Monday, 12 August 2013

Writing software (particularly scripts) and my adventures with computers

In 1988 I started writing on an Amstrad word processor. It did the job. The internet was naught but whimsy. The Amstrad went out of date very quickly and I bought my first Mac. I still couldn't connect to the internet, but then I don't remember it being a very big thing. It was something university students used to connect with each other - and there really wasn't anything to download, not like now. The Mac had an early version of Clarisworks on it. It was functional.

When the Mac died (it was second hand) I bought a computer from Time. For a while Time offered cheap PCs with all the software. It had Lotus word processing. To tell the truth it wasn't much better than the Amstrad. The Mac was way superior, but I couldn't afford another Mac - not even second hand.

However, the Time machine (!) offered me my first glimpse of the internet and I discovered writing software that helped plot and format. Now, let me explain - I had learned to write scripts by formatting tabs just as i would have done had I been writing on a typewriter. I still set up a page in this way. The software is great, but I didn't 'grow up' with it, and as a result if feels clunky. That said there are some really good packages around. Celtx is one of them. You can use it to plan and execute novels, scripts, comics etc... and you can store everything in the 'cloud'. (Something else you couldn't do back in 1988).

Final Draft has long been an industry standard for script writers, but when you know how to set up a page the old way, there's little point in using it.

A new one on me is Adobe Story. Here you can create online if you wish, collaborating with like minded people. Or the one I like is Scriptware. Perhaps because it's got a friendly interface.

For novelists... well you don't really need software to start writing a novel do you? I mean Word will do won't it? There's no fancy format to adher to beyond double spacing, and indenting the first line of a paragraph. Well there is some software that will help you sort out your plot and characters. The one I like, though I've not used it extensively is New Novelist. It helps you set everything out so that you know where you're going with your story.

Is any of this going to help you actually tell your story? Not really. There's the illusion of help - and if you're a systematic kind of a person then yes, I suppose you will gain order and lessen confusion, but the bottom line is, if you don't have a good story, if you can't tell it with passion, and if your characters aren't real and your dialogue sucks - well no amount of software is going to fix it.

It's fun playing with it though!

What happened next on my travels through the history of computers? When the Time machine died, I had a Gateway PC second hand from work. It has been and remains the best computer ever. It never crashes, never hangs and still works perfectly. But it is slow and can't handle the internet. So I bought a Mac off ebay - it was wonderful... for a while. It's hard drive was minuscule, so I swapped it for a secondhand G5. It lasted a year before it burned out. (G5's had a habit of doing that, so I'm told.) Now we've got a Mac mini, brand new. It's not mine but I am allowed to use it. I bought it for my son's birthday. He needs to use Logic Pro on it. It's set up as a recording studio. It has way more functionality than my poor old Amstrad ever has but you know, I still set up scripts in the old way.


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