A Surprise Plot Makes An Appearance

Dark Forest by Sergio-CAbout a month ago I was in a bit of a rut with the story I was working on, a science fiction tale set on a distant planet. In order to head off an approaching case of writer’s block I decided to take part in a few Twitter challenges, which resulted in the micro stories you can see on this blog.

The one image that stuck with me the longest during that couple of weeks was of Lucien and Aldous, my vampiric characters. It was enormous fun to come up with little vignettes for them and it got me to thinking about vampire fiction in more detail.

It’s not a genre I had ever considered tackling before, basically because every time I think about it I find myself rolling my eyes at all the old (and some new) Hollywood cliches I hate. But the idea that I could write a vampire story that bypassed all that baggage by returning to the pre-Stoker source material was intriguing. There are literally hundreds of mythical blood drinkers from around the globe. Even in Europe there is a staggering variety, ranging from vengeful fairies to zombie vikings and including a blood drinking German succubus called a Trude – something I really should take up with my parents at some point.

Anyway, a lifetime’s interest in folklore, myths and ghost stories, seems finally to have paid off, as a brand new plot idea bubbled up from my brain pretty quickly and within the space of a few days I had plots for not one, but four new stories, covering over 1000 years of history and detailing the relationship between two supernatural characters.

My science fiction tale is now definitely gathering dust on the shelf, as I tackle these new adventures, but I’m extremely excited to do so. Going back to the old myths, and bypassing all the modern concretions that vampires are saddled with has been a wonderfully cosy experience, like sitting by a roaring fire with a cherished book of ghost stories. I feel like I’m rediscovering horror.

The Right Tool For The Job: Dabble Writer

When I signed up for NaNoWriMo last year I decided to take a chance on a brand new writing platform. I had tried several, including Scrivener (too complicated), Apollopad (unreliable), and one which was so relentlessly awful I can’t being myself to name and shame it.

As I write in various locations and on several different devices, my main priority was finding a platform that allowed me to save my work to a remote server, something I had been waiting in vain for Scrivener to provide for years.

Fortunately, I found just such an application was one of NaNoWriMo’s sponsors for 2017, a new platform called Dabble. Usually I’m a bit wary of being a pioneer for a new piece of software. I prefer to wait until other users have identified the major bugs before I bog myself down in frustration, but this time I figured, why the hell not? I could always resort to pen and paper if it all went wrong. And besides, the creators of Dabble were providing a free month long trial for everyone who signed up during NaNoWriMo. Count me in, I said.

Well, I’ve been using Dabble now since the end of October, and what a wonderful experience it has been. Sure there were one or two kinks to iron out. What new piece of software wouldn’t have those? But the guys at Dabble understand good customer service and are pretty quick to respond, even though they’re a small team and must require sleep at some point.

In terms of Dabble’s functionality, it’s simplicity may not appeal to devotees of Scrivener, but that’s exactly what I love about it. It does share the same project ‘tree’ layout, with individual scenes nested inside chapter folders, and separate branches for characters and world building, but it’s very much on a no frills basis. There are no fancy cork boards or index card graphics, just simple backgrounds and text boxes in a plain, grey colour scheme which is wonderfully easy on a tired writer’s eyes.

Where Dabble really did blow it’s competitors out of the water for me though, was the plot grid function. I was never able to get to grips with it in Scrivener, and Apollopad doesn’t have one at all. In Dabble, plot lines can be arranged as columns, with individual plot points dropped in at the relevant point in the overall narrative. Best of all, it required no tutorial to get the hang of the interface. Anyone who has arranged their desktop icons using drag and drop will get it. Perfect for complexity challenged people like me.

Then there’s the actual writing interface itself, which is wonderfully minimal, not unlike writing on a blank piece of paper. Dabble does simple formatting for you as you write, and has an auto-save function that saves your work to the cloud on a regular basis, making sure you don’t lose anything. It also means that whatever you write is instantly available on any other device, whether you’re using the Dabble desktop app, or accessing the platform via your web browser. This is an absolute must for me.

Dabble’s creators are adding new functionality all the time. A post NaNoWriMo progress tracker has just come online and I love it. You specify your total word count and the day you’d like to finish on and Dabble automatically works out a daily word limit for you. Like it’s predecessor, the NaNoWriMo tracker, you can even use the calendar function to book ‘days off’.

There are some functions which most writer’s would consider vital, which are currently still in development. A spell checker for the desktop version for instance, but Dabble’s creators are nothing if not transparent about their development process. All the upcoming functionality is listed on the website with it’s place in the programmer’s queue. Users can even upvote the development ideas they would like to see most.

Access to Dabble is on a subscription basis – there’s no licence fee – and new users can take advantage of a 14 day trial. If you find other platforms frustrating, dull or simply not suited to the way you write I recommend giving Dabble a try. It’s been an enormously enjoyable experience so far and after three months of regular use, during which I’ve been more productive than ever, I certainly won’t be using anything else.