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:
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:
- it allows me restructure chapters and scenes as easily as moving physical cards around on a storyboard, and
- 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:
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:
In 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. 😀