My ideal writing tool - a fanciful spec

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My ideal writing tool - a fanciful spec

Postby MummerX » Mon Jul 20, 2009 10:43 pm

I am hoping someone can help me find my ideal writing tool. I have googled assiduously but cannot find it. This surprises me because what I want seems the perfect solution - I can't believe no one has thought of it before.

I envisage a combination of an outliner where you can select/flag notes by tags. In my imagination, it looks something like TuxCards, but with a tag cloud across the bottom.

I have a spec (more a wish list really) on how it should work and why this would be useful for an author ... in case anyone fancies having a go at writing one?

Let me know if you'd like to see it. I could email it, or post it here.
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Postby johnhudson » Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:02 am

Have a look at LyX, the GUI for LaTeX. It has a huge range of facilities for cross-referencing and adding non-printed comments.

I have been using it for writing for several years and nothing else comes close for an author.
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Postby towy71 » Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:08 am

Wow is all I can say :shock:
I just ran
Code: Select all
sudo apt-get install lyx
and the result was
Code: Select all
0 upgraded, 38 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 231MB of archives.
After this operation, 457MB of additional disk space will be used.

Still waiting for it all to download before I can have a look at it :shock:

Of course the moment I post this I notice that tuxradar.com has just put up an article about it :roll:
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Postby MummerX » Tue Jul 21, 2009 12:49 pm

"Wow" here too, but in a different sense. :shock:

Grateful for the suggestions chaps (and sorry to waste your disk space :!: ), but I think this is attacking the wrong end of my problem. I've just skimmed the TuxRadar articles on LyX/LaTeX. Correct me if I am wrong: this combo looks superb at laying out the final copy. But I am nowhere near that stage. I am still doing the research, amassing piles of notes.

I have notes on characters, locations, resources, plot ideas and so on, all on paper. I want to put them on my PC (I run Jaunty), to impose some structure on them, and to show me ad-hoc relationships between them (via tags).

:idea: I imagine something with the structuring capabilities of TuxNotes plus the ability to flag/highlight notes by selecting tags from a cloud. This could be (for me) the ideal writer's research tool.

I'm currently at work here in the UK. Tonight I will post the spec that I promised. Thank you for your interest and patience.
Last edited by MummerX on Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby nelz » Tue Jul 21, 2009 1:34 pm

Have you looked at Notecase. I used to use Kdissert when preparing articles, but now I usually write them in Notecase.
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Postby towy71 » Tue Jul 21, 2009 3:06 pm

Have you not looked at Tomboy it should be in your Applications>Accessories menu ;-)
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Postby johnhudson » Tue Jul 21, 2009 5:45 pm

A lot depends on the quantity of notes you have and how you want to structure them; if you type your notes into a LyX book and use the chapter/section/subsection headings to group things hierarchically, you can then use the cross-referencing facilities to link/group things in other ways.

The navigator gives you instant access to any heading; the cross-referencer gives you instant access to any cross-reference. And if you don't like the way you have initially structured your notes, the outliner allows you to move, promote or demote every numbered chapter/section etc. with instant effect preserving all the cross-references.

LyX handles much longer books than other wordprocessors and so the limitation eventually would probably not be volume but the number of cross-references it had to handle which will eventually begin to slow things down.

It also allows child documents but I have not tried cross-referencing between main and child documents.
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Postby MummerX » Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:53 pm

Here's the spec I promised.

I envisage a combination of an outliner with note selection by tags. In my imagination, it looks something like TuxCards, but with a tag cloud across the bottom.

How would it work?
• It operates with all the usual functionality of an outliner; so we'll skip that.
• Tagging is used to identify matching notes.
• If you click on a tag in the cloud, that tag is highlighted in a unique colour, say red.
• At the same time, for each note containing that tag, a red flag appears next to the note's title in the hierarchy map.
• Click a 2nd tag in the cloud. This is highlighted in a different colour, say blue. A blue flag now appears in the hierarchy map along with the red flags. Some titles may even have red and blue flags if they contain both tags.
• I'm happy for tag colours to be dictated by the system, and I accept there would have to be a finite number of colours (I'd suggest 6 colours would be the absolute minimum set I could work with).
• Clicking an already highlighted tag in the cloud should un-highlight it, and remove its same-coloured flags from the hierarchy map. There'd probably be a menu entry to de-select all tags at once.
• Opening a note should show any selected tags it contains in their allocated highlight colours. I don't really care how tags appear normally in notes when not selected (a different font would do).
• Obviously, if a title is moved in the hierarchy map, any flags it has should move with it.
• [[Update:]] If a sub-tree in the hierarchy is collapsed, then I'd like to see any lower level flags migrate up to the visible level.
• [[Update:]] As the flags might be only simple blobs of colour, then perhaps hovering the mouse over the note could produce a tool-tip like box listing the tags. All tags, or just the selected tags? I'm not sure. If listing all the tags is workable, then the selected tags should be emphasised; but I'd settle for just listing the selected tags.
• [[Update:]] Normally a tag cloud is alphabetically sorted. I suggest it would be useful if selected tags would shuffle to the front of the cloud. Thus all selected tags are visible without scrolling the cloud, providing a colour key for the flags in the hierarchy. Otherwise, with a large cloud, the tag "Sally" will not be visible if there's only room to display tags starting A-N.

How is this useful to a writer?
Plotting is one of several possible uses.
• The hierarchy of notes can be used to keep track of notes on the plot, the top-most level perhaps being the chapters of the book. Moving these plot notes around the hierarchy changes their order in the story.
• If I select the "Harry" and "Sally" tags in the cloud, then coloured flags will appear in the hierarchy map to identify all bits of plot featuring these two characters, individually and together.
• It may be of critical interest when these two meet. So, a plot note flagged with both names (for their first date) which appears above/before the description of their meeting may indicate an embarrassing mistake I have made in plotting.
• Similarly if "004" steals the "Plans" from the "Comms room" using the "Password" that she got from the captured "Atlantic courier", then I want to see flags for these tags appear in the right order in the hierarchy map. The capturing should come quite early, escaping with the plans quite late.
• [[Update:]] Plotting is only one example. Such note selection would be useful for managing the collection of ideas and research notes too.

Re your feedback chaps (for which many thanks):

I had a look at Notecase, even downloaded it temporarily. IIRC, it's tagging feature solely concerns HTML tags, not tags-as-in-cloud. Not at all what I want. Happy to be told otherwise; it was only a quick look.

The referencing of LyX is (forgive me if I am wrong) not as dynamic as the scheme above. Great for static paragraph cross-referencing (I know this technology, I use it in my day job).

I use TomBoy for other reasons, and it is no outliner. Yes, it has a form of note linking but this does not quite give me what I want. Shame.

Unless my spec (above) triggers any thoughts I suppose I must conclude there ain't no such animal; and I don't have time to code one myself.

[[Spec updated with late additions (marked)]]
Last edited by MummerX on Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:46 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Postby nelz » Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:51 pm

The tags in notecase are text labels applied to nodes (look in Node properties). Then you can search for nodes containing a particular tag. I don't see what that's got to do with HTML.

There was a writing program reviewed in LXF a few months ago that may suit your needs.
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Postby MummerX » Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:13 pm

My mistake nelz. I based my answer on my reading of the help file (which indeed only talks about HTML tags, I've searched though it twice now).

I thought you had helped me to a "Eureka!:D" moment there (I even re-downloaded Notecase to try it); but no.:(

In Notecase:
* I have to remember to attach each keyword to each relevant note (I want to declare tags once, globally, and have the software work out which notes contain them).
* Attached keywords are invisible (I want to see some indication of them in the hierarchy, I also want to choose which tags are displayed and which not).
* I can only search for one keyword at a time (I want the s/w to show me relationships between multiple tags, perhaps 6 at a time).

Nice try nelz, and thanks very much for the suggestion, but I have to rule Notecase out of the running. It seems an excellent outliner, but just doesn't match up enough to my spec. I'm glad it works for you, but it's horses for courses, and all that.

I'll look for that writing tool you mentioned in an LXF article.
[[Update: I believe it is Writer's Cafe you remembered. Checking out reviews now. Thanks]]
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Postby Miro » Wed Jul 22, 2009 6:02 am

Seems that you know exactly what you need in outliner program.
My advice is that you find the existing program that most closely resembles your ideal and then work with the author to push things in your direction.

Disclaimer: I am the author of Notecase and Notecase Pro.
Quite often when I get new users, I get quite interesting ideas from them, and number of them get implemented.

I am sure most of the software writers out there like the good communication too.
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Postby MummerX » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:38 am

Regarding Notecase:
Many thanks Miro. From what I've tried, the outlining features in Notecase would be an excellent starting point. I'll be in touch later. :)

Regarding Writer's cafe:
I read sooooo many reviews of Writer's Cafe last night. :shock: Based solely on the reviews I read, it seems an excellent plotting tool, which could be helpful for me, but only at a later stage.

Right now I am generating ideas by the ton (some plot, but mostly history, location and technology notes). My many paper note books are now struggling to keep this organised. An outliner is my preferred choice (my brain just happens to work that way I guess), but the reviews imply an outliner is not provided in Writer's Cafe. It is hard to be sure, but its note taker does not seem to provide me with the ability I want: to expose ad-hoc relationships between notes.

When a late-but-exciting idea turns up (as happened a few days ago), several old ideas need to be adjusted. Changing these invitably requires changes to some others, and so on. The full extent of the ripple depends on how the old ideas are related ... if only I could easily see these relationships. :( Somehow, I don't see Writer's Cafe helping with that.

Unless any new suggestions turn up now, we're probably near the end of this thread. So, I'd like to thank you all for the excellent help and discussion on this subject. It has been a truly remarkable experience.

Many thanks. :)
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Postby ollie » Thu Jul 23, 2009 5:29 am

MummerX wrote:Unless any new suggestions turn up now, we're probably near the end of this thread. So, I'd like to thank you all for the excellent help and discussion on this subject. It has been a truly remarkable experience.

Many thanks. :)


Have you looked at Celtx?

Celtx is the world's first all-in-one media pre-production software. It has everything you need to take your story from concept to production. Celtx replaces 'paper, pen & binder' pre-production with a digital approach that's more complete, simpler to work with, and easier to share.
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Postby MummerX » Thu Jul 23, 2009 2:27 pm

Thanks Ollie.

I read just the one review on Celtx, a few days ago. I got the impression is was "only" a tool for producing final/draft film scripts. There again, I think the reviewer was a part-time script writer, so maybe the review was skewed. :roll:

I'll look into it.
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Postby kamrananvaar » Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:26 pm

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