* unfortunately this software has been discontinued 😦
by Marcie Schwindt
I have two superpowers: a natural ability to bring order to chaos, and a photographic memory. The former makes communication difficult mid-process. The latter is declining with age. When you add to that the idea that I write multiple novels at once ( in different genres), all non-sequentially, you can see why I have trouble finding and holding onto critique partners, and why I needed to find a tool to help me visually track and present the stories in their present state.
My initial solution was a piecemeal one. I used index cards for scenes; Springpad to track character details, research results, and high level book details (cover design, log line, story description); MS Project to track clue placement and timeline; Google maps to track geographic movement; Pinterest to track setting and object details; and MS Word’s document map as my plot map. This solution worked well for me, but took some effort to put together into a neat package for someone else to use to understand my work.
My search for a more comprehensive solution led me to Storybook. From their website:
Storybook is a free Open Source novel-writing software for creative writers, novelists and authors. Starting with the plot to the finished book — with Storybook you’ll never lose the overview. Storybook helps you to keep an overview of multiple plot-lines while writing books, novels or other written works.
Storybook assists you in structuring your book
Manage all your data such as characters, locations, scenes, items, tags and ideas in one place. A simple interface is provided to enable you to assign your defined objects to each scene and to keep an overview of your work with user-friendly chart tools.
Like many writing tools for authors, this program strives to be a full solution, including functionality for both organizing and writing. But MS Word is the one tool that I am loyal to, so I use Storybook for organizing only.
I now use Storybook to track plot, scene, character, location, and timeline details, and for holding links to the information still better handled by other programs (like a customized Google map to show geographic movement). But the program’s functionality doesn’t stop there. Beyond the expected, Storybook also has three spectacular features: strands, tags, and idea tracking.
I’ve yet to find a clear definition of strands, so here’s mine: strands are colour-coded blocks of things you want to visually track at a high level. I mostly use them for balancing. Specifically, I use them to visually show me my dialogue to action to narrative ratio (making backstory dumps super easy to pick out). I use them to show me scenes by point of view. When I blend genres, for example Romantic Suspense, I use them to show the ratio of romance scenes to suspense scenes. But the coolest use is for tracking behind-the-scenes information vital to, but not specifically written into, the story – for example, what characters not in the scene are doing at that moment. And, I can show or hide as many of these as I want at any given time.
The value of tags is seemingly endless, so most programs use them. Storybook is no exception, but what it does have is a two-pronged tagging approach: tags and items. Both are identical in terms of mechanics (name, category, description, and assignment to something), but breaking them up into two, helps me to feel more organized, and reduces the size of the tag list. For example, I use tags for localized things, like ‘show vs tell’. When a character demonstrates a behavior, like frowning to show disapproval, I tag that spot #emotion #frown #disapproval. Then when I’m editing, I can look at all the behaviours I used to show disapproval. I can ensure each character shows this behaviour consistently for a given emotion, but also differently than other characters.
Items can be used to literally track items (Necklace A goes from Character J to Character Y on Day 3 then onto Location K, etc.). But I use them instead to mark clues/foreshadowing, theme elements, and behaviour changes over time (character arcs, stages of grief, etc.).
The idea tracking feature is a simple/obvious concept, but invaluable. I use this part of the program for recording feedback from critique partners and beta readers, and (in conjunction with tags) for tracking changes. Each “idea” gets a status—not started, started, completed, abandoned (I would also like a “reversed” option). Having somewhere to track changes (and more importantly, the reasoning behind the change) is so important, because the smallest change can have major repercussions throughout the manuscript, and the thing would never get completed if I went back and made those changes immediately. Ideas change, improve, reverse, get abandoned, and it’s a complete waste of time for me to make them as I go along. It’s much more efficient for me to make all the changes at once in a new draft. I’ve also used this feature for recording research, but still prefer Springpad or Evernote for that.
I’m currently using the open source version of Storybook and am quite happy with it. The paid version does offer more functionality, particularly for writers looking for manuscript formatting help, or summary reports to tell them what’s happening when to whom.
How do you organize and communicate your story elements?
Marcie Schwindt loves to read and write fast-paced, character and travel driven stories. She writes under the names Marcie Schwindt, Marcie Walker, and Amber Willow and can be found on Twitter @marcie8