Opening a script from in Mail in Weekend Read

One of the most common uses of Weekend Read is to open a script someone has emailed you.

Here is the “right” way to do it:

  1. Go to Mail.
  2. Find the email with the file attached.
  3. Tap and hold on the file, then choose “Open in Wknd Read.”

The trouble is, it’s entirely reasonable to go to Weekend Read first. We let you import a file from Dropbox or a clipboard URL. Why don’t we let you import from Mail?

Because we can’t. Apps are sandboxed, and there’s simply no way for Weekend Read to reach into Mail and see what files are there to be imported.1

Yet it’s a normal, natural instinct for a user to want Weekend Read to work this way.

So for Weekend Read 1.0.2, I asked Ryan and Nima to add a Mail option that would simply switch the user over to Mail. Basically, “Oh, you want to import a file from Mail? Here, let me take you to Mail.”

But you can’t even do that. Apple provides a URL scheme for creating a new message in Mail, but not to simply switch to the inbox.

iPhone screenshot

Faced with these limitations, we still wanted to make adding a file from Mail as pleasant as possible. I asked Ryan Nelson to come up with a new animation that would show exactly how to add a file. I’m really happy with the result.

Now, whenever the user chooses Email from the list of import options, she is presented with a card acknowledging what she’s trying to do: “It’s easy to import a file from Mail.”

If she clicks on the “Show me how” button, she gets a looping animation that walks her through the process.

It’s entirely possible that a user will forget how to add a file from Mail and click on it again. That’s okay. The experience is consistent and predictable. If you’ve forgotten how to get to a file in Mail, you can learn again in 12 seconds.

Here’s the animation Ryan made:

Screenshots can show you what something looks like; animation can show you how something works.

But they can also be really annoying. When Facebook’s Paper app launched, it was criticized for its intrusive hand-holding. But I think this is a different case. Here, the animation only plays when you specifically ask for it. You want to know how to do it? Okay, let me show you.

If you want to see what the animation looks like in context, Weekend Read is free in the App Store.

ETA: As I was writing this, a new release of Weekend Read (1.0.3) went live in the App Store, which addresses a minor display bug.

  1. GoodReader skirts around this by asking for your email login information and checking the mail server itself. That’s more responsibility than I felt comfortable having as an app developer.

Pepperoni, parenthood, and the zone of solitude

Joanna Cohen is a writer in New York. For nine years she worked as a reporter and editor at Sports Illustrated. She’s since made her living in daytime television, most notably earning three Emmy nominations as a scriptwriter for “All My Children.”

When she isn’t coming up with dialogue about evil twins and babies switched at birth, she’s working on TV pilots, revising her debut novel, writing first-person essays for The New York Times and, most important, being a mom.

first person“Pepperoni.” That’s the shorthand my husband, Evan, and I use to tell one another I’m in the writing zone. Please come back later.

Why do we need such a silly word? Can’t we pause, look up from our computers and simply say we need a few more minutes of solitude to write?

Absolutely not.

The zone is sacred and elusive. Once you get there, you don’t mess with it. You don’t take time out to be polite. It’s as if you’re possessed, almost high. Some force has overtaken your being, and whatever it is you produce — sentences, songs, jump shots — flows from you exactly as you’d wished, seemingly without effort.

To be jerked out of this state by a ringing phone or car alarm or a question from a well-meaning spouse can be devastating.

It reminds me of a moment from the 2004 Olympics. Four miles from the finish line, a Brazilian marathoner was cruising to a gold medal when a protester darted out of the crowd and pushed him to the curb. Unable to regain his lead, he ended up coming in third.

Okay, maybe it’s not that heart-breaking. But it is maddening, and has led to interactions in my house that go something like this:

Evan enters our bedroom, where I’m typing away.


So what do you want for --


I’m writing.


Could you just --




Lemme know when you’re done.

I slam the laptop closed.


I’m done.

To be fair, Evan’s work also involves a lot of writing. He understands the zone and respects it. So if he interrupts me, it’s because he thought I was sending email or surfing the web. Same goes for me.

Neither of us is a mind-reader and we didn’t want to keep having the same fight. We needed a signal, a way to communicate immediately that it wasn’t a good time to approach. We agreed it should be a single word. Simple but memorable. Pepperoni fit the bill.

We came up with this idea shortly after I’d made the career transition from being a journalist who worked in an office to a television writer who worked from home.

I loved doing my job where I lived, mostly because I could set my own hours. I’m an early bird. My best time is between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. I could go straight from my bed to my keyboard, stopping only to pour a cup of coffee, then crank straight through.

Early mornings were when I was most likely to find the zone. The sun would rise, the caffeine would kick in and the pages would fly from my fingers. Evan, a night owl, would either be asleep or I’d see him coming, hit him with a “pepperoni” and he’d let me do my thing. Problem solved.

Until we had a child.

When I was pregnant five years ago, I had visions of peaceful mornings, my baby sleeping by my side as I typed. I imagined she’d slip seamlessly into the routine, cooperative and joyful.

Um, no.

My daughter, Bee, would invariably awaken just as I was hitting my writing stride. I’d call for Evan to come take her. He always did. But it was too late. The moment was gone.

For months, I tried everything I could think of to preserve my precious mornings. I’d put Bee in her bouncy seat on the floor next to my desk, tapping it with my foot as I typed. I’d sit cross-legged on my chair, creating a spot in my lap where she could sleep as I hunched over her to reach the keyboard. Nothing worked.

As I prepared Bee’s bottles, I’d take my frustration out on Evan, who was only doing his best to help me. He sympathized when I ranted about what losing those hours was doing to me. Every time I was about to ride the wave of creativity, it would come crashing down. I’d pop up on the board, pumped and ready, and the lifeguard would blow the whistle and order everyone out of the water.

Evan’s proposal: Go surfing at another time of day.

I found the suggestion outrageous. (Writers can be a little sensitive.) I was supposed to change when I felt most inspired? Perhaps I could also grow another hand so I could type faster.

But then I realized Evan was right. If I lived alone in a log cabin, controlling my schedule would be easy. But I was a new mother, living in modern-day Manhattan.

Renting office space would be too expensive. I wasn’t about to give up writing to become an accountant. And I couldn’t Jedi mind trick my kid into sleeping whenever I needed to work. If I wanted to avoid resenting my family and get back to feeling good about writing, I’d have to change my habits.

The first step was learning to write outside of our apartment. In the beginning, it was tough. Every time I walked into a café, I’d stress over whether it had wifi or if I could get a table near an outlet where I could plug in my computer as it ran low on power.

There were plenty of outlets at my gym, so I tried working in the lounge there. It was like writing in a club — techno music thumping and sweaty, scantily clad people all around me. I found a nice terrace behind a local museum that had free wifi, but no outlets or bathrooms.

I’d walk a mile to my sister’s apartment, which was comfortable, private and had all the necessary equipment. But she works at a school and would come home earlier than I could afford to knock off. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, so I’d often finish the day on park bench or the steps of a brownstone.

At home in the evenings, I’d complain to Evan about the anxiety-producing work conditions, all the schlepping around and the seven-dollar pots of tea I didn’t want, but kept ordering just to buy me a few more hours at the café. I feared I’d swapped one set of frustrations for another.

But I hung in there — and, in time, discovered I was more adaptable as a writer than I’d thought. I learned to tune out the techno, became friends with the café manager who did his best to reserve an outlet table for me, and found that I actually could produce good work after 10 a.m. Soon I even felt confident enough to tackle another challenge: finding a way to write at home once in a while.

As Bee got older, we began to use the phrase “Mama’s working” and she’d occasionally let me stay behind closed doors while she played with Evan or my sister or a babysitter. Of course, there are plenty of days when she won’t go for it and I’ve ditched the Act Two scene that was finally coming together to make Play-Doh cookies.

But we’re miles from the bouncy seat and 5 a.m. wake-ups. These days I mostly have the pre-dawn hours to myself. Before long, I think Bee might even respond to “pepperoni.”

On Rotation

Weekend Read’s support site encourages users to send in feature requests in addition to the usual bug reports. We try to answer every inquiry.

This week, we responded to a plea for landscape mode in Weekend Read by explaining that while it’s not out of the question, we had already tried landscape mode for the iPhone, and found it unsatisfactory.

The user disagreed — and threatened a negative review — arguing we should let consumers decide whether they want to rotate scripts to read them in landscape mode.

This got me thinking about landscape mode on the iPhone, and the apps that support it. As I started going through the apps on my first few screens, I realized that landscape on the iPhone is far from universal.

Portrait-Only Both Rotations
Settings Messages
App Store Contacts
iTunes Camera
Vesper Maps
Launch Center Photos
Phone Skitch
Clock Snapseed
Instacast iA Writer
Trailers Instapaper
Letterpress Kindle
Vine iBooks
Instagram GoodReader
Facebook Paper

Notably, many of Apple’s own apps eschew landscape mode. Just as notably, many reading-style apps support landscape mode. So it’s certainly worth looking at the pros and cons of adding landscape support to the iPhone.

PRO: Lots of other reader apps allow landscape.

CON: We’re different than most reader apps. In Weekend Read, margins matter a lot for dialogue and transitions. We can’t just set every block left and move on. We would need to extensively test which margins look right for which font size. An extra complication is that we’d need to do it for both the smaller iPhone 4 series and the larger iPhone 5s.

PRO: We did landscape mode in the iPhone version of FDX Reader.

CON: Supporting landscape in FDX Reader was a pain in the ass. New developer tools make it somewhat easier, but Weekend Read is a much more complex app than FDX Reader, with many more views.

PRO: With the much-rumored larger iPhones, people might use them more like iPad minis, which are often in landscape mode.

CON: There aren’t bigger-screen iPhones yet.

CON: All new graphics, all new headaches. From the user perspective, it seems like allowing landscape rotation should be as simple as flipping a switch. And in fact, it sort of is in in Xcode. But when you flip that switch, you find that almost everything needs to be rethought and rebuilt, because it was designed for vertical orientation.

PRO: Users could choose even larger fonts. By sacrificing vertical space, we could let the user have letters nearly an inch tall.

CON: The text options screen is actually a good example of what would need to be rebuilt. Here’s the screen in portrait mode:

iphone WR portrait

The sample text lets you see in real time what the font will look like. Here’s that same screen in landscape:

landscape WR

We’d have to substantially rethink this view.

CON: The gestures are built for portrait. On Weekend Read, you can swipe right to get back to the Library. You can swipe left to show the Page Jumper. But in landscape, your thumbs are in the wrong place. It’s not a deal-killer, but it’s a worse experience.

CON: Twice the views to debug. Twice as many things to break.

CON: Very few people are asking for landscape mode. By far the majority of requests are for an iPad version. Allowing landscape rotation on the iPhone would push the iPad version back at least another two weeks.

Ultimately, every choice comes with a cost. Adding landscape to the iPhone isn’t impossible, but it means not doing something else, and right now the many “something elses” are worth a lot more.

You can find Weekend Read in the App Store.


Scriptnotes: Ep. 135

John and Craig discuss how you create a fictional universe for your story, and the limits of how much can fit on the page. From location to language to wardrobe, choosing which details to make explicit is a crucial early decision. Too little detail and the reader doesn’t know how your story is special; too much detail and the story gets lost.

Also this week, Resurrection vs The Returned vs The Returned vs Les Revenants — just because it’s an original idea to you doesn’t mean it’s the first time anyone’s ever thought of it. We also provide exactly five minutes of follow-up on last week’s discussion about what should replace the current screenplay format.

And True Detective! Which we loved! It’s only because we loved it that we can point out ways it could have been stronger. Did the traditional once-a-week format help or hurt it? Probably both.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 3-21-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

How modern English got that way

David Shariatmadari looks at several of the reasons English has shifted, both in spelling and pronunciation:

A dark “l”, in linguistic jargon, is one pronounced with the back of the tongue raised. In English, it is found after vowels, as in the words full or pole. This tongue raising can go so far that the “l” ends up sounding like a “w”. People frown on this in non-standard dialects such as cockney (“the ol’ bill”). But the “l” in folk, talk and walk used to be pronounced. Now almost everyone uses a “w” instead- we effectively say fowk, tawk and wawk. This process is called velarisation.

Other times, sounds swap around and change the word dramatically:

Wasp used to be waps; bird used to be brid and horse used to be hros. Remember this when the next time you hear someone complaining about aks for ask or nucular for nuclear, or even perscription. It’s called metathesis, and it’s a very common, perfectly natural process.

I found the whole article inneresting.

Highland 1.6 uses the force

highland iconHot on the heels of the Weekend Read update, we have a new Highland in the Mac App Store today.

Highland 1.6 features all the improvements to PDF-melting from Weekend Read, including better support for PDFs created with Fade In and Celtx.

There are also a slew of little bug fixes, with more coming. I use Highland for all my daily screenwriting, so whenever I encounter an issue, Nima tackles it immediately.

The force is strong with this one

Highland is the first app to support the basically-official Fountain 1.1 spec, which adds several new features:

  • Forced character elements
  • Lowercase character extensions
  • Forced action elements
  • Lyrics

The ability to force a Character element is helpful for names that require lower-case letters (i.e. McDONALD), and for non-Roman languages, where a character might be named something like 黒澤.

To force a Character element, precede a line with the “at” symbol: @

Yippie ki-yay! I got my lowercase C back!


Yippie ki-yay! I got my lowercase C back!

The parser will remove the @ and interpret McCLANE as Character, preserving its mixed case. We picked @ because everyone is already accustomed to thinking of @name referring to a person.

Character extensions, those notations like (on the radio) which live on the same line as a Character element, are no longer required to be uppercase:

Sometimes you really want two lines of Action, with no blank line between them. You’re going to for a style — but Fountain doesn’t know that. So instead you get:


BOOM BOOM. Closer.

In Fountain 1.0, we allowed the user to force Action elements with two trailing spaces.

BOOM{two spaces}

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

This has turned out to be problematic in practice. The spaces are invisible, and can be introduced by accident as you write. Highland and Slugline users got confused. Hell, I got confused, and I co-created the syntax.

In the end, we’d like more transparency and less invisibility. Using spaces to force Action is now deprecated.

Instead, you can force Action by preceding a line with an exclamation point:

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

The parser removes the ! and interprets BOOM as Action.


BOOM BOOM. Closer.

Highland has had Lyrics for a while now. Nothing has changed.

For screenplays, we use the same basic margins as dialogue, but set the text in italics. For stageplays, we move the lyrics to the left margin and set them uppercase.

You create a Lyric by starting with a tilde ~.

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! The amazing chocolatier!

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! Everybody give a cheer!

Lyrics are always forced. There is no “automatic” way to get them.

What’s next

Fountain is an open-source project, and continues to evolve. Right now we’re discussing:

  • Flagged changes (the equivalent of asterisks in the margins)
  • “Logical pages” independent of device or font
  • Multi-cam formatting
  • Better title pages

Some of these are deferred issues (multi-cam), while others are just things we got wrong (title pages). As with Lyrics, we’ll likely use Highland to experiment with some of these ideas before they become official parts of the spec.

An upcoming build of Weekend Read will feature the new Fountain 1.1 elements, but you can get started with them in Highland today. Enjoy.