Databases

Posted on Wed 18 November 2009 in Articles • 2 min read

I keep coming back to the idea of using a database to assist me in the planning and plotting of my novels.

In the previous version of my blog, I wrote an article describing how I'd experimented with, and finally abandoned database-driven MediaWiki in favour of a more free-flow form writing using the excellent VoodooPad. At the time this suited me because I was experimenting with space opera and VoodooPad provided a great way of writing and linking content together without really thinking about how x would fit to y at at macro level.

However things change and I like to think I'm continually adapting the way I plan and write novels. This year's nanowrimo is no exception. Instead of an imagined fantasy or sci-fi setting, I'm writing a techno-thriller set in modern day Europe. I don't need to world build so most of my efforts are on researching facts, character development and plotting.

Now there's no reason that VoodooPad couldn't do this, however I've also been experimenting with new ways to plot and develop character, and these new techniques require more structure. In this more structured approached, you benefit from templates and tables more than free-form, hypertext-driven writing - or at least I do.

Structured writing is not new to me; I am a technical writer by profession after all. But this is the first time I've really thought of breaking down the components of a novel and treating like a technical problem rather than a creative one. Sure its more logic than art, or convention over configuration as our Rails friends would say, but it seems to suit me better than merely following the muse, particularly when I've only got 30 days to write the novel.

In this respect, nanowrimo is like commercial project. I have a fixed deadline and a fixed word count.

So with this in mind, is it time to revisit the database idea again? I think it is. But for the time being, I'm going rely on some custom iWork templates until I've finished this year's nanowrimo. After that I'm going to experiment with a range of options, taking what I've learnt from my nanowrimo experiment with various commercial (and open source) programs or even write my own bit of software.

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