In Search Of The Perfect Plotting Tool

Okay, so I’ve been giving all sorts of things a trial run in terms of trying to outline Til Death Do Us Part (which needs a new title, so if you have suggestions, please feel free to offer them). For House of Cards, I didn’t outline on the front end. About halfway through I made a loose sort of outline of events up to that point and an action points outline of what I wanted to come after. I used a very low tech solution of index cards to write out all the stuff that happens and organize it into a more suspenseful whole. That worked fairly well but took up most of my living room.

When I got started on Flash Point, I simplified and embraced PBW’s Novel Notebook, which works out to be a very useful tool but not one that’s calling my name for TDDUP.

Well, then I remembered Crystal King mentioning doing some cluster mapping sorts of stuff. And that led me to FreeMind. I downloaded and tried this earlier this week, and I found it a really neat way to visually link stuff together. Except that the program won’t allow me (that I can tell) to draw lines between two connected series of events or have more than one root node. So I stopped that.

Well then Pot got in on the search and we revisited PageFour. This is a really nifty simple word processing program designed for writers. You can organize your work in progress in a way that suits you, put your character summaries and plot outlines wherever you feel like it, have all your chapters and notes, right there with easy access. The trial version is free and allows you to have up to 3 workbooks going at once. This particular software works really well for Pot because she routinely has boocoodles of windows open in Word between notes and the chapter she’s working on and maybe the full draft, etc. Though she was very disappointed that it won’t allow her to write in pink.

She also found Papel, which I downloaded and looked at but didn’t really use. One post about it said

Papel is a new and intuitive tool for creative writers, it features a drag & drop interface, fully customisable icons and colour themes, writing project backup, timed Auto-save when editing text content, spell check and thesaurus. Papel allows you to write intuitively without logical tasks interfering with the flow of your ideas….

It’s also free, for those who wish to try it out.

Oh but then she found Text Block Writer. Now this one we both really like. This program (also free) allows you to create text blocks, which are tantamount to the index cards I used before, and arrange them in columns in any order you choose. It is, essentially, a virtual way to storyboard exactly how I do with index cards without the taking over of all flat surfaces in my living room! There is also an export feature which allows you to take your outline as created in TBW and send it to an RTF file so you can read the whole thing. There is some sort of additional code/commands you must type in to make everything appear as is in the program, but either way, another great way to represent your story. Pot and I came up with the following coding system for blocks:

Gray: backstory
Red: suspense
Pink: romance
Green: action that advances the plot
Yellow: Questions to answer
Orange: setting
Purple: secondary plot
Brown: general notes
Blue: character
Black: conflict

From there we’re doing things somewhat differently, but this system allows us to send our TBW files back and forth for comments and know what we’re looking at. She’s more detailed than I am (and you can see her take on the program here), and that’s mostly likely a product of my natural resistance to outlining at all, even though I know I should. I approach it with about the same dread I would the gallows. Sad, I know. But at heart I am still a pantser. Gotta change for professional productivity level though. Sad.

Anyway, of the lot, my vote went to Text Block Writer. I do really like PageFour as a word processor, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever switch from Word just because I email my files back and forth to myself at work to work on during my spare time. Speaking of work….must get myself there post haste.

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10 comments

  1. Sorry I haven’t been around in a while, but hopefully I’m back. 🙂 Loved the post – will have to check those links out definitely. Best of luck on outlining (and sweating with Sven later on 🙂 )

    – Bri

  2. I’ve used SuperNoteCards, Liquid Binder, and FreeMind. Each have certain things they do well…but none of them are right for me. FreeMind is great for loose idea generation, word associations. SNC is basically note cards online. I could put a little color “person” to show the threads of character arcs, which was cool, but the character development side sucked. Also couldn’t upload pictures. Liquid Binder came close, but ultimately I wasted too much time in set up and I didn’t like the library feature.

    The ultimate IMO seems to be the tool Holly Lisle uses, but I don’t have a Mac.

    I’ll definitely check these out. I’m always on the lookout for *the* tool. Really what works best for me? HTML or a private wordpress blog. I can do ideas in a post, then link them together, create tables of plot points, etc. Privacy is the issue, of course. Don’t want those great ideas getting stolen. 🙂

  3. 😉 If I could get in the habit of plotting stuff out more, I’d be really happy with the program MS has, it’s called ONE NOTE. Not really a writing thing, per se, more like virtual sticky notes. It’s organized…sort of, but not too organized, which suits my mentality perfectly.

    🙂 So are you ready to start sweating?

  4. I’m a heck of a lot closer to it now than I was before yesterday. I now have something resembling a plot rather than “hey, here’s a neat heroine and a cool hero; they should get together and there should be a dead body or four…” I’m hoping to fill in some more of the gaping holes today and tomorrow so that I’m ready to hit the ground running on Monday with the start of the challenge.

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