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Idea to Novel Superstructure: Emacs for Writing

Bala Ramadurai

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You want to write a novel, but you don't know how to create an outline. You have a seed idea for a novel, and you intend to expand it into a complete story. You have many ideas for a novel, and you are wondering how to proceed. You started writing your heart out, and you now feel the need to create a framework for a novel.

Worry not, Emacs is here to the rescue.

Listen to this talk to find out how to develop your story idea into a framework for a novel, all within your favourite text editor, Emacs.

What you will learn during the session:

  • How to write a single-line plot for a novel
  • How to write the backbone of the novel, the main character arc
  • How to create characters and write their arcs
  • How to create a story design
  • How to create the scenes design
  • How to plan your novel writing project
  • How to track your project

The modified Emacs template has all the ingredients and flow to start from a basic idea to a full fledged thrashed out novel superstructure.

Once you are done with the superstructure, you can use the planning and clocking infrastructure to finish scene after scene, thus finishing your masterpiece.

We will use:


  • Actual start and end time (EST): 9:40-9:58


Do you have occasions to use Emacs for multilingual text composition? How do you deal with spell-checking etc?

  • Wrote in English with spell-check but wasn't able to find anything for the local script
    • ^ thank you. I find using multiple languages in one document is a hard problem, not made easier in Emacs

Is it possible to align the columns in headings and subheading?

  • Thanks for the beautiful demo.

Maybe there should be an emacs-for-writing mailing list and online Writers Workshop (?)

  • This is a good idea, perhaps an online Writers Workshop indeed makes a lot of sense.
  • Has conducted online WW in India, used Notion (Emacs Org Mode was scary for other attendees)

How do you share drafts of your novel? If you use pandoc to export to word (etc), how do you incorporate feedback on the document back into org? (Thank you for the talk)

Can you show exported pdf of any of your novel?

How do you collaborate with others while writing your Novel ? Like sharing your file and getting feedbacks.

  • working on ebook sustainability, long org mode file, pasted into google docs so collaborator and editor can see it
  • like to see python
  • paste to google docs

Can you text-wrap in the columns?

  • Community: possibly ftable.el
  • you specify column mode in org mode in prsentation
    • THANKS

How to enable column mode in org mode

  • M-x org-columns (C-c C-x C-c)
  • Or use speed selection in Org-mode.
    • Thanks


Transcript (questions)

[00:00:00.000] I have the pad open. So, I can start.

[00:00:05.333] Do you have occasions to use Emacs for multilingual text composition? How do you deal with spell-checking? I have written only in English. For English, Emacs works great. Spell-check works great. I have not used it for any other languages. I have indeed tried local South Indian language, but only the script I could get, but not the spell-checker, really. I've not really figured it out. So that was my trial to answer the first question.

[00:00:51.067] The second question is: "is it possible to align the subcolumns and headings and subheadings?" Oh boy. That's a good one. I actually felt the lack of having the... The theme I had was great for... It looked like a novel when I'm typing on the novel itself, but when I expand into the subtrees, it sort of goes haywire. It's a bit hacky. You can probably switch to a monospace font, and that works better than the font that I have demoed it. You can perhaps try monospace font and it should work, I think, as far as I know. So, that's the second question.

[00:01:42.667] The third question is maybe there should be an Emacs for Writing mailing list, an online writer's workshop? This is a great one. I have conducted an online writer's workshop here in India. Of course, it wasn't an Emacs-focused workshop. We used Notion as the tool. It worked pretty good. for people who are not aware of Emacs and how to use Emacs, the keystrokes, the fact that I wasn't using the mouse unnerved them. It was a scary experience for most people. I had to switch to Notion. People used that as a template and then they could type it out. It wasn't my perfect experience. I liked the Emacs Org Mode experience much better.

[00:02:33.633] The next question is, "How do you share drafts of your novel? If you use pandoc to export to Word, etc., how do you incorporate feedback on the document back into Org?" Thank you for the kind words. Yes, it is a problem. This is my ??, and I have a dedication to Spacemacs also and the Emacs Org Mode community in there. I don't know if you can see it. Probably not. I did export it to Word. My editor did complain that there were a whole bunch of things, that it wasn't convenient for her. So I tried having the raw Org Mode itself in a DOC embedded, and I will do a copy and paste. Didn't work so well either. So I'm still on the edge on how do I do this. Should I train my editor to use Org Mode in Gitlab or one of those other tools, which is not a great experience? But... I don't know. It could be tricky for working with people who are not well-versed with Emacs. Pandoc is very, very useful in converting it to PDF and integrating it with LaTeX, the styling, formatting into e-reader, EPUB format. For all that, Pandoc works great. You can customize it and of course there's a lot of support in the community for any style changes that you want to make, any images that you want to add. It works great. That was my trial to answer the pandoc question.

[00:04:28.367] "Can you show exported PDF of any of your novels?" Unfortunately, it's still not published, so I'm... I will put it and share it on the community, or part of this in the schedule itself. Thank you for the question. Unfortunately, it's not yet published, so I'm unable to publish the exported PDF. But I'll make a test of an open-source novel that I'm working on I will definitely publish that so that you can see how it works also.

[00:05:10.433] Can you text-wrap in the columns? I have not found a way to do text-wrap in the columns. That only shows my limitation in config setup, but I'm sure people can figure this out That's a good one. I would have loved to have it. Every time I want to write more on the headline, I would get out of the column-view mode and I would do the typing and expand it, and then come back into the column view when I want to set the other meta parameters. So that's how I manage without the text-wrapping feature built into column. But I think it's a great idea to have text wrap.

[00:05:58.000] Did I leave out any questions? I don't think so. Amin: I think there's at least one question on IRC, which I shall read to you. Bala: Please, can you do that? Thank you.

[00:06:17.300] Amin: So they asked, "How do you collaborate with others while writing your novel? For example, sharing your file and getting feedback." Okay. Good question. So far, I have used... Let's see... What did I use... This is a crazy hack. But it's a long-winded way of... Right now we're working on an e-book for sustainability and kids contribute their stories into this long Org Mode file and I want my editors to see it so what we have done, actually, is with the tags and all that, I have actually pasted it into Google Docs so that my collaborators and editors can see it. That's my current solution. It's not elegant. I'm trying to see if I can use Python code to make the copy and paste work, but it's not so elegant for now. I don't know how to work this out, but this is my hack. That is, the entire Org Mode text, I would paste it into Google Docs so that my collaborators and editors can see it. Whenever they edit it, I ask them not to make any changes to the Org Mode tags. So just copy the entire text and put it back into my Org Mode file and export it using Pandoc into a PDF and since it's synced to Google Drive it shows up in the Google Drive and then the collaborators can see the PDF/EPUB if they want to open it up in their own space. It's very very hacky and I think primitive, Stone Age sort of solution. I did see a Python solution. to at least help me with the copying and paste. I'm still working on how do I convert this. Interconvertability is driving me nuts. I think most of the questions are around interconvertability. This is sort of what I have right now.

[00:08:34.767] Any other questions, Amin, on IRC or not? Amin: Let's see. I think that's about it. Bala: Okay. Cool. That was fun. Thank you so much to the organizers of Emacs conference, and the community at large, the Org Mode community and the Emacs community for helping me out. Thank you so much. Thanks for the opportunity as well. Amin: And thank you, Bala, for your awesome talk. Bala: Thanks. Thanks a lot, Amin.

Saturday, Nov 28 2020, ~10:03 AM - 10:13 AM EST
Saturday, Nov 28 2020, ~ 7:03 AM - 7:13 AM PST
Saturday, Nov 28 2020, ~ 3:03 PM - 3:13 PM UTC
Saturday, Nov 28 2020, ~ 4:03 PM - 4:13 PM CET
Saturday, Nov 28 2020, ~11:03 PM - 11:13 PM +08

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