#amwriting – using StoryBox 2.0

I’ve been using StoryBox novel writing software for years now so it’s easy to forget what a difference it makes to my writing. You see, I’m a pantster at heart. I don’t outline, I don’t storyboard, I don’t use ‘cards’ and I don’t know how my stories will end.

That last point guarantees that my stories will not be predictable. Unfortunately, it also guarantees that they are always in danger of turning into a sprawling, self-indulgent mess. I know, because I used to use Word [before I found StoryBox] and I remember how hard it was to see the forest for the trees – i.e. to get an overview of the whole story. I also remember how hard it was to restructure that story in order to make it flow properly.

Now when I say ‘structure’, I don’t mean a neat, pre-ordained three act roadmap of the story. I mean placing scenes where they are meant to go.

“Well, duh. Isn’t that what writers are supposed to do?”

“Yes, but I’m a pantster, remember?”

The truth is, I ‘see’ scenes in vivid technicolour and write them down. If I’m having a good day, the scene will fit perfectly into the progression of the story. Other days, not so. That’s because my sub-conscious doesn’t work in a neat, linear fashion. The process is more like putting together a spherical, 3D jigsaw puzzle. My sub-conscious gets an idea and my fingers translate that idea into something more or less relevant to the part of the story I’m currently working on. It’s not until later, often much later, that I realise scene A is in the wrong spot and that it would go much better in position 123. Something like this:

globe wireframe

And this is where StoryBox comes in. It allows pantsters like me to become hybrid ‘pantliners’, and all without trying to turn my brain into something it’s not.

For me, StoryBox does two things extremely well:

  1. it allows me restructure chapters and scenes as easily as moving physical cards around on a storyboard, and
  2. it allows me to create quick and dirty outlines on the navigation tree as I go [sort of like creating a roadmap rather than following one].

This is the navigation tree. In the beginning you start with just one chapter and one scene. As the story progresses you add more chapters and scenes on the fly until you get something like this:

storybox useful 2At the very top of the navigation tree is the name of the story itself. Below that are the chapters and inside the chapters are the scenes.

I can leave the chapter headings as just ‘chapter x’ [created automatically by the software], or I can add my own road signs to show what’s in each chapter/scene.

Over time, these road signs add up to that quick and dirty outline I was talking about.

I’m too lazy to add a synopsis to each chapter/scene, but that is also easily done on the fly.

So now I can look at my ‘outline’ to get a quick overview of the story. This allows me to see whether it’s flowing correctly. It also allows me to rethink what comes where, both in terms of events and in terms of character motivation.

In fact, this post was motivated by the fact that I have just had to do quite a substantial restructuring of the second half of Innerscape. If I had still been using Word…-shudder-

As wordprocessors go, Word is probably as good as you’re going to get, but it simply doesn’t have the tools a writer needs. Yes, you can move great chunks of text around. You can even set up a form of navigation to help you, but it’s still hard work. First you have to find the exact chunk you need to move. Then you have to select it, cut it, scroll through hundreds of pages of story, find the new spot and paste. If you mess up anywhere during that process you can do terrible things to your story.

Now look at how StoryBox does it:

storybox useful 1In this screenshot I have selected the whole story by clicking on ‘INNERSCAPE 5 TO 8’ [at the top of the navigation tree]. Then I click on the storyboarding function which displays every chapter [and part] as a digital ‘card’. To move a ‘card’, I simply drag & drop it to its new location. Every scene associated with that chapter is moved right along with the chapter.

On a smaller scale, I can do exactly the same thing with scenes. To move a scene around inside a chapter, simply select the chapter, select the storyboarding function and move the relevant ‘card’ for that scene to a new position.

If I want to move a scene from chapter A to chapter B, I click on the scene in the navigation tree and drag and drop from there.

I truly do not think I could have written the Innerscape beast without StoryBox to organize it for me. The story has become so big, with so many threads woven through it, that I simply could not have kept it all in my head.

If a project you’re working on is turning into a behemoth and you’ve reached the limits of Word functionality, I really would recommend trying one of the dedicated writing packages. I’m very happy with StoryBox, but I’ve heard that Scrivener is very similar, and there are other options out there as well. Stop struggling and start optimizing your time and energy!



p.s. If you want to read my original review of StoryBox version 1, you can find it here. Version 2 has the same core functionality but is sleeker.

p.p.s. I just realised that using StoryBox has changed the way I write. Now I think totally in ‘scenes’ and that has resulted in a dramatic drop in the amount of waffle I produce. 😀



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

24 responses to “#amwriting – using StoryBox 2.0

  • Jeri Walker (@JeriWB)

    I switched to Scrivener a few years ago, but hadn’t heard of StoryBox until now. After the initial learning curve, I like all that Scrivener has to offer. The more I write (and flail at my on-again, off-again novel) I’ve realized I am not much of a pantster at all. I need some structure in place before I write. Must be the editor in me 😉


    • acflory

      I literally had to turn myself into a pantster with music otherwise I couldn’t write at all, leastways not fiction. I’m getting better but my first drafts still read more like a technical manual than a novel. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  • dvberkom

    LOL Pantliner. Hadn’t heard that one yet 🙂 I’ve been considering using one of these programs, but just never jumped. Thanks for another alternative to Scrivener. I’ll have to check it out.


    • acflory

      I know I shouldn’t push one app over the other but I really like that the creator of StoryBox is actually a writer himself so he’s open to new ideas that make the writing process easier. You can try StoryBox for free and ‘import’ your current WiP with some minimal preparation. I suspect you’d like it. 🙂


  • chrisjames282

    Great post Meeks! I’ve always wondered those programs are like to actually use – very interesting! For me, although I’m definitely a planner, I always that kind of summary info down in long hand. Am very very glad your working on Innerscape, too!


    • acflory

      Ah hah! But how can you bear to write longhand???? My arms would fall off and it would take me forever. 😦


      • chrisjames282

        As it goes, writing summary characters/plotlines in long hand let’s me think more about them and if they’re any good, something about movement aiding one’s imagination. But yes, my arm aches after a while so I do try to get stuff like that down as concisely as possible 🙂

        And sorry for the typos in my comment above. Really, missing-word typos are the of my life 🙂


        • acflory

          -giggles- yes, those missing words really are the…bane? of all our lives.
          These days, longhand is something I reserve, grudgingly, for ‘NOTES TO MYSELF!!!!’ and shopping lists. 😀


  • Candy Korman

    Another program to learn! That’s what my brain cries out when I see a post like this one. Should I try it? I’ll give it some thought. Glad it’s working for you.


    • acflory

      Word can handle shorter documents quite happily but once you get to 90 K wordcount you’ll find it slows and becomes a great deal less manageable. When I made the shift I was wrestling with a 250K word story in Word. Had to split it up and do all sorts of painful things. 😦
      Mind you that was 3? years ago. Not sure how Word 2013 handles large documents.


  • Carrie Rubin

    I haven’t heard of Story Box. I use Scrivener and you can shuffle things around with that as well. I don’t move over to Word until I’m on my third draft. At that point everything is in place. I just need to pretty it up.

    Thanks for the info!


  • Hariod Brawn

    Ooh, I can see what a boon that would be, and understand exactly what you mean about the limitations of MS Word for larger texts. I’ve only ever written one lengthy text (74k words), and that was necessarily a linear progression, so Word just about worked; but for a story, and for shifting time-frames within it, I can see this software would be infinitely more workable.


    • acflory

      It is. It’s wonderful. And what did you write? Did you publish?


      • Hariod Brawn

        It was a manual on contemplation practices which got published by a little outfit who specialised in biographies of obscure Irish religious figures of the past. I would like to try some fiction and get away from my usual dry prosaicness; you know, use my imagination a bit. Anyway, this article of yours is helpful – thankyou.


  • MELewis

    This is a really helpful review as you are so specific! I am also a semi-reformed pantser who struggles with Word. I tried Scrivener briefly but did not like the interface (it was ugly – what can I say? Aesthetics matter!) Unfortunately I checked the App store and did not see StoryBox. Too bad, as I work on Mac and am afraid of risking an unsupported app that may interfere with others. What platform do you work on?


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