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Does Gnome not want developers, or what? - Elf M. Sternberg
elfs
elfs
Does Gnome not want developers, or what?
"Use the source, Luke." This is the mantra of programmers around the world, at least those of us who aren't completely attached to Bill Gates' teats and the associated pap that comes from them. The assumption has always been that learning from the code you admire is the most effective way of learning useful programming.

Sometimes, this is difficult in practice. I'm trying to write a relatively simple outlining program for writers, and I'm calling it Plotlines. "Relatively" being the operative phrase here.

The basics are simple: The program belongs to an author (name, copyright notice, author's address, back-cover blurb). The author writes one or more stories, so:

A story has a name, a format (short story, novel, series, screenplay), a genre, a basic setting, a theme, a target audience, an outcome, a pitch. It has one or more characters, one or more locations, one or more subplots, one or more scenes.

A character has a last name, a first name, a nickname, a sex, an age, a date of birth, a physical description, a spirituality, a demeanor, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, an opening goal, desires, secrets. A character participates in one or more scenes. A character has a principal role in the story.

A location has a name and a general description, and it participates in one or more scenes.

A plot is a sequence of scenes with an opening, a middle, and closure.

An scene describes a duration of time within the story. It involves one or more characters, usually one although possible more locations, and it has content.

Content is the text of the story.

For the sake of convenience, a collection of scenes may be titled, organizing them into a chapter. This organization is arbitrary. Television screenplays, for example, may constitute three or four scenes into a segment, which is the amount of film one has between commercial breaks.

So my objective is to have a trio of panes within the application window. One will show the timeline of the story-- a sequence of scenes. Each "column" will be a moment in time. Each "row" will be one plot thread. So you could write out an entire plot thread for one person or group of people, then underneath it write the next, and so on. At the bottom of each column will be all of the scenes interleaved, so you can see the pacing and structure of your overall story. Each column will therefore have two boxes: the box in its row for the plot being filled, and the box at the bottom showing where this scene lives in the overall progression of the story. Each box will be color-coded to indicate what plot thread it belongs to, and if the box has content a small icon will appear in the box. If a box is currently selected, it color-code bar will blink slowly.

The second pane will be a summary "tree" view of the story-- characters, locations, and scenes all laid out in a nice, easy-to-list view so they can be located quickly.

The third pane will consist of a summary view of the scene. This is where the contents of each scene will be described. At the very least, a one-sentence description of what happens in the scene should go into the description field. The author can also add who is there as well as where and when the scenes happens.

There will also be content. This is a button on the third pane. If the user pushes that button, a window will open to a text editor. The user may enter the entire scene right there and then, and it will be stored in a plain text file with the rest of the story.

A story will be exportable. If you have content, it can be written out in a variety of formats, assembled into scene order. Right now I'm only planning on supporting plain text, although the OpenOffice document format is very tempting.

Okay, so all of that sounds ambitious. I imagine it is. And I'd like to write it using Gnome. But Gnome doesn't make this easy. It's unbelievably poorly documented, written in six different language (M4? Who writes in M4 anymore?), uses the Gnu build system which trades power for simplicity (guess which one it doesn't have). I spent an hour this afternoon trying to download the example on how to build documentation into your system-- that's poorly documented.

About the best solution I've had is to take apart a couple of my favorite applications-- gthumb and bluefish-- and see how they do things. Bluefish is probably more appropriate to my needs, but I spent most of today inside gthumb because it's just so much more complete.

I don't really expect to have my hand held through all of this. I just wish that open source programmers spent a little more time explaining how their interfaces are supposed to work. Especially when they're as useful, as powerful, as complete, and as ubiquitous as Gnome promises to be.

Current Mood: frustrated frustrated
Current Music: Yukari Fresh, Radioactive Man

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Comments
woggie From: woggie Date: October 10th, 2003 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Wonderful self-referential joke, that business of not properly documenting the documentation tutorial. I always figured the place adequate notes on operation and such would be directly in the code comments, but I could easily be wrong. This is all at least half the reason I've been so slow to jump on the Linux bandwagon -- I *do* need handholding in order to get up to speed, and sometimes that amounts to an actual body with eyes looking over my shoulder. I'm glad you're more self-sufficient than I am. It gives people like me an ideal to strive for. :)

So I take it from all this you really don't like the Storylines program? :)
elfs From: elfs Date: October 10th, 2003 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I figure it's an initiation ritual. "You can join our club, if you can perform this task."

And yeah, I like Storylines. Don't like the price tag. And I'm out to demonstrate one of the maxims of the open source community: if only 10% of what you sell is out of reach of a talented amateur, and your customers don't use the upper 10% of the product, then 81% of your business is commodity knowledge that will disappear in very short order.

Given what I think my time is worth, I'll probably put more man-hours into developing a clone than I would earning the cash to buy the thing.
woggie From: woggie Date: October 10th, 2003 10:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
An initiation ritual. Yeah, that's a much better way of looking at it. I usually assume that if there'e no immediate help that can be reached that no-one's working on it. Then I struggle on it in private until I solve it or get too frustrated with it. But then I mentioned I'm not good with white papers. (shrug)

I didn't like the price tag much either. It's pretty steep, especially for someone on my tight budget. But you also have the programming skills. Just think of it as being principle (not principal) driven. :)

My other problem with it is I'm not really sure how to use Storylines, chiefly owing to my lack of story writing ability. I don't really plot things out, and I don't even know what an overview looks like, so Storylines is an interesting but ultimately baffling toy. Someday I hope to understand, just like someday I hope to finish a story worth the time I put into it.

Have you considered putting Plotlines on sourceforge, or does that step come much later in the process?
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