Alright, I’ve attached a shot. Sorry its from my 12" laptop so it may not be perfectly legible, but its demonstrating what I propose is a big, useful property of the BufferScroll plugin. What you see there is most of a standard length novel. Each line/paragraph starts with // for a few reasons, but here, having them unindented, and then every line/paragraph after each (the scene contents) are indented like paragraphs are meant to be means that they can automatically be folded in ST2. I like a single carriage return at the end of each scene so that when I do a Fold to Level 1 (custom keyboard shortcut), there’s that black space between them for instant visual separation.
The big point here is that I have a hard time holding a whole plot in my mind at once, or at least I have something of an irrational fear that I’ll keep leaving out bits and pieces, so I’ve been looking for a way to really see the whole structure of a book on screen all at once, even when I’m using a 12" laptop (big monitor in my office is obviously nicer, but it shouldn’t be a requirement, IMO).
Basically, what you see in that screenshot is simply opening my work in progress .TXT file that I have made primarily in Writemonkey (WM from here on out), doing a Fold to Level 1, then zooming out until the whole thing is visible. The reason this works is because I use //comments as scene headers in WM. WM treats //comments just as code would, saved in text, but not acted on in any other way. I’ve also set // as my bookmark string in WM which gives me a couple other ways to use those marks for very quickly navigating them. WM also allows 3 forms of syntax highlighting, //comments being one of them (headings and block quotes being the others) which may sound limited to most of the folk around here, but its a generous number of visual cues for an editor meant for fiction. I’ve set up ST2 to highlight the same stuff, though I generally stick to just //comments as when I try to work out meaningful ways of using the rest, it just gets messy. Both ST2 and WM have adequate search capabilities to make the whole thing moot, and seriously, I can only think of one case, which is not present in this manuscript where I might want to mark something that would end up printed in the finished book, so //comments are the primary marking as far as I can see.
Alright, we’ll start with ST2 … obviously, I’ve got my own theme. Less obviously, I’ve also repainted some of the default chrome (such as the transparent areas around the scroll pucks to make sure things stay as black as possible) and altered my plain text syntax file to get the highlighting I spoke of before (which, btw, matches my most commonly used theme in WM). I’ve set up a good number of User preferences and keybindings as I’m sure everyone around here does. I only have one plugin going and that is BufferScroll.
BufferScroll can do a few things, but the thing I was looking for that brought me to it was the “follow mode” functionality. What that does is allows you to clone the view of one file or buffer as these coder types say across multiple panes in ST2’s view so they form a continuous feed of the file all of which scroll about in a reasonable facsimile of synchrony. This provides the benefit of allowing you to constrain the width of your text column to where its easy to read, edit and create within while also allowing you to use pretty much all of your screen space. As in my screen cap, I’ve turned off tabs, sidebar, minimap, all of which I have personalized keybindings for, and then set the thing for fullscreen mode, so I’ve pretty much maxed out the utility of this tiny 12" screen more than I ever have before.
If I were working on a new book, starting from scratch, or at least not with a full 100-120K words in the file already, I would likely start out with a higher level of zoom for comfort, noting down the scenes I could think of using as //comments. Then I could write comments or actual bits of prose that might get used under each, indented, obviously so they can easily be folded out of the way at need. As the content built up, I could simply fold and zoom out when I wanted to look at the structure. Its also pretty easy, once you figure the trick to it, of cutting/pasting scenes about when looking at them in this fashion.
Now, the typewriter scrolling functionality that tito was able to add to BufferScroll while I was messing around with the posted snips on the “always centered” thread is superior in a couple of ways. First, its very stable and predictable by comparison. Second, it works regardless of which pane you have the cursor (the other one only worked in the first pane, which is no big deal if you’re only using one, but kind of a let down for what I had in mind).
What I had in mind is the ability to use this follow mode functionality combined with typewriter scrolling to where I could be working, centered vertically, in the middle of 3 columns, so that I could have a relatively broad field of vision inside a document while working. Even when I’m drafting new stuff at the end of the existing text, I like to be able to see further back than usually can in any text editor when comfortably adjusted. I usually feel like I’m building something, always needing to be able to look back just a bit to see where I need to steer things or what pieces I’m still missing (micro scale, words, sentences and paragraphs, not macro scale of scenes and arcs that I’m looking at when I’ve got everything folded up). This may not be important to any given person, and I’ve worked around it using various word processors and text editors (and notebooks, I suppose) since I was 12 (which was a very, very long time ago; lets just say, there was no internet, and there wouldn’t be anything worth using for close to a decade at that point) so I guess its not even that big of a deal for me. I’ve just got a strong hunch at this point, knowing myself pretty well by now, that once I get geared up with this new capability, it will help me. I might be able to write a bit faster, but I should certainly be able to write more strongly.
Alright then, you wanted to know about WM, too. Well, I’d strongly recommend just going over to writemonkey.com, DL the latest and look over the release notes for it because the author has added huge amounts of functionality, the center of which is the Jumps window (ALT+left/right is the easiest way to open that). Its at once not as nice as ST2’s side bar and way, way cooler. It doesn’t look as good as it started life as a bolted on feature that pops open in its own Windows chrome window, though recent changes have improved that significantly. It was originally intended as a way to find various, definable sorts of markings, like headings, quotes, tags, comments, bookmarks, etc, and included a filtering box to help find stuff in a document easily. Recent improvements have given Jumps the ability to act as a file/project manager, including the abilities to work with multiple files inside a single entity such as scenes/chapters inside a novel, and reorder them physically in the Jumps box, the ability to merge the files in the order you’ve set, and the ability to filter on tags inside a file as well as text in file names, and even just full text searching of all files in a given folder (uses the file system folder as a natural boundary for project management, though it doesn’t see sub folders unless you switch it to look inside just that sub folder), and all the filtering can be done with normal text or with regular expressions (not something I do, but it can be done, so if you end up with a weird sorting request, often it can be done with a regular expression, and someone in the community or the author himself will often be able to help you figure it out).
Anyway, WM has tons of functionality, though you don’t really need to use any of it if you don’t feel the need. Check out the F1 help card for some guidance. There’s some other stuff in the right-click, properties (F10) and progress (F12) menus. Reading through changelogs for older versions will turn up other features. As you can see right there, currently, documentation of what it can do is one of WM’s big weaknesses. Doesn’t bother me at all since I’ve been using it for years, growing up with it as it were, but its hard to really show off all the power to someone new to it. It looks great, IMO, and the ease of building new themes for it and switching between them is great. It supports Markdown and a couple other forms of markup via various forms of copy/paste and export (including CSS sheets for export). I haven’t messed with that too much, but it makes it a great blogging tool as well as being able to help move from the text editor and into Word with as little effort as possible so you can format a deliverable manuscript.
I don’t feel like I’m covering even half of it, but WM is a great writer’s editor, though not much use for coding. Its always had alot more under the hood than all the reviews I’d seen for it (text editor round ups where people just gloss over stuff, often complaining of the light green on dark green color scheme the thing ships with, for example, not even realizing/acknowledging that you could even change that if you wanted to, just like most other editors in this class). Heck, I’d even gone for years knowing about certain functions built in and never imagining that I’d ever have a use for them and then bang, wow, that feature really helps out in this situation, I can’t believe they had the foresight to add that way back when ;-p With the latest batch of expanded functionality, though, you can mimic or emulate a big honking chunk of the vaunted functionality of Scrivener, without that stiff Scrivener chrome trying to make you work in a particular way. Better yet, I’ve never lost any data using it (check the Scrivener for Windows forums for some horror stories; they’re still working on the beta bugs a year and a half after initial release and people are still having problems, big problems), the author is active on his forums and very responsive to discussion, and its free.
Anyway, my problems with and needs for software are always at least in some form a mental block on my part. I wrote several stories by hand in notebooks. Then my folks sprung for a Brother “word processor” for me my senior year of highschool meaning for me to use it through college (had a weird 2.5" floppy drive that could hold about half a novel and a massive, flip up, 4 line x 40 character LCD screen, and pounded out copy through its daisy wheel with enough vigor to shake my dorm tower from my 12th floor room), and I wrote a few more stories, a ton of papers and most of what would turn out to be my first novel on that. Then sophomore year in college I sprung for a 386 laptop with a black and white screen, with 4 meg of ram and an 80 meg harddrive that I had no idea how I’d ever be able to fill, that lasted me till a year out of school that managed an uncounted number of papers, essays, poem and most of two whole novels, all in Works for Windows 3.1. A year after that, I wrote a novel entirely in Word 97 (with the option for white text on blue background checked) on a variety of machines who’s speeds never rose above 200mhz. Things have all been downhill from there. I imagine I’m having a difficulty, then there must be something out there, outside of me, to correct for it, which is of course a load of hooey because I’ve done the work before, using just whatever tools at hand. Guess I’m lucky my handwriting sucks and it really hurts my wrist and elbow to do physically write for more than maybe 2 minutes at a time. Otherwise I’d probably be one of those crazy writers with a closet full of empty but very cool notebooks and very cool but still fully loaded pens ;-p
I say too much here just to drive home a point. This stuff is definitely cool and may really help you out. However, its is in no way necessary to do the work itself. Just ask the coders on this board. Any of them that aren’t brand new or low level hobbyists have worked in all sorts of editors and environments. If they code professionally, often they’re at the mercy of whatever process and tools they commute into. I have a good buddy who has coded for medical testing company and video game companies, moving smoothly from tool to environment to tool and frankly, I don’t think he even notices the differences. I’ve showed him ST2 and his response was, “Oh, that’s pretty. Maybe I’ll take a look at that when I get a chance,” meaning probably never because he’s full times supporting a new online game, part time supporting an old online game and looking to jump back to one of the medical companies in the near future, and when he needs a moment to decompress, he’s works on building a modern MUD that I doubt he’ll ever finish because he just like upgrading things, one component at a time, over and over, using some fairly recent version of MS Visual Studio.
Just write. The tools aren’t important. However, ST2 and WM are really easy on the eyes, even easier on the fingers and brain, and hey, they’re right here in front of you ;-p