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Old 11-03-2013, 04:24 PM   #1
Katsunami
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Writing using minimalistic software

As an embedded software engineer (I write such software, I'm not embedded into anyting myself ), I can only say that I "hate" desktop software. It's huge, complicated, and tends to do everything, including roasting chickens for dinner.

Maybe people here have noticed that I like software that works like a compiler: you put stuff in at one side, and you get stuff out on the other side. Two software packages that do this are LaTeX for writing reports (or books), and LilyPond for sheet music. Another piece of software is PanDoc, which takes stuff in one markup language, and outputs it in another.

The one thing they have in common, is that all input is in plain text that can be written with any editor. The other thing is that they are still quite large, and require quite a steep learning curve to get started.

I was thinking to create a very small piece of software that compiles text-files into a book, but I'd strip it down to the most basic essential, so that a user would need to do absolutely nothing but write. What a writer would create is this:

Code:
+ My Great Work
    + 10-Part 1
      + 10-Chapter 1
          10-Scene.txt
          20-Scene.txt
      + 20-Chapter 2
          10-Scene.txt
          20-Scene
    + 20-Part 1
      + 10-Chapter 1
          10-Scene.txt
          20-Scene.txt
      + 20-Chapter 2
          10-Scene.txt
          20-Scene.txt
The items marked with a + would be folders, and the scenes are just normal plain text files. The numbers denote priority: "10-Part 1" comes before "20-Part 2", and so on.

Now, it would be relatively simple to write a very small program, that runs through that set of folders and text files. This program would compile everything into a valid (X)HTML file, with proper tagging; each "Part" would be <h1>, each "Chapter" would be <h2>, each paragraph would get it's own <p>-tags. Of course, there could also be multiple files; one for each chapter, for example. At some point, this program might be extended or replaced to directly create an EPUB. (PanDoc can create HTML-files and EPUBs, but it doesn't automatically build a book from a directory structure.)

In this case, everything with regard to markup and layout would be omitted from the writing process; I mean *EVERYTHING*, even the inclusion of images. This would be done using a placeholder, such as "Insert Image1.jpg here". After creating the (X)HTML file (or later, maybe the EPUB), one would take that file into a specific editor for marking it up, adding images, and adding covers and such. The main benefit would be that you can write stuff using any editor on any platform, anywhere; even using your phone if you want (or need) to, and you can just dump the text-files into the correct chapter with the correct priority, and be done.

It basically comes down to:
- You create (and name) parts and chapters by creating folders
- You create scenes by writing them in plain TXT files
- They are arranged using priorities (inserting a scene between 10-Scene.txt and 20-Scene.txt is as simple as creating 15-Scene.txt)
- When writing is done, you create the bare-bones (X)HTML or EPUB by running a simple command.
- You can then markup the bare-bones book in a program that can do EPUB-editing.

Would there be interest in something like this?

Last edited by Katsunami; 11-03-2013 at 04:30 PM.
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Old 11-03-2013, 04:38 PM   #2
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I use Scrivener, and it acts pretty much the same way, except that you create the folders, you don't have to mark where they would be. And it compiles into epub that validates, which is what I need it for.

A program like you postulate would be simple to use - I assume it would have a Notepad-type interface - but then you'd need a bunch of other programs to do your layout (either e or paper).
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Old 11-03-2013, 05:02 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by BeccaPrice View Post
I use Scrivener, and it acts pretty much the same way, except that you create the folders, you don't have to mark where they would be. And it compiles into epub that validates, which is what I need it for.
Yes, but Scrivener is not free. To be honest, I'm proposing something like this because I don't like Scrivener as a writing program. I actually own Scrivener for Windows, but haven't used it much lately because I started to dislike it. I'm veering more and more toward WriteRoom/DarkRoom-like editors to be honest.

Just using it [edit: Scrivener] to generate the EPUB after importing text-files would make it expensive at $40.

Quote:
A program like you postulate would be simple to use - I assume it would have a Notepad-type interface - but then you'd need a bunch of other programs to do your layout (either e or paper).
This program wouldn't have any interface at all. It would be a commandline program. Apart from the directory structure, it would have no file format. That's the entire point.

It could be run from any editor that can call an external program. There are a lot of those, many of them free. Any such editor would essentially be able to produce EPUBs. The editor would just call "create-ebook <name here>" in the background, and it's done. No options, no nothing; just a bare-bones, but perfectly valid XHTML or EPUB file.

For your layout, you could use any program you'd want that can open and edit EPUBs, starting out with a completely clean (X)HTML or EPUB file.

Last edited by Katsunami; 11-03-2013 at 05:59 PM.
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Old 11-03-2013, 05:52 PM   #4
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oh, now that would be useful.
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Old 11-03-2013, 06:07 PM   #5
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Honestly... not for me. The track changes/etc features of Word are to useful for working with my editor. They below away the options in more basic tools, and they are the ones my editor uses.

Once the Word docx is ready, its simple few clicks to run through Calibri to create an EPUB, then from there Sigil does all the EPUB work I need. Both Sigil and Calibri are free.

I also own Scrivener - but I am finding it more useful as a notes repository then a writing program.


BUT... maybe for some one else?
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Old 11-03-2013, 06:14 PM   #6
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The reason why I'm thinking about this is, because it would be a good way to create a valid, clean, and bare-bones book, without any auto-generated stuff in there.

Sigil could be used to write a book of course, but it doesn't have things like word count and such, and often it's no fun to edit a file converted with Calibre in Sigil.

Also, if someone who has written a file editor specifically for writing, that uses plain text files (WriteRoom, Darkroom, FocusWriter and so on) could instantly add EPUB-export capabilities by calling this command-line program. This would be a change that can be implemented within a few minutes. (Literally.)

The only requirement would be that the files are in the mentioned directory structure, because there has to be a way to tell the program what file goes where, of course.

The reason why I'm using a directory structure is because in that case, no descriptive file is necessary. One would not need to have a file telling the editor (or the program) that "Introduction" needs to go before "Chapter 1", even though "I" comes later in the alphabet than "C". "10-Introduction" and "20-Chapter 1" would do this automatically.

Every editor that has a file explorer (and many do) will be able to correctly show the book just by displaying the folder structure, sorted by alphabet; there is no need to understand any file formats at all.

===

In the past, a writer would write parts of a book on a typewriter, or by hand, and then order them in a binder or something. Then the document would be typeset, printed, and so on, but the writer wouldn't do that himself (most of the time).

Even when using Word or OpenOfffice or something like that, a writer needs to bother with styles, and then do a conversion using Calibre or other tools. These programs invariably create weird auto-generated code.

Using a setup like mine, would allow a writer to just write text, as if on a typewriter, using any editor, any operating system, or any device. Then they'd order it by numbering it, and the commandline program would spit out a clean file that can be handed off to a professional editor/layout dude. This file would not be a conversion: it'd be built from the ground up, so it would not contain any weird code.

Basicaly, one would need to know *NOTHING* about computers apart from how to create folders and opening and saving plain files, and still be able to obtain a usable (all be it bare-bones) e-book.

Last edited by Katsunami; 11-03-2013 at 06:18 PM.
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Old 11-03-2013, 06:21 PM   #7
David Marseilles
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I understand what you mean about desktopware. OneNote is definitely overkill for what I really want and I've been thinking about how to get away from it for a long time for several reasons. Trouble has always been that nothing else does all the things it does to my liking and the issues it creates are fairly easy to workaround.

There are some very versatile programmer's editors that I've flirted with as replacements. My guess is that if I ever find something with the sort of project management ui I'm inclined towards, exporting the project in order to a single file for processing will be the easy part.

I was thinking things through as I wrote, and I guess the answer is probably no, though I certainly sympathize with some of your motives. I've done project management manually through file managers with a minimalist text editor before and I really don't want to go back there. OneNote's structural elegance has ruined a lot of other implementations for me.

Not trying to dump on your idea though. Hopefully the feedback is helpful in some way.
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Old 11-03-2013, 06:42 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Marseilles View Post
I was thinking things through as I wrote, and I guess the answer is probably no, though I certainly sympathize with some of your motives. I've done project management manually through file managers with a minimalist text editor before and I really don't want to go back there. OneNote's structural elegance has ruined a lot of other implementations for me.
Not trying to dump on your idea though. Hopefully the feedback is helpful in some way. [/QUOTE]

What you're saying here is exactly the reason why I'd want a program such as this. Putting a book in a folder structure like that makes it completely independent of operating system, device, *and* software.

Even if my original version would be lost, it would be trivial to write a program that runs through the folders and creates one big TXT file out of all the small parts. It would be easy to make it generate an (X)HTML, and quite doable to generate an EPUB.

("Easy" does not automatically mean "not a lot of work", especially for the EPUB part )

Maybe it'd be best and start with a 0.1 version that merges text-files, post it here, en then go on to create one that makes an (X)HTML and so on.

The one thing I don't like about e-books at this point in time is that it forces me to use a complete application like Scrivener or one of it's competitors, to actually obtain an EPUB, by either writing directly into it, or importing files.
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Old 11-03-2013, 06:49 PM   #9
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I use LibreOffice - it's free. I don't "bother with styles", I use them to good effect. Similarly I use th spell-checker to good effect - by keeping it up to date with character names and so on. If Scrivener had proper access to styles, and better support for story threads, then I would use it. I like many of the word processing features of LibreOffice (smart quotes etc., the various hyphenation "corrections" and so on). I use sections and a master document to let me work on chapters separately. I use LibreOffice for my other work as well, so it's not something new for me to learn. In short, I don't think I'm one of your target audience.

When you speak of "plain text" you are not clear whether you may mean UTF8, or whether you expect the user to mark-up non-ASCII codes in some way.

I'm not saying that it's not an interesting idea, just that it's not something that I would use.
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Old 11-03-2013, 07:58 PM   #10
crich70
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There is ywriter by Simon and which is free. It's like scrivener in a way.
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Old 11-03-2013, 07:58 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Katsunami View Post
The reason why I'm thinking about this is, because it would be a good way to create a valid, clean, and bare-bones book, without any auto-generated stuff in there.
Toxaris' ePUBTools program already does this, and it works pretty damn brilliantly from Word.

Quote:
Sigil could be used to write a book of course, but it doesn't have things like word count and such, and often it's no fun to edit a file converted with Calibre in Sigil.
Well, then, the obvious answer to this is, don't use Calibre to create ePUBs. Even Kovid will tell you this. I don't know why on earth people keep doing it, other than laziness. Sorry, but that's the way I see it. You can run a PDF through AbbyyFineReader (even use their free online converter) to get a reasonably decent Word or HTML file; if you do the former, you can use Toxaris' ePUBTools program to clean it up and output a clean EPUB, barebones.

Quote:
Also, if someone who has written a file editor specifically for writing, that uses plain text files (WriteRoom, Darkroom, FocusWriter and so on) could instantly add EPUB-export capabilities by calling this command-line program. This would be a change that can be implemented within a few minutes. (Literally.)
Well, it seems to me that I don't know a single person who writes in a plain text editor, and the people who do are already using Markdown or Latex, so I'm missing the point? Other than trying to build an alternative to Scrivener, which certainly isn't a bare-bones editor?

Quote:
The only requirement would be that the files are in the mentioned directory structure, because there has to be a way to tell the program what file goes where, of course.
OK...

Quote:
The reason why I'm using a directory structure is because in that case, no descriptive file is necessary. One would not need to have a file telling the editor (or the program) that "Introduction" needs to go before "Chapter 1", even though "I" comes later in the alphabet than "C". "10-Introduction" and "20-Chapter 1" would do this automatically.
Or, you could use Word, use header styles, instead of typing all that stuff out per your first post, use ePUBTools (or not), and build a TOC. Then export it to ePUB. The OPF and NCX is already built for you. Word essentially already has this functionality, at the click of a button. Anyone who has used Word's styles, or used the outline function, or the document map, can order their stuff not only automatically but auto-magically. They can drag and drop material via the Outline view, or via the Document map.

Quote:
Every editor that has a file explorer (and many do) will be able to correctly show the book just by displaying the folder structure, sorted by alphabet; there is no need to understand any file formats at all.
I'm not sure I follow the reasoning for this. Most of my clients do not know what a "folder structure" is. I'm not being critical of you, your idea, or my clients, but I think you're conflating MR'ers with the average author-typist.
===

Quote:
In the past, a writer would write parts of a book on a typewriter, or by hand, and then order them in a binder or something. Then the document would be typeset, printed, and so on, but the writer wouldn't do that himself (most of the time).

Even when using Word or OpenOfffice or something like that, a writer needs to bother with styles, and then do a conversion using Calibre or other tools. These programs invariably create weird auto-generated code.
No. Word or OO or LO create "weird auto-generated code" when the user hasn't bothered to learn how to actually use them. I don't see how on earth you can expect the same type of person, who won't take 2 hours to completely learn, stem-to-stern, a program like Word, as one of their daily, can't-live-without-tools, to go to all the effort to learn and use a type of Markdown language. I am stuck (yes: I mean, STUCK) using Markdown on both my PM system and my Customer Service system--they each work differently, mind you, so the markdown for things like headers, italics, bold, blockquotes, are different on each system--and having to add all those keystrokes unnecessarily to everything I type is a major pain in the ass. Instead of having a simple RTF editor, or even BBCode, it's Markdown. I would NEVER use markdown to write a fiction novel. You think people who send me material using 20 fonts, 3 of them "handwriting fonts," will use something like Markdown? Where, never mind all the stuff they won't get, they have to type tags around everything? Didn't we all, already see that this was not popular with Wordperfect? Which did work perfectly? But was abandoned like yesterday's dirty skivvies for something where people didn't HAVE to know where the tags went?

Quote:
Using a setup like mine, would allow a writer to just write text, as if on a typewriter, using any editor, any operating system, or any device. Then they'd order it by numbering it, and the commandline program would spit out a clean file that can be handed off to a professional editor/layout dude. This file would not be a conversion: it'd be built from the ground up, so it would not contain any weird code.
Umhm. Because none of them are using italics, bold, underscores, headers....

Quote:
Basicaly, one would need to know *NOTHING* about computers apart from how to create folders and opening and saving plain files, and still be able to obtain a usable (all be it bare-bones) e-book.
Your average user must be worlds away from our average user. Do you have any idea what 90% of our customer service/support is for? Seriously? It's for a) helping our clients to download a file from a browser, instead of it coming to them in email; b) finding the file after it's been downloaded, because they don't know what folders, directors, or the Downloads (dir) are, and c) figuring out how to "run" a program. They don't know how to open a file for which they don't already auto-magically have a program installed to open. If it cannot be opened and run in the program by simply double-clicking it, they can't do it. These are the writers that are going to "create folders?"

Sorry, I just don't see it. Maybe for the crowd that hangs here, but so far, I see a ton of Scrivener, Liquid Story Binder, Snowflake Pro, yWriter5, etc., buyers here, even on MR, not to mention Word, Wordperfect, OO, LO, etc. I have seen exceedingly few authors here who talk about how they write in NoteTabPro, or NotePad, or any other plain text editor. And, in fact, some have even more expensive, fancy "writing systems." Scrivener at $40 seems to me to be a total bargain, given what one gets, and I think it matches up with what the normal writer thinks s/he "needs." (Myself, I use Word for business and I use yWriter for writing, as I'm perfectly content with RTF's. I once bought LSBXE, and now I laugh at myself for being such an IDIOT. I've never tried Scrivener, because I already figure I've been stupid once. Outside of playing music for ya, if that's what blows your skirt up, none of those "packages" really do anything a plain old word-processor can't do on a regular computer system--except that Scrivener DOES make eBooks that seem to work.)

Just my $.02. I don't mean to rain on your parade, but I think you're viewing authoring plus ePUBs as a goal; I think most writers see writing the story as the goal, and the formatting is an afterthought (trust me on this). Most won't even use Styles, not even to make their own lives easier, much less to do something akin to what you're discussing.

I know that user_none was thinking about a markdown-based ePUB editor/program about 6 months back. You should ping him and see if he's still working on it.

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Old 11-03-2013, 08:14 PM   #12
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<snip>
I don't understand.

On the one hand, you complain about people not even being able to download and open a file. They are also not capable to create folders.

Right-click your desktop -> New -> Folder.
Right-click your desktop -> New -> Text File.

It has been like that for almost 20 years in Windows (and longer, if you count OS/2), and it's all you'd need to know to use the system I proposed. However, you say that people can't do that because they don't know folders or files or opening them.

On the other hand, you are stating that Word and LO have things like styles, and ways to export to EPUB cleanly and manage stuff for users, and so on, and that people are using these things instead of a simple text editor.

In my view, that does not compute. It seems not possible to be so ignorant about computers that you DON'T know about how to create a folder, don't know how to create and write some stuff into a text file, while you ARE able to use Word and all of its capabilities effectively. It just doesn't seem possible. If someone can open and save a file in Word (or even Notepad), then they already know enough to use the above system.

If someone could do that, it would be akin not knowing how to hold a screwdriver and a hammer, while that same person is able to build a dog house the size of a small church.

What I was proposing would actually be for people who know basically nothing about computers. Need a chapter? Create a folder. Need a scene? Add a new file. That's it. In the end, click one button and an XHTML or EPUB file comes out.

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Just my $.02. I don't mean to rain on your parade, but I think you're viewing authoring plus ePUBs as a goal.
Nope. The goal is to remove as much stuff from the writing process as possible, because of what you are saying yourself here:

Quote:
I think most writers see writing the story as the goal, and the formatting is an afterthought (trust me on this). Most won't even use Styles, not even to make their own lives easier, much less to do something akin to what you're discussing.
How is typing words into a plain text file *without any possible markup* not concentrating on writing the story? You can't get more concentrated than that. You write words, and that's it, just like on a typewriter.

People don't use styles, you say. Well, in my proposal, they don't have to. It's enough create a folder, give it a part or chapter name, and that's your style right there, just like taking a physical binder and writing "Chapter 1" on it.

The only thing someone would need to do to create the ebook, besides actually writing the words for your story, is to put all the pieces/scenes they write into the correct chapter (folder), and in the correct order by numbering them in the order they want them to appear, as if someone would write "1, 2, 3..." on each scene they've written on paper, and then putting them into the binder "Chapter 1".

I can't think of anything that's more basic than that. Using a computer does not get any more basic than creating folders to put your stuff in, and creating a flat text file and saving it.

If people can't or won't do even THAT, then it would be best to just use pen and paper.

Last edited by Katsunami; 11-04-2013 at 09:03 AM.
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Old 11-03-2013, 08:21 PM   #13
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Well, then, the obvious answer to this is, don't use Calibre to create ePUBs.
Hitch
Have you tried the newest version that imports/converts docx? I was shocked to see how good of a job it does when making an EPUB. Might want to check it again if you not used a fairly recent version.
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Old 11-03-2013, 08:44 PM   #14
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As an embedded software engineer (I write such software, I'm not embedded into anyting myself ), ....
But are you imbibing??


One of the first serious commercial pieces of software I wrote was essentially a dedicated word processor that was part of a Credit Bureau Buffer microprocessor that sat in-line between a dumb terminal (Dec LA-36 or Teletype 43?) and allowed the user to enter multiple requests for credit reports and the microprocessor would automatically send the requests, receive the responses and store and print them out on the terminal. This was back in the late 70's, early 80's and the processor was an intel 8080. I think it was all done in a 2K ROM but don't quote me on it.

I still love the embedded stuff, but have not done any of it in decades...

For my writing I use Word (or Open Office) I don't use any of the fancy stuff, but the resulting file is easily converted to epub or mobi, I don't really care how 'clean' it is or any of that as long as it works and displays properly on the intended ereader.

Last edited by kennyc; 11-03-2013 at 08:49 PM.
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Old 11-03-2013, 08:56 PM   #15
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I don't see how on earth you can expect the same type of person, who won't take 2 hours to completely learn, stem-to-stern, a program like Word, as one of their daily, can't-live-without-tools, to go to all the effort to learn and use a type of Markdown language.
I think I suddenly see where this went wrong. You think you need to type up a folder structure like that in the first post? No, you don't need to. Maybe I should have posted a picture right away. I actually mean to create actual folders (see attachment), and the text files contain just text, no markup whatsoever. You type your story into the text files using whatever editor you want.
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