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What's A Good Free App For Writing Outlines And Keeping Track Of Characters/Places? (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I need an answer to this because my novel is growing exponentially. I've got pieces of information written down here and there and lots of it still floating around in my head. Please not Scrivener though. Something simple that I can have headings such as 'Characters', 'Place names', 'Lore' etc. If I don't start doing this now, I'll end up doing what I always do and that's to lose track of important information.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
I just make separate google docs for things, info dump and then put it all in a folder. That is probably not the answer you're looking for though...you're currently using word right?
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I just make separate google docs for things, info dump and then put it all in a folder. That is probably not the answer you're looking for though...you're currently using word right?
I could do that with Word. I just want something that creates sub menus and sub menus within those, so I can click and add new info to each as it comes up.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I use excel, but Google Sheets is pretty similar. Each sheet/page is a grid so you can have headings and then information under the heading. You can create different sheets for different categories, so I have a sheet for characters, a sheet for setting details, one for family trees, one for plot arcs, one that I use to track my chapter word count, start pages, and short details reminding me what's in each chapter. It's all in one excel document. I've been building it over the course of my WIP because I started with a handwritten notebook and a messy word doc, but the details got far too great to keep organized in those forms.
 
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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I use excel, but Google Sheets is pretty similar. Each sheet/page is a grid so you can have headings and then information under the heading. You can create different sheets for different categories, so I have a sheet for characters, a sheet for setting details, one for family trees, one for plot arcs, one that I use to track my chapter word count, start pages, and short details reminding me what's in each chapter. It's all in one excel sheet. I've been building it over the course of my WIP because I started with a handwritten notebook and a messy word doc, but the details got far too great to keep organized in those forms.
I've never used excel. I'll take a look! Cheers.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
You can use Excel, but it's a spreadsheet program not designed for long notes, so it's good for smaller pieces of information. I use it for things like settings, names, scenes, timeframe, chapters word count etc. However, it is somewhat limited in formatting for things like bullets or numbering. For longer outlines and plot notes I use a table in Google Docs. You can do it in Word too. You can create as many columns and rows as you like and give them a heading at the top row. Just select "insert" at the top ribbon and then "table." It's also easier to print than Excel as it it is formatted on regular size paper.

Glad to hear you are moving ahead with your Novel!
 
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TheMightyAz

Mentor
You can use Excel, but it's a spreadsheet program not designed for long notes, so it's good for smaller pieces of information. I use it for things like settings, names, scenes, timeframe, chapters word count etc. For longer outlines and plot notes I use a table in Google Docs. You can do it in Word too. You can create as many columns and rows as you like and give them a heading at the top row. Just select "insert" at the top ribbon and then "table." It's also easier to print than Excel as it it is formatted on a regular size paper.

Glad to hear you are moving ahead with your Novel!
What about when you add information though? How does the grid react? I'm still practising but if I'm going to use my novel to practice with, I don't want to write myself into a dead end. Plus the lore is taking over my head and I'd rather not stem the flow.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I like using tables in word/google docs when I know how many columns I'll need ahead of time (rows can easily be added and deleted). I like using excel when I'm not sure how the information I'm keeping will develop. It is true that it's a pain to format for printing and that longer bits of information take some tweaking, but you can do things like 'wrap text' to fit everything you write into a cell and you can slide the margins of any cell (but it will do the same to that entire column or row). I have some very word-heavy descriptions on my character sheet...they're just bigger cells. One thing that I've found handy is that I can sort the name column of my character sheet alphabetically (and there are other sorting options as well).
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
What about when you add information though? How does the grid react? I'm still practising but if I'm going to use my novel to practice with, I don't want to write myself into a dead end. Plus the lore is taking over my head and I'd rather not stem the flow.
I suggest try both options Excel Spreadsheet and Google or Word Tables and see what feels most comfortable for you. You might have to experiment a bit...I know I did. For me I use both for different purposes, and I include links to all my google documents and references in my excel spreadsheet. And it's all part of the fun to find a solution that works best for you!
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
You can use Excel, but it's a spreadsheet program not designed for long notes, so it's good for smaller pieces of information. I use it for things like settings, names, scenes, timeframe, chapters word count etc. However, it is somewhat limited in formatting for things like bullets or numbering. For longer outlines and plot notes I use a table in Google Docs. You can do it in Word too. You can create as many columns and rows as you like and give them a heading at the top row. Just select "insert" at the top ribbon and then "table." It's also easier to print than Excel as it it is formatted on regular size paper.

Glad to hear you are moving ahead with your Novel!
That's what I do. IMO there's no need to go out and purchase or use a free specialty tool - although the software guy will be happy. Excel works great for me.
I use Excel to:
Track metrics
Track when things are mentioned.
Products the characters use.
Characters:
  • MMC & FMC on separate sheets - with addresses, descriptions, how they dress, history, hobbies, family background, verbiage notes, vehicles they use, where they work, job description, favored food.
  • Antagonists on one sheet - usually not as detailed because they aren't usually POV characters.
  • Ancillary characters
  • The world they live in - how it came to be, political climate, leader names, descriptions, locations etc. Favored bars & restaurants.
  • Miscellaneous stuff - small but significant things that might be mentioned... especially if they show up more than once.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
That's what I do. IMO there's no need to go out and purchase or use a free specialty tool - although the software guy will be happy. Excel works great for me.
I use Excel to:
Track metrics
Track when things are mentioned.
Products the characters use.
Characters:
  • MMC & FMC on separate sheets - with addresses, descriptions, how they dress, history, hobbies, family background, verbiage notes, vehicles they use, where they work, job description, favored food.
  • Antagonists on one sheet - usually not as detailed because they aren't usually POV characters.
  • Ancillary characters
  • The world they live in - how it came to be, political climate, leader names, descriptions, locations etc. Favored bars & restaurants.
  • Miscellaneous stuff - small but significant things that might be mentioned... especially if they show up more than once.
Any chance of showing me what this looks like?
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
It's just Excel - with the sheets I described. No template because stories have different needs, and they've evolved.
I've just checked. I don't appear to have excel. :(

edit: Is it in Windows office? I haven't installed that disc. edit2: Yep, I've installed it. I also realised I've got an official version of Word too! Does that mean I can update it to the latest version for nothing?
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I've just checked. I don't appear to have excel. :(

edit: Is it in Windows office? I haven't installed that disc. edit2: Yep, I've installed it. I also realised I've got an official version of Word too! Does that mean I can update it to the latest version for nothing?
Excel is part of the Microsoft Office tool set.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
FYI (Just to give you an idea) - On my Excel doc the column headings are:

Chapter No.
No. of Words (You can total this column at the bottom to keep track of total words. Also you can use the average function.)
Page No. (because I print them out book fold each time a complete a chapter so I need to know where the next chapter starts.)
Date (This is the date in the story because I'm basing it on real life, so certain things need to happen on certain dates.)
Week No. (To check for a realistic time frame, e.g. how long after the first date. :))
Day No. (Keeps track of total days of the story)
Weekday (What day of the week, e.g. protagonist always meets with girlfriend on Tuesdays for tennis, work meeting every Friday, etc.)
POV (I alternate in a set pattern)
Settings. ( I also color-code each setting, so I can look quickly to see how frequently a setting is used or to refer back to them.)
Characters ( A list of each character in the chapter, and as above each one color-coded.)
Plot #1 (Significant actions and events. By having a column for each plot, you can use the filter function to look at just one plot at a time.)
Plot #2
Plot #3
At the bottom, I have a calculation that tells me the completion date depending on my productivity for the last fifteen days.

And then for rows, it's just by chapter.

For more detailed information on characters, settings, plots, research, etc, I use a Google table, each with different headings depending on what information I want to capture.

Have fun with yours!
 
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Riptide

WF Veterans
You can always buy stuff like dabble and scrivner. I used scrivner and I liked it. Haven't tried dabble.

There's a free version called ywriter too but I thought its gui was a little clunky. That was also 5 or so years ago .

Never tried excel. But that's bc I don't like how it doesn't correct my spelling and I'm atrocious with spelling.

I've used Milanote before, which is free, and I liked it for outlining. It's like a posted board. I've also used posted notes on the computer to track my ideas, and another blank doc. Haven't found one that works for me yet
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
FYI (Just to give you an idea) - On my Excel doc the column headings are:

Chapter No.
No. of Words (You can total this column at the bottom to keep track of total words. Also you can use the average function.)
Page No. (because I print them out book fold each time a complete a chapter so I need to know where the next chapter starts.)
Date (This is the date in the story because I'm basing it on real life, so certain things need to happen on certain dates.)
Week No. (To check for a realistic time frame, e.g. how long after the first date. :))
Day No. (Keeps track of total days of the story)
Weekday (What day of the week, e.g. protagonist always meets with girlfriend on Tuesdays for tennis, work meeting every Friday, etc.)
POV (I alternate in a set pattern)
Settings. ( I also color-code each setting, so I can look quickly to see how frequently a setting is used or to refer back to them.)
Characters ( A list of each character in the chapter, and as above each one color-coded.)
Plot #1 (by having a column for each plot, you can use the filter function to look at just one plot at a time.)
Plot #2
Plot #3
At the bottom, I have a calculation that tells me the completion date depending on my productivity for the last fifteen days.

And then for rows, it's just by chapter.

Then for more detailed information on characters, settings, plots, research, etc, I use a Google table, each with different headings depending on what information I want to capture.

Have fun with yours!
It just looks so ungainly when I open it. I haven't gone through it thoroughly yet but can you make the boxes bigger and limit the amount to 4 - 5 rather than tiny boxes filling the screen?

I've also stumbled upon Campfire:

 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
It's easy (and dangerous) to fixate on tools rather than getting the work done. In my engineering career I saw lots of different tools, CAD systems, simulation engines... the list goes on and on, and engineers love new shiny objects to play with, but it's harmful to the work and the schedule to chase the next new thing. The maxim is - do more with less, because it comes down to asses and elbows and just plain hard work to get the job done.
 
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