Thinking of building an app for novelists, thoughts?

Discussion in 'Software' started by Sean K, Jul 18, 2018.

  1. ThunderAngel

    ThunderAngel Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2018
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    369
    Location:
    North Carolina
    Some people, like myself, draw inspiration from play. In my case, what constitutes a "Toy" is a cool piece of software to mess with. If I can't find it, I'll program it or, like I did in LibreOffice, build a template.

    I get that many people don't need anything but the basic writing app, but for the average tech-geek, a new-fangled software is just as much a well of inspiration. :)
     
    Lifeline likes this.
  2. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2016
    Messages:
    116
    Likes Received:
    43
    Yes well... Charlie Stross has stated that he couldn't/wouldn't have written the later entries in the Merchant Princes and its current kinda-sequel Empire Games series if it weren't for Scrivener to keep track of the multitude of characters and intermixed plot lines. So there!

    (His epic rant against Word was what made me know of Scrivener. I found literatureandlatte, read, and was sold. Everything they wrote and said about Scrivener made eminently and immediately sense to me, without me ever tried it out.)
     
  3. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    4,195
    Likes Received:
    2,453
    Location:
    England
    If Word had been designed solely for novelist his rant may have been justified, but isn't that a little like ranting about a kettle because it doesn't make toast?
     
    BayView and Spencer1990 like this.
  4. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2016
    Messages:
    116
    Likes Received:
    43
    Ehhh... No.

    Word has fundamental problems. Even in the class of software it belongs to (WYSIWYG word processors), it is one of the worst (and that's without counting the bugs).

    A lot of people do not realize that, because on Windows, there are no WYSIWYG alternatives that are not Word clones (except WordPerfect, which I have never used, and which is quite expensive, even more than Word). Microsoft have wiped it clean, so much so that most people do not understand that there are other tools for text handling (even though there always has been WordPad on Windows [or TextEdit on Mac] which covers a lot of tasks Word is used for). Try Nisus Writer (only on Mac, though).

    On top of that, there's the question for which writing task the WYSIWYG approach is actually helpful. It's not only novelists, but also others (technical and business reports, web publishing people like bloggers, memo writing office staff) who would be better served by alternative approaches. About the only things a WYSIWYG word processor is actually needed for are business letters, ad-hoc office signs, and short school reports. And even there better alternatives exist.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2018
  5. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    4,195
    Likes Received:
    2,453
    Location:
    England
    Maybe you had a dodgy copy. Word served me perfectly until something expired and it became a read-only program, at which point I decided MS could shove it up their arse and I switched to OpenOffice Writer.
     
  6. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2016
    Messages:
    116
    Likes Received:
    43
    LOL... No.

    Have been working (professionally, academically) with Word from the early 90s until the Word 2013 version. It was always a pain. It was not so much "writing with Word", more "operating Word until it puts out what I need it to put out" [in reality it was "until it puts out what Word wants, which luckily is what everyone expects"]. There always was a feeling of "There must be something better". But since there wasn't, one was hard pressed into thinking that that is how it must be.

    Until I found the better things. Which are there. Which showed me that Word is even worse than I thought it was when I was working with it.
     
  7. Amontillado

    Amontillado New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2018
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    3
    I like Nisus Writer Pro. It does a good job with styles. I have a couple of writing groups I attend, each with different format requirements for critique submissions. I use style libraries to mimic Scrivener's compile feature.

    Is Word's master document mode still dangerous? That's Word's way of acting like Scrivener, sort of.

    Up through the last version I used a few years ago, I could always destroy documents by dragging and dropping them in master document mode. If I was a pixel off from perfect when I released the mouse button, it would entangle documents without hope of recovery. I decided that a long history of letting users destroy work was reason enough to flee.
     
  8. Lew

    Lew Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2015
    Messages:
    1,316
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    I have been using Word since the 90s after the government abandoned WordPerfect (known back then as WordDefect). You guys are experiencing things I have never known or seen in Word, I have never lost a file, and I have some very old versions residing on old Laptops that I haven't gotten rid of yet, that still run perfectly well though one version is 15 or 20 years old. I use that XP laptop for my ham station, because it has a DB-9 RS-232 port that I need for teletype and radio control, and I occasionally use Word on that system. Don't know what you mean, @OurJud, about Word becoming a read only processor. I have had files get tagged as read-only, but that is an internal setting that can be reset in document properties. And I don't even know what @Amontillado 's "Master Document" mode is. If that is the file save, using drag and drop using Explorer inside Word, yes, you don't want to drag one file onto another, but that is not a Word feature, that is basic Windows operation. I generally use file names to save, and if I inadvertently attempt to write over an existing file, Windows (not Word) will say "File already exists, do you really want to do replace it?"

    As to the OP, I am not sure what application I would need or want that I don't have in Word. Since so many of you are enthusiastic about Scrivener, I might want to check out to see what it offers. I do a lot of research in my writing, and I have several text files with research notes. Since I am writing about the Roman invasion of Mesopotamia, for example, I have a file with the names of all the legions involved, where they were based at the beginning, commanders if known, fictional commanders if I made them up, governors of the relevant provinces, etc. These are not in my story file, but they are in the same folder, and if I need them I have them all open simultaneously, and just hop back and forth on the task bar to get what I need. I also have an archive of previous versions of my story, and of course, always a backup. Norton provides me automatic backup to a network drive accessible to all our computers, and I do a manual backup to an outboard removable drive periodically (BTW, I need to do that).
     
    Shenanigator likes this.
  9. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2016
    Messages:
    116
    Likes Received:
    43
    The "read only" is related to the subscription version of Word included in Office 365. When you cancel the subscription, and it runs out, the apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc.) will not save files in the own format anymore, but you can still open them, and still save as a non-native format.

    The "master document" feature allows you to split your large document into smaller files, but maintain page and section (with this I mean logical text sections like chapter, not Word's 'sections' that allow separate formatting) numbering, table of contents etc. for the whole. As far as I know, that's been around for a long time. I myself have never used it – from the descriptions I read it seems to be quite work intensive. I could avoid that by using software that did not even require the work Word still wants to be done by the user...)

    It seems you're using an older Word with enough memory (both RAM and HD). A lot of the bugs that cause Word to change the file in unexpected ways are related to memory problems. I do have 'lost' one or two files, but I could have recovered them if I wanted, but at the time it was not worth it (could use an older version and rewrite in one case). Beside that, Word often changes the file in unexpected ways caused by things that are not exactly bugs, but settings the user has not noticed. That seldom means the file is lost, but it usually requires extra work to clean up that one should not have to be doing. That is exacerbated by its overly complicated user interface (yes, it's overcomplicated, and its developers do not care since, oh, the mid-90s or so to maintain a logical workflow for many things). A lot of such things do have a somewhat logical explanation if you dig in and understand what Word is actually doing and what the developers thinking behind programming this behavior was, but in practice, the crappy user interface of Word leads to such instances being undiagnosable. It's very hard to understand why they happen, which is very annoying if you want to prevent them (not that they should happen in the first place – after all, it's not an actually cheap program).

    And such unexpectancies, up to not being able to get a remotely human-readable text, do happen frequently when you exchange files with others (they are rare when it's only you working on the file, but they DO happen when your text gets large and its structure complicated, and you rely on automation, for instance to autonumber headings in tiers [1, 1.1, 1.2, 2, 2.1, 2.1.1, 2.1.2 etc.], figures and tables, making a table of contents, or referencing – the latter with a 3rd party program, Word sucks at referencing. Say, when you are writing a thesis). The file format(s) of Word are not set up for that, which is why it infuriates me so much that file submission has been effectively standardized on it (the exception is Word's original file format, RTF. That's actually quite nice, even for exchange. Still human readable, too – you can open it as an ASCII text file with any editor, and somewhere in between all the stuff for the formatting, your text is there as normal ASCII).
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018 at 3:54 PM
  10. Lew

    Lew Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2015
    Messages:
    1,316
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    Ah, yes, I had forgotten about auto-numbering! I am working on a military spec write now of about 250 pages, with auto-numbered headings. The new ones are OK, with one exception: In track changes, if I accept the first paragraph symbol on the following text, the heading changes to a blue-colored substitution mark. I have given up on fixing that, I just don't accept those first backward Ps. We will save that when accept all changes and come out of track changes. I have also had a lot of trouble merging multiple versions of the document with edits in TC by multiple contributors.

    I don't dare import the headings form the original spec, since parts of them may go back to early 90s WP. Trying to change them in the new document is highly unpredictable, whatever you get will not be what you want. I just import the text, and anyway, my section/chapter numbers don't match the original.

    Almost any bulleted or auto-numbered lists, like you said, can behave unpredictably, most commonly the tab position may change from list to list, or the hierarchy of bullets. Sometimes not the same way in two different lists in the same document. As to references, I haven't had any problem with that, I use headings, tables and figures, the latter sometimes by chapter. I manually force them by defining a caption i.e."Figure 3-", rather than let Word try to number it on its own. I also use internal hyperlinks, so that if I cite a chapter, the reader can click on it and go there. No problems ever with TOCs/LOFs/LOTs or internal hyperlinks. I once used external hyperlinks to other documents, but the user has to have almost the identical directory structure as you used, or they don't work. Not worth the bother for externals, unless they are to the internet.

    I think some of those who just write fiction may have a hard time following this line, @Martin Beerbom!
     
  11. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    4,195
    Likes Received:
    2,453
    Location:
    England
    @Martin Beerbom has answered above your last post.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    12,210
    Likes Received:
    6,456
    Location:
    California, US
    Word is not my favorite program. I have to use it for work, and I use both the Mac and Windows versions, and have used the program to create literally thousands of documents since the late 90s. It is serviceable, and I've never found it to be buggy, personally. Works quite well for what it is meant to do.

    When it comes to my personal writing, I prefer Scrivener or Ulysses. If I'm going to use a more traditional word processor, I prefer to use Google Docs. But there's nothing wrong with Word as a word processor, other than that I find it to be a bit bloated because it has so many options I will never need or want.
     
  13. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2016
    Messages:
    116
    Likes Received:
    43
    For writing fiction, I (and I guess most others) need to use an app that feels comfortable. Word never was that, for me. I wrote a lot of science papers with it (because the superiors in the team insisted), and it always felt like performing magic that had little to do with the actual writing. More with performing the right chant, spell and hand movement to get things where they should be. Made me feel like Ron Weasley in Flitwick's Charms class.

    In LaTeX, on the other end, I felt right at home when I started to use it, though I realized that a lot of others would not feel the same way. I still had to furniture the home, though. Needed to find the right front end editor, and research the right macros to use.

    Scrivener, however, felt RIGHT before I even used the thing. I glanced over their webpage, and EVERYTHING felt right. And continues to feel right. They had a series of blogs about the new features they put in the latest version 3, and reading just the first paragraph of each blog made me go "Shut up and take my money!" It's home, and it's fully furnitured.

    Ulysses felt nice, too, except for the nagging feeling that it forced a file organization on me that I didn't like (the default is to put everything onto iCloud, and it kept a backup on the Mac's local hard drive, except that it chose a location I felt should be reserved for preferences and such, and not user data), and trying to get it to work with the saving locations I preferred felt inelegant. Not really a big deal (I still recommend(ed) the thing, until they started their overpriced subscription), but it never felt totally right. Before you say that Scrivener forces something on me, too... it never felt that way. I could decide where the project goes, I had to tell it where the backup goes. That left the control with me, or so it felt. And the templates it puts into the binder feels more like (for me, extremely helpful) suggestions than forced structure.

    I hope you noticed all the 'feel's. It's not a rational thing. It's about feeling comfortable and supported by the app.

    If you feel good using Word, go for it – whatever keeps the writing flowing. I don't.
     
  14. Amontillado

    Amontillado New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2018
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    3
    The last time I looked for information about master document mode (sort of how Scrivener works), there were more warnings about it's unreliability than there were tutorials. I see that's no longer the case, but it's still weird.

    I can't figure out how to use master documents. I'm not a dummy, and perhaps education would solve my issues with Word.

    If Word works and does the job for you, then it's the way to go. The complaints voiced about Word are not groundless, just as the praise for what it will do has basis in fact.

    The perfect word processor probably doesn't yet exist.
     
    Shenanigator likes this.
  15. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Bothered

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2017
    Messages:
    3,155
    Likes Received:
    4,294
    Someone on the Forum just posted within the last week or two about losing 500 words in Scriv and having to rewrite. Can't remember who it was, though.

    I've used Word for all of the above and more, with no issues.

    But ultimately, who the fuck cares what each of us uses to do our own work? Seriously, use what works for you, and keep your head down and write.
     
  16. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    9,755
    Likes Received:
    10,168
    I just need something that will put the appropriate black squiggles on the screen when I type. Word does that, so... Word's fine by me. I could as well be using Wordpad, really.

    It seems like most of the people who don't like Word are trying to do a hell of lot more with it.
     
  17. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    1,909
    Likes Received:
    2,727
    I've never used anything but Word since I was first introduced to it in 1994 when I got my first office job. It's always worked fine for me, so it was a a natural progression to use it for writing fiction when I started doing that back in 2010. Plus, my publisher Tracked Changes in Word for the editing process (as do many of the other ones I'm aware of), so even if I created my MS in something else I'd have to eventually use it anyway.
     
    Shenanigator likes this.
  18. Martin Beerbom

    Martin Beerbom Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2016
    Messages:
    116
    Likes Received:
    43
    I cannot speak for other people... but I do not want to do a hell of a lot more with Word. I only want to do/have done rather simple things with it (you do not need much for writing a novel, and the last thing I did was writing scientific papers, with no styles and no graphics, as the publishing journals explicitly did not want them), and struggled with it.

    I found this (http://frickingenius.blogspot.com/2012/12/word-2010-sucks-worst-software-design.html) that outlines some problems with Word 2010. AFAIK, a great deal of the mentioned problems are still there, though they cleaned it up a bit (the ribbon behavior was still bad when I tried Word 2013, and the keyboard shortcuts are still there). And similar problems have been there and evident a long time before that. Microsoft's goal was first to get competitors out of the way, and then keep being the only game in town. They stopped caring about things like workflow*, and once they were the only game in town, they were not able to improve it anymore. Microsoft has it not in its DNA, and depended on others to develop the features and user interface behavior that they subsequently could copy. Once the competitors vanished, Microsoft was adrift in this regard. They had no one to copy – hence, those 'beauties' called ribbon, the .docx file format and the Windows 10 Metro/Modern/tile interface.

    Word is an all around bad program that's only not more perceived as such as there is no widespread alternative that does it significantly better. Google Docs gets close, at least for people who are not bound by corporate requirements. And what happened? Google's big feature was the cloud and interoperability. What are the last big feature addition to Word (Office)? Cloud and interoperability.

    *There was a time when every function of Word could be done on the menu, with the mouse on a toolbar, or keyboard shortcuts. In the beginning, it was evident that one of the three methods was preferred, depending on what would be useful for the user (if you need to use the mouse, you stop writing, so functions that came at a natural pause in writing were preferred for it). At some point, that care vanished. Instead, they kept adding all of the features into all three methods, and left it to the user to organise the workflow. The keyboard shortcuts are evidence of that – everything has a keyboard shortcut, but since there are so many, the keyboard shortcuts are often complex and non-sensical, and the ones you would NEED as simple, easy-to-remember and -to-use are not simple. The assignment is done on a pure (software) engineering level with no care about how users would like to have them.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2018 at 2:04 PM
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    12,210
    Likes Received:
    6,456
    Location:
    California, US
    I don’t think anyone cares what some random blogger says. And arguing with people who like Word about whether they should like it is foolish and a waste of time.
     
    Shenanigator likes this.
  20. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    9,755
    Likes Received:
    10,168
    I... have none of the problems mentioned in the blog. Again, though... I don't use most of the features mentioned in the blog.

    I just type. Tippy-tappy-tippity-tap. All done. Save it and move on.
     
    ChickenFreak likes this.
  21. Lew

    Lew Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2015
    Messages:
    1,316
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    Other than the misbehaving auto-numbering feature, which shows up in technical writing, I haven't had any problem with Word, fits me like a glove, and like @BayView said, Tippy-tappy-tippity-tap. In technical writing, I have used just about every technical feature Word offers, the equation editor, graphics of a variety of kinds, tables (MUCH better than Excel, surprisingly), table, figure and user-defined captions, table of contents, lists of figures, endnotes. For graphics, I ultimately prefer to drop in a graphic as a .JPEG, as they can be resized easily, as .PPTs fall apart if resized, as the text does not change while the boxes/shapes they are in do. I use split-screen to accommodate a table of acronyms at the end, allowing me to make sure they are all captured at the end, but spelled out only on first use in the text.

    Most fiction writers don't need, or even know about, these things. For my technical work, I am quite satisfied, and working on an aircraft spec of 250 pages, even as we speak... time for me to return to the less interesting world of the SD-569-1-5 update.

    The devil I know is better than the devil I don't.
     
    Shenanigator likes this.
  22. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    1,909
    Likes Received:
    2,727
    But sometimes I use...ITALICS

    [​IMG]
     

Share This Page