1. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    Outlining with cards

    Discussion in 'Software' started by ultrablox, Sep 9, 2016.

    Hi!
    During screenwriting, I was disappointed with existing outliners so I've written a new software for myself, which is based on ideas of Robert McKee and Syd Field.
    It has grown and now I want to share and complete it into finished product, so I have started open beta testing. The outlining process is based on cards, it is a good replacement for paper cards.
    It is absolutely free, you can download it and read description here: ultraoutliner.com
     
    Gareth MH likes this.
  2. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi @ultrablox. It's very cool that you've decided to do this. I've recently reverted to analogue index cards, but I'm always open to a good computer-based outliner.

    I downloaded it and gave it a try, but (sorry) I'm a bit lost. The interface doesn't seem to be an extension of the index card paradigm, so I'll likely need docs to get anywhere with it.

    One thing I noted right off the bat was that the window always opens to the same size rather than remembering the size I set it to during the previous session. This would be a big plus, IMHO.

    I did like the alternate colour scheme feature, though. It only took me a couple of tries to find one I could live with (although a live preview would be helpful and perhaps that would allow me to get it in one go).

    Other notes on the paradigm...

    The Combiner, Plotter and Character Mapper all have the same look and although the tab names sort of give clues as to what each are for (except for the Combiner which I can only guess is a combination of the others), it's not immediately apparent how to use them.

    When I selected 'Cards' from the Window menu, I didn't get a Cards tab (which I expected because selecting anything else brought up a tab for that item).

    The right-click context menu for adding elements is an excellent idea.

    I'm unclear on what a Landmark is. (I'm guessing it's a plot point and you just didn't want the STC! people to sue for borrowing their terminology... which I doubt they could do, BTW, since 'plot point' or even 'beat' is a pretty generic term used by lots of writers.)

    In the Special Events menu, the list of items don't seem related to each other. Or perhaps it's that the list is incomplete. STC! has fifteen 'special events' (assuming this is perhaps yet another way of saying 'beat' or 'plot point') but 'backstory' seems out of place here since it's really not a story beat.

    Perhaps you could come up with a way for the user to populate the Special Events list in their own way. For me, it would be populated with the STC! beats plus one I came up with on my own, Beat Zero (which never appears in the story, but defines the point where the antagonist's plans are made.)

    Card Type would be more useful to me if the list was: scene, sequel. These concepts are from Dwight V. Swain's book Techniques of the Selling Writer and I use them in combination with the STC! beats every time I plan a story. But then, scenes and sequels also have elements that need documenting at the index card level, so the entire dialogue window would have to be dynamic, changing its content based on whether 'scene' or 'sequel' were selected. This may be more than you wanna deal with, I don't know.

    Sorry to sound so picky. Having done my share of coding in the past, I know how much work has gone into this already and I don't want you to think I'm discounting that effort. Let me know if you want any more feedback or if you just want me to go away. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2016
  3. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    Thanks for detailed report! I welcome critics, because it helps to make the software better which is my main aim.
    First of all, I see that without detailed documentation some moments are really not obvious.

    The main concept that there are Cards (in the Cards widget, so it is special editor), and these cards can appear in the editors (which are tabbed). So, linked card are called "landmarks", "outline cards" and "collisions", but they are just references to Cards, so they are Cards. So, terminologies do not exist here, they are just cards, and I wanted to add some meaning to them depending to editor. Maybe not in the best way.

    Special Events, Flags and Card Types are edited in Edit->Edit Template. It is just a sample set, you can create what you want and color it as you want.

    Scene is usually a Card, but for "sequence" (basing on Syd Field Screenwriters Bible) there is a Group (in Combiner). He also noted, that sometime a card can develop into sequence, so I tryied not to strictly connect Cards and Scene entities. If it is not the same as "scene" and "sequel", please give me more information about what is STC! and where excatly in the book I should see to the "scene" and "sequel" terms.
     
  4. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay. But now I has to ask: what is the purpose of linking the cards in these ways? I mean, I get what outline cards are, but isn't that all the cards together?

    What's a card collision and what's a card landmark? You know, what do they mean to the user? When introducing terminology, it's best to stick to what writers might already know and I've never heard these terms before (and I've read almost every book on writing there is).

    Okay, good to know. I'll check that out.

    Right... so they can be moved around and repositioned as a group?

    And also, I'm assuming, so their relationship to each other is obvious. Is this colour-coded?

    'Scene' and 'sequel' are, in Syd Field terms, the same thing. But Dwight V. Swain has quite different meanings.

    Scene - a unit of conflict (some call this a 'set piece'). Events play out in real time (no summarizing, no jumps in time). The elements of a scene are:
    • the POV character has a specific motivation...
    • to achieve a specific goal,
    • encounters conflict along the way, and
    • the scenes ends with a hook, a question or a disaster (could also be called a setback).
    Sequel - a unit of rationalization and decision. Time may be compressed, backstory may be brought in as the POV character mulls over their options, and he/she works toward deciding what to do next. The elements of a sequel are:
    • The POV character has a reaction to what happened in the previous scene,
    • he/she mulls over his dilemma (weighs his options), and
    • comes to a decision (about what to do in the next scene).
     
  5. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    OK, now I see, that for end-user this is just disturbing information... I'll rename all of them into cards in next version.

    Yes, you create Group in Combiner, drag cards into Group and then drag the whole Group.

    What means colour-coded? Their relation is "group can contain an ordered set of cards", if I understand your question.

    Now about scenes and sequels. Now I see the difference, but how do you think should they differ from each other in terms of cards? I've already thought about creating some configurable set of card fields, but havent encountered necessity (at least for myself). Maybe you have an idea, or a design of paper card you use for scene and for sequel?
     
  6. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    I took a look at this, and though it's early so far, my application in Win 10 is showing a lot of what I think is Russian labels and drop-down boxes:https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/99857594/Screenshot%20from%202016-09-12%2020-13-26.png

    Something strange is happening, too: I thought the font size was a bit small so made it larger; I restarted and now I can only see one card, plus working my mouse scroll-wheel sees zoom in/out but the position of the cursor sees the point of zoom some either to the right or left of the cursor, depending on where it is. I also tend to use my scroll wheel for scrolling, which is getting to be annoying.

    I'm not sure what the function is of the central gold line in the Combiner tab is - is it a timeline? Or just a divider or marker? A time line would be really useful. I've dabbled with the character tab but it's a bit of a mystery to me - I can create a character, but all I can do is set a "Dimension" which creates a massive circle around the character's name, and I can do nothing else so far - I can't ascribe relationships, for example. The Cards menu item under Window doesn't seem to do anything at this stage, but perhaps I'm missing something. I tried typing something into the "landmarks" box and couldn't.

    Like S-a-D, I'm a bit lost.
     
  7. Sack-a-Doo!
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    The background colour of the card could be (for instance) red for one type, blue for another, green for yet another, etc.

    An ordered set could be handy for when the order of events laid out in the cards was 'set' by the writer, but it should be an option. Like, not something that's set in stone when the set is created, but something a flag that would be toggled by the writer when he feels confident that the order of events has been worked out... so it can't be changed.
    Colour coding would work for this, too.
     
  8. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    Of course, you can change order of cards in the group, just with drag-n-drop.

    Meanwhile, I've created minimal documentation, which you can read in documentation section ultraoutliner.com/documentation . Also added field for subscribing to notification about new versions in the download page (by mail or twitter).
     
  9. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    Okay, after browsing your documentation, I can see where you're going with Characters, and it's not a bad idea. The terminology you use is a stumbling block for me. By Dimension, you allude to traits or characteristics. By Collision, I guess you mean conflict. Regardless of whether you use Dimension or Characteristics, I think you need to provide a drop-down list for consistency. Check out WriteItNow's character creation tool - it gives you an extensive list of traits to select.

    I'm not sure what you've written your application in, but when I opened WIN at the same time(which uses Java), it misbehaved, with the close dialog appearing briefly and then disappearing. I shut down my Windows VB and restarted WIN and all was good. This has never happened before.
     
  10. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    Checked WriteItNow. You are right, it is really characteristics, not dimension. So I will name it "characteristic" or "trait" (shorter and no interference with "character") in 0.8.5b.

    I am not sure, that drop-down list is necessary - traits can be added and removed with right clicking over character circle. Or you meant list of predefined traits?

    It is written in C++ with QT, all runtime libraries are staticaly linked, so there are no possible interferences with JVM. I guess it could be some kind of coincidence :)
     
  11. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    If there is a pre-defined list of traits, not only does it make addition quicker, but it aids in consistency. For example, the word "faithful" has several meanings (depending on context - for example, a dog, or a spouse, or a soldier) and the thesaurus threw up some interesting alternatives: http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/faithful

    If I used "devoted", "staunch", or "affectionate" for other characters, I'd be ascribing somewhat different traits to them; and if I need not go hunting in a thesaurus for what I need, I can more quickly get on with my work.
     
  12. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    OK, I appreciate everything that could accelerate outlining process.
    1. First of all, do you think it should be smart input (typed "fa" and see variants like "faithful", "fast", "fat" ...) or it should search synonims for finally typed word?
    2. I am not sure, that simple drop-down list can solve the problem, because there are too many alternatives. Maybe a simple list, or some container like at the link should be more suitable.
    3. Should I use web-api lookups, or store dictionaries locally with the program?
    4. Do you have an idea, where can I get an appropriate dictionary? Maybe you have some favourite for example.
     
  13. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    1. Smart input would be useful
    2. The creators of WriteItNow! have about 200
    3. I can't answer that with any authority, but WIN! has an internal word list.
    4. Sorry, I don't know where such a list might reside.
     
  14. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    OK, in 0.8.6b I'll try to integrate with WordNet dicts (https://wordnet.princeton.edu), and I'll make something similar to the service in your link (for finding appropriate synonims).
     
  15. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    The first wave of feedbacks was taken in account, and ultra_outliner v.0.8.5b was released.

    Download for free here: http://ultraoutliner.com/download
    Description here: http://ultraoutliner.com/
    Documentation here: http://ultraoutliner.com/documentation

    I will appreciate any feedbacks about found errors, bugs and ideas what to change or what to add.

    Here is change list:

    Now cards are called "cards" everywhere (no more landmarks and collisions);
    Existing cards can be added to editors with right click -> Insert Existing Cards.
    Fixed grammar errors.
    Added links to Download and Documentation page from About menu.
    Added build timestamp to about dialog.
    Open File dialog remembers last opened folder.
    In Cards editor double click or right click->Find in Editor focuses opened editor on activated card.
    Fixed bug with thumbnail image rendering in card.
    Now right click all the graphic elements has "Edit" action.
    Click on graphical card in any graphics editor selects the card in Cards Editor.
    Act break can have name now.
    Now flags, types and events are colored in Edit Card dialog.
    In Edit Card dialog added hint, that types, events and flags are configured in Template Editor.
    Double click on empty paper initiates creating new card in this point.
    Window position and size are remembered.
    Dimensions are fixed to traits.
    If new version is available - message box will be shown at start.
    Added Hotkeys tab in Options window.
     
  16. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    0.8.6b is released.

    It finally supports Windows XP and has spellchecking. Download page and full changelog in the same address http://ultraoutliner.com/download .
     
  17. ultrablox
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    ultrablox New Member

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    Published a new version with completely configurable card fields and admirable design.
     

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