Category Archives: Keeping Organized

Organizing with Storybook Novel Writing Software

* 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

Writing an Historical Memoir

by Becky Alexander

Image: Simon Howden /

Over the course of the last five years or so, I have written a number of vignettes about my years growing up in Hespeler, Ontario. These were based on childhood memories of people, places, and events that I wished to share. In seeking out some of these pieces a year or so ago, to submit to a contest, it occurred to me that there was good value in sharing those memories, and in writing more of them.

Small towns across Ontario are disappearing, as they are incorporated into larger demographic clusters, and even the names of these places are disappearing. Such it was for the active town of Hespeler, in 1973, when it became part of the new city called Cambridge.

As I started to write about family and historical events during the halcyon Hespeler days of the ‘50s and ‘60s, more and more memories poured in. This is true of writing: once you write and write, the floodgates open.

It soon became obvious to me that my small stories formed a larger picture of how it was to grow up in a small town, where nearly everyone knew everyone else. I began to research dates, events and timelines, and my collection started to meld into an historical memoir.

As my fingers typed and typed, many thoughts occurred: what do I leave in and what do I leave out? If I recount a tale of one of my relatives, will they be insulted? Will this eventual book cause more trouble than it’s worth? Many mental struggles occurred along the way, and these are the resulting resolutions:

If you choose to write a memoir, tell the truth as you know it. But as Dickinson so aptly writes in one of her poems: Tell the truth, but tell it slant. Each chapter I wrote was based on my personal memory. I soon realized that these memories were not going to be the same for my relatives, friends, and former neighbours. As my best and oldest friend so wisely told me when we were discussing this project, “This is your story, based on your memories, so tell it as you like.”

When a chapter showcased the life of a specific person, I invited that person to read what I had written about them, or, in the case of a deceased person, I asked a surviving relative to read those related parts. Not one of those people was offended by anything I’d written, and many times I was offered further memories and facts about the people of whom I wrote.

Organizing a necessary timeline of events is crucial to the book, and difficult to attain. I was trained as a literary researcher, and those skills helped greatly. With the internet today, we have historic details and facts at our fingertips, but that is not enough. I learned the most about the people and places of whom I was writing by talking to people who knew and remembered them. When I absolutely could not find any printed or recounted facts, dates, or details about a certain story, I went with my best memory: and I said so.

I believe a memoir should present a balance of the good and the bad. We’ve all read memoirs that were nothing more than a series of ‘Poor Me’ complaints. And we’ve probably read ones written through the mystic eye of perfection. Life is not like that: good things happen, terrible things happen, and funny things happen: it is the writer’s job to pick and choose for balance.

Becky Alexander was born and raised in Hespeler, and now lives in the Preston area of Cambridge. She is a poet and prose writer, and runs Craigleigh Press, a micro-publishing company with her husband Dave Allen. Her historical memoir Growing Up (in) Hespeler is planned for a spring 2012 release.

Ideas for Later

by Marcie Schwindt

Image: photostock /

When I joined this group, I had trouble coming up with new ideas. Writing stories took me forever, if I finished them at all, because, subconsciously, I was afraid I’d otherwise be without something to write. The title prompts we use for homework and writing exercises just don’t do it for me, never have.

At my first CWC retreat, Marion Smith led the group in a character building exercise, where she provided us with a list of names (First and Last, a couple with middle names). She asked the group to write a one or two sentence description of how we saw that “person” based solely on the name. The focus of the workshop was to show the correlation between a character’s name and the reader’s expectation of the character’s personality. But I took something more away. From that simple exercise, I realized that characters were my source of inspiration. I expanded on them, and created character files for the few that spoke to me. Later I added more pages for other “characters” I came across in real life. Soon I had a box full of them.

When the box overflowed, I stopped collecting. Later my productivity suffered from the opposite problem, too many ideas in my head. This weekend characters born out of my attending the Santa Claus Parade took residence in Box #2, and writing for my current WIP once again began to flow.

Here’s an exercise for you. Create a short character sketch for one or more of these people:

Someone who:

  • attended the parade as a spectator
  • watched the parade on TV
  • didn’t watch the parade at all
  • participated in the parade (driver, float rider, walked, wore a costume, etc.)
  • worked at, but did not participate in, the parade (crowd control, paramedic, street cleaner, etc.)
  • designed and/or built a float
  • organized the parade

What inspires your new ideas? Characters? Words? Phrases? Questions? Do you have a box (or digital representation thereof) for them? Why or why not?

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