Cart Before The Horse

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Joined: Fri Nov 09, 2007 6:16 pm

Tue Aug 04, 2009 8:36 pm Post

Hey folks,

Well, following Keith's advice in the Developer's & Code section of the forum, a friend and I have gone out and bought a couple books on programming for the Mac. While my friend is a web programmer by trade, I'm merely a programming dilettante who knows just enough to be dangerous.

Our books got delivered last week, and we're starting to work our way through them, but in the meantime, we've been talking about what kind of application we'd like to work on. Again, following Keith's model, we decided to work on an app that we'd want to use ourselves and that we can't find anywhere else but in our heads.

Since our idea relates to creative writing, I thought you folks might be able to brainstorm some features with us.

Now, like I said above, we are at the earliest stage possible when it comes to even LEARNING how to program, so the app we're "working" on is so far down the line it's not even in our sights yet. But since coming up with the app is half the fun, we figured we'd get started on that stuff now.

Anyway, our app idea is a Character Management application.

Here's an overview of it:

In a narrative of any significant length, it is difficult for the creative writer to keep track of the various details about a specific character. The writer often forgets what color eyes a character has, or what city or town she was born in, or what her job title might be, or whether there was a full moon on the day she fell in love. The writer might forget the character's mother's name, or whether she had a dog as a child, or any other of the hundreds of details that go into creating a complex and dynamic character with fears, urges, and desires.

This Cocoa application will help writers create, manage, and maintain an entire cast of fictional characters by providing a central location for all character-based data. It will provide a basic template to store physical, biographical, psychological, social, and narratological data on each and every character in a given story. At the same time, it will provide customizable fields that allow a writer to satisfy the character-related needs that are unique to her story.

I want to stress that our idea is not a character creation tool. It won't ask you to conform your story and characters to a predetermined structure based on some theory of what literature is "supposed" to be. Instead, it will just provide a central location to help you remember whatever character-related information is necessary for your particular story.

Of course, as a Scrivener user, I know there are various Scrivener-based solutions to the above problem, but I've yet to find one that works as well as I'd like. Ideally, we'd love to make our app a seamless companion to the Scrivener workflow, but that part of the project is way, way, way, way down the line....perhaps even further out than Scrivener 3...and before we get there, I'm interested in knowing:

  • Whether a stand-alone character management app would be something you're interested in using;
  • If so, what kind of features would be most helpful

I want to reiterate that we are at the earliest stage possible with this thing, so I make no promises on whether any of it will ever get off the ground. But if daydreaming about a new Mac OS X application sounds like you're kind of fun, we'd love to hear your ideas!

Thanks for helping out,

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Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:25 pm Post

For me it could be a very very useful app, 'cause I'm a bit lazy about the characters... though I've now no idea of some specific features...
I'll let you know if I come up with something interesting...
Coffee lover

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Joined: Sun Dec 07, 2008 7:23 pm

Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:53 pm Post

Brainstorming with no particular order or difficulty level implied:

I would like a time line (see Aeon thread above) of the character's life and a way to see if and when characters cross paths in time, location and plot (i.e. direct interaction or relationship like mother-daughter, third cousins twice removed etc.). One way of doing this is having a key events sort of thing like Scrivener's keywords. Sort under key events and see which characters are present. Sort under location and see if they were ever present. This type of searching ability would be very useful for me.

It would also be nice to be able to keep track of a character across several stories (series of books or otherwise) and so some sort of very visual thing like color coding would be really great. For example we find out that Fred is really a woman in book 2 (red) but that there are only hints of this in book one (blue) such as the fact he really likes to wear dresses.

Quick card feature where (within reason) the user could select a few characteristics and have them come up in something like Scrivener's index card view. Naturally, it would be an important feature to be able to upload a jpg etc. into the character file to see what they look like.

I already have character sheets that I fill out and just upload into Scrivener so it would be important to be able to export to a file type easy to integrate with Scrivener. I can't really do a decent
search on my character sheets so this search ability is the really make or break thing for me.

Right now my (very ugly) work flow is (1) character sheets I made up in word and tweaked years ago (2003?), (2) print to pdf or scan because the sheets are table-based and often filled in by hand (yes... sometimes even in crayon), and (3) import into Scrivener. I'm not sure I can break my habit of the portability of paper so a print form option would be important to me.

My characters evolve over time and with revisions so having a snapshot ability would be great. Fred is a guy who likes dresses in book one but a girl in book two. Right now, that would require two character sheets while a version or book data control would not.

OK... gotta go do real work... playtime over. :P


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Wed Sep 23, 2009 12:28 am Post

I would love to use this software if and when it comes-it sounds like something I'm really looking for. The features you suggest sound ideal, but I'll allow myself to daydream for more ideas!

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Wed Sep 23, 2009 2:26 pm Post

This sounds like it would be an excellent tool. I use Catell's 16 personality traits as a spring-board for thinking about my characters: It 's the sort of thing that might lend itself to being built into a piece of software.

The person who says it can't be done should not interrupt the person doing it.

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Location: Wales, UK.

Thu Sep 24, 2009 7:32 pm Post

Sounds an interesting project. I've pared down, and use, the questionaire in Marc McCutcheon's Building Believable Characters. I had toyed with the idea of trying something similar in Facespan, but hey I'm always willing to leave the hard work to others. :twisted: So knock yourselves out and I look forward to trying it. :D
When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.
--Raymond Chandler

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Fri Sep 25, 2009 12:09 am Post

I've been thinking of this, myself. Would I be interested? Yes.

Maybe a section for images, for pictures of your character (or pictures of actors you could see playing the character).

Then you could have standard fields, like "name" and "family", though I can think of some characters I have that would throw that out of the water.

I suspect I'd work well with the fields of data name, data content, then age applicable. For example, for my character Ellis Lupa (née something I haven't figured out yet), her favorite food was possum until something happens at age 7, then it changes to rabbit.

But then there's also the audience factor. I have one character with two entirely different names, based in what continent the people talking to her know her from, and then different characters have different nicknames for her. I'm not sure how that could be referenced, unless the columns are fully adjustable, too.

My first thought when I think about the structure of this sort of software is of a specialized database, but then there's the desired flexibility. Would a database/table hybrid be possible?

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