27 July 2013

Adventures in Dynamic Views: A Blogger Adventure (AKA, Please Drop By and Let Me Know if You Can Comment Now)

Yo! So, I signed on to do Camp NaNoWriMo at the beginning of the month, a goal I set alongside sundry other goals to get my writing house in order. With a two-thirds finished manuscript and a handful of short stories I wanted to write - not to mention a plan to get back on the submission horse and possibly start editing a collection of short stories - why not completely change my blog?

I admit this was a spontaneous change brought on by the envy I felt looking at Deborah Walker's shiny new template. When she claimed in a post's comments that she was getting way more page views with the new format, I was sold.

I admit, I like a lot about Dynamic Views. To me, part of the purpose of having a blog is having a whole lot of stuff you've written available to people online. One of the things I've found pesky about a traditional blog format is that it is fairly challenging to a reader who might want to poke around in the archive to access that archive. Blogger's "archive" widget is pretty crappy in terms of navigation. With Dynamic Views, the reader has access to the entire blog via a simple scroll down. Dynamic Views actively encourages people to wander around and take a look at the place. Yay!

Once I had it installed, I realized there were some big problems with Dynamic Views. If you just install it without tweaks, it automatically includes a little menu that allows readers to bork with your layout by choosing cute options like "flipcard" and "magazine", thus displaying your posts in different arrangements. I like the "timeslide" format (what you see on my blog) - it's why I chose Dynamic Views, but my particular content looks terrible in "flipcard" and I don't think much of some of the other options. I wanted to take that little menu away. "Timeslide" does this neat thing where it displays snippets of selected posts, but it also cuts off your blog post titles if they are longer than two or three words. More disturbingly, the awesome fishscale background and reddish colour theme that I love was only sometimes displaying. Half the time when I loaded my blog it would be this plain jane black thing that was quite ugly.


When Andrew Leon kindly let me know that he couldn't comment on my blog any more, I was saddened, to say the least. I wondered how many other people had dropped by and couldn't comment. Boo Hoo!

I was totally prepared to go back to my old template. I logged in, and had a quick look at my stats.

My pageviews had gone up 400% from before I changed the template. Uh. Yeah. Four times more pageviews! My ego made a decision: I would be keeping Dynamic Views, but only if I could figure out a way to make it more reliable and make sure that readers could comment.

(Google claims in this post that the reason for the increase in pageviews is a product of the more accurate tracking system that is enabled for Dynamic Views. My sense is that DV is also more user-friendly. Win / win.)

Enter Southern Speakers, a blog about tweaking your Blogger blog by a fellow named Yoga. This blog is seriously the best thing. Yoga posts all kinds of simple, quick, cut-and-paste bits of HTML for you to stick into your template, along with complete instructions on how to do that. (He has tweaks for more traditional Blogger layouts as well as DV.) With his help I did the following:

I got Dynamic Views to display the full title of my posts on my main page, rather than cutting them off.

I wiped out the ability of the reader to pick different types of dynamic view, meaning that they have to stick with Timeslide.

I inserted adorable vertical lines between my page links in my header bar.

Most importantly, Yoga linked to this tutorial on how to force the Dynamic Views template to stop occasionally loading that ugly black plain jane version of the template - what Yoga calls the "Ghost Template"  This fix comes via Päivi and Santeri of Global Nomads. Yay!

So: if you have Dynamic Views installed, at the least I heartily recommend that last fix, especially if you've found, like I did, that your pageviews have gone up since you installed Dynamic Views, but your comments have dropped. It's possible your readers can't comment! Tragic!

A special plea: If you're reading this and you're not seeing a comments form or the reddish fishscale pattern on my main page, PLEASE LET ME KNOW: elizabethtwist at gmail dot com. Thanks! 

ETA: As per L.G.'s complaint about the black gadget dock menu thinger overlapping the scroll bar on the righthand side, I've used this fix to move it to the left where it shouldn't interfere with the scroll bar any more. Thanks for the feedback, L.G.!

17 July 2013

Recent Readings, Featuring Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias

It's been a busy last little while in my reading world. I realize I've developed an obsession with the Song of Ice and Fire series - reading I started because I wanted to go through the books before Dave and I watched the television series. (Writer's pro tip: It is fascinating from a craft perspective to see how the tv writers cope with all that source material. They do, in my opinion, a wonderful job of compressing the books down to suit budgetary and length needs while maintaining the spirit of the work.) Just finished A Storm of Swords. Good times.

As part of research for a new project I'm working on, I read Autobiography of an Execution by David R. Dow, about Dow's work as a defendant for people on death row in Texas. Interesting information about the inequity of the legal system on the ground, especially for those who can't afford to hire counsel. The primary defendant Dow profiles is a man (possibly innocent) whose court-appointed lawyer literally slept through his trial.

I finally tucked into Sabrina Vourvoulias's Ink last week. According to my Kindle's tracker, I read about 20% of it in one go, and zipped through the rest of it in three days. This is high-velocity storytelling, people. Here's a brief summary from her description page:
What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history – collectively known as inks.
I expected that Ink would be a dark future story of oppression akin to 1984 - and in many ways, it is. I didn't expect that the dark science at work in the story would be balanced with gorgeous magic. Vourvoulias has chosen to tell the story from multiple POVs, one of my favourite storytelling vehicles, since it enables a book to explore a central problem while engaging with the fact that different people have different investments and difficulties arising from that problem. In a lot of ways, this book is about perspective and about sharing the experience of those who are not usually given a voice in science fiction or elsewhere.

One of the best qualities of science fiction is its ability to perform political commentary. Ink is a book in that tradition.

Given recent revelations about the intensity of government surveillance, Ink couldn't be more timely. Given recent revelations about the dinosaur-like nature of certain science fiction and fantasy institutions (*cough* SFWA *cough*), Ink couldn't be more necessary.

07 July 2013

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories

Bombastic analysis of structure from the King of Gallows Humour. I hope you all are having a gorgeous weekend.

Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories from Maria Popova on Vimeo.