New horror project: the polish

We’ve spent the past few days polishing the script… folded in much (but not all) of the feedback we got, fixed the typos, found some new words that sounded more better.

Still very pleased with the first draft, the structure overall. The polishing is putting that final sheen on it, but it really isn’t getting what I’d call a “second draft”. Don’t think it needed it. Is that hubris? Could be… time will tell. It is after all a genre movie, and it was pretty carefully outlined as such before we set to writing, so we had a clear structural target from the get-go.

Important changes: Continue reading New horror project: the polish

New horror project: day twenty-one writing

And… scene!

Spent a few hours today tightening up some loose ends on the first draft.

Gave the dog some more face time.

Figured out how we could keep the spray can of bear piss, have it still be relevant, then when to get rid of it.

Wrote a new stanza for the Victorian poetry book that explains some of the creature’s mythos.

Toughest thing was that early scene that we’d skipped… a flashback/fantasy sequence that demonstrates the old lady is living in the past, fixated on her father. We’d finished the beginning and end of the scene but were unsure just what events/dialogue needed to be in there to communicate the two points we thought the scene needed to communicate. It was a deliciously creepy scene that we loved, but couldn’t put a bow on.

The longer we struggled with it, we decided that if it was that hard to decide how the scene should say what it needed to say, maybe it didn’t need to say it. So as hard as it was, we CUT the scene.

45 minutes later, an epiphany, and we realized how we could simply and elegantly, with 3 simple passages of dialogue, do everything we needed to do, PLUS foreshadow some later existing points. Luckily, I’d copied it off to WORD and stored it so we pulled it up, made a few changes, and put it back. SO happy. It’s still creepy, still a favorite, and now is perfect in content as well. The whole thing only added a third of a page.

TOTAL PAGE COUNT: 93.5 — or 97.5 — or 99.8 — depending. (Good ol’ Zhura)

So here we are, with a (pleasantly readable) finished first draft in just:

95.33 hours.

Sean’s got about 88 hours.

96% percent of those hours we worked side by side, so that’s man hours, not clock hours. Clock hours we’re at about 95.33.

Full time 8 hour days would put us at about 12 days to complete this first draft from story outline through last word.

Of course, we worked an average of probably 3.5 hours a day, and not every day. So we’ve used about 6.5 actual weeks to get here.

Copies are now out to our favorite readers for some honest feedback. We hope to live with it for a week, read our hardcopies, get notes from others, and jump on the next rev in about a week.

Till then — WOO HOO!

Zhura – still troubling after all these scenes.


After my FIRST Zhura posting, I told you that I’d tried creating a new doc from a TEXT file to purge the technology demons from my script.

So far less than perfect. I’ve still got niggling problems like whole portions of the script (a dozen pages or more) suddenly and inexplicably becoming BOLD, or the startling LAUNCH of my cursor back to page ONE, or the uninvited random insertion of ACTS while typing.

Speaking of page count, good ol’ Zhura made things more complicated than they needed to be again. While working in EDIT mode, the script appears to be just about 93.5 pages. In VIEW mode, it appears to be the same (a change from earlier in our experience, where I swear there was a differential between the two).

When printed to PDF, we ended up with 97.5 pages. This sucks if you’re trying to use the EDIT or VIEW modes to in any way guesstimate how long your script is.

Just as a goof, I exported the script from Zhura as a TEXT doc. Then took it into FINAL DRAFT. In FD the script is nearly 100 full pages (99.8).

So clearly, somebody’s wrong.

UPS: Totally web based. Simultaneous login allows real-time remote collaboration. Notes features. Upload projects from a variety of applications.

DOWNS: Wierd random buggy glitches  (see above and here). Uneven page count. No text search or search-and-replace.

So Zhura, while free and largely pretty cool, is nevertheless proving to make me very nervous about trusting it with my work. At the very least, I’m going to end up always taking my work into FD to do final polishes if I’m going to have any real sense of page break and page count.

New horror project: day eighteen writing

Another day online through Zhura. Got a kinda late start… Sean’s Aunt needed a cast. Long story. Ends with a broken fibula. Another time.

Pounded through 5 pages… saved our heroes from the mountain lion, took them up the mountain trail, and trapped them as the beasties advance. Gave them a harrowing adventure crossing a gorge to get to safety… lost the gun… and ended with a joke.

Interesting note: The “adventure crossing a gorge” was one of the three trials we arranged for our heroes on their journey to safety. We’d promised ourselves no “deus ex machina” moments… that these dramatic road blocks should ring organic and true. (Yeah, I know, deus ex machina is usually reserved for unlikely convenient salvation. I’m using it to mean any unlikely convenient event, good or bad, that clearly simply exists as a plot device).

Anyways, we ended up creating this “gorge crossing” via an old rusted cable/pully/two man bucket type thing. We don’t know exactly what it does, but we borrowed the general idea from The River Wild (who has any idea what that old cable doohickey is that David Strathairn uses to flip the raft?) and it does exactly what we need it to do. So is it deus ex machina?

We think not… our heroes have just passed through an old abandoned mill. We’ve established that the area is BLM forestry land, had been logged (and probably mined) in the first half of the 1900’s, that the old woman was familiar with the mill and knew the mechanism was there. So there’s an organic precedent for the device. We don’t believe it “feels” contrived, because it seems to grow out of the elements already in place in the story… even if we don’t know exactly what the device is.

Nevertheless, we’ve lovingly come to refer to the mechanism as the “rusty plot device”. And it’ll probably always remain so.

At this point my biggest concern is that the pacing is reading as it should. We’re doing our best to keep the left-margin to short declarative sentences, one sentence per line to establish a ‘shot shot shot’ quality, and the dialogue is sparse and without subtext.

We’ve always got future revs in which to edit, of course. But I’d like this first version to be readable enough to send it to the prodco discussed earlier. I know it’s close. But I’m never satisfied.

Added 5 pages today.

Total Pages: 76

Hours (chip): 78 update

[follow up to this follow up here]

As you know, we’re using‘s online screenwriting collaboration tools to write our latest (untitled) feature project.

And as you know, it’s proven less than perfect.

What came out of the research around “why is this thing so buggy” is that we had cut and pasted our original outline from MS Word, which Zhura apparently gets terribly confused by. The answer, according to at least some of the postings we found on their discussion forums, should be to “copy the current script, paste it into a plain text doc, and then upload that plain text doc into a new Zhura file”.

So that’s what I did today. Of course, it worked less than perfectly. Though it recognized “int.” and “ext.” as sluglines and formatted them so, it didn’t recognize any character names or dialogue, so everything is formatted as action. We’ll have to go through and manually reformat all those elements (kiss a couple hours goodbye – again).

But once that’s done, all should be good, right?

We’re crossing our fingers that this will keep the bugginess to a minimum.

We’ll keep you posted.

*EDIT – A post on John August’s blog offers a video capture rundown of some of the new FD8 features, the Project Manager from FD chimes in, and the comments include some thoughts on CeltX.

[follow up to this follow up here]

New horror project: day eleven writing

Sweet. Another day down. More productive today… Sean was at his desk, so we were both seeing the Zhura interface at the same time.

Added three new pages today. Our heroes, freaked out by the brutal death of the dog, tried to escape the mountain only to wreck their car, one of them badly injured as a result.

They had to walk back to the cabin, while being paced (stalked?) by the creatures.

Along the way, we learned (via the videotape) just how the creatures hunt, and now they seem to be more active during the daylight hours.

So we’re at page 48.3.

Outline says 47.75 — so we used a few more pages for today’s scenes than anticipated. But we’re plenty close enough to our goal.

Hours (chip): 53.5

New horror project: day ten writing

We’ve had the money shot!

Today was a tough day logistically… Sean planned to work remotely via Zhura, but ended up with errands to run and participated largely by phone while picking up prescriptions and other such mundane tasks. He did his valiant best to stay focused, especially considering he wasn’t able to see the screen and keep up with my edits in real time (save for a few minutes he stopped at a Starbucks for the wifi) and I had to read back to him, get his comments, edit a bit and read back, and so on. We did manage to get some work done, but it wasn’t the most creatively satisfying session we’ve had, for either of us.

Nevertheless, we added some good stuff, and got to the “money shot” — the first clear shot of the creature. Killing the cute puppy. Then everybody freaks out, and the group decides to drive down off the mountain.

Wrote 4.5 pages.

Page 44.5. Outline says we should be at about 46.

Still ahead of schedule!

Hours (chip): 50

New horror project: day nine writing

Another story meeting.

We’ve completed the story up to the point where the creatures are to be revealed, and our characters have to take off on a dangerous journey through the mountains while being pursued.

Today, we wanted to review the outline, and add more clear roadblocks to their juggernaut trip (is that redundant?) to create explicit points of conflict escalating toward the final resolution. We had a general escalation outlined, but wanted to make it better defined before starting the writing.

We’re going to create three challenges. We’ve chosen two and will find the third tomorrow. It’s important that the incidents feel organic to the story, driven by, resolved by, or directly affect elements already present in our mythos or in our characters. No lame “oh, I fell, I twisted my ankle!” moments.

More importantly, we had one major plot point to nail down. We’ve got two primary male characters… dude A is a douchebag, dude B is a good guy. The original plan was to have dude douchebag killed early in the juggernaut, and dude good guy die later, near the end. Dude douchebag was intended to be a somewhat shallow character, not quite a red-shirt, but not someone people would be connected to – or more to the point, he would be someone whose death people might cheer.

However, he’s grown, since we let him choose his voice to a certain extent, and has become more defined and complex. That’s great… he’s a multi-layered douchebag.

Our good guy is still complex… a nice guy with a troubled marriage (though he doesn’t know it), who just wanted to have some quiet time to write (a purposeful cliche – or homage) who has been royally screwed by his best friend and business partner (dude douchebag).

Neither of these guys is going to make it out alive… the overall goal is to have our primary woman character develop into a stronger person over the adventure… to become a hero a-la Ripley.

She’s about to be sent on a cross-country forest trek to (hopefully) safety, pursued by beasties, with two other women, and one of these two guys. Both of the other women are rather duplicitous and can’t be trusted either. They’re just more emotionally accessible than dude douchebag.

So here’s the question… do we want to kill off the douchebag character so early now that he’s become more interesting, and have our audience watch the good guy character make the trip through the forest? Or kill off our good guy, and have our audience watch the bad guy character make the trip?

Are we (and our story, and our characters, and our audience) better served by sending our growing hero through the woods with two other women and a douchebag guy? Or with two other women and a good guy?

We’ve made our decision. We’ll begin writing it next week.

What would you do?

No new pages added today.

Why Zhura isn't perfect

(Follow up post here…)

As you may recall, my writing partner and I are using the online script writing collaboration tool ““. 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…)

New horror project: day eight writing

As last mentioned, we’ve reached a place where an adjustment of our outline is in order.

The outline calls for another day at the cabin before the creatures are fully revealed. A day of further development of the character arcs, a ratcheting of tensions between them, some flashback scenes with the crazy old lady (illuminating her back story).

But as the story has developed to this point, there’s been plenty of organic evolution in the characters and their relationships… in other words, the characters needed to say some things and we let them say them. We allowed them to find their own paths, rather than forcing the outline on them. Consequently, although we’re essentially on task as per the story outline, the characters’ awareness of events, and their natural revealing of their subtexts, are further along than anticipated.

And that’s great. It means we’ve allowed the characters to develop naturally. And, it means we’re ready to really hit the big reveals, get the blood and panic flowing, and start the real juggernaut through the second act (which we’re both looking forward to).

So, today we met to review what that “fourth day” in the woods was going to offer, choose which of its story points we can live without, and which story points we must have. We were able to lose about half of what that day was going to deliver. Those things we must have, we found new homes for by folding them (elegantly) into previous scenes.

That means we’re able to get to the (horror) meat sooner. *

And our pacing will be better.

And we’ll be ahead of our outline as regards page count. 🙂

So, here’s where we are.

Page 40. Outline says we should be at about 42.

Hours (chip): 44.5**

* Lest one be concerned that we’re not getting to the “horror meat” soon enough (we’re on page 40!) we’re building something that’s akin to “The Descent“. I looked at that film again just the other day. The first time we see the creatures in the cavern, we’re at minute 50. We’ll beat that.

** Hours are approximate. It’s just my hours. Sean probably has about as many, maybe a few more. So our total man hours may be around 100 (just to keep numbers round). This INCLUDES the hours spent building the ten page outline. That means we’re averaging a page every 2.5 hours. Crazy. This process is proving very efficient (provided the quality is not compromised. From where we’re sitting, it’s not).