It’s November 1st and right now hundreds of thousands are stretching out their keyboard fingers in preparation for their daily 1667. And the variety of ways these words will be captured are as numerous as the participants. Some stick to good old pen and paper, others to antique typewriters with their aesthetically pleasing clicks and whirrs, others are using sophisticated novel writing software like Liquid Story Binder or Scrivener.
Last year I used LSB and found several quirks that hampered my particular writing style. The sheer number of clicks necessary to get simple project information and uncover my documents became wearing and I never invested the time to setup work spaces to manage screen real estate. The end result was frustration and a lack of spontaneity. I’m not going to go so far as to blame the software for bad storytelling but it definitely didn’t help.
This year I’m pleased to have found a little known package that combines some of the free flowing structure of LSB with the simplicity of Scrivener (whose Windows version still hasn’t hit 1.0) with the editing ease of a full blown word processor. That software is Storybox.
Storybox has a couple of great features going for it that I haven’t seen with other writing packages. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the complete lack of a save button. This is because the software is constantly saving your work in the background which means even a devastating computer crash can’t rob you of your word count.
[caption id=”attachment_3076” align=”alignleft” width=”150” caption=”The main Storybox Screen”][/caption]
I especially appreciate how Storybox pushes all content to the center. That means notes, outlines, research material, and story contents all get pushed to center screen in a tabbed section that makes it easy to move back and forth without having to dig through menus and back again. Each of the sidebar panels are configurable so you can turn them off or allow them to tile themselves as push buttons on the side of the screen for easy access.
The fullscreen mode shines as well. The zooming feature allows you to keep the text big and bright and the configurable information bar can show you your session time, document word count, daily word count, or, depending on your preference, nothing at all.
[caption id=”attachment_3078” align=”alignright” width=”150” caption=”Outline Builder”][/caption]
The included outline builder is a godsend for spontaneous writers. It allows you to store ideas for a manuscript and then insert them as they become applicable. For example, if you know at some point you want your character to perform some action but you don’t know exactly when or where it might happen, you can create an entry in the outline builder. That entry will stay with your project as you write and when you come up with the perfect moment for the event to occur, a click in the outline builder will insert a chapter or scene with you’re builder text as the synopsis. The builder entry is then marked as used. This is a great compromise between the so-called outliner and “pantser” methods of plotting.
Each document, be it scene or chapter, has an individual notes panel which I’ve found handy for recording thoughts about revision, links to research material I used for the scene, and other sundry items. It’s often the case that the ideas I have for a scene and the time I have to write the scene are not in harmony. In that situation there is also a handy To Do panel for each document, allowing me to jot down what additional goals I have to complete the scene before they escape my memory for the next session.
Storybox’s spell check mode is nicely inconspicuous, only appearing when summoned and contains a project level dictionary which is a nice touch when you have weird names but don’t want to add them to the global dictionary.
One of the nifty things about Liquid Story Binder was that it’s interface was fully configurable and, if you put the time into it, you could create a very visually appealing environment. The problem was it was just as easy to create a monstrosity that could rival the garishness of a MySpace profile. The options weren’t always obvious in their results and you’d often find yourself looking at black text on a black background and asking yourself what went wrong. Storybox solves this by having a number of preset color schemes, one of which is sure to meet your needs.
To top it all off, Storybox includes a number of useful export formats including epub and has options for preparing your manuscript for Kindle formatting.
As with any software, Storybox isn’t flawless. I’ve had occasional issues with right click menus being unresponsive. The auto indent has failed on several occasions which, while not necessarily a huge problem, offends my sense of order while writing, creating an unwanted distraction. Storybox is a bit slow to load though the time saved by not having to worry about saving my progress probably balances this out. The outline view is very basic and doesn’t allow for customization so neat frills like color coding for perspective or a quick review of chapter word counts are not possible without opening each document. There’s also a lack of revision tools such as text mark-up or inline notes but there is a great versioning system that allows you to see how the text has changed over time or restore an earlier version of the document.
Even these minor qualms are not enough to tarnish the full package however and the designer of the software, Mark Fassett, is open to suggestions regarding features in future versions and takes a direct hand in support issues. If you haven’t already found you’re writing tool of choice for this years NaNoWriMo or are struggling with organizing a myriad of Word documents, I’d highly recommend you take a look at Storybox. You can run it for free throughout November by downloading at www.storyboxsoftware.com.