Tag Archives: writing

Why Zhura isn't perfect

28 Apr , 2009,
Chip Street
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8 comments

(Follow up post here…)

As you may recall, my writing partner and I are using the online script writing collaboration tool “Zhura.com“. We usually use Final Draft, but wanted something that was web based, would allow us both remote access to the script, and preferably simultaneous access for true collaboration.

We looked at a number of options, including ScriptBuddy, CELTX and others. We arrived at Zhura because, at least at the time, it was the only one entirely web-based and offering true simultaneous logon and editing. Zhura offers a free and a paid version (comparison here), and we opted for the free version. Not because we’re cheap, but because we thought it did everything we needed it to.

Since then, it’s proven to be useful but terribly buggy.

Early on, I had ongoing problems with the system throwing in strange spaces, line returns, and so on. It was pretty consistent, and being an old Information Architect and Web App Usability whore, I did a careful QA on the glitches, took copious notes, and shared them with Zhura. They kindly got back to me, we swapped a few emails, and ultimately, I was told that I shouldn’t use Internet Explorer… that Zhura was optimized for Firefox. (Now, the site says Zhura works with Firefox, Google Chrome, IE and maybe one other…)

Okay, I like Firefox fine. So I dedicated myself to it, and continued on with Zhura.

There is no “import” feature to bring a doc in from another application, but in edit mode, I am able to paste in new content from other sources with a simple “paste” button. So we started by copying our outline from Word, and pasting it into the Zhura editor. It didn’t stop us, it didn’t give a warning, and there is nowhere on the site that says we shouldn’t do it. So we did.

Over time, we began getting some troubling glitches…

  • Everything would suddenly be italicized, randomly, while in mid-edit.
  • Everything would suddenly be formatted as an ACT, randomly, while in mid-edit.
  • Zhura includes an option to highlight the recent edits, color-coded by authorship. But when I clicked that button, our script would revert to its original version — just the outline — all our weeks of changes gone. Leaving the page and coming back would correct this, but it was very troubling.
  • And we would occassionally, randomly, find large paragraphs of strange code suddenly appearing at strange places in our script. We could delete them, but they’d reappear at will.

We were concerned that we could never be sure if we were looking at our most recent version. We began to wonder if we should stick with the tool.

So I sent another set of notes to Zhura. They did respond, nicely and promptly, as they always do.

Again, it was my fault.

This time, for pasting from a WORD doc. I was told that as a paid “PRO” member, I could upload files from other apps. But to copy/paste from a WORD doc would create issues as I was experiencing.

Now, there is no place on the site that I can find that tells me this is an issue. The tool offers a “paste” option. It offers no warning. I looked at the “help” files (which are colorful and graphical, but not terribly helpful), I looked in the “discussion forum” (which is largely novices asking other novices “how do I format dialogue”), and could find nothing about what I could paste and what I could not.

I did find the “Free vs. Pro” comparison table. This chart indicates that the Pro version will allow me to “Import and Export Rich-Text, Word, WordPerfect, and OpenOffice”. The expanded explanation states:

If you have a script in Rich-Text (.rtf), a document written in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), or a screenplay in OpenOffice (.odt), as a PRO member, you can import them directly into the Zhura editor. You also have the option to export your Zhura scripts to any of these formats.

But remember, I don’t want to “import” a file. “Importing” a file is a very different action than is “pasting” content. All indications are that I should be able to copy and paste my doc, because I am given a “paste” button in the tool, and am not told that this is a restricted activity. My assumption, and I think a reasonable one, is that the tool will default to a “plain text paste” function, stripping any formatting.

Clearly I was wrong.

Other ongoing issues that I’m keeping an eye on:

  • Page count is random. The page count shown in “edit” mode doesn’t quite match that in “view” mode, and neither quite matches what I get if I export to a PDF.
  • It makes a new historical version of the script every time it saves. And it auto saves about if you stop typing for more than about 30 seconds. So right now, my script (on which I’ve worked for about two weeks) has 1,425 historical versions on file. Seriously? I don’t even want to look at any of them. Not a bug, not a glitch. Just seems like a terrible waste of space to me.
  • Sometimes an element will appear properly formatted in “edit” or “view”, but won’t be so after export to PDF. (e.g. – an “action” sequence looks right, but simply doesn’t show up in the PDF. Going back into “edit”, I discover that it’s actually tagged as a “character” — even though it appears left justified and otherwise formatted as “action”. For some reason, this confusion of the system results in the passage simply not exporting to the PDF at all.)
  • Strange extra “spaces” at the end of a sentence, after the period (I can’t put my cursor immediately after the period). Backspacing to remove the space also removes the period… meaning the period and the space are treated as one character. Big issue? Probably not, but troubling, as it indicates another weird bug that may or may not impact the integrity of my script file.
  • And there are other random little hiccups.
  • And some, none or all of these may or may not also be the result of my pasting in text from a WORD doc.

But all is not lost. Zhura has proven to be a convenient tool for us, and I suspect will continue to be refined and revised. But the easy, short term fix for in-built systemic restrictions is to communicate them clearly for users. Zhura really needs a more thorough and explicit set of FAQ’s and HELP files. It’s not acceptable for users to struggle with  apparent bugs and submit help tickets, only to be told that they’re using the system incorrectly, when there is no clear help (contextual or otherwise) to offer actionable direction.

I like you a lot, Zhura. But I don’t love you yet.

But opinions vary, as seen here on WriteForgeAhead… “Working With Zhura” – parts ONE and TWO.

(Follow up post here…)

Orientated.

Apr , 2009,
Chip Street
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2 comments

For years I hated hearing people use this word in place of “oriented”. Almost as much as I hated hearing “supposebly“.

Finally I was directed to the dictionary, wherein it was proven to me that it is a word… a form of “oriented”.

Interestingly, dictionary.com includes the following:

orientated

adjective
adjusted or located in relation to surroundings or circumstances; sometimes used in combination; “the house had its large windows oriented toward the ocean view”; “helping freshmen become oriented to college life”; “the book is value-oriented throughout” [syn: oriented] [ant: unoriented]

So the description for the proper use of “orientated” uses the word “oriented”. Clearly even Webster is confused.

I still say it’s wrong. It’s still shit what irritates me.

New horror project: Day five writing

16 Apr , 2009,
Chip Street
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one comments

Two new things experimented with:

ONE: Starting not with prewritten dialogue, but a tighter set of plot points for the day’s scenes, grown off the existing outline. It still gave us a head start without sucking the creative satisfaction out of it. We had fun again, actually collaborating, writing from (closer to) scratch.

TWO: Writing in a coffee shop. That I’m not so sure about. It is awfully cool to be able to hang out in one of my favorite places (Java Junction), but there’ s a lot of distraction in noisy kids, screaming espresso machines, grinding smoothie blenders and the like. A lot of distraction. This might be better saved for the outline brainstorming (most of which we do at Seattle’s Best in Borders) or later editing/review bull sessions.

Nevertheless, we did get another 2.5 pages done. We know the creatures are getting more brazen, we’ve learned that one of the husbands is a total douche-nozzle, and we know that the douche-nozzle has convinced his wife that she’s just being paranoid about the possible danger.

And next, we get to write about another bout of hot monkey sex — in the woods!

We’re now at about 28 pages, give or take. According to the initial estimate, this point in the story should be about page 31-32, so we’ve made up some of our overage. Right on track. I feel like I’m jinxing it just talking about it.

Total hours in so far (Chip): 30-ish.

New horror project: Day four writing

15 Apr , 2009,
Chip Street
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Another day down already.

Sean had worked on some dialogue for the upcoming scene and forwarded it to me last night. I’d gone through it and fleshed it out, so when he got here we just had to review it, paste it in, and format. Then a quick polish, and on to the next scenes.

We’ve found their lost dog, introduced the Ranger and the Grad student, learned about other missing animals, gotten their generator running, and were warned about fires. Oh, and one of the couples had hot mad monkey sex.

We ended up adding 6 or 7 pages today in pretty short order. That brings us to 25.5 pages more or less. According to early outline estimates, we should be at 23.5 pages, so we’re still running a little long. But my original estimate was a conservative 82 pages overall, and I’d really like to hit 90-100, so I think we’re just fine.

(NOTE: We’re using Zhura, an online script writing collaboration tool. It’s kinda buggy, and the page count it shows you in edit mode doesn’t exactly sync with the page count it shows in display mode. And neither quite matches the formatting you get when exporting to PDF. So we’re fudging a little on the numbers.)

What we’ve learned about the collaborative process is this: one or the other of us can work independently and come to the table with a first draft of the day’s scene(s), and that gets us mechanically through the outline pretty efficiently. But it’s not the most creatively rewarding system. It’s like we spend our time together editing each other’s work, rather than brainstorming and creating. We’re going to focus more on that, and less on independent work. Because when we do that, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. And isn’t that the point of collaboration?

Total hours in so far (Chip): 28.5