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My talk at Emacsconf2020: Idea to Novel Superstructure: Emacs for Writing


What can help you organize your life? What can help you write code? What can help you with managing your email? What can help you write novels? Can we answer all these question with one answer? Yes, you can and the answer is emacs. Oh yeah, it is also a text editor, there’s that too! Every year, we at the emacs community celebrate this text editor and share what unique things we have done with this editor. I was fortunate to give a talk at the conference on the topic “Idea to Novel Superstructure: Emacs for Writing”. Enjoy!

The conference website is here:

The talk is here:

Here is the screenplay I wrote for my talk:

title: Idea to Novel Superstructure: Emacs for Writing
version: 1.0
credit: Screenplay by
author: Dr. Bala Ramadurai
format: screenplay
date: 2020-08-31
source: Story by Dr. Bala Ramadurai

We see an upside down view of the world outside with Bala smiling and waving at us.

No, there is nothing wrong with your mobile device or your computer. This was how my world was when my kid was born 11 years ago.

The world becomes upright.

Hello, I am Bala Ramadurai, author, professor and consultant. 11 years ago in Bangalore, my son was born. My wife and I had hardly slept through those days. That's when my grandma visited us to take a look at her great grandson. As joyous as that sounded, it came with a peril. My grandma was a Scrabble addict. She hardly spent any time at all with her great grandson, but she spent most of her time playing Scrabble. She insisted that my wife and I join her. That's when an idea dawned on me to write about my Scrabble obsessed grandma. What if I could make it into a novel. Not many people have Scrabble obsessed grandmothers, after all.


I wanted to expand this to a novel, but did not know how. I bumped into Dan Wells' video on 7-point story structure. I was now convinced that a seed idea could indeed be converted into a novel, so I tried out many tools at the time - million dollar tools like MS Word, Excel, Scrivener and the lot. In my research of tools, I found that George RR Martin famously had used Wordstar for typing out Game of Thrones. At that point, I remembered about an old editor - Emacs. I knew about Emacs from my undergrad days and my earlier software days. Thanks to the emacs community and particularly the orgmode community, I had what I wanted.


Now, it was time to put the idea into action. I used another method called snowflake and also Tony Ballantyne's emacs writing template. The main features from org-mode that I used - fold, unfold, columnview, tags, distraction-free writing experience, clocking, project tracking and export.


Now, the demo. We start with the plotline (a one line summary of the story). Then we write out the characters, describing them in detail. Write the main story arc, followed by the secondary character story arcs. Here is where org-mode really scores. Move the points in the story structure to form a coherent story. We get into location research. Write them all out in the columns. Once you are satisfied, now scene design. Each point in the story requires at least one scene. In columnview, you can see many things - Act, scene, story point, location, POV or point of view. Make sure you finish this and read the whole story if it makes sense. Now, create a project file to track your project and clock your project to see how long it takes. I used a similar structure for my non-fiction book, which I published recently, all written and edited in emacs-org-mode.

Bala holds Karmic Design Thinking book in his hand.

Thanks to you guys at the community, I am now a published author and I plan to publish and help other authors publish using this wonderful tool called emacs-org-mode. Thank You.
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