Using Scrivener and Grammarly together

My writing group is discussing some great editing tools including Hemingway, ProWritingAid, and Grammarly. We like all of them, especially Grammarly, but those of us participating in the discussion are also die-hard Scrivener users and none of these tools have any kind of Scrivener plug-in. So what’s a writer to do if he or she wants to use the greatness that is Scrivener along with the excellent editing skills of one of these tools?

I took it upon myself to flex some of my day job (software engineer) skills and perform a little trial and error. Of the three tools listed above, the one I’m most interested in is Grammarly, so that’s the one I used. Also, I did all of this on a PC running Scrivener for Windows 1.8.6, Google Chrome, and the Grammarly plug-in for Word 2013.

Copy and Paste from Scrivener to Grammarly
For my first test, I copied the text of my Scrivener document to the clipboard and then pasted it into Grammarly’s online editor. But this technique failed before I could take a single piece of Grammarly’s advice. The copy-and-paste between Scrivener and the Grammarly online editor removed all of my text formattings. “And that ain’t too cool,” to quote Hendrix.

Here’s a sample sentence from Scrivener:
Italics-Original

And here’s the same sentence after being pasted into the Grammarly online editor:
Grammarly-NoItalics

I don’t use italics often, but I don’t want to lose them once I have them in place. And I’d rather not wait and apply them only to my final draft. So this technique failed.

Upload RTF to Grammarly
One advantage Grammarly has over some of its competitors is that in addition to copy-and-paste, you can upload a document file into its online editor. So for my second test, I found the Rich Text File (RTF) for my chapter-in-progress in its Scrivener folder and uploaded it to Grammarly. This technique didn’t work for me either. First, even with an uploaded RTF file, my formatting was lost. That disqualified it right there. But if that part had worked, Grammarly gives the option of downloading your edited document from their online editor back into its original format. So I downloaded the RTF of my original doc and then compared the original RTF to the Grammarly-edited one using a simple diff tool (WinMerge).

Scrivener-to-Grammarly
(Scrivener original RTF on the left, Grammarly edited RTF on the right.)

Eww! Grammarly changed the formatting of every single paragraph in the document. The paragraph formatting was so different from what Scrivener creates, I didn’t even try opening this new RTF there. Another fail!

Open RTF in Word with Grammarly plug-in and save it back to RTF
One advantage Grammarly has over some of its competitors is it offers a Microsoft Word plug-in. After you install it, you don’t even have to use the Grammarly web editor. You open your document in Word, apply Grammarly’s suggestions, save, and get on with life. For this test, I made a copy of my Scrivener RTF file, opened it in Word, edited one word, and saved it back to RTF. Then I used WinMerge to compare the original RTF to the new one.

Scrivener-to-Word
(Scrivener original RTF on the left, Word edited RTF on the right.)

This was getting embarrassing. This was an even worse mangling than the one Grammarly did to my RTF file. Times New Roman Baltic, what the heck? I don’t even use that font. I’m a Charis SIL man.

Copy-and-Paste from Scrivener to Word, edit, then copy-and-paste from Word to Scrivener
Around this time I was starting to think that to make this work, I was going to have to write some custom code to convert Grammarly RTF into Scrivener RTF. But before I took that route, I wondered what would happen if I copy-and-pasted text from Scrivener into Word, edited it, and then pasted the text back into Scrivener?

The first phase of this test passed. My italicized text made it from Scrivener to a new, blank Word document with the italics intact! But would it survive the return trip? I made a minor change and then copy and pasted the text from Word back into Scrivener, right over the top of the text already there. Then I saved it in Scrivener and compared the original, unedited RTF to the new one.

Scrivener-Copy-Paste-to-Word

Look at that! No mass editing of the formatting code for every paragraph in the document! In Scrivener, the doc looked identical, except the comma I added in Word after “ride” made it back over. Success!

Therefore, the best way to use Scrivener and Grammarly together seems to be:

  1. Copy your text from Scrivener to the clipboard
  2. Paste into Microsoft Word with the Grammarly plug-in installed
  3. Edit away, Ernest Hemingway
  4. Do not save! Instead, copy your text from Word to the clipboard
  5. Back in Scrivener, paste your text right over top of what was already there

This all works because copy and paste between Scrivener and Word keeps formatting intact while copy and paste between Scrivener and web windows doesn’t. Combine that with the Grammarly plug-in for Word and voila, your formatted text now has a relatively painless path between Scrivener and Grammarly and back.

There’s one big drawback to all of this and that is that as of today, Grammarly doesn’t have a plug-in for Microsoft Office on Mac. Boo! But I wonder if copy-and-paste between Scrivener and a browser other than Chrome might keep formatting intact? Or if pasting into Chrome for Mac might keep the formatting intact? If anyone figures out a way to use Scrivener and Grammarly together on Mac while keeping formatting intact, or of an even easier way to do it on Windows, I’d love to hear from you.

90% skill

I recently finished reading The Syndrome: A Kingdom Keepers Adventure, the last of the nine (so far) Kingdom Keepers books by Ridley Pearson. At one point in it he quotes Stephen King. I can’t find this exact King quote anywhere, but considering Pearson plays in a band with King, I figure even if he’s not quoting him verbatim, he’s making a pretty accurate paraphrase. “Stephen King, the [horror novel] master,” Pearson writes, “had once said success was ninety percent hard work, five percent talent and five percent luck.”

In today’s Friday Video, fantasy master Brandon Sanderson says much the same thing in a lecture to his Brigham Young University creative writing course. He calls the “ninety percent hard work” ninety percent skill. “For the baseball player, it’s not a matter of luck when they connect. It’s a matter of having spent thousands of hours practicing how to do that.”

Coming soon: Armada

Two well-publicized books will be released on Tuesday. Both are new books from authors who each wrote one of my favorite books. I’ll eventually read Go Set a Watchman. But I’ll start Armada by Ernest Cline before the end of the month.

In honor of the pending release of Armada, here’s a brief interview with Ernest Cline for your Friday Video. The key takeaway here is that though he ran into trouble writing Ready Player One, he stuck with it and kept hammering away at his keyboard because he believed so much in the story.

Write it anyway

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is attributed as the author of a set of “paradoxical commandments” often titled “Do It Anyway.” Charlotte Ostermann has written a writing-specific version titled “Write It Anyway.”

People often fail to give you feedback. Write it anyway.

If you are quite skilled, people may accuse you of showing off. Write it anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Write it anyway.

Eight rules for writing fiction

I love studying the craft of writing and of writing fiction. On my too-rare visits to brick-and-mortar bookstores, I’m often found in the writing section. I only listen to two podcasts with any degree of regularity and one of them is Writing Excuses. (The other is Communicore Weekly, the greatest online show.) I could read Stephen King’s On Writing straight through, rest my eyes for five minutes, and then read it again. One of the few dead tree books within arm’s reach when I’m at my desk is Strunk and White.

But sometimes all talk of story structure and character development and pacing and omigosh your first page is so important just gets to me and I’ve had enough. Sometimes I want to just chuck all of that out the window and just write a story, rules be tossed into the sarlacc pit. Sometimes the only rule I want to follow is: trust your instincts, Ripplinger. (Why? Because intuitive introvert.)

I think all of that is why I really like this installment of Writing with Jane: “Eight Rules for Writing Fiction.” It’s your Friday video.

Making time to write

I was going to post a round-up of what work I accomplished in May but I was a bit embarrassed to see I accomplished so little. I started reading the first draft of Simon Bradley and the X-Ray Specs to my children; they like it so far. Early in the book, my eldest said, “Daddy, I think the main villains of this book are the Soviets.” I said no, they’re not, but to 1960s America, they were.

I started the third draft of Yesterday’s Demons. This will largely be a copy edit draft, though there will be a handful of small scenes added thanks to a great suggestion from my beta reader niece. But if you glance at the Project Tracker, I’m only at 10%, and that is with a couple of June days of work added into the mix. I should be farther along than that.

The thing is: life got in the way last month. But I can’t complain, because it’s all great stuff, especially the birth of my latest daughter. June also looks like it will be pretty intense, but here’s to being more than 20% done at the end of the month.

There are days where I’m too exhausted to do anything, but I still get a very tall cup of coffee and write, because writing is my Must. (And hey — “Should and Must” is a book now. I plan to read it very, very soon.) As Stephen King once wrote (and as KM Alexander recently quoted), “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

I am not trying to compare myself to the late, great Elmore Leonard in any way, but everything he says in the video below rings so true for me. We make the time for writing because it’s what we want to do more than anything else. And here’s your Friday video. Take it away, Elmore:

It’s about character

Stories are all about characters. Plot is important, but character is king.

Wikipedia says this about Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: “The plot focuses on the Rebel Alliance, led by Princess Leia (Fisher), and its attempt to destroy the Galactic Empire’s space station, the Death Star. This conflict disrupts the isolated life of ambitious farmhand Luke Skywalker (Hamill) when he inadvertently acquires a pair of droids that possess stolen architectural plans for the Death Star. After the Empire begins a destructive search for the missing droids, Skywalker agrees to accompany Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Guinness) on a mission to return the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance and save the galaxy from the tyranny of the Galactic Empire.”

That’s a pretty good summary of the plot. But that’s not what A New Hope is about. What it’s about is Luke Skywalker maturing from a backwater farm boy into a military hero. It’s about Han Solo learning to have a heart for once in his life. It’s about how Princess Leia allowing herself to rely upon her friends.

A story can have a great plot, but if it doesn’t feature its protagonist maturing or changing in some way, it will never reach its full potential.

Speed Remember the action movie Speed? It had a fantastic plot that instantly hooked everyone: there’s a bomb on a bus and it’s armed once the bus hits 50 miles per hour, then it explodes if the bus goes under 50. So what’s it about? Where is its character? Do you even remember the name of the protagonist played by Keanu Reaves? (I had the poster for that movie on the wall of my bedroom and I don’t.) At the end of that film, it was just another day at the office for… Jack Traven (thanks again, Wikipedia), albeit one in which he lost his partner and got a girlfriend. Speed was a very good movie, but it was all about the plot.

Now contrast it against Die Hard. The plot of Die Hard is simple: an off-duty cop happens to be around when terrorists take over a skyscraper. Alone, he thwarts their plans. But what is it about? It’s about John McClane healing his relationship with his estranged wife. From a pure plot (and action) perspective, Speed and Die Hard are both fantastic films. But Die Hard is an absolute classic because it has character. (I didn’t even mention the story of how Sgt. Al Powell learned to once again trust himself with his firearm in order to protect the innocent.)

The laws of time are mine... and they will obey me! The change in the protagonist can even be a turn for the worse. One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who is “The Waters of Mars,” in which our hero the Doctor goes crazy and declares himself the “Time Lord Triumphant.” In a rage he screams that the very laws of time belong to him “and they will obey me!” And his arrogance causes a good woman to commit suicide. “The Waters of Mars” is about the Doctor realizing it is very easy for him to go too far. It is an incredible story.

I should also point out that the news media understands this very well. When tragedy strikes, the first news stories focus on the plot: who, what, when, where, and how. But the follow-up stories — the “human interest” stories — focus entirely on the who. Who were the innocent victims of the tragedy? Who were the ragtag rookies and crusty veterans that combined to carry out a classic underdog success story? Who is the senator behind the new bill, and who are the people being harmed by it?

As human beings, we read stories not just to have a good time and to escape, but to connect with someone — even a made-up someone. When a new reader turns to page one of your book, he is extending his hand to your protagonist, introducing himself and inviting himself along on the hero’s journey. Your readers want to make that connection. Don’t disappoint them.

Starving artists

Rose and I took our children to see Magic Tree House: a Night in Old New Orleans tonight at the Magik Theatre, a great theater for children here in San Antonio.  Based on one of the books in the Magic Tree House series, it featured a brother and a sister time-travelling to 1915 New Orleans where they met Louis Armstrong.  In the story, Armstrong had given up on his dream of being a musician in lieu of higher paying jobs such as delivering coal and bananas.

I don’t know if this is historically accurate or not, but regardless, it made me think about how this is an endless struggle for all artists and creative types.  A friend of mine showed me a book called Writer with a Day Job.  Isn’t that the default type of writer?  I don’t presume to know the numbers, but the writers who are able to make their living solely off their art can’t be a plurality, or even a high percentage.  I suspect that sentence would be true even if you substitute “writers” for “musicians” or “painters” or “poets” or any other kind of artist.

In short, the phrase “starving artist” exists for a reason.  Art is beautiful, and we all love it and crave it deep in our hearts.  It is part of what makes humans unique compared to all other species.  But for most, it doesn’t pay the bills.

Rose and I have a simple strategy we employ to make a very small effort towards combating this.  We support artists.  If we’re at a farmer’s market and there is a musician playing with an open instrument case, we throw in what we can.  We’re suckers for art walks or other similar art marketplaces.  When we’re on vacation, if there’s some kind of souvenir to be had that is hand-crafted by an artist, guess what we’re taking home?

It’s not much, but it’s something.  Because art is worth supporting.

The Story You Want to Read

“Write the kind of story you want to read.” There’s lots of variations on this quote and it’s good advice no matter who gave it.

There’s one story element, one trope, one meme — whatever you want to call it — that comes up again and again in the stories I love, and I only recently even noticed it.  If you want me to like a story, you can make me pretty much love it if… it includes an ancient evil that was once defeated but has returned for a new battle.

Take a look at some of my favorite stories and see how, in a way, they’re all this same story:

My favorite book, The Lord of the Rings: Isildur defeated Sauron when he cut the One Ring off of the dark lord’s finger, but years later, Sauron returns for a final battle.

Another favorite book of mine, the Harry Potter series: Voldemort is defeated when the Avada Kedavra curse he intends for Harry rebounds against him, but years later, he returns for a final battle.

In another favorite, It by Stephen King, the titular “It” is a cosmically powerful space alien that the Losers’ Club defeats in 1958, but years later, it returns for a final battle.

My favorite video game series, Phantasy Star: the entire series is about the demonic Dark Force, a personification of evil defeated at the end of the first game, but every 1000 years later, it returns for another battle.

Another video game I adore, Wild Arms: Mother and her Metal Demons nearly destroyed Filgaia, but 1000 years later, they return for a final battle.

My all-time favorite TV show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: the Prophets of the Celestial Temple expelled the Pagh-Wraiths a long time ago (or maybe it was today, or maybe it’s still to come sometime in the future — the Prophets and linear time don’t mesh so well).  Later (with that whole linear time caveat still in place), their Emissaries engage in a final battle.

Another favorite movie of mine, It’s a Wonderful Life: George’s father did battle with Mr. Potter until it killed him, and for a long time Potter remained holed up in his bank, defeated and licking his wounds, but now it’s Christmas Eve and war hero Harry Bailey is coming home and Potter has returned for a final… OK, so this one doesn’t really fit the theme.

Transformers, original 1980s cartoon mythology: after crashing on Earth, the Autobots and the Decepticons both lay in hibernation for four million years before awakening.  That makes Megatron an ancient evil… back… for a final battle (cue up “You’ve got the touch!”)

I also recently read a really awesome book called The Stars Were Right by KM Alexander.  It’s a murder mystery set in a gritty and cool urban fantasy world, but it really drove way up my alley as soon as I realized it was also about… wait for it… an ancient evil that was once defeated but is now returning for a final battle.

So not every story I love has this theme in common, but it sure comes up a lot.  I guess it’s no surprise then that Yesterday’s Demons involves an evil that was defeated but, two hundred years later, returns for a final battle.  Heck, I love this theme so much, I even put it in the title of the book.

Is there a certain trope or meme or plot device or McGuffin in stories that you just can’t get enough of?  Tell me about it in the comments.

Full disclosure: KM is a member of my writing group but he did not pay me in any way to plug The Stars Were Right, he just wrote a really great book that you should read.