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JamesSavik

Storybook: a freeware story outliner

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There are a number of commercial programs out there for authors that help you build characters and scenes: Dramatica, Writers Dream, etc. One of the problems with these commercial packages: none of them is a good fit.

Some are expensive and powerful full of bells and whistles you might never need- not to mention a huge learning curve. Others are cheap and underpowered and using them for anything more complicated than a short, short-story would be like trying to cut down a redwood with a butterknife.

At LAST there is a powerful freeware tool for writers! Check out Storybook. It has a four star rating from Softpedia and gives you an outlining tool and helps you keep track of characters, locations and timelines.

Let me know what you think.

Storybook

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There are a lot of spelling errors within the home page and other pages. I think it may be a translation from another language, and my guess is German, since that is a clickable option for reading it. Sadly, it is not Mac compatible at this time, so I can't really go any further with it.

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There are a lot of spelling errors within the home page and other pages. I think it may be a translation from another language, and my guess is German, since that is a clickable option for reading it. Sadly, it is not Mac compatible at this time, so I can't really go any further with it.

The websie for StorYBook is in Switzerland, so it probably is German.

Colin :icon13:

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I've played with some of these story outliners, and I guess I'm just an old fuddy-duddy because I just don't get it.

To me, you can outline a story just fine with a pen and a yellow pad. That's the way J.K. Rowling did it with Harry Potter, and it seems to have worked for 7 books (which sold about 400 million copies).

I think these fancy-schmancy programs just complicate what can be a simple process: figuring out how to go from point A to point B in a story. To me, all you need is a list of characters (with descriptions), a timeline showing when everything happens, and a brief one- or two-sentence list of the major bullet points that happen in each chapter.

I once walked through an office at Disney, and they had the entire plot for one of their major animated films (I think it was a direct-to-video sequel of Lion King), and they had the entire plot on about a hundred 3x5 cards on a corkboard on a wall. The whole thing probably cost $75, including the nail used to hang it. No fancy software needed.

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That's the way J.K. Rowling did it with Harry Potter, and it seems to have worked for 7 books

Although that may be factual, and I'm not doubting that it is, your point is completely useless to the vast majority of writer wannabees. To use the example of a talented writer to show that a software program is not needed doesn't help those without either training, or that much talent. The intended use of this software is to help those without that talent, and without that ability to oversee a large project easily.

I think pointing to such software as a tool to learning, to get the basics firmly anchored, and to get some 'product' 'out there' and then to advance beyond its simple process would be a better route to encouraging new writers.

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Although that may be factual, and I'm not doubting that it is, your point is completely useless to the vast majority of writer wannabees.

It's factual. Read the J.K. Rowling entry on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.k._rowling

Not only does Jo (as I like to call her) outline in pen on a yellow pad, that's also the way she wrote every word in every Harry Potter novel. I think by the second book, she had enough money to hire secretaries to type everything up into a word processor, but Rowling is notoriously computer-phobic.

Stephen King wrote all of Dreamcatcher in longhand as well, but that was because he had just been in a serious accident, and couldn't sit down for long periods at the keyboard. I don't know of any mainstream novelist who uses anything beyond a good word-processing program to write. (And then there's Harlan Ellison, who continues to use a manual Olympia typewriter. He has a half-dozen of them sitting in a closet, just for spare parts.)

I say again: "writer wannabees" won't necessarily write better, easier, or faster by using an outline or plot-creating program. Non-dedicated programs like MS Word have outliners built in, but you know, I still don't think even that's necessary. I've written over 1000 published articles, and rarely did I outline them beyond more than a dozen bullet points. I usually start the piece, type the bullet points somewhere in the copy area, then start writing, and delete the points as I flesh them out in the text.

I think there are some dedicated programs that serve a purpose. For example, I think Final Draft is terrific if you want to write film or TV scripts. But that's just a formatting program that makes the act of typing and editing easier.

I don't think an outlining program can really do any more than a yellow pad and pen, or just by opening up another document. I think your money is better spent on a nice big monitor, where you can see two full pages side by side. And I think new writers are better served by going out and reading a a few good books on writing. If you can sum up precisely why you think I'm wrong, I'll be glad to listen to your argument.

BTW, there's a terrific online catalog of writing software and books here:

http://www.writersstore.com/

I have no connection with the store, except that I've bought gifts for friends there from time to time, and that's where I bought my own copy of Final Draft. They're nice people, though their prices are somewhat high.

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I won't do this very often, I promise, but I want to interject that this is a good dialogue gentlemen.

(I liked Pecman's disclaimer about him not being associated with the company to which he referred.)

Okay that is all Folks, back to the topic. :hehe:

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What I get from this isn't that computer programs built for writers are good or bad, but that different writers have their own ways of working, and that what works for them works for them and may well not be what works for someone else.

And I think that sums up writing pretty well. Do what works.

I think both Pec and Trab are right. For those for whom their advice works.

We've got to find what works for us, and then go at it.

C

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What I get from this isn't that computer programs built for writers are good or bad, but that different writers have their own ways of working, and that what works for them works for them and may well not be what works for someone else.

And I think that sums up writing pretty well. Do what works.

I think both Pec and Trab are right. For those for whom their advice works.

We've got to find what works for us, and then go at it.

C

Very, very well said, Cole.

Colin :hehe:

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I'd be interested to know what you think about Ywriter4

It's free.

It might be useful, I haven't had time to use it yet, but I liked the author's attitude. :hehe:

Ywriter 4 ROCKS!

I found it a little while ago and it's my tool of choice (don't you dare, Des :hug: ) for writing at the moment. It's excellent ... and free - though he does ask for donations.

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Ywriter 4 ROCKS!

I found it a little while ago and it's my tool of choice (don't you dare, Des :hehe: ) for writing at the moment. It's excellent ... and free - though he does ask for donations.

I wouldn't dream of it

Well maybe, perhaps, just a little... :hug:

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Even I have to admit, it's hard to get bent out of shape about freeware piece of software. If it doesn't cost anything to try it out, it ain't a big deal.

I still think new writers are better served by reading a few good books about how to write. To me, this will do them a world of good compared to any software product.

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I'd have to agree with your point, Pecman. I once read somewhere that if you want to learn how to write, you need to read everything you can get your hands on: not just books on how to write. The only "how to" books I've read are "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" and "Characters and Viewpoint", both by Orson Scott Card. Now, before I get a ton of hatemail about Card, I find his personal and religious viewpoints as repugnant as anyone else here. Having said that, the books are well written, interesting, and provide valuable insight into the writing process.

Still, the best preparation for writing a fantasy saga I ever had was reading every good (and many bad) fantasy series I could get my hands on. Read it enough and the basic underpinnings of a fantasy series become pretty obvious. I find it useful to do a fairly in-depth analysis on the characters before setting fingers to keyboard so that you know the character, and how he/she will react in a given situation to ensure they are believable and consistent.

I work in pretty much the same way Wibby mentioned. I sketch out what I want the volume to accomplish, then do a short sketch of each chapter that moves the story along towards the end goal of the particular volume. Then I start writing (until I get stuck or work dominates my life) while paying close attention to the promptings of my personal muse. My editor pointed out that it was useful to keep a glossary of characters and places. The issue with epic fantasy is keeping your character list from spinning completely out of control, and remembering all the characters you've already invented. For the places, I find making a map very handy, and there's some pretty cool planet creation software out there that makes a great starting point. Don't like the planet it created? Hit the generate button, and you have a completely new planet in under five seconds.

Your imagination is the best writing aid ever created. Still, what software do I use? I use the same thing I use at work: Microsquash Word, but I have been playing around with the Open Office suite of applications. It does pretty much everything that Microsoft Office does, only it does it all for free, and works on all the microsoft file types as a default. Its also available for windows, linux, and mac in about a dozen different languages. If you're interested, check it out at openoffice.org.

Rick

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Yeah, I loved Characters & Viewpoint a lot more before I discovered what a homophobic jerk Card was. I've heard him lecture before at SF conventions, and he's a very engaging and bright guy. But that was back in the 1970s, before his anti-gay opinions were known.

You bring up a good point about maps. I can see in a complex story (particularly fantasy), you'd not only need a character list and a timeline, along with chapter notes, but also a map to pinpoint the positions of each location in the story. My recommendation is that the writer should keep all these notes to himself, and not reveal them to the reader. One of my major pet peeves is when a neophyte writer jams in a character list at the head of each chapter (or any chapter). To me, you've got to assume that the reader is going to pay attention and understand which character is which. Hell, I think there are over 100 speaking characters in Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien never provided a list of characters. Somehow, his books were pretty well-received. (Ditto with J.K. Rowling.)

Open Office annoys me, but I concede that word processors fall into a religious/political arena. I've tried about six alternate word processing programs in the last year or two, and MS Word is still the one I prefer. I hate Microsoft, but am too comfortable with Word to change. But I gotta admit, I'm starting to like Google Docs an awful lot -- and that's compatible with pretty much any browser, very easy to use, and 100% free.

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