Saturday, August 29, 2009

Let Storyist put manners on your manuscript

Thumbing through my June edition of RWA's 'Romance Writers Report', I spotted an article on software for writers. IT and writing? Might this mean a beautiful merging of my two careers? Sort of.

Weeks of struggling with a second draft of my contemporary novel have proven beyond doubt that my brain cannot hold on to any more scenes and clever quips. This spells disaster for my growing manuscript: she's sprouted arms, legs and, dammit, a mind of her own. Like all teenagers, she does what she wants, and while I don't begrudge her this, it is me who's struggling to manage it all.

But surely the creative process is more organic than technical? Won't my ideas, currently on scraps of paper and my 'can't throw it out' paper napkin, just come together harmoniously on Word? Alas no, this child has my heart near-broken. I forget where I'm going and where I've been. So I look to the all-knowing internet and find the answer to all my problems: Storyist.

Storyist is a creative writing management tool especially for Macs, and is the brainchild of part-time writer and IT veteran, Steve Shepard. His Eureka moment was when he realised there was no software to help him organise and manage his draft manuscript, and the extensive notes and research that accompany this. Shortly afterwards, he set about developing and marketing Storyist.

Storyist is a tool that helps you to work smarter, not harder. All stories, be they in book form or on the silver screen, have elements in common: characters, plots, as well as a time and a place. Throw in a few subplots and secondary characters, and you have yourself an informational nightmare. Writers need to research, take notes, flesh out ideas, and if you're a plotter like me, build a storyboard to arrange scenes and chapters in sequence. How to do that, and tap out a nifty 100,000 words at the same time? Its tricky...

So how can Storyist help? It allows you record your manuscript and its supplementary information all in one place. You can add notes, edit text, type up the manuscript and format it. Storyist even lets you add photos of your characters. A pleasing workspace awaits you: a sidebar on the left presents a tree-structure of your WIP, giving you a birds-eye view of all your notes, categorised neatly into useful headings like 'Character', 'Plot', 'Setting' and so on. On the right, there's an virtual 'pinboard', while your growing manuscript nestles cheekily in the centre.

The pinboard functionality is particularly great - you just type onto an index card (jot down a short scene for example), then add a comment (kinda like a post-it)- this sits alongside the index card, providing extra info or key elements you need to include later. Giving your index card a meaningful heading is smart, since this appears in the tree-structure view.

Like all things Mac, this software is more graphical than text-based. Its interface allows you to simply drag and drop items, handy when trying out different scene sequences. In addition, there are story sheets, character sheets, and template functionality for those who need to customise.

Your workspace too is configurable, but even the default settings I describe above suit this writer perfectly. The company's website claims that Storyist lends itself equally well to screenwriters as well as novelists. The application is clear, intuitive and well organised, with a useful project-wide search facility (no more deciphering of scrawl, or trying to read notes on a grubby napkin. Nice.)

My verdict after just an hour? Brilliant.

This all means that when it comes time for you to tap out 100k-odd words of a novel (or 2 hours' worth of screentime), you can concentrate more on the language and less on the logistics.

A note for any non-writers (and may you never doubt this): Storyist, like all the writing tools I know of, is not an auto-generator of storylines, characters or anything else - in short, it won't write your book for you. However, it makes the admin easier to handle, allowing that creative muse to flourish.
Now where'd she go again...?

(Get the free 15-day demo from the site below - you can use it right away, no fangling or setup required, just a straightforward download. And if like me you love it, you can purchase for a snip-like US$59) (see details of their sponsorship of NaNoWriMo) (Romance Writers of America publishes the monthly 'Romance Writers Report')


  1. Thanks Nicola. I'm like you, very nearly drowning under sheets of paper. I'm just starting a new novel so you timing is perfection.
    And welcome to the blogsphere.

  2. Hi Mageela,

    great to hear you're kicking off a brand new book. Hope you get some use from this app, for a while there it was a full time job keeping track of everything and this software has cured a big headache.

    And thanks for the welcome - I stopped by your own blog lately - congratulations, it is fab! Looking forward to hearing your progress on the new project.

    That beautiful pink rose got me thinking how I can snaz up my own blogspot - one of these days...!