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Old 03-25-2012, 02:50 AM   #1
gmw
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Keeping track of your story

I've done the first book of a series, currently struggling to conclude the second and have an rough outline for a third and yet another book two-thirds done that I am not sure where (or if) it fits yet ... and various other bits. So far I've been doing it all in OpenOffice: Each chapter in its own document, a master document for merging it all together and a collection of other documents for various sorts of notes.

It's been working okay, but the further I get in the more I find I'm having trouble remembering whether item x was in the notes for this book or the last book. One of the documents I keep for each book is a time-line which helps me keep the various threads working together consistently (it's quite curious to see how threads feed off each other as a result). Due to the way I have been writing these novels the time-lines play an important role.

Anyway, I've been browsing through this forum and noticing quite a number of people using Scrivener, so I downloaded and took a look. It's interesting, and there is a lot to like in it, but I'm not convinced it will help me very much over what I am already doing in OpenOffice ... in particular, I couldn't work out how I might get it to help me keep my time-lines - and if that's going to be stuck in OpenOffice then I figure the rest might as well stay there as well.

I'm not so unhappy with OpenOffice that I would leave it for just anything, I even have a sort of automatic log/snapshot feature by using subversion (I'm a programmer so it's already on my system, my books are just another project on the server). But I was wondering what other software may make keeping track of my ever expanding story a little easier.

I'm about to trial Liquid Story Binder as I see that has a time-line feature. I can't say that WriteWayPro looks appealing from the website, but I guess I'll take a look at that if LSB doesn't work out. yWriter5 I've yet to study.

I was curious to know how others cope.
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Old 03-25-2012, 03:21 AM   #2
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You might want to try YWriter5 http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html It's good writing software and it's free as well. MR member Spacejock created it to help himself keep organized when writing his own books according to his website.
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Old 03-25-2012, 04:39 AM   #3
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When writing long involved historical books, it was important for me to be able to get access to info on places, characters, dates etc. I was writing in Word at the time and so I built an Access database, filled it with the fields I needed and then, just completed a form whenever I wanted to add something. The database was searchable and this worked well for me. However, you do have to propagate the database, which can be a pain and I'm sure there must be an easier way to do this nowadays.
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Old 03-25-2012, 06:52 AM   #4
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You might give SuperNotecard a look, located here

http://www.mindola.com/supernotecard/

I've played with the program a little bit.




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Old 03-25-2012, 09:59 AM   #5
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Crich70: Thanks for the suggestion. I've downloaded and tried out yWriter5. My initial (very brief look so far) is that I don't really like the interface all that much, nor the way it manages project files (though it would be easy to adapt to it, just remember to save your project(s) in a folder away from other files). The interface does compare very favourably with my initial (very brief look so far) reaction to Liquid Story Binder. LSB is prettier, but yWriter is more obvious and intuitive. With LSB I was quickly lost, unable to quickly tell where and how the various bits fitted into other bits. I think LSB is one of those programs that will take a long time to learn, whereas with yWriter5 I think I could get going quite fast ... except in my current situation where I have so much I would have to transfer before all the bits in yWriter could work effectively and let me continue the actual writing. One non-intuitive thing in yWriter: I haven't worked out how to manage time-lines yet, though it says it can do it.

Justin Nemo: My programming work is primarily database related, so a similar solution has occurred to me. It is particularly appealing because the common failing with all the tools, that I've tried so far, is their word-processors (after being used to using a full featured word-processor). My existing database framework allows for linked files so I could possibly manage things via the database while still using OpenOffice for my actual writing.

Dr. Drib: Thanks for your suggestion. SuperNoteCard is interesting software, deceptively simple. It does even support some sort of time-line capability ... but in a sort of round-a-about manner that I think would be difficult to use for anything but very simple requirements.


Starting to sound pretty fussy I guess. I was hoping that there might have been something out there that worked the way I wanted to work, something I could move over to and say, "Ah, yes, that feels right." Much of the software I've tried - be it Scrivener, LSB, yWriter or SuperNoteCard - is something that I think might work well when you first start project, so that your work would shape itself within the software features. Trying to fit an already extensive project into such software was always going to be a big ask, and perhaps not entirely practical - unless/until I am ready to commit serious time to it (which takes away from my precious writing time).

For the benefit of anyone reading this thread: I thought the initial tutorial with Scrivener was very good, a very neat and structured way to get a person familiar with the software. SuperNoteCard had a three-little-pigs example project which helped to see how you might use the software, not as good as Scrivener, but then the software is not as complicated. yWriter was pretty obvious up front, so a lack of built-in tutorial wasn't that much of an issue. LSB does have an example project but I didn't find that it helped me to understand how to actually the software for what I wanted (in their defense, it is intended to be flexible software, but that flexibility comes at the cost of having much to learn before you can use it effectively - or so it seems to me, I would be curious to hear comments from anyone else that's used it).
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Old 03-25-2012, 10:11 AM   #6
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I find your post interesting and I'm doing a search (as I'm sure you, too, have done).

Here's one I'm not at all familiar, and it's pricey:

http://www.smartdraw.com/specials/timelines.asp

It's called SmartDraw.

If this isn't what you're looking for, could you elaborate a bit more on the requirements, please.



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Old 03-25-2012, 11:01 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Drib View Post
[...]Here's one I'm not at all familiar, and it's pricey:
http://www.smartdraw.com/specials/timelines.asp
It's called SmartDraw.

If this isn't what you're looking for, could you elaborate a bit more on the requirements, please.
I actually used SmartDraw for quite a long time (v2..v6 or so I think), for its diagramming capability. It was very good (and quite cheap early on), but became too bloated (and expensive) for my simple requirements and I gave up.

As for my requirements: Through the books characters split up and do their own things so that there are sometimes multiple threads. Often what happens in one thread impacts on the other, and in any case the characters all meet up again later so I want to make sure they manage to get to the same place at the same time (without needing seven-league boots, or having to stand there twiddling their thumbs to fill in time ).

But threads overlap and things cannot always be told in strict chronological order without breaking scenes in unnatural places. An extreme example of this would Lord of the Rings where, in the second and third books, you get all of one thread for a portion of the book, then all of another thread and so on, but you still get to see how the threads mesh with each for the wraith flying over and similar details.

So an outline of the book, chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene in print order may not reflect the actual story time-line. In order to check that the timing of my story is consistent and logical I keep a strictly chronological time-line of the events cross referenced with a scene description. One of the things that makes this more difficult is that in some cases the problem is long-periods of time, where characters are apart for months, while in other cases I am trying to synchronise things down to minutes. This time-line helps me to easily keep track what everyone is doing at the same time within the story, and if I need to alter the timing of one thread I can see how it impacts what I've done (or planned) for another.

At the moment I have an OpenOffice Text document with a simple table, one column for a the date/time and one a brief scene description (basically all the information you can put on the various "cards" in the software we have been discussing - except that on the time-line itself scenes may get split). One possible solution for me may be to move this simple table into a spreadsheet and add additional columns - allowing me to sort by date/time or by chapter/scene. This is still not going to be ideal since the ordering still needs to be kept in sync with what I've actually done - but it may be simpler than trying to move everything to something totally new.

ETA: My time-line document also carries details not explicitly covered by written scenes. Background information or events referred to indirectly. Making such details tie into any view except the time-line can be difficult.

Last edited by gmw; 03-25-2012 at 11:09 AM.
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Old 03-25-2012, 11:32 AM   #8
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Take a look at WriteItNow 4.

http://www.ravensheadservices.com/

The timeline, however, may be too simplisitic for your needs.



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Old 03-25-2012, 08:37 PM   #9
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Storybook?

http://www.novelist.ch/joomla/index.php/en/features

I tried it out a couple of years ago and I'm pretty sure they had an interesting timeline function but it was quite a while ago. There's a demo version but a quick look around the website suggests you need the Pro version for their advanced timeline features.
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Old 03-25-2012, 11:54 PM   #10
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Dr. Drib: Thanks for the suggestion. WriteItNow4 defines events as objects separate to the scenes and then requires you to link them into your scenes ... and then appears to do nothing more with them. In a book with any significant number of events this is likely to become cumbersome very quickly. I compare this with yWriter5 that allows you to specify the start-time and duration for each scene - which seems like it was heading the way I wanted ... but so far I've not found any way that it makes use of that information.

Dadioflex: Thanks for the suggestion. The Storybook "strands" feature seems to come close to what I was referring to as threads ... but my feeling for their interface is that they have concentrated on pretty rather than useful, you definitely need a large screen to see much of what's going on, and I don't fancy trying to manage an entire novel via their interface - though their "Simpsons" episode example works well enough. On a technical note: I am not a fan of Java apps for this sort of thing, the user interface elements are never as smooth as other apps, and this is amply shown in Storybook; also it is hard to manage java apps via a firewall (preventing phone-home and similar).


Disclaimer/warning: There is so much software out there that my "review" of them so far has been necessarily brief (though a few I am still looking at when I get time). I may be missing things that you find out only when you start actively trying to use the software for your own project. The problem is that that sort of in-depth review takes more time than I have at the moment (which is one of the reasons why a guided tutorial like that with Scrivener can be so useful).

Thanks again to everyone for their input so far, it has been instructive and has found more choices than I had managed on my own.
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Old 03-29-2012, 10:01 PM   #11
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One thing I like about Scrivener, along this thread, is the ability to add metadata (more or less) within each chapter using the Inspector. It gives me a running outline of where everything is within each manuscript file. You can look at it by chapter or by using the cork board in Group Mode.

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Old 03-30-2012, 06:24 AM   #12
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GMW

So I have a similar problem with my series. For example in my third book the 2 main characters split up, and have their own fun... but have different amounts of text to cover the same time. The second time line actually got over a week ahead of the first at one point.


To address this I currently I have a word doc that has an outline in it that servers as my time line. Low tech in a sense, but it does work. I have also started to build out an encyclopedia for the world using mediawiki.


I have not found a great timeline tool that does better then a simple outline. Though I will check the ones listed in this thread soon (I hope).
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Old 03-30-2012, 10:38 AM   #13
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Lazer, thanks for you comment. From my limited time with the software so far, Scrivener seems to handle the metadata aspect of writing much more clearly than the others - many have similar capabilities, but few worked it in as smoothly (at least to the eye of my limited experience).

VydorScope, I saw your mention of trying to use a wiki on another thread, it was one of the things that inspired me to start this thread. I would like to hear how you get on with that.

I hadn't thought about using the outline feature inside *Office, that would make it easier to move things around when you need to as well (moving row content around inside my table gets annoying) ... I must try that out.

After looking at all the other software I realised that one thing I didn't want to leave behind was OpenOffice (or LibreOffice if I decide to move to that one day) - all the templates, styles, and extensive dictionary I've built up for my story. In the last few days I've spent some of my writing time writing code instead of story; trying to work out if I can achieve something like what I've seen in that other software, but put together the way I want it, and controlling OpenOffice from my own program (which I've finally worked out how to do) so that all my scenes and notes and text snippets could still be maintained there. It may all come to nothing yet, not sure I have the time it would take to make it work well, and I still want some of my time left for writing, but I do have proof of concept now.
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Old 04-13-2012, 04:31 AM   #14
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My first novel was written in OpenOffice (I've now moved to LibreOffice since Oracle took over and more or less dumped OpenOffice) and it works well.

However I got the tip to try Scrivener, and I have to say, even though there's now a Windows version, and even an unofficial trial on Linux, Scrivener strikes me as so good it's worth buying a Mac just to be able to use it.

It does all of what you do in LibO (or OOo, if you like), with the difference that you can have other documents than your chapters in the same place. With LibO you have your master document and that contains all your chapters. With Scrivener you have that in one section of your window and in another you have, for example, in my case, a text file containing the letters A-Z in a column down the left hand side, and to the right the names of each character whose first name begins with that letter (plus their relationship to the story). I also have a link to a Calc file with my timeline, which in the current book shows the ages of the principal characters at different events, and in the same Calc file principal facts about important characters, including their BMI! There is another document, available at a click when I'm in the middle of a chapter, with bus timetables, one with location details, my synopsis, character prehistories and most important, one for notes on changes I need to make later because I've changed something in a later chapter which affects an earlier chapter.

One click and I'm in the working paper, another click and I'm back in my chapter at exactly the point where I left it.

Like LibO, Scrivener will produce an acceptable first try for an epub book, and a good shot at the document you would send to your agent/publisher, or export to LibO for tidying up before you send it away.

But if you use a version handling program, you may well have found a good way to have all these working papers a click away anyway.
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Old 04-13-2012, 06:45 AM   #15
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James_Wilde, it is an interesting mix of documents that you describe. The Windows version of Scrivener impressed me, but it would be curious to see how it compares to the Mac version. All my paid development work takes place in virtual machines already, so moving them to a Mac host would be easy enough (can't do it the other way around, Mac won't let you, or I might have already tried). ... Still, I can't quite see myself doing it ... not yet, not for this project, anyway. Thanks for your feedback.
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