, no drive.  And for a lot of people it's hard, very hard, to invent stakes and impose them.  Inventing a reward might be a bit easier, but not by much.

So in this regard, consider ways to put pressure on yourself, and/or reward yourself.  The simplest possible way to do this is to let people know you're writing a novel in November.  People who care, people who will ask you how its going, people you won't want to look in the eye and say "eh, I gave up."  Don't have anyone like that in your life?  Fine, tell me in the comments. I'll hold your nose to the grinder and promise to post here praising your victory or mocking your failure as the case may be.

You can go farther than this, of course.  A lot farther.  For example, put 100$ in an envelope (or whatever amount of money you can afford to lose but will sting if you didn't get it back).  Give the envelope to a good friend or family member and tell them NOT to give it back to you unless you finish Nanowrimo.  Even if it takes you until March, tell them to hang on to that envelope until you can show them you've written fifty thousand words.  Someday you'll want that hundred bucks enough to get words on the page.

Any other questions? Ask in the comments!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Evolution of THE DARWIN ELEVATOR's North American cover

Since I'm often asked about the covers for my books, I thought I'd give you all an in-depth peek into the cover design process.

While it varies from publisher to publisher, authors are not always involved in the cover design process.  The normal experience is to be shown a “final” cover, upon which feedback is given and generally ignored.  I was warned of this by my agent early on, but luckily my experience did not go this way!
In this spirit, my editor has also provided some commentary for this post, which I'll include in grey and indented, like so:

Mike: Hi everyone!  Creating covers for our books is one of the toughest things we do at Del Rey.
Basically, our job is to create a package for a product that is intriguing, informative, and iconic.  We want potential readers to see the cover and be inspired to investigate more.  In addition, we want to convey some of the cool things that a reader will find between the covers.  Lastly, it has to stand out amongst other covers on the shelf (or online).
To accomplish this, we have to keep lots of things in mind: Who is the target audience and what would they like to see?  What have similar successful books done to visually attract readers?  How can we stand out?  What do we think are going to be the visual trends when the book comes out?  How can we appeal to the broadest possible audience? We’re lucky in that we have a great design team and lots of input from various departments such as editorial, marketing, sales, and publicity, so we can tackle these questions and more over the course of the cover design process.
I’m excited to share some of this process with you here, thanks for doing this, Jason!

So here’s a little history of TDE’s cover, start to finish.  Actually this will go back even further than that!

Many moons ago, in 2009 when I was working on the book as a rank amateur, I decided it would be a good idea to commission a painting I could use on my website, on business cards, and so on.  I reached out to my friends in the video game industry, asking if they had any concept artists at their studios who did freelance work.  This eventually led me to Kelli Davis, a very talented young artist working (at the time at least) at Supervillain Studios in Irvine, CA.

Kelli agreed to do a rough painting for me, and here was what I asked her for:

As I've envisioned it, the focus of the cover is the space elevator itself, as seen from near the base of it looking up.  I'd love to see the hints of tall, rundown buildings at the sides, and if possible a man looking up.
I also included this sketch:

It's interesting for me to go back and look at this now, because it's actually not that different from the final cover! But we'll get to that...

Kelli took this and sent me back a few rough sketches of her own, asking which I liked:

The curve in the middle one had a dramatic appeal to me, so I asked her to go with that and here was the final result:

This was really excellent, and exactly what I was hoping for.  I think the only criticism I had was the buildings were a bit too old-fashioned for futuristic Darwin.  Between that and the color scheme more than a few people got a "steampunk" feel from this, but at the time I was fine with it and happily paid her for the piece.

Now, fast forward a few years.  I've got a book contract with Del Rey and finally, months later, I get the email starting the discussion about covers.  I'd been told many times before this that authors rarely get any say in their cover art, so being included in the conversation at all made me very happy.

Mike, my editor suggested one of two paths (quoting the email verbatim here):
  • We could go for the sci-fi classic: figure with slightly futuristic garb/weapon in front of a slightly futuristic backdrop (with the Elevator, of course), a la John Scalzi, Jack Campbell, and Anne Aguirr
  • We could go highly stylized: I was thinking about the pictographs aboard the Builders’ first ship

The idea to do something abstract was soon discarded, so the focus became a "character cover".

I was, to be honest, a little miffed that all other paths were apparently already closed.  I replied with some thoughts on both of the above, and then pretty strongly indicated my preference for a "landscape cover", ala those done by Stephan Martiniere.  It's worth noting I grew up with the ambition to do 3D graphics and animation for a living, and idolized artist like Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie.

Mike: We’re tasked with creating a cover that conveys the right information to the biggest potential audience so that a customer browsing the shelf (or online) goes, “Ooh!  That looks cool!  What’s that?” and then goes to investigate further.
When the Del Rey team was thinking about Jason’s covers, we wanted to convey several things.  First, they had to be clearly sci-fi since that was the primary reader for this book.  Beyond that we wanted to tell people that Jason’s books are about A) characters you actually care about and B) breathtaking action.  We felt that a “character” cover with the right sci-fi elements would be the best way to communicate this to potential readers.
With regard to the “landscape cover”, we had briefly considered that too, but were put off by the fact that those types of covers can look static and monolithic and didn’t always inform about all of the great stuff inside.  Some sci-fi readers go nuts for images of huge ships or colossal sci-fi landscapes, but they can also be a turn off for non SF readers.  This was definitely on our mind as we felt that TDE had something to offer readers who didn’t regularly read sci-fi as well as those who have lots of experience in the genre.

Mike and I both exchanged examples of what we were thinking.  So here they are side-by-side:

Jason's idea              vs.               Mike's idea
Keep in mind, my point of view was coming purely from what appealed to me, while Mike was thinking (as he rightly should) only about what would be the best cover to help Darwin fly off bookstore shelves.

My main concern with a character-focused cover was that they often look cheesy.  The cover above for EMBEDDED was not cheesy at all, so I was happy about that.  My comment back to Mike was that I'd seen the book before and had no idea it was Sci-Fi. From afar I'd assumed it was a military book and had never picked it up.  I suggested if they go that route they at least try to get a sci-fi looking backdrop.  And, I subtly urged him to try and find an artist who painted people well.

Mike: I absolutely loved EMBEDDED and I really dug the cover. For me, seeing it made me want to know who this dude was, what was going on, and what shot down that craft in the background.  I knew we could do something cool in a similar vein, but tailored to Jason’s books in a way that emphasized the series’ strengths, and did so with more color and oomf.

Fast forward a few months.  In Mike's next email, he shared with me the three artists they were considering.  I'm not sure if I can say who they all were, but suffice to say I looked at samples from each and they were all amazing.  As someone who doesn't generally care for "character covers", I don't say this lightly.  As far as I could tell, Del Rey was looking at the top three artists out there.

In the end they selected Christian McGrath, and I felt very confident then that the artwork would be of the highest quality.  If Chris is anything he's amazingly consistent.  Just glance at his portfolio and you'll see what I mean.  Every one of his covers is well composed and none, in my view, could ever be called cheesy.

Some of Christian McGrath's covers

Despite being with one of the top publishers in the business, I think this news marked the first time I really felt like I'd joined the big leagues.

Mike: We’ve all been big fans of Christian’s work for years at this point, especially the covers he’s done for Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books.  I love that his figures are dark and purposeful, gritty and tough, but also appealing.  I look at the images above and wonder, “Who’s ass is she going to kick and can I read about it?”  We knew he was our guy and were very happy that Jason agreed!

Fast forward again, as Christian went off and started to do his thing.  Another month passed before Mike sent me this little preview: a few very rough sketches from Christian as he attempted to find the right pose, mood, and composition.

Here's the sketches Christian provided.  Remember these are extremely rough:

Mike: This first round of sketches is used to give us the opportunity to decide on the direction of the overall composition.  How much would it suck for an artist to create a cover image, only to have the publisher say, “That’s cool, but can you change his pose?”  Nope, the sketch is the time to have that discussion.

We chatted a bit about the merits of these, and Mike also worked internally with his graphic design people.  Eventually feedback was given to Christian, and he came back a month or so later with this gorgeous work:

This painting really pleases me. I love how it captures both the character and the Sci-Fi aspect. My only feedback was that the climbers looked too much like those oversized ski-lift passenger cars.  I sent a sketch of what I envisioned the climbers looking like, and Christian revised them before the final version.

Mike also felt something needed to be done about Skyler's hair.

Mike: I can’t tell you how much I love this image.  Love, love, love.  Skyler looks like a consummate badass, and Darwin and the Elevator are so freakin’ cool in the background.  And the color palate?  Brilliant.  Christian McGrath is amazing.  That said, the hair was a little poofy for my tastes (but this is coming from a guy who keeps his head shaved; I acknowledge my bias).  Now that we had an arresting cover image, it was time to start tinkering…

Next up was the layout and typography.  There were many iterations, a handful shown here in chronological order, and I'll only add a few comments between because I think the evolution of it speaks for itself:

(Del Rey decided to change the angle so Skyler wasn't leaning, and crop in a bit. Personally I prefer the full painting)

Mike: As Jason mentioned, we wanted to zoom in on Skyler, again trying to focus on action and character above other elements.  Unfortunately, to get Skyler to the right size and orientation, we had to crop some of the city.  This bummed out the sci-fi nerd in me, honestly, but there are methods to our madness. 
We also wanted to try some other treatments to the background as a means of highlighting the figure even more.  Often this is done by shadowing the background, but we tried the opposite and instead lightened the background.  With those options side by side, the lighter one was the clear winner. 
Then it came time for text!  We tried dozens of different typefaces, layouts, and colors, many of which were so off that we didn’t even bother sending them on to Jason for consideration.  In the end, we liked the big, vintage-looking action font and decided that red/orange would pop against the blue-hued background.

And there we reach essentially the final version on the right. 

All in all it was an interesting process and I'm happy with the result, especially the way the whole series looks together!  If I haven't before, I'd like to publicly thank Michael Braff and Dave Stevenson at Del Rey for including me in the process and listening to my feedback, and Christian McGrath for his extraordinary talent and professionalism. 

Mike: I’d like to echo the thanks for Dave and Christian, but also to thank Jason for his input and notes.  But more than that, I’m grateful for his patience and trust.  The cover design process is not an exact science and there is a somewhat complex system of thought behind the decisions that publishers make.  In the end I’m ecstatic with the final covers and so glad that Jason is on board with them: to me they tell about a great character embroiled in an epic struggle, all set in a unique and realistic setting.  Hopefully you agree but, even if you don’t, hopefully the cover was cool enough to make you look further into Jason’s fantastic series.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Scrivener - How I use it, part 2: Labels, keywords, and meta-data

First, let's recap the main takeaway from part 1: Name your chapters to denote what happens in them.  The list can (and does, for me) end up serving as your outline, which makes it incredibly easy to navigate your book later.

To keep with our Star Wars example, here's the whole thing laid out (and viewed in "Outline Mode" which I've highlighted):

Nice and tidy, right? Now, as an outline this may look a bit light. If you didn't know Star Wars you wouldn't be able to get the full gist of the story from this. That's okay. This is for your use, not to communicate the story to others.  And, once it's fleshed out with Scenes inside these chapters, the details, if needed, will emerge.

For you pantsers out there, it's perfectly fine to NOT do this ahead of time.  Just create a new chapter, write it, and when you're done name the chapter with a terse summary.

Last note on this: If you look at these chapters, I've tried to have the words summarize what happens at the END of that chapter. This way, every time I start writing a chapter I know what my goal is, and I can have fun getting there.  It works for me, but as always your kilometerage might vary.

Moving on then!

Labels, keywords, and meta-data

Scrivener gives you a lot of different wants to flag things for later reference.  And because of that it can be easy to get overwhelmed by these options, and equally easy to go overboard using them.

So my main piece of advice here is KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

You don't have to use all these features, and indeed I don't. I started out adding keywords and meta-data all over the place, but in the end I found I wasn't ever making use of them. Your technique will likely evolve, too.  For now, we'll keep it simple and just make use of Labels.

In the screenshot earlier, you can see that each Chapter, by default, gets the label of... Chapter.

Personally, I think this is next to useless.  For me, what was useful when writing my Dire Earth novels was to know which character's POV was used in each chapter.  The reason's I'll get into in a second, but first let me show you how to change these.

First, click the little up/down arrow next to one of the "Chapter" labels and then select "Edit..."

Here are the default labels:

Change the custom title from "Label" to "POV".  Then, edit the label names themselves (double-click on them) to be the main characters in your book.

For our example purposes, here's what the screen should look like:

I also made "No Label" the default.

When you click OK, everything that labeled "Chapter" before will now have "Kenobi", since we edited the existing label. That's okay. Go through each chapter now and change it to the character who's point-of-view is used. The final result is something like this:

Now, Star Wars itself might not be the best example for using POV as the label we care most about.  But for my novels POV was very important, so let's just pretend it matters here, okay?  Okay.

What you can learn from this is if some characters are under or over represented.  There's a lot of Luke chapters at the end for example, so perhaps sticking a Vader POV chapter in there might be better for flow (again, just pretending - the actual film cuts back and forth a lot between characters, I know). Maybe the final chapter can be told from Leia's POV. And so on...

If you're writing a mystery, maybe change the label column to "Clues" and keep track of what is learned when.  Or if you're writing a 1st person story of emotional journey, you could denote the mental state of the main character. Again, this is all to help you identify issues like pacing or focus. In the mystery example, you might find at this stage that you've got a large section in the middle of your book where no clues are given. Whether or not that's an actual problem is something for you to decide. Follow your gut!

Now, Scrivener does offer other ways to do this.  In addition to label there's status, keywords, and meta-data.  For me, just using labels is really enough. I've done other things like adding keywords for locations and meta-data to note every character that appears in a given scene, but honestly I hardly ever used these.  For the more detail oriented writer, you might LOVE this sort of thing, and I also suspect some of you are already looking at this POV label and thinking it wouldn't help you at all.

The main thing you need to realize about using these is that once setup you can SEARCH based on them.  It's easy, just click the little down arrow next to "Search" and tell it you only want to search labels. Search for "Luke" and you'll find every chapter where Luke is the POV character.  Again, perhaps not so useful with this Star Wars example, but imagine if you had 60 chapters with 10 different POV characters. Using this, you can instantly get a view of your book from just that character's POV. Used well, this can be very, very powerful tool.

Part 3 of this series will cover using comments as an amazing way to keep track of every little idea or correction or concern you think of as you write.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scrivener - How I use it, part 1

To the aspiring authors out there:

Before reading this, there's one thing you absolutely need to know.  When it comes to writing, "there's no rules, only tools." Take all writing advice with a grain of salt. If you have time, or know you need a change, give things a try and keep what works for you.  If things are working for you, keep doing what you're doing and file this stuff for future reference.

Now then, ready?

Scrivener.  You've probably heard about it by now.  If not, you should give it serious consideration for your next project. I say next because I think Scrivener works best when you use it from Day 1. And, generally speaking, it's a bad idea to switch software tools in the middle of a project.  With November approaching, that's a pretty good opportunity for all you Nanites out there to give Scrivener a shot, especially since they usually offer a free trial version in November (and a discount if you finish Nano).

Why Scrivener?

If you've ever developed any software, you should get what I'm about to explain instantly.  For the rest of you, I'll try to make this as clear as possible.
Scrivener treats your manuscript like source code.  You've got a project (the book, or even books in my case), and all the material involved is contained in that project.  Not just the manuscript, like you'd have in Word, but everything.  Chapters, scenes, research, character bios, you name it... each is within the project and each is treated as a separate thing.

Whereas in Word your manuscript is the file, just one big stream of text, in Scrivener you can keep everything in nice tidy chunks.  Why's that important?  Well, first and foremost is speed.
You can zip from one chapter to another in seconds, and since each is titled with a name you provide, making a quick jump to review what happened in a previous chapter is just a single click away, rather than minutes of scrolling around in Word trying to find the right spot.  If you've never dealt with a long document in Word you might not realize this is even an issue, but once you've got a big novel going, it's incredibly useful.

Let me highlight a few things I can do in Scrivener that are impossible, or so cumbersome they might as well be, in Word:
    • I have a single Scrivener project that contains all three manuscripts (multiple versions, too), every bit of research (text, images, audio, even video), worldbuilding notes including maps, character sketches, deleted scenes, plus hundreds of notes or ideas I came up with during this process.  That's 500,000 words of core work, plus tons of additional stuff, and it's all instantly available and searchable.  Word basically chokes on anything over 300 pages or so.  In Scrivener I can zip around nearly 1800 pages easily, and it's all lightning fast and incredibly stable (zero crashes).
    • Scrivener focuses on content, not "the document".  I've tagged every scene with who is in it and where it takes place.  This means I can instantly filter down my view to just the bits where a certain character is present, or scenes that take place in a certain location.  If you're writing multiple POV's, or have many subplots, this is unbelievably helpful.
    • Scrivener treats each chapter, indeed each scene, as a separate entity. Want to try a different chapter arrangement? Just drag and drop. Its as easy as moving files.
    • Scrivener treats the final "document" as a product you produce at the end.  You're not editing a document in Scrivener, you're editing the content that will make up a document.  This is the key paradigm shift over something like Word, and probably the hardest thing for a new user to grasp.  Programmers probably get this quickly because basically it's a workflow they're used to: your content is like source code, and the outputted manuscript is compiled.  Need a standard manuscript in Word format? Compile.  Ebook properly setup for Kindle? Compile.  PDF with notes and watermarks and with the alternate ending? Compile.  None of this changes the content at all.
As with software development, a few simple organizational tips up front will help you immensely down the road.  I'll start with one here, and cover others in subsequent posts.

TIP 1: Naming chapters

Or, perhaps a better way to say it, let your chapter names be your outline.  Never, ever, name them "Chapter 1, Chapter 2," and so on.  Why? Chapter numbers will change and besides naming them this way doesn't help you at all.

Here's an example that uses the first few "chapters" of the movie Star Wars as an example:

As you can see, some of these have scenes in them, but the bottom two do not.  Whether you choose to break things down smaller like this or not doesn't really matter.  The point is, look at how easy that is to navigate!  Imagine this expanded over 50 chapters each with multiple scenes.  Can't recall if Han shot first in that bar scene just before they flee Tatooine? Well, just click the chapter in your binder and there you are.  With split view mode, you don't even need to leave the spot you were writing in to do this.  Using tags properly is another way to do this, and I'll cover that in part 2.

By the way, this doubles as an example of how I outline, which I've mentioned before here and in some interviews.  A few words per chapter or scene, usually noun-verb-noun, is what I use once I start writing.  This is enough for me to know where the chapter is going without taking all the creative spontaneity out of the writing itself.

If you use my chapter naming scheme above, you'll probably want to turn off the display of those in your compiled manuscript.  This is easy to do in the "Compile" screen:

Turn off the checkboxes for "Title", and make sure you have the "Text" boxes checked.  This way, if you want to have actual chapter titles in the book, just put them in the text of the document itself (I do this at the chapter level, then the actual prose in the scenes included therein).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Contest winners!

Thanks to everyone who sent in entries for the EXODUS TOWERS contest.  I'll be sending out books today to J. Mast and J. Tice! I picked the first because it amused me, especially since it's a topic Prumble ruminates on in a short story I'm currently writing.  The second I liked simply because it sounded very much like the type of thing Skyler would bag without thinking while on a mission, knowing it would be needed.
If your entry didn't get picked, fear not! I'll do a few more of these in September.

J. Mast's entry:
Recordings of light jazz music
Music players for every climber
I'll be the only provider of the Darwin Elevator Music

J. Tice's entry:
My allergies are so bad that in the event of the apocalypse, I would literally kill for a stash of Mucinex and Benadryl.

WorldCon Schedule

Here's my schedule for LoneStarCon3 (aka the World Science Fiction Convention).

Thursday 09:00 - 10:00: Stroll with the Stars

Friday 12:00 - 13:00: CGI and Storytelling
Can modern CGI effects properly illustrate the soul of a story like The Lord of the Rings? Now that incredible, eye popping special effects in genre films are a given, will we ever return to the importance of story? Can CGI enhance the story, without the prominence it has in so many films? Or will CGI just distract from the story?

Friday 15:00 - 16:00: Colossus, Skynet, or the Culture?
If and when our AI masters arrive, how will they come about? Will they spring spontaneously from the internet or be deliberately built by men? Our panelists discuss the possibility. Will they rule us, destroy us, or partner with us?

Saturday 10:00 - 11:00: Geeks in Popular Culture
The changing portrayal of geeks in media, comics and pop culture in general.

Sunday 10:00 - 11:00: Big Data. Check. Next Stop: Big Brother?
Google+Facebook+Microsoft+Prism=NSA becoming big brother. Or does it?

Monday 14:00 - 15:00: Autographing

Friday, August 16, 2013

Exodus Towers giveaway

I have two copies of The Exodus Towers to give away! So here's the deal:

Email me (contest@jasonhough.com) a brief (120 characters or less) list of things you'd want Skyler to bring back for you from "The Clear" if you were stuck in Darwin. Can be one thing or many, whatever you choose.  Bonus points for creativity, and this can be humorous or serious.  I'll pick two winners at noon on Saturday the 17th -- yes TOMORROW -- and send out the books for quick arrival, hence giving you week or so of RELENTLESS GLOATING.

Rules: Anything rude or offensive I will chuckle at and treasure for all eternity, but I probably won't pick as the winner because I want to post the winning entries.

Okay, ready? Go!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Zombies, but different...

My guest post on the subject of subhumans in the DIRE EARTH books is live over at My Shelf Confessions. Enjoy!

A small insight regarding names

Nightcliff: [Night + Cliff] = [Dark + Landscape]
Blackfield: [Black + Field] = [Dark + Landscape]

Dark Landscape = Dire Earth

The things you realize in hindsight! These connections were not on purpose, in fact they just occurred to me this morning.

Incidentally, I actually named Russell Blackfield after a music group of the same name.

Nightcliff is a real part of Australia's Northern Territory, on Darwin's northern edge. I picked it for the elevator's base simply because I thought the name was cool.

Dire Earth? My editor suggested that for the series name when all the names I suggested were no good.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

NPR's "All Things Considered" considers Darwin

This review aired last Wednesday:


Australia & New Zealand -- release date for The Darwin Elevator

Happy to report that THE DARWIN ELEVATOR will be released in Australia and New Zealand on September 6th!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

SF Signal rates DARWIN 4.5 / 5!

SF Signal has posted their review of THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, giving it 4.5 / 5 stars!

They've also got an interview to go with it, if you're into that kind of thing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Epic San Diego ComicCon recap

What follows is a diary of sorts.  If you're interested in what it's like for a debut author to have a book launched at San Diego ComicCon, I guess you've come to the right place!

Technically last year was my first ComicCon as a professional, but it was really just a tag on my badge back then. Other than meeting my editor, 2012 didn't really feel much different than any other year.

This year, that all changed. Months of agonizing wait led to five whirlwind days in Downtown San Diego. I arrived early on Wednesday (preview day), checked-in to my hotel room and immediately went to work on writing a guest blog post for Scalzi's "Big Idea" (coming soon!). This was a huge challenge. Not only was I a bundle of nerves, but I had this view tugging at my brain:

Luckily Kevin Hearne saved me from doing work when he sent me a text that he was alone at the bar and that being alone at the bar was lonely. There was drinks to be drank!

He introduced me to Diana Rowland, we all had beverages (much grief given to me for ordering an Arnold Palmer), and by 4pm I found myself sitting with Ty Franck (half of the duo known as James S. A. Corey) and George R.R. Martin, talking football and Hollywood.  A wonderful chat, and although it was an honor to sit with Mr. Martin for a while, meeting Ty and later his cohort Daniel Abraham was a highlight for me this year. Both great guys and extraordinarily talented.

Next stop was preview night. I think most of us had intended to walk the show floor together, but as soon as we got in with the crowds everyone scattered to the winds. I have to admit I went straight to the Del Rey booth to see what Darwin stuff they'd brought along, and what I found blew me away:

Consider me floored. This panel was the centerpiece of Del Rey's booth. And throughout there was more to be found:

Slackjawed, I somehow managed to say hi to everyone before continuing to wander the floor. As always the costumes, even on Wednesday night, were a wonder to behold.

Time slips by at an incredible speed when you're immersed in that kind of sensory overload, and before I knew it it was time to meet up with my agent Sara Megibow for dinner.  We went to Searsucker, and despite nightclub-loud music we managed to have a great chat over some excellent food. She surprised me at the end of the evening by pulling 10 copies of Darwin out of her bag for me to autograph. That's when I learned they were on sale at Mysterious Galaxy's booth.  She'd bought all 10 there immediately upon arrival.

My schedule on Thursday was largely empty, so I went back to the floor and wandered some more.  Mostly I wanted to get a picture of my book on a store shelf, and of course buy it just because I could.

After lunch I met up with Sara again and we walked across the street to find the Geek & Sundry lounge, where she had some business to conduct.

We stayed for snacks and watched people play the Star Trek Settlers of Katan before parting ways to get ready for the Random House party that evening.
My wife had arrived by then, and was waiting at the hotel when I returned. We met up with The Hearne again and were whisked away in a black town car to the party at Bootlegger.

Mike Braff, my editor, on the left
Walking in we were greeted to the cover of The Darwin Elevator on every TV screen in the place. For a second I was mortified that this image would be there all evening, but luckily two seconds later the picture changed to another novel. All of the books coming out this year were featured in the video, and as someone not used to spotlights of any kind I felt immense relief.
We clinked glasses with my editors Mike Braff and Sarah Peed, chatted with Diana Rowland some more, and ran into Eldon Thompson who I'd paneled with at WorldCon last August.

My wife, backed by some liquid courage, asked George R. R. if she could get her picture with him (a repeat request from last year's party), and he happily agreed:

Friday I went to some panels, ate bad convention center nachos, and wandered the floor some more. I bought some retro Star Wars action figures for my son (geek dad moment), and a set of Stephan Martiniere's art books in hardcover. I promptly went to Stephan's booth and had him sign them.  Then I dropped by Image Comics and picked up the first omnibus of Chew, based on Kevin Hearne's recommendation.

At 5:30 I found my way back to the Del Rey booth and sat "backstage" in their little waiting area until my signing. Had a great conversation with Tricia and April from Del Rey that eased my nerves a bit.  That didn't last. To my surprise a big line had formed, and by the time I went out to sit at the autograph table they wrapped around into the next aisle. 
The hour flew by. I signed almost two hundred books, all given out for free, and by the end my hand was cramped. I'd been so nervous and focused on signing that I only realized afterwards I hadn't really been chatting with the people who'd come to get a book signed. If you were one of them, please accept my apology! It was my first ever signing and I was overwhelmed.
After that my editor took me and the family out to dinner, after which we turned in early.
Saturday was for the kids.  We took them to the show floor, where our oldest (age 3) got to meet Iron Man and Thor.  He gave them both fist-bumps and was all smiles until the fatigue set in. By 1pm the kids were exhausted, so my kind and wonderful wife offered to take them back to the room and get them down for a nap while I headed off to my second signing event.
Shameless use of my kids to garner awwwwws
ROUND 2: CHAT! This time I was over my freshman jitters and actually said hello to the people who waited to get a book signed. Duh! Shock of all shocks, they seemed genuinely happy about this, and were a wonderful bunch. I met a gentlemen from Darwin, Australia who accepted my apology for turning his hometown into a megaslum.  Then one of the first sci-fi authors I ever read, David Brin, turned up in line. Surreal to sign a book for him, and in exchange he gave me a signed postcard. We agreed to meet again during WorldCon in San Antonio, where we'll be on a panel together. The encounter left me a bit speechless, but luckily the hour was almost up. I stuck around to sign a stack of books for the fine folks at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, then headed back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.

We went out again with The Hearne, this time for an "authors dinner" where we were joined by Greg van Eekhout and Max Gladstone. The restaurant, Kelvin, was completely empty. Typically this would be a sign to turn and flee, especially given the crowds outside, but after an appetizer of gourmet tater tots it was clear the food would be excellent and the quiet space a welcome perk.  The conversation ranged from scorpion stings to near-death experiences in Amsterdam and everything in between.  A delightful bunch of people to hang out with!

Sunday finally rolled around. My panel was at 12pm, and again my wife came to the rescue by offering to take the kids for a walk after breakfast so I could relax.  Around 11am I walked over to the convention hall, went to the room where the panel would be, and asked the woman at the door if there was a "special room" where a panelist could go to relax before showtime. I was trying to ask where the mythical green room was. The place where all the stars hang out. The place where I could play rock-paper-scissors with Nathan Fillion and enjoy gourmet snacks with Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage. "Sure," the woman said.  "Come with me."
I was freakin' IN, man.  This was it.  The big time!  The--

So now you know the glamorous life of a debut author.  At least there was water. Cold, even!  I grew quickly bored in there, went back to the room where my panel would be, and sat in the audience for the session in-progress.  The topic was YA, and like pretty much every panel I've ever been to, it was interesting and fun.

That panel ended and I made my way up front as my co-panelists came in en-masse from outside. Moment of horror: They were all carrying name cards. I didn't have a name card. Did I miss some pre-panel meeting? Was it in that registration bag that I never opened? WILL I ASSERT MY NEWB STATUS SO QUICKLY?

Daniel Abraham took pity on me and said, "Your editor has it. He's outside."

Crisis resolved, we took the stage and settled into seats.  The moderator, Margaret Stohl, asked us all to stand back up again so pictures could be taken.
Left to Right: D.J. MacHale, Daniel Wilson, Mira Grant, David Wellington, me, Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck
(photo by Kurt Habetler)

If nothing else we can all agree that I had a height advantage on every one of them.

On the whole the panel went fine. I didn't contract foot-in-mouth disease at any time, and although it was hard to get a word in edgewise sometimes, that was okay by me. I was among pretty illustrious company and more than a little nervous.  In the end we all got to say a few things and the whole event was over too fast.

Afterwards we shuffled over to the autograph pavilion and signed books for a while.  I got the chance to fanboy out on Daniel H. Wilson a bit (he sat next to me... no escape!), and had a respectable stream of people seeking autographs. Given my book isn't even out yet, it was gratifying to see such interest.

In all Del Rey gave away roughly 1000 copies of the book.  They treated me like a rockstar and I couldn't be more grateful!

Next up, WorldCon San Antonio!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Place as Character" -- read my guest post on the Qwillery

Thanks to the Qwillery for for hosting my post on the topic of place as character. I often get asked (yes, already) why I chose Darwin Australia as the setting for my novel, and this should serve as a fine answer!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


TOR is hosting a new short story by me entitled "Wave of Infection".  The story introduces THE DARWIN ELEVATOR's main character, Skyler.  For those of you who have read the book already, hopefully this serves as interesting backstory.


A letter on SUVUDU.com, by me

I've blogged about this first "novel" of mine here before, but went into more detail in my "Dear Readers" post on SUVUDU. Have a look!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

News Roundup

It's been a hectic month, so I thought I'd collect a few things in one post here in case you missed them.

First, as an audiobook fanatic it gives me great pleasure to announce that Simon Vance will be narrating all three books in the DIRE EARTH series. Simon was my top choice, and it's a humbling honor that Random House Audio signed him after my "it can't hurt to ask, right?" suggestion.  Seriously, I could listen to Simon read the phone book.  He's the best!

Secondly, take a gander at my guest post on SF Signal regarding the use of space elevators in science-fiction.

Next, my editor sent along a review posted on Amazon for THE DARWIN ELEVATOR that was particularly kind, so I thought I'd share a snippet:

Every time we think surely, now, Hough cannot push events any higher, he finds new ways to escalate. Skyler has a particular knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Each chapter we think, surely Hough cannot punish our heroes any more, or reward Blackfield's ignominy. But rest assured, at nearly 500 pages, Hough has generous opportunities to push characters to new depths and make his readers cringe.
I grew up reading books like this, paperbacks populated by oversized personalities, shifting loyalties, and surprise revelations. Heroes prove themselves by decisive actions, salted with judicious violence; villains marinate in their own venality until they prove their own undoing. Say what you like about John W. Campbell and Alfred Bester, but my Golden Age of Science Fiction was the 1980s, when SF was popular, but still boldly countercultural.
Hough writes in that beloved sci-fi format, the trilogy, and while this novel has a satisfying conclusion, it asks tantalizing questions for future volumes. Del Rey so loves this series that it's launching the whole trilogy this summer: three novels in three months. Who can blame them? In a crowded, noisy genre, Hough claims territory that deserves our attention. It's enough to revive my flagging faith in science fiction.
I've been lucky enough to have some fine reviews posted already, but this one made me a little misty.

Lastly, if you're coming to San Diego for Comic-Con, please say hi and get a book signed while you're at it! Here's my schedule:
  • Friday July 19, 6pm-7pm: Signing at the Random House booth #1515
  • Saturday July 20, 2pm-3pm: Signing at the Random House booth #1515
  • Sunday July 21, 12pm-1pm: PANEL: Science Fiction and the Future
    • Room 24ABC
    • From spaceships and aliens to medical tampering and secret military weapons — science fiction books have never been as varied and exciting as they are now. Join James S.A. Corey (the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck; Abaddon's Gate), Jason Hough (The Darwin Elevator), David Wellington (Chimera), Mira Grant (Parasite), Daniel Wilson (Amped), and D. J. MacHale (Sylo) as they discuss their new books and the vivid visions science fiction has to offer, from distant space to our own backyards. Moderated by Margaret Stohl.
  • Sunday July 21, 1:30pm-2:30pm: Signing with the other panelists in Autograph area TK
I am assured by Del Rey that there will be things for me to be able to sign at these signings, which *might* mean you can score a free book if you come by. So, you know, do that.

In other news, my friend Kevin Hearne's new Iron Druid book HUNTED is out.

Friday, May 24, 2013

UK Covers

Fresh from my editor at Titan, here's the final UK covers (though the blurbs might change) for all three books:

Monday, May 20, 2013

A few bits 'o news

Some things have happened in the last week that I wanted to share!

First off, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR has received a starred review in Library Journal!
Unfortunately I can't post it as the electronic version is behind a paywall, so I'll just say that this is great news and I'm flattered.  There's more reviews in the pipe that I can't talk about yet, suffice to say I'm bubbling with excitement.

Second, here's the final UK cover for DARWIN, courtesy of Titan Books:

UK Cover for The Darwin Elevator
Titan Books

I love the different style compared to North America.  It's sort of fascinating to me how the same material can receive such diverse treatment depending on the market.  Incidentally, for you UK readers, DARWIN will be out there on July 26th - four whole days before the North American release.  Imagine the gloating opportunities!

Finally, I've posted the first chapter of DARWIN on my website for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

There's more good stuff to come...

Friday, May 3, 2013

What happened yesterday?

For the writers out there, here's a tip on character building I wanted to share.

Chances are your story is going involve a calamitous change to the life of your main characters, or depending on the scale of your story perhaps everyone is about to have a serious problem that needs solving.

One thing I did before I started writing DARWIN was to jot down, from each character's perspective, what they did from wake-up to bedtime the day before the book begins.  This proved immensely valuable to me in understanding who these people were and what their lives are like.  Plus, and somewhat unexpectedly, it helped me flesh out a ton of details about the world they live in.  Until that point I'd mentally treated worldbuilding and character development as two separate tasks.

Originally I'd intended to write up their "typical day", but it occurred to me that specifically choosing the day before the story begins would pay higher dividends in the book itself.  What happened yesterday is still on the mind, still relevant, still being talked about.  Even if the opener of the book changes later on (for DARWIN it did, in fact), exercise still yields plenty of useful details for your characters and their world.

Stories often yank their characters from their ordinary life and into the extraordinary.  Your understanding of what ordinary is will help your ability to think as your characters do.  Because often, perhaps all the time, a person's first instinct when faced with change is to find a way back to normalcy, to comfort.  Change can be scary as hell.  We just want things to be how they were, even if we know that's impossible.

Give it a shot if you like.  You could write this up as a full blown scene, a diary entry, whatever works for you. In my case it was just quick bullet lists, no more than a page long each.

Standard disclaimer for any writing advice:  There's no rules, only tools.  Do what works for you.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Publishers Weekly reviews THE DARWIN ELEVATOR

"Impressive first installment of a planned trilogy".  Here's the full review (from the April 29th 2013 issue):

The Darwin Elevator 
Jason M. Hough. Del Rey, $9.99 mass market (496p) ISBN 978-0-345-53712-6 
In this impressive first installment of a planned trilogy, mysterious aliens plant the lower end of a space elevator deep into Darwin, on the northwestern coast of Australia. Five years later, a virus breaks out, leaving Earth denuded of all but scattered remnants of feral “subhumans.” Proximity to the elevator provides immunity for human survivors living in Darwin and along the elevator itself. A small number of those survivors are naturally immune to the virus, including Skyler Luiken, a Han Solo–like aircraft captain who scours the infected Earth for salvageable bits of civilization. The credible dystopian setting is peopled with sympathetic and improbably beautiful heroes and heroines who are forced by circumstance to take arms against a power-hungry prefect and a corporate tycoon willing to betray his planet for personal gain. Newcomer Hough displays a talent for imaginative plotting and realistic dialogue, and the brisk pacing and cliffhanger ending will keep readers enthralled and eagerly awaiting the next installment. Agent: Sara Megibow, Nelson Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Future of Humans and AI

SF Signal has included me in another Mind Meld, this time about AI.  Have a look!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Game review: Artemis

This weekend at ConDor I finally had the chance to try out Artemis, the Spaceship Bridge Simulator.

Weapons control view

I've wanted a gaming experience like this for decades, only heightened by the disappointing Star Trek: Bridge Commander in 2002 which left so much to be desired.

The setup of Artemis is simple: Five people take on the various roles of a starship bridge. Each player gets their own screen with a unique set of capabilities. One player, though, has no capabilities -- they act as captain, and simply make the decisions for the other players to carry out. The only information the captain gets is what the players tell him or her, or decide to put up on the main screen.

View of the ship in flight - often what the Captain is seeing on the main screen

In the game I joined we had a 3-person crew: science officer (me), pilot, and weapons. The empty seats should have been a communications officer and an engineering officer, which are probably the only two roles you can safely skip (though things would go much better with these people present). Our mission was to protect four space stations at all costs.

As science officer my radar-like screen focused on a very broad view of the space around us. My job was to keep tabs on all the ships, asteroids, space stations, and other crap in our general area.

Science officer's view

Hostile ships were coming in from various points on the map and driving in toward four space stations which we had to protect. I would scan the enemies and offer advice on which targets we should we worried about, what heading our pilot needed to fly in to intercept, and as we moved in close enough I could acquire more detailed scans. This information I relayed to our weapons officer who could then fine tune his targeting. And by relayed, I mean I had to say, or even shout, the information.

That's the great things about Artemis: the party game aspect of it. It was designed from the beginning to be played by people in the same room together.

My bridgemates were all very much into the role-playing aspect of it, doing our best during the lulls to call out important ship information or compliment each other on particularly savvy operational feats. When battle happened, which was often, it was exhilarating and just as chaotic as you'd expect. We were all shouting over each other as carefully laid plans went haywire for the dumbest reasons: we forgot to put the shields up, we overshot the enemy, we ran out of ammo before the battle was done, and so on. The more we played, the more we started working together. I can't help but think Artemis would make a great team-building experience for people who work together. In Artemis you live and die by two things: strong decision making and clear communication. To that end I think it's somewhat brave and brilliant that the designers put no person-to-person communication into the game itself, forcing you to actually talk out loud to relay information.  You cannot, for example, send a private text to the weapons officer letting him know what frequency to set the beam weapons to.  Though that information is only relevant to weapons, deciding when, if, and how loudly to relay the info is all part of the game.  You may blurt it out just as the captain is issuing the order to get the hell out of there, for example.

Engineering, which shows damage and other critical info

Which brings me to another realization. I could argue that this game is really a simulation of a made-for-TV spaceship bridge (and it's pretty obvious which TV show they modelled it after). Although we were having a ton of fun playing, the game made it abundantly obvious that this sort of bridge setup would be woefully disastrous if used in the real world. The decisions for what information each player can and cannot see are extremely arbitrary and done purely to encourage the type of teamwork I mentioned earlier. And that's okay! But by the same token, it really started the gears turning in my head about what a more realistic setup might be. Fodder for future stories, to be sure.

All in all, Artemis is a ton of fun. The trick of course, much like any board game or good pen-n-paper RPG, is finding the right players and then actually getting together to enjoy it. I'll definitely be looking into local player groups I could join, and keeping my eyes open for Artemis games at any convention I attend.

I'll leave you with this video of Wil Wheaton, John Scalzi and others playing Artemis in front of a live audience.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Tentative 2013 Con Schedule

Here's a list of the conventions I plan to attend this year:

Any panel schedules and what-not I'll post as I have them. If you're at one of these events be sure to say hi!