Book Reviews, Scrivener Labels, Currently Reading

I read a lot of book reviews on Amazon — even of books I have no intention of buying. The most interesting ones are the one and two-star reviews because they tend to say more about the reviewers than about the books. It’s just another way of studying the human mind, I suppose, but you can also chalk it up to plain old curiosity. What other excuse can there be for devoting so much of my life to trying to understand humans?

There are all sorts of reasons for slamming a book with one or two stars and a negative review, and most of those can be skipped over without any loss. The ones that keep me reading and, sometimes, laughing, are those that set out to explain why the book is a very bad book. What they usually accomplish is the revelation that the reader is only semi-literate. Simply being able to read and comprehend, individually, the words in a book isn’t true literacy. At least some of these semi-lits admit that they don’t like the book because… and it turns out that what they’re looking for is either action or emotion, or both. No complexity, please. No characters whose personalities aren’t straight forward and easy to comprehend. No ruminations, or “navel gazing.”

The rest of the semi-lits critique style, pacing, story line, characterization, all with the intention of showing that they know better than the author how those things should be done. One of their favorite bits of wisdom is about the books believability because people just… don’t… act… that… way. Maybe not in their limited experience and shallow understanding, which they have no problem showing off. The net result is that all they’ve displayed is their inability to comprehend what they’re reading.

Unfortunately, the proportion of semi-lits to actual readers seems to be growing at a truly frightening rate. Which means that I’ll soon be deprived of a harmless source of amusement, because there always comes a time when you’ve seen all the variations and permutations, and there’s nothing new to look forward to.

Scrivener — Still on the prowl for ways to use Scrivener more efficiently. I downloaded a bunch of free templates created by various people, including Scrivener’s developers, hoping to find some tweaks that I could use to make my own template more useful. David Hewson’s was the only one I didn’t trash after a thorough look. Not surprising, since it was his book that got me thinking about templates in the first place.

Looking at all those templates was a great visualization of the variety of ways writers approach and organize their work. All very different from my own. What Hewson’s template persuaded me to use, after have read about them many times, was Labels. Their use just never clicked in my mind as something I needed. But now that I’m trying to grasp story structure as something that could improve my writing, a use for labels jumped right into my face.Scrivener labels

I want to trace Casey’s arc to see if it follows the three-act structure, but even with each scene given a name, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s happening where. Dividing the word count by four let me set up the chapters to conform to the 25, 50, and 75 percent structure. I don’t know yet why Weiland sets up the second act in two pieces, but I’ll probably get to that today. Anyway — now it’s easy to visualize which act I’m dealing with,  and the chunks are smaller, also making it easier.

This is still very experimental, so I’ll see how it goes.

Currently reading: The Raven’s Seal, by Andrei Baltakmens — free on Kindle.
The author is a Dickens scholar and it shows. This is a long, slow mystery in the style of Charles Dickens, right down to the sometimes excessive detail and authorial opinionating. Which is to say, that if you like Dickens you’ll probably like The Raven’s Seal. I’m only on the third of 24 chapters, so I can’t really review it, but from what I’ve read so far, I think I’m going to enjoy it. The hero is about to fight a duel for the insulted honor of a poor but beautiful girl, which leads to his being thrown in prison. I suspect that he will eventually be freed and will marry the girl, even though she is beneath him in both class and fortune.

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3 thoughts on “Book Reviews, Scrivener Labels, Currently Reading

  1. Hmmm. Interesting. the Save the Cat screenwriting books (Blake Snyder) also divide the second act into two parts; you may find interesting structural bits there – I did. I make sure my structure has marked and/or incorporated several different ‘model’ of story.

    Dramatica has either a three- or a four-act sturcture – it’s up to the writer.

    But all of these systems are similar in the end; they just label things a bit differently, and of course each emphasizes certain things the system’s creator thinks are important.

    Doing things in such a way that you identify particular structure and marks for different systems is supposed to make it easier when you market your script and the person you are presenting is enamored of a different system than the one you prefer; if BOTH are included, you can quickly make it fulfill all the steps the person you’re pitching to is expecting – because you’re ahead of him/her and get all the popular systems in.

    This might also be helpful for pitching novels. I won’t probably ever find out, but it seems to me that many novels are sorely lacking in structure.

    I do it to check my structure before writing/revising: if the story’s structure accommodates different versions of how to tell the story, it is solider than if it falls apart when examined by the light of a different system. It’s just emphasis: when you get to the final product, few people can identify the specific place where Act 1 switched to the B story and thus Act 2 is begun when they read or watch, because it’s buried by the writing, but they will feel the story ‘works’ somehow better.

    I use the labels in Scrivener extensively. For scenes from a particular pov, each main character gets a color. Chapter heads get a different color, files which are different from the ebook to the print version (things like the ToC) get a different color, so it is easy to check one set on and the other off when compiling. I use color to separate my research files out, to indicate the sate of completion of a draft, and to indicate files where I just need to dump stuff.

    Don’t limit yourself to one of the above: the Label function is much more useful than just labeling whose pov a scene is in – not all files in a big project are scenes.

    I hope you are also using the Custom Metadata – it is one of the most useful features; I use it heavily for the scene files: day of week, day-month-year, location, and a long list of other things have an entry on the Metadata page. It makes it easy to see all the scenes in the outline function which have a particular secondary character (assuming I remembered to put it in), for example.

    1. Yes, I’ve noticed there isn’t really that much difference between systems. Weiland’s effectively makes it a four-act structure, but as you said, it comes down to making sure that it works for the readers.

      I haven’t gotten into metadata yet, but will be exploring it. And thanks for the suggestions about different ways of using labels and colors. As usual, I’m a slow learner. Or just plain lazy, since I’ve been using Scrivener for years.

      1. With Scrivener, you pick up things as you need them. I think if you went whole hog when you were learning it (the same as any complicated large program), you wouldn’t use it.

        Slow learner – that’s me. If you take a quick look at my ‘scene template’ posts on my blog, I have screenshots of how I implement all these things – might save you some time when you’ve already decided to use a particular feature.

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