October 14, 2014

A Tinderbox Experiment

There’s a great hunger for information about Tinderbox, both among novices and among people who’ve used Tinderbox for years. People often attribute this to the learning curve of the program, though in part it’s because Tinderbox addresses some difficult tasks, and because it uses some comparatively new computing techniques that many of us didn’t learn in school.

I’m planning to spend some time this Fall to flesh out some Tinderbox documents that are realistic explorations of an actual project, showing how I might address the task. That’s not necessarily the right way or the best way to use Tinderbox – especially as your task is probably not precisely the task we’re exploring! Still, it’s a place to start.

As a first project, I imagine a novelist in the early stages of planning a new book. The book hasn’t been written yet: it’s just a concept, a general idea for setting and handful of characters. We’ve got ten months to deliver the manuscript.

The story is set in an imaginary place that is meant to feel English. Seven or eight months from now, we plan to take a trip to England to research some locations, to gather local flavor and to check some details. We won’t have much time. We’ll want to visit some old friends, if we can, and no doubt we’ll want to meet some publishers, visit some booksellers, perhaps do a signing or two. Perhaps someone will invite us to give a talk. In any case, we want to plan this well.

Planning this trip is the underlying task for this Tinderbox document. At the start, we have lots of questions – far more questions than answers! We can sort these into a number of categories:

We need to start thinking about these questions now. That’s hard: we haven’t yet written the scenes for which we need details. We don’t know what questions to ask. But if we wait to plan the trip, it may be too late to make necessary arrangements.

One place to start, clearly, is to imagine a bit of our fictional world. Here’s a schematic Tinderbox map of our setting, Hill Academy – a fictitious school that has some flavor of an English boarding school (Hogwarts, Brakebills) and also of a small American liberal arts college – set in an imaginary Occupied country.

A Tinderbox Experiment
click to enlarge

This is a set of adornments, zoomed out and then cropped so the map isn’t too big for our purposes here. It’s meant merely to be schematic, and mostly includes only the places I’m fairly confident we’ll need. We can add notes here to represent queries we’ll need to follow up, or perhaps to contain photo references of similar places that actually exist.

If you’re a Tinderbox user and you see things here you don’t know how to do, or if you’d like to suggest a better approach: Email me.