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Authoring Novels with LibreOffice

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 v  d  e 

Warning: This is a work in progress. -- Fritz.

Recent updates:

Added Download the most recent version example spreadsheet here: 2016-2017 Writing log.ods

Added 2017 Writing log spreadsheet (e) link.

Added Styling for Ebook Publication section. -- Fritz (talk) 11:58, 21 August 2014 (CDT)

Introduction

I finished the first draft of my first novel in 2005 using OpenOffice. Since then I've written two more novels and more than a dozen short stories. I switched to LibreOffice in 2010 after Oracle Corp. acquired Sun Microsystems. (For a brief overview of my story writing process, see my writing process.)

Briefly, the following article will detail how to use LibreOffice to write a novel from an editing perspective (without going into the creative aspect), starting with word processing and finishing with PDF files suitable for submission or creating a POD, as well as e-book files ready for publication via Amazon.

Libreoffice icon mix.png

What is LibreOffice?

LibreOffice is an open source set of software tools similar to Microsoft Office, containing:

LibreOffice Writer word processorLibreOffice 4.0 Writer Icon.svg
LibreOffice Calc spreadsheetsLibreOffice 4.0 Calc Icon.svg
Drawing editorLibreOffice 3.3.1 Draw Icon.png
Presentation editor 
Formula editor 
Database 

LibreOffice runs on Microsoft Windows, Apple Macs, and Linux. There is a port to Android that is nearly complete (as of May 2013). The LibreOffice development effort and user groups are active and supportive.


For more info on LibreOffice see


Next

Overview of how I use LibreOffice to write

I treat each story (novel or short) as a project. When stories interlock by sharing characters and/or setting, which they frequently do for me, their world or setting becomes a project in and of itself.

I use LibreOffice's word processor most, followed by spreadsheets. I rarely use the drawing editor (preferring Inkscape and GIMP), and basically never use the presentation editor, formula editor, or the database.


Pre-writing

The most common starting point for a story is what I call a spark:

The spark of a story idea is some form of inspiration about a story. It can take the form a title, a character name, a plot, or any other multitude of starting points for writing. A spark may or may not go anywhere, but I keep it around (in a Sparks file) in hopes that it will grow into something more substantial and graduate to my Incubator. (e)

I maintain a sparks file:

A file (or collection of files) to collect ideas (i.e. Sparks). Periodically review to refocus and generate new tasks. (e)


Each story is a project

I treat each story as a project. Coming from a software development background, I tend to break complex projects---and writing a story is complex---into smaller, more manageable components. Most of these components are phases of development. I don't really approach writing from a scene by scene perspective, nor do I write outlines. I write a lot of notes, and when I hear the voices of the characters, see them in the setting, and know what I want them to do, I start writing.


Story Identifier

Each project, and this includes settings or worlds (see World Identifier below) that are used in more than one story, is given a unique story identifier. Typically, the story identifier is an abbreviation or contraction of the title (or the name of the world). Story IDs have several advantages. They provide a shorthand notion for talking about the story, such as when I'm writing sparks or notes and I want to attach the note to a specific story. More importantly, as the story progresses from spark to incubator and beyond, the story id becomes name of the directory where I store the story components or files. I also use the story id as part of the file name, so it is easy to distinguish between component files that have the same role (see File naming conventions below), which is particularly useful when backing up files.


Phases of Development

Picture
Writing phases flow diagram.


Spark (story idea)

The spark of a story idea is some form of inspiration about a story. It can take the form a title, a character name, a plot, or any other multitude of starting points for writing. A spark may or may not go anywhere, but I keep it around (in a Sparks file) in hopes that it will grow into something more substantial and graduate to my Incubator. (e)

Incubator phase

A story moves from simply being a spark into the Incubator when I start to take notes. Frequently this takes the form of one or more of the following: an opening scene; a climax or ending; a title; character name(s); worldbuilding and setting visualization; and ideas about thematic elements. (e)

Barf phase

When writing, or pursuing some other creative process, the barf phase (as part of the barf and polish writing process) is the period when the focus is on getting as much of the story (or other "artifact") out without engaging ones critical or editorial faculties. It is followed by the polish phase. (e)

Polish phase

When writing, or pursuing some other creative process, the polish phase (as part of the barf and polish writing process) is the period when the focus is on refining the story (or other "artifact") by engaging ones critical and/or editorial faculties. It is preceded by the barf phase. (e)

Beta phase

In the beta phase, the polished manuscript is distributed to a set of beta readers for critique and feedback. The term "beta" comes from "beta software", which is software that is given a limited release for final testing and feedback before it is released for general use. (e)

Post beta phase

During the post beta phase feedback from the beta readers is incorporated into the work. This phase is very similar to the polish phase, but usually a lot less work. (e)

Copyedit phase

In the copyedit phase the work undergoes scrutiny for typos, homonym, grammatical, spelling, continuity errors. Consistency of voice and verbage should also be monitored. That is, copyediting. The output of this phase should be a reasonably clean publishable version of the work.
Contrast with polish phase. (e)

Submission phase

The phase where a story is being shopped around or submitted to various potential markets, such as agents and editors. This phase is not applicable for self-published works. (e)

Pre-publish phase

During the pre-publish phase the work is formatted for publication either in an ebook or print form, or both. Cover art and design are produced, as well as various blurbs. (e)

Published phase

A published work has been released in print or ebook or both. The focus of this phase shifts to supporting discovery. (e)


Word processing using LibreOffice Writer

Picture
LibreOffice word processor
  • Styles
  • Templates
  • Master documents
  • PDF export
  • Epub export

Writing tricks and techniques using a word processor:


Using LibreOffice Writer Templates

I use LibreOffice templates (OTT files) extensively, but I don't use them in the typical LibreOffice manner, which is to say, I don't use templates as a starting point to edit documents, which I'll refer to as "boilerplate templates". This isn't to say I couldn't use templates this way, as I maintain a set of starting point or boilerplate documents, but they aren't OTT files, rather they are ODT files. Instead, I use templates to store sets of styles, including paragraph styles, character styles, list styles, and page styles.

If you're wondering why I don't bother with LibreOffice templates as boilerplate documents, there are couple of reasons. The most common, if not the most significant, is that the vast majority of the writing that I do is notes and the text of stories. A boiler plate for notes and stories would be something like consist of a chapter header and blank spot to start writing. I do have a "quick reference" for stories, and that could be boilerplate template, but I just find it easier to copy from an existing document. The more significant reason I don't use boilerplate templates is that templates can't have templates, which is to say, there is no easy way to transfer or impose styles from one template to another.

Because I use templates as a mechanism to apply styles to a document after I create it (or copy it from an existing boilerplate document), and LibreOffice (unfortunately) does not include a mechanism to do this, I use the extension TemplateChanger, (which you can download here: File:Template-changer-1.2.7.oxt, if you are unfamiliar with installing extensions, see installing extensions ).

Templates I commonly use:

Template NameDescription
BodyStandard set of styles for writing
Compact NotesStandard set of styles for taking notes
MSTraditional manuscript styles
NMSNew manuscript styles
NMS BetaNew manuscript for beta readers. Same as NMS, but adds paragraph numbering for easy reference.

 (e)


Useful components of LibreOffice Writer

  • Documents can be composed of multiple separate subdocuments or subfiles (see Master Document below)
  • The Navigator (window or sidebar)
  • Styles and Formatting Window (window or sidebar)
  • Styles, page styles, list styles, frame styles, etc.
  • Export as PDF, RTF, xdoc, wiki, or epub (with plugin)


Other useful features of LibreOffice Writer

  • Links between documents
  • Automatic saving and document recovery
  • Imports a wide variety of other document formats


Configuring LibreOffice Writer

I configure Writer to show the Navigator panel on the left and the Style panel on the right. Normally the Navigator and Style panels open as free-floating windows.

When initially opened, Writer does not show either panel, as in the following screenshot.

LibreOffice Writer config 01 (sreenshot).jpg

Open the Navigator by pressing F5 (on Windows) or via the menu ViewNavigator.

LibreOffice Writer config 03 (sreenshot).jpg

Floating Navigator window.

LibreOffice Writer config 04 (sreenshot).jpg

Open the Style panel by pressing F11 (on Windows) or via the menu FormattingStyle and Formatting.

LibreOffice Writer config 05 (sreenshot).jpg

Floating Navigator and Styles windows.

LibreOffice Writer config 06 (sreenshot).jpg

Drag Navigator window up and just to the left of the top of the left hand scroll. An outline of where the Navigator will dock. Drop it and should dock on the right.

LibreOffice Writer config 07 (sreenshot).jpg

Docked Navigator.

LibreOffice Writer config 08 (sreenshot).jpg

Drag the Style window to the right. Just before it reaches the right hand scroll an outline of where the Style window will dock. Drop it and should dock on the left.

LibreOffice Writer config 09 (sreenshot).jpg

Now both floating panels are anchored.

LibreOffice Writer config 10 (sreenshot).jpg

See Configuring LibreOffice Writer (e)


Master documents and styles

One feature of LibreOffice that I particularly like is the Master document:

A master document in LibreOffice is a word processor document that includes one or more other documents. (e)

Typically, a novel is composed of a series chapters. Using LibreOffice's master document each chapter can be a separate file that is brought together into a single document. (more...)

  1. Create subdocuments
  2. Create style template
  3. Create master document and apply desired style template
  4. Import / link subdocuments
Example Subdocuments[edit]

All works of fiction are composed of the following:

  • Title page
  • Body (typically broken down into chapters, possibly including a prologue and/or epilogue)

Optional subdocuments:

  • About (the author)
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendices
  • Copyright/Edition notice
  • Dedication
  • Frontispiece
  • Glossary
  • Index
  • Introduction
  • List of figures
  • List of tables
  • Table of contents
  • Teaser (first page or back cover)

 (e)

Additionally, multiple views of a document (or a set of documents) can created by using a master document, one or more subdocuments, and a style sheet applied to the master document.

For example, given a single document file containing a story in a default style (that is chapter titles and body text paragraphs), three master documents can be created that import the story file. One master document can apply a NMS format style document, another can apply a MS style, and the third can apply a style preferred by the author's writers group. All without altering the contents of the base story file.

See page layout notes for examples of document layouts generated from a single set of files using master documents and the application of a template style document.

  • Body master document (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc.)
  • Edit master document (Title, Body, Notes)
  • MS master document (Address, Title, Body)
  • NMS master document (Address, Title, Body)
  • NMS Beta master document (Address, Title, Body)
  • Print master document
  • Ebook master document
  • ...


Writing with styles

Minimizing what you do while writing with LibreOffice Writer, or any word processor, is the key getting writing done. I use styles, but only a handful. I think you can get away with the following styles and character decorations:

  • A header for chapter titles (Header 2, reserving Header 1 for the title)
  • A paragraph style (Text body)
  • And italics (and possibly bold, but I never use bold)
  • A marker style for To Do headers (a version of Header 4 with a color background is what I use)
  • And an inline To Do items are also useful (use the same color as for the To Do headers)


Styling for Ebook Publication

It's important to keep in mind that you have almost no control over how your novel will be presented to the reader using an eReader. You can make suggestions, but ultimately, the eReader and the reader decide things like font and font size, color, etc. The number of words on a page, page breaks (such as widow and orphan lines), layout, etc. are all controlled by the eReader (possibly, with some input by the reader). This means that as authors, we need to give up any sense of absolute control over the presentation of the novel. (If this is too much to ask of you, then you're going to want to avoid ebook publication stick with print.)

The practical upshot of this lack of control over ebook presentation and formatting is that it makes writing much easier. The most important thing is to keep it simple and not worry about presentation. Which isn't to say ignore formatting, just be consistent. (If you aren't consistent and/or ignore simple formatting, you are going to create more work for yourself later when you have to clean things up.)

Continued here...  (e)


Using Markup

Why, you might ask, do I use markup when LibreOffice provides an easy to use mechanism for styling my text?

ToDo: More...  (e)


ToDo: Writing markup notes (e)

Markup is useful to recover formatting information from a plain text file.

ToDo: More...

 (e)


Spelling and Grammar Check

LibreOffice includes built in spelling and grammar checkers. The grammar checker can be augment with LanguageTools, a LibreOffice extension.

LibreOffice allows you to create dictionaries, which I find extremely useful when spell checking aspects of a work or when spell checking across multiple writing projects.

For example, I have the following dictionaries currently defined:

((Dictionary)).dic Main dictionary for words intended for general use.
((Temp)).dic Temporary dictionary.
(Dictionary).20thCentury.dic Words specific to 20th century.
(Dictionary).21stCentury.dic Words specific to 21st century.
(Dictionary).CftN.dic Chronicles from the Nexus specific words.
(Dictionary).Contractions.dic Contractions, such as "he'd", but not for general use.
(Dictionary).DocM.dic Doc Morrow specific words.
(Dictionary).French.dic French specific words.
(Dictionary).Japanese.dic Japanese specific words.
(Dictionary).Latin.dic Latin specific words.
(Dictionary).Names.dic Names not included elsewhere.
(Dictionary).NorseMythology.dic    Words from Norse mythology.
(Dictionary).NovaGen.dic Nova Genesis specific words.
(Dictionary).ParaV.dic Parallel Vision specific words.
(Dictionary).PVCACD.dic Specific to the novel Parallel Visions: City of Angels City of Demons
(Dictionary).SoundEffects.dic Sound effects.

A little spell checker trick is to create a temporary dictionary to put misspelled or unusual words you want to ignore across restarts of LibreOffice, but don't want to ignore over the long run.

 (e)


What to avoid while editing

While editing your novel, it is advisable to use only basic formatting. I recommend only two or three levels of headers, a couple of types of paragraph styles, and the minimum of character styles. (Another advantage of using a text markup scheme is that it will naturally limit the styles in use.)


Spreadsheets


File naming conventions

File names are typically composed of three parts seperated by periods (i.e. "."):

  1. File role or component type name, such as "Title" or "Body"
  2. Story id (or world id)
  3. File extension used by LibreOffice, such as "odt" or "ods"

This results in file names like:

Body.SP.odt
A "Body" for the project id "SP", which is a LibreOffice word processor file (i.e. has the extension "odt").
Log.PoM.ods
A log (writing project file) for the project id "PoM", which is a LibreOffice spreadsheet file (i.e. has the extension "ods").

See: Definition list of writing project files (e)


Primary component files

  • Address
  • Body
  • Notes
  • Title

Secondary component files

  • Index
  • TOC -- Table of Contents
  • Illustrations

World Identifier

When a writing project starts to span multiple stories because of a shared setting, then I create a world ID for it. It is not uncommon for a world ID to come into existence before the first story in set in that world is written. Like a story ID, a world ID is a convenient shorthand, both for talking about and identifying files associated with a setting.


Exporting to PDF

A pdf document can be directly exported from LibreOffice.

Note: A print ready version can be generated by applying styles.

Books are broken down into:

  • Front matter : Frontispiece / Title page / Copyright or Edition notice / Dedication / Table of contents / List of figures / List of tables / Foreword / Preface / Acknowledgments / Introduction / Prologue
  • Body matter : Chapters / parts
  • Back matter : Afterword / Conclusion / Epilogue / Outro / Postscript / Appendix or Addendum / Glossary / Bibliography / Index / Errata / Colophon

Outline for preparing a novel for export to PDF[edit]

Page styles for print should be mirrored, so left and right pages are different.

  • Select trim size and margins
  • Select main font
  • Create a page styles for non-body pages (with and without headers/footers)
  • Create a page style for body pages with header and footer
  • Create a page style for chapter header pages without header or footer
  • Assemble components (teaser, title, copyright, dedication, ToC, body chapters, etc.) into a master document
  • Create style template for master document and apply
  • Export master document to .odt Writer file for final styling
  • Remove sections generated by master document export from .odt file
  • Apply page styles to .odt file
  • Export .odt file as PDF

Pages for export[edit]

Left Right

 




Teaser




Books by*




Title




Copyright




Front material*




(blank)




ToC*




(blank)




Chapter 1




(page)




(page)



* Optional

See The Red Rook front pages for another example.

 (e)

Exporting an epub e-book

LibreOffice Writer (as of version 5.0) allows for the direct export of a document to an epub file. (FileExport then select file type EPUB.) Then use Sigil to edit to epub file. If you're using a version of LibreOffice prior to 5.0, use the Writer extension Writer2ePub to export to an epub file.  (e)

Managing Multiple Writing Projects

I suspect that the vast majority of writers have ideas for more than one story. Whether it's a trilogy or series of novels, or a multiple short stories set in the same world, or simply non-related short stories and novels, it can be a challenge to keep things straight.

Picture
Example writing directory.

In addition to keeping a sparks file and assigning an ID, I use separate folders for each story. Once a story becomes moves from an entry in the sparks file and has been assigned an ID, it becomes a folder in the incubator and, at a minimum, a notes file and a log file. Sometimes, if I'm inspired enough, I will create a body file and write opening and/or ending scenes. Once I've collected enough notes or I'm feeling that I just have to start it (that is, I'm moving from the incubator phase to the barf phase, the story will graduate from the incubator and move to the main writing directory. At this point, any of the missing core files (these include address and title) will be created.

Picture
Example story directory.

Story worlds are given identifiers and folders like stories. In the file system, I add parenthesis to story world identifiers to separate them from standard story identifiers.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • standardize file names to facilitate searching
  • file names are unique because of identifiers, this facilitates backups and avoids confusion
  • use links for navigation and to remind yourself what identifiers stand for

It's important to make time for future projects in your schedule.  (e)

Example Projects




Backing up your work

Back up your work frequently. I do it daily.

ToDo: description of my backup process.

Notes

Linda asked:

What is a good software program to use to organize the chapters of your novel? I thought I had finished a book (ha!) but now am rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. Chapters everywhere. Suggestions?

Linda, I recommend LibreOffice. It's open source and free. It does most everything that MS Word does and runs on Windows, Linux, and Macs. With respect to your particular problem with having a lot of chapters to assemble, LibreOffice has something called a "master document" which lets you import other documents into it, thus assembling your chapters into one document. If you like, you can then export the result into a normal document. As an added bonus, and this how I use it, you can apply a template to the document containing a set of styles, thus producing (from one set of documents) a manuscript for editing, or one for submitting, or one that is optimized for compact printing and reading. Fritz.

And a little later, after a number of people kept pushing other writing tools...

A few more notes on the (open source & free) LibreOffice. Using a master document with linked chapter subdocuments, you can rearrange the chapters without copying (the key point here is that a single document can be included in multiple master documents so that when it is updated, all master documents linking to it are updated, so no cut and past errors), open them for editing, generate table of contents and indexes, and, as an extra bonus, LibreOffice text documents have a free plugin/extension for exporting the document as an epub file. Oh, and all LibreOffice documents can be exported as PDFs.

Regular Expressions

As a user of LibreOffice (as well as other computer based editing tools), it is a good idea to learn how to use regular expressions.



FAQ

Chapter numbering[edit]

How do I format chapter headers to automatically number?
To create chapter headers of the form: "Chapter 1: The First Chapter", "Chapter 2: The Second Chapter", etc. use the follow configuration:
From menu: ToolsOutline Numbering...Numbering (tab panel)
In the Outline Numbering dialogue box:
  • Select Level 2 (or your preferred chapter heading level)
  • Numbering: select "1,2,3..." (or "I,II,III..." for Roman numerals)
  • Separator Before: enter "Chapter " (no quotes and note space after Chapter)
  • Separator After: enter ":" (no quotes)
Click OK button

 (e)

ANwL Glossary

epub

Epub is an ebook format. It is a single file that is essentially a zipped up website incorporating HTML pages, CSS definitions, images, and fonts. (e)

master document

A master document in LibreOffice is a word processor document that includes one or more other documents. (e)
PoM 
Example project ID for A Princess of Mars
SP 
Example project ID for The Scarlet Pimpernel

sparks file

A file (or collection of files) to collect ideas (i.e. Sparks). Periodically review to refocus and generate new tasks. (e)

Writer2ePub

Writer2ePub (W2E) is an extension for LibreOffice (or OpenOffice) which allows you to create an ePub file from any file format that Writer can read.
It generates an ePub of professional quality that can be edited with ePub-authoring tools. Additionally, Writer2ePub fixes several formatting errors and generates by default a logical layout, in line with the traditional editorial standards.
Note: A direct epub export has been included with LibreOffice as of version 5.

(e)

A few file naming conventions[edit]

CN 
Courier New font
MS 
Manuscript (that is, a traditional manuscript using a fixed width font and underscores for italics)
NMS 
New Manuscript (a manuscript using a proportional font and real italics)
.odm 
LibreOffice master file
.ods 
LibreOffice spreadsheet file
.odt 
LibreOffice text file
.ott 
LibreOffice text template file
RegExp 
regular expressions
TNR 
Times New Roman font
ToC 
Table of Contents

See

Subsections and Related Topics

Also See

I use a number of other tools in my writing process, including:

External links

 (e)




Nav


ANwL working notes
{{anwlScreenshot
| description = Thumbnail of screen shot of the first page of [[body (writing project file)|body file]] for the [[SP project]].
| fileName = Body.SP.odt
}}
{{layoutUpload | cats = {{catsUpload|PDF}} {{cats|File|PDF|ANwL}} }}
{{layoutUpload | catsRest = {{catsUpload|ODS}} {{cats|File|LibreOffice File|ODS File|ANwL}} }}
{{layoutUpload | catsRest = {{catsUpload|ODT}} {{cats|File|LibreOffice File|ODT File|ANwL}} }}

 (e)

[[File:|right|thumbnail|50px]]

Categories[edit]

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