I received a new toy the other day: the beta version of Scapple for Windows. Scapple is a mind mapping program, a very simple system that allows you to diagram your thoughts and working out plots, characters, locations, anything your heart desires. I’ve waited for this software for a while, since it’s made by the same people who make Scrivener, and on the Mac version of both programs it’s possible to drag notes from one program to the other when you’re in the mood to think things out in the middle of a complex story.
When I posted this link a discussion came up about the uses of software for writing, and I mentioned that I’ve used mind mapping software before, and that I’ve used a number of other programs, too, when building a world that is my story. The question came back, “What software do you use, Cassie?” I sent a PM to the person who asked, then started thinking last night, “Hey, maybe someone else will be interested to see the sort of tools I use when the writing madness strikes.”
If you’ll allow, I’ll show the thing I use, and maybe you’ll find some of this information useful.
Shall we begin?
First off, I use Scrivener for writing. I’ve wrote about Scrivener many times, even going so far as to post pictures of my projects–like the one at right which comes from December of 2012. Lets get this out of the way right now: Scrivener is not simply a word processor, it’s a project management tool. The idea is to have all the things you need for your story in one place, and eliminate the need to bring up multiple files onto your desktop and flip back and forth looking for something. If it were “just” a word processor, it wouldn’t be worth the $40, but it’s more than that, and that makes it well worth the price of admission. Plus I have a fifty percent off code from Camp NaNo, and you never know who might end up getting that little gem.
Since Scapple is in beta mode at the moment, and will likely not be ready for full-out production until right before NaNo 2013, I use FreeMind for all my mind mapping needs. FreeMind is Java based so it’ll run on any computer that uses Java, and it’s open source, so it’s free, but kick in a donation if you’re in the mood. It’s not a perfect tool, but once you learn the ins and outs of how it works, you can build mind maps in no time. Another nice thing is that the saved mind map can be imported into Scrivener, and it’ll set up separate text cards for each point in your map, which means you only have to go and fill in the words.
Aeon Timeline isn’t available for Windows at the moment, though I’ve seen that they are working hard on a Windows version. Since it’s not available, I use Timeline, which is another Java-based, free program released under the GNU General Public Licence version 3. I’ve written about this program and its use a few times as well, and thought it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Aeon has, if you are looking for a quick and dirty way to lay out your time graphically, it does the job. The learning curve is minimal, and since it doesn’t have a lot of stuff loading up in the background, it runs fast on just about any machine. It’s also great for plotting out all those stories you’re going to write about characters who’ll be around for a very long time, and figuring out where all the events of their lives take place . . .
I’ve said it before: I like to make maps. For some stories you need them, or at least I do. There are a few programs out there that will allow you to draw up maps, but years ago at GenCon I bought Fractal Mapper, which was really designed for the gaming community, but works wonders if you want to lay out something for a story. The shapes may not be exactly what you need, and the sometimes drawing roads and paths isn’t always easy, but once you figure out how all that stuff works, you can draw up towns and villages, or those secret government complexes that people seem to want to write about so much.
When I want to look at the layout of a building I use Sweet Home 3D, another Java-based, open source program. This program will not only allow you to develop the floor plan of a building, but you’ll be able to see it in 3D from both an aerial view, and a walk-through view. This program came in handy, because for my last story i created the structure you see on the right, and I was able to figure out where action occurred when I needed it to occur. Some might call it overkill: I say I’m getting it right.
If you are of a mind to see how your worlds really look, do what I do: get Blender and start modeling. So far I’ve used it to create a space ship, and to lay out the school where my last story takes place. Once you figure out how to scale your models, you can build something huge: for example, the building on the right is five hundred fifty feel from front to back, so you can imagine the size of everything else in that picture. This is a step most people will never take, but I’m one of those people who sometimes need to see their creations, and there’s few programs that do this better. Blender is, if you haven’t guessed yet, free to all, and will run on Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems.
The last program I use from time to time is only for those of us who write science fiction and like to create real worlds–as in, I build solar systems. I’ve done this more than a few times, both for stories and for games I’ve run/played. The program I use for this world building is AstroSynithesis, which is currently on version 3.0. I’ve written about this software before, most famously in a post when, because I had a character speaking to a person he’d just met he guessed the world she came from orbited a K Class star, I decided I better design that world just in case my character was wrong about his observations. You can see that world and its moons to the right, because the program not only allows you to lay out orbits and figure out the rotational periods of the worlds, but you can see what your systems look like the 3D. I plan to get the newest version–I’m still on version 2.0, since I bought it at the same time as Fractal Mapper–because the next thing i want to map is The ‘Verse, which is something I should be able to do with the newest version. Why do I want to do that? I’ve an article I want to write . . .
It goes without saying that I also use Google a lot–everyone should try it, it’s like magic!–and there are a number of websites with conversion calculators that I’ll use from time to time, depending upon what I’m writing.
There you have it, the tools I use for building my worlds. Maybe some of these are going to be useful to you, maybe not. But you now know where they are if you suddenly have the urge to start time lining the life of one of your characters.
Oh, I forgot: there’s one tool on here that I didn’t mention, one that I absolutely need for any of my stories–
Just try writing a story without one.