Steven Cherry’s Blog

Random ranting and musing

Software idea – story planning by locality

An idea struck me the other day, an idea for a software product to help writers organize their thoughts for stories that they work on. I did a quick search, and as usual there are very many examples of book writing software including directories of writing products and even your typical book writing software is evil responses to the existence of such software.

Dramatica seems to be the leader of the pack, with many others in the arena giving it healthy competition. This being the case my idea doesn’t seem so killer any more, but I have to remind myself that the existence of competition really doesn’t mean you can’t make money with a product. It just means you have to build a better mouse-trap. It also validates the market and proves that there are people who will pay money for this type of product.

So what’s the idea, you ask? I was staring at a white board, an empty white board, while thinking about the flow of some of my favorite books and the idea hit me that the author’s overall sweep of the story really moved the characters around in their world quite a lot. I tend to enjoy books where you have to keep referring to the map on the first (or last) page (don’t your books have maps in them?) so that I can visualize where everything is taking place and how the characters have moved around throughout the story. As I did this the idea struck me that if you lay the chapters and locations out on a grid like this:

Locality\Chapter Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Village 1
Mountains
Forest
City 1
City 2
Castle 1
Ocean

you can start to see the overall motion of the story by placing the characters inside the grid corresponding to chapter and location. As the chapters progress, you move the characters from location to location in order to create the motion in the story. When you need grand sweeping chapters that describe your world and provide rich detail and background for your characters, you separate them and let them move in very different directions. When you need action and conflict then you bring one or more groups together into the same places and describe more about their actions, thoughts, and emotions.

Once you plan the overall motion of your story then this becomes your blueprint for what is happening in each chapter, defines where you need to get your characters to move from and to, and allows you to visually see the way that your story will rise and fall as characters come together, interact and explore their world.

Of course you would need utilities to help with character development, outlines, plots, etc. You’d need example story skeletons, sample worlds that could be adapted to the writers needs and all of the rest. That’s a given.

After thinking about it for a while, I also realized that this would also work for those stories that are not based on travel throughout an entire world. Fantasy/Adventure stories usually have the characters traveling all over the place across a huge range of locations. What about drama, though, or mystery and intrigue? Take the old standby game Clue. The entire story takes place in a single house. That doesn’t mean that there’s no motion or locality of the characters to follow, though. In fact, mysteries and dramas would work just as well with this type of layout, because it would help the author to keep track of where everyone is while the story unfolds. It would just look more like this:

Locality\Chapter Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Foyer
Parlor
Study
Kitchen
Servants Quarters
Master Bedroom
Guest Bedroom

You can still watch your characters move from place to place. You can still describe your setting by separating your characters and exploring the environment through their eyes. You can still create action and conflict by moving them from place to place, putting them together and keeping them guessing where the others might be. The idea still works, and holds up in different genre’s.

So what’s the difference between this idea and a simple spreadsheet to keep track of it all? Well, that’s what makes a product a product, now isn’t it! What’s better about this product idea than the others already out on the market? Well, that remains to be seen. Ideas aren’t always implemented, but you never know 🙂

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April 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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