Why you should know your antagonist before you start writing

Horror Movie is largely done now, but I’m struggling with the final act for one simple reason: I knew most of the characters when I started out, but not the antagonist. I’ve gone through three different possibilities before finally returning to the one I started with, and while that was a good idea I’m still stuck with the details of his actions. So much so that I’ve written more of a new novel this weekend than I’ve managed to write of that one, because in that case I know who everyone is and what they want.

Once I’ve worked that out this novel shouldn’t take long to finish, but I wish I’d done it right at the start. For the meantime, here’s the provisional cover.

Libre Office table of contents problems

I used OpenOffice/LibreOffice for writing stories at the moment (I’m thinking of trying Scrivener) and while I was trying to sort out pacing in Horror Movie I added chapter headings and a table of contents. I was surprised when I had twenty chapters but only two appeared in the contents.

What I discovered was that the software won’t include the chapter unless there’s some text on the header line. I’ve configured the header so that it automatically says ‘Chapter N’ where the number automatically increments, but that’s not good enough. I had to go back through to each chapter heading and add a space after it so that it appeared in the table of contents.

This is the kind of thing which obviously seemed like a good idea at the time — why would anyone want an entry in the table of contents if there’s no text? – but was poorly implemented, not considering that there may be auto-generated text on that line even if the user hasn’t typed any extra text of their own.

The Evil Gnome

I was wondering why my laptop was thrashing the disk for several minutes after logging into Ubuntu 11.04, and I finally managed to track down the culprit. It’s more junk that Gnome is installing to be ‘user-friendly’ by tracking everything we do on the system, which for some reason is performing a lot of disk updates every time you log in.

Surely by now everyone should know that logging in is the very worst time to be performing disk-intensive operations? I’m logging in to do something useful and don’t want to be forced to wait while some crappy program checks for updates, deletes outdated files or writes lots of stuff to a database.

Anyway, this problem is easily solved:

sudo apt-get remove zeitgeist-datahub

Reboot and as if by magic your desktop will be usable almost as soon as it appears.

I really am going to have to switch to xfce soon if Gnome continues down the path they’re following.


OK, Uncle Howard’s House is now Tartarus; it’s still not a great title, but it’s the best I could come up with. I’ve got a preliminary new cover, but it still needs work.

Just waiting for some reader feedback before I create the final version of the cover and upload it.


Here’s a good article on choosing a book title:


Unfortunately after going through the process I’m still trying to find a good one for Uncle Howard’s House. It’s just waiting for feedback from the first readers before I do the final revision and publish it, so I don’t have much longer to figure something out. I’m sorely tempted to call it Horror Story because that really does describe the plot, but that seems a little too wacky.

I also decided to call Horror Movie a first draft and start revising it because I know what has to happen in the end but there are quite a few changes I have to make in the first three quarters before I get there. At least once I’m happy with that I already have a title and a basic cover design so I won’t be going through the same problems.


Why us?

Someone was posting on a web forum about the odd coincidence that chemical rockets are barely capable of reaching orbit from the surface of the Earth; if the planet was even 10% larger that would become extremely difficult, and if it was 50% larger probably impossible.

While I’ve wondered myself whether there’s anything special about those numbers that makes life more likely to evolve (e.g. chemical rockets are largely powered by the energy bonds between atoms which also determine many of the properties of life on Earth), there’s also another argument that makes sense to me:

If you assume that you’re a random member of the population of the universe, then you’re most likely to be a member of the most populous species in space-time. So if you find yourself confined to a single planet, you’re also likely to find that it’s a planet that the laws of physics allow you to escape from so your species can colonise the galaxy. There may be other technological species out there, but if their gravity is 50% higher then they can’t get off the planet with chemical rockets and using nuclear rockets in an atmosphere is problematic, to say the least; hence they’re likely to either wipe themselves our or be wiped out by our descendants when we find their solar system.

This is kind of related to the Doomsday Argument, which assumes that we’re around 50% of the way through the population of the human race and attempts to predict how much longer the human race is likely to survive. We could have been born in an unusual situation purely by chance, but my money is on the human race being the first in this galaxy and the ones who will take it over; though by the time we reach the far side of the galaxy we probably won’t look much like the humans you see today.


Uncle Howard’s House (or whatever I eventually call it) is out with a couple of readers for some feedback before I do some final revisions and publish it. Horror Movie has been through some changes and is now up to 40,000 words again after removing some subplots that detracted from the pacing. I should have a complete first draft in a couple of weeks. Interestingly, some of the tweaks kind of make it a prequel to one of the other movie scripts I was planning to convert into a novel.