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Writing tools for complex storytelling

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Posted by Dr Andus
Feb 23, 2012 at 06:08 PM

 

I’m wondering what all the tools are out there for complex storytelling (for Windows PC). By ‘complex storytelling’ I mean the kind of writing where you need to weave together multiple storylines (e.g. 5 stories). The difficulty is the following. You may need to write a piece of work consisting of several chapters, and the 5 storylines need to be woven into the text of all the chapters.

The problem here is not only the structuring of the overall storyline (although that is one of the issues). I’m aware of Storybook Pro and Anthemion Writer’s Cafe for that. The main issue is how to manage and keep track and dip in and out of 5 stories, while you are essentially writing just one text in the end. One way to imagine this is to visualise 5 threads representing 5 levels of depth under the surface, which periodically need to come up to the surface (which is the actual text) and become part of the surface, before dipping below for a while again. The final text is the surface text, and it is made of the 5 storylines, whenever they surface. In my case this is actually social science writing, not fictional stories, so the storylines may relate to empirical stories but also to theoretical (conceptual) stories. It gets more complicated in the sense that some of the storylines may combine and give rise to new storylines (e.g. two empirical stories may give rise to a theoretical meta-story).

At the moment I’m using Scrivener. It’s good for a lot of things but the hierarchical outline and the index card view do not really help with the multiple storyline problem. I tried using Storybook on the side, but the problem is it’s not directly integrated into Scrivener, which is where the surface text is being created. My curiosity was piqued by the discussions of ConnectedText here, wondering if hypertext (wiki) might be the right format to approach this problem of managing surface and depth. Any other suggestions?

 


Posted by Hugh
Feb 23, 2012 at 07:19 PM

 

Flying Logic? Plotting fiction or faction isn’t what it was designed for, but I’ve used it for that purpose, and it fits the purpose quite well. It’s good at tracing multiple, branching and re-combining threads. 

A series of posts in the FL forums from a couple of years ago by the novelist AndreasE describes the use of the software for fictional plotting and is a useful place to start. (I haven’t found FL so useful for characterisation, but that’s not part of your search.)

H

 


Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Feb 23, 2012 at 09:46 PM

 

I think I understand the problem and your question (although if this response is way off the mark, then maybe I don’t). It seems to me you could use Scrivener to compose your five strands, but the pieces that are to be “surfaced” get a certain keyword so that you can then use a collection to pull those all together into the narrative. Does that make any sense? (I think the Windows version does collections, but I’m home and away from my PC, so I’m not 100% sure.)

Steve Z.

 


Posted by Dr Andus
Feb 24, 2012 at 02:42 AM

 

Stephen Zeoli wrote:
>I think I understand the problem and your question (although if this response is way
>off the mark, then maybe I don’t). It seems to me you could use Scrivener to compose your
>five strands, but the pieces that are to be “surfaced” get a certain keyword so that you
>can then use a collection to pull those all together into the narrative. Does that make
>any sense? (I think the Windows version does collections, but I’m home and away from my
>PC, so I’m not 100% sure.)
> >Steve Z.

Thanks Steve. Your explanation makes good sense, though the first time I looked at Collections I didn’t quite get what they were for. But I will take another look.

 


Posted by Gary Carson
Feb 24, 2012 at 02:44 AM

 

After trying every outliner, timeliner, mind-mapping application and “writer’s program” ever created, not to mention things like old-fashioned index cards, I’ve decided that there is no good solution to this problem. SuperNoteCard and Storylines by Writer’s Cafe are probably the best programs for this kind of work, IMO, but the truth is that NOTHING works all that well. The bottom line is that this is just hard mental work, no matter what tools you’re using. There’s no escaping it.

Actually, planning books with multiple, interwoven storylines isn’t all that difficult conceptually. You just work out the storylines, break them into chapters, then weave the chapters together, alternating between storylines and tying them together as you go. When it comes to keeping track of the details where the storylines overlap, you just have to keep track of them when you’re writing your chapter outlines. That’s really what it boils down to. It’s brain-busting work and it always will be.

One method that works OK for me when I’m trying to figure out a complex plot is to write “cue outlines.” These are very high-level outlines where I just use a couple words to remind me of what the chapter is about and note down the kinds of details you’re talking about. I usually write these in Word (or sometimes on a manual typewriter, depending on how hostile to computers I am at the time). It helps give me an overall view of the plot and how the different storylines fit together.

Dictation also works pretty well. It’s great for brainstorming ideas and it’s a lot faster than writing at the keyboard. If I’m just brainstorming, I never bother transcribing or saving the dictation because the whole point of the exercise is to come up with ideas. You can use dictation to create regular outlines as well and transcribe them with Dragon Naturally Speaking. Then you can go over the outlines and revise them. It works for me, but it might not work for you. Whatever method you use, though, the bottom line is that this is all head work. The hardest part of writing is coming up with good ideas and no program is going to help you there.

 


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