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Jan
31
2013

Major changes to the Novel System -- by Jon Bjarnason

The novel system was first introduced to CC exactly five years ago, on January 14th 2007. To mark the occasion of the novel system's 5th anniversary we have just published the first major revision to this system since its inception.

For those of you who don't know that this is, every time you see a story on CC with a little blue book icon next to it, this is a part of a novel. This allows you to navigate between chapters at ease and allows the author to add all sorts of important and fun information to her chapters, making the pieces form a complete whole.

This system is available to premium members and has been a must-have for many people since it was first introduced. To date we have had over 1500 novels and a total of over 15000 novel submissions go through CC.

I wanted to do something a little special with the system to mark its 5 year mark, so instead of adding some simple features I decided to go back to the drawing board and re-architect the system from the ground up in order to add some of the features that people have been asking for, but I've been unable to implement so far because of the way the system was written at the start (before I had any idea how it would be used).

I think this has gone rather well, even though it was quite a bit more effort than I anticipated (as my wife can attest to, hardly seeing me at night for the last two weeks). Here are the highlights of the features that you now have in the novel system because of this rewrite.

Simple, simple... Maybe not that simple

Someone really smart said that designing a complicated system that is complicated to use is easy. The real difficulty comes in designing a complicated system that is easy to use.

Now that I am adding a couple of advanced features into the mix and more complicated interactions between chapters, submissions, revisions, parts, multiple versions and whatnot, I really needed to make the usage simpler.

With that in mind, my goals have been to make the thing self-discoverable, so that you are lead through the process of making your first novel, rather than have to go back to the faq for every other action. Your actions will also have more immediate feedback with more ajax calls to the server rather than full page refreshes.

The actions that you take should hopefully make more sense than before, even though I freely confess there are some aspects of the system that are maybe not straightforward to grasp, especially now that I have added some new hooks. Let me know what you think, especially if you are using the system for the first time.

The story submission process should be much more streamlined with most of the typical actions as links on the novel page and the novel part of the story submission wizard has been rewritten to make it easier to understand.

So anyway, while not being exactly simple, it should be simpler. The rewrite will also allow me to more easily address issues that come up and add functionality in the future.

What exactly is a novel?

There are some pervasive misconceptions about what exactly a CC novel is and how it interacts with the rest of the queue and story systems on CC that I should address at this point, before I start introducing new concepts.

I sometimes get messages where people tell me that thay want to submit a story into a novel instead of putting it into a queue and that they accidentally submitted a story as chapter 5 instead of chapter 4 and now they would like to delete it and submit the same text as chapter 4 and things of this nature.

I'm trying to address some of these confusions with helpful links and information snippets on the novel and send story pages (instead of relying on the tutorial video as before) but I'm also going to explain it a bit here. Let's look at what a novel really is.

Here is an example of a novel I am currently working on called "My Novel". Let's see what it looks like on the novel page.

The page above is what the new novel page looks like. It's pretty much like the old one except that you now have direct links to some of the most common and important actions. Let's now take a look at a schematic to illustrate some points.

In this diagram you can see some of the different components that we are talking about. You can see that this novel has 5 submissions (called story in most places of CC, sorry about that). These submissions are all in one queue or another. The novel doesn't care about any of that. Now, you can see that chapter 1 has one submission attached to it. Chapters 2-4 is a single "chapter" with one submission. Chapter 5 is made up of 3 different submissions and chapters 6-7 is a single "chapter" which no submissions have been added to yet, so it doesn't do much right now.

Notice the purple arrows between submissions. These are links that take your readers from one story to the next. This, seemingly simple feature, is probably the single most important aspect of the novel system.

Now, let's take a look at what happens if I delete the novel.

The stories are there, and they are still in queues. All that has happened is that the stories no longer point to each other and there is no central place to look at all the stories. So, you see that the concept of novel and chapters is completely orthogonal to story and queues. Every story on CC lives in a queue but optionally the story can also be a part of a novel.

I hope this has been clear and you guys understand it. I will be drawing upon this in subsequent sections of this blog. smiley

Revisions

With the latest edition you can now add new revisions to your chapters when you are rewriting your story. What people have been doing so far is to disconnect older submissions and then add the new revision in their place. This entails a lot of tedious manual work by the author and she may end up with dozens of old draft revisions that are not a part of the novel but just hanging around in the story list.

To fix this I've added a specific feature to the novel system to deal with revisions. In order to add a new revision to your novel you simply click "replace with revision X" in the action bar of your chapter and submit a new story.

This will hide all the parts that you had already submitted into this chapter and your new submission will be the only submission in the most latest revision of that chapter. Note that you are replacing the entire chapter with a new revision, not individual submissions (although this will amount to the same thing for the majority case where you only have a single submission per chapter).

Once this is done your new submission be the default revision that people see when navigating to this chapter, but people can then also chose to view older revisions (if you have not hidden them).

Let's use the story above as an example. I want to replace chapter 5 with a new revision so I click on the link and submit a new story. Once I'm done I have replaced the three parts with one.

Before:


 

After:

I can still view the older revisions and they are navigatable like other submissions in the novel but now they are just in the background and not bothering anyone unless people want to see them. When I view the submissions themselves I can also navigate between different revisions:

Let me show you what this looks like in my schematic. Here I have omitted the queues because we've already learned about them and they are not relevant to this discussion.

Here you can see that the single submission in chapters 2-4 will lead to the new - revision 2 - version of chapter 5. The new version of chapter 5 will also lead back to chapters 2-4. However, the old chapter 5 3 parts are navigatable between each other and they lead back to the submission in chapters 2-4.

So, if you click "previous chapter" in chapter 5, rev 1 and then from chapters 2-4 click "next chapter" you will be taken to chapter 5, rev 2. When going from chapter to chapter you are always taken to the most latest revision of that chapter. When going between different parts within a chapter, they will always follow the revision of the part that you are on. The novel system views multiple parts of a chapter as always belonging to the same revison.

Let's quickly see what happens if I add a new submission into chapters 6-7:

As expected, all revisions of chapter 5 will go to this new submission, but the new submission will only be navigatable back to the most recent revision of the previous chapter. I expect that you won't be navigating much between the earlier revisions of the novel you are viewing so this is probably not that important to you, but that's the way this works anyway. :-)

I hope that this revision functionality is flexible and usable enough for people to start using that instead of disconnecting earlier revisions. Despite the multiple diagrams above, using this should be relatively straightforward. smiley

Multiple chapters per submission

One of the first thing that people asked about was an arbitrary number of chapters in a single submission. The original version of the novel system was written explicitly for a single logical chapter per novel chapter in mind and I managed to shoe-horn in with weird, unmaintainable hacks the ability to have one or two logical chapters per novel chapter.

Now I have refactored this code with arbitrary chapter counts in mind and therefore you can choose between 1 and 5 logical chapters per novel chapter (if anyone needs any more just let me know. This maximum of 5 is easy to change).

Posting the same submission into multiple queues

Another thing that people have asked about is the ability to have the same submission in multiple queues. The desire is to have chapter 1 in a public queue but then also in a private queue for example.

While this is not possible to do, since there is a strict relationship between stories (submissions) and queues that dictates that a story can only be in one queue, I think we can have the second-best thing.

Our novel users have been circumventing this limitation by posting "part 2" of a chapter into a different queue as the same story text as in "part 1". This is an awkward work-around so I built in support for this sort of posting.

You now simply chose this option when submitting a story into your novel and it allows you to make a copy of the selected submission. This submission is a completely separate story but the stories are connected together within the novel system. This allows you to have multiple navigatable submissions of the same chapter in different queues.

This works in a similar way as the revision functionality, but here we are operating on submissions rather than whole chapters.

Here is how it looks in our schematical view:

You can see that the added story is another independant version of the story that's already there and it has links to the previous and next stories. There is also a link between the different versions of the same story as described above. The story which is picked to be the 'main navigatable submission' (e.g. back links from the previous and the next story) is the one that is in a public queue, and if neither is in a public queue, either one is picked.

Note that you can put whatever you want to in this 'copy', it doesn't have to be the story you are copying, but I fear that this might confuse your readers.

Smaller features

I used the opportunity and added some little features here and there to make your lives easier.

Novel Queue

You can now pick one of your personal queues in the "Edit novel details" page. This will allow you to skip the 1st step of the story submission wizard when you submit a story in your novel from the novel page. This will still allow you to submit a story from a novel into whatever queue you want to but I've seen that for most novels most of the submissions are in a single private queue (often named after the novel) so this little addition helps reduce clicking a bit. smiley

You will always have access to navigation links from the story page

You will now always be able to navigate between different submissions in a novel even if you don't have access to the queue where the particular submission you are viewing is in.

Statistics

There should be some more juicy stats about your novel at the bottom of the novel page. Let me know if there is anything you would like to see in there.

Messages

You will now see your latest messages about stories in the novel on the novel page itself with a link to filter on these messages in your message box.

Future additions

Now that the rewrite is complete I'm hoping that adding more functionality to novels will be a little easier. I have a few things on the drawing board that have come in as requests over the years (and from a great message from Ardyth, thanks!) but please feel free to let me know if there's anything you would like to add (perhaps as a response to this blog) and I'll see what I can do. cool

Posted by Jon Bjarnason 31 Jan 2013 at 06:03
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