Thursday, 20 October 2016

Note keeping - a review of

(source: Pinterest)

Some readers may remember that I am a huge fan of the old-school notebook to keep track of my hand written ideas. While I don't believe anything will ever take its place, I recently came across an online notebook,  that is slowly growing on me. 

When it comes to the book variety of note keeping my personal preference is one of the hardcover, A5 variety, ideally with lines on the pages. I have tried my hand at making notebooks myself - bookbinding is an art I highly recommend to any bibliophile - but the pages inside remain blank unless I figure out an easy way to make lines into it or get pre-printed paper. Without lines my writing has a tendency to go in any direction but straight across the page. So, for the most part, I stick with a shop bought notebook that is nice to look at, but not too nice as to put pressure on me to fill it with perfect handwriting and zero mistakes. It's a notebook, after all. It's messy by default.

A new line for a new idea, arrows to follow my thought processes, asterisks for the thoughts that came after I had already written down the first idea, but need to fit in with the original note. There are character notes, location details, outlines, nice or unfamiliar words I come across in my own reading,  and of course pages and pages of actual scenes I later copy into my digital novel file. It's the place I keep track of any thought however small, be it while eating dinner, watching TV, on the bus, during my break at work, or, most frequently, just as I fall asleep, which is when I get the most inspired ideas. Ideas I would forget if I did not force myself back awake to scribble them down, however illegible or nonsensical they might be by morning. It is my constant companion and, after a few weeks, in spite of my best efforts, it will look the part.

Recently a friend of mine recommended It's a website specifically with writing (or tabletop roleplaying) in mind. And the best part? If you sign up before November you can get a lifetime membership for free.

The website allows you to bring together everything you have on universes, characters, locations, and items.

This part offers space for history, rules (technology, magic, physics), a description and general notes. It is also the pot in which you can throw all your characters, locations and items.

The character section is quite detailed, allowing for general details like name, age, and gender, as well as their role in the story. You even get a drop-down menu if you are working with archetypes such as The Chosen One, The Eccentric Mentor, The Drunken Sailor, etc. On top of that you get fields for their appearance and nature, as well as their social background and family, which allows you to link the character with others you have already created. As before, it contains fields for the character's history/background and general notes.

Locations offers fields for culture, including currency, language and laws, geography, the major cities (again with a possibility to link it to other locations) and, as usual history and general notes. It makes the existing prompts in quite useful when world building. I certainly would not have thought of sport as a cultural background linked to a location, or a motto, similar to those in G. R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books. Winter is coming!

This is a section I have not yet used, as  I have not worked with any special items. This is the part that I think might be of particular interest to roleplayers. This sections has tabs for history (including past owners), appearance, abilities, and the now familiar general notes.

On the whole I really like the way the website is set up. It's very easy to navigate both on  PC and mobile. In addition, it is possible to link your notes together and connect them all in one story universe. The prompts in the individual tabs make you think more about the depth of your character or location in particular. Also,  I'm a huge fan of the general notes tab which I use for anything that does not really fit anywhere else.
For co-authored works (or roleplayers) the fact that you can change the privacy setting of each universe to allow others to add and edit might be of interest. This same feature exists for the general notes in every one of the above sections.
Another huge plus to the traditional notebook is the fact that it brings all your ideas together in one place. No need to leaf through pages of notes for that one entry, because they are all right there.

So far, the only reason I am not completely convinced is that there is no selection for outlining. I would quite like a few tabs about  beginning - middle - end parts of the novel, along with sections for  inciting incidents, main plots and sub plots to organise everything in one place. Ideally, with an option to link characters, locations, and items to the individual plot lines and novel parts.
I also find I like and dislike the options that are given in each individual tab (e.g. mannerisms, talents, hobbies in the Character selection). On the one hand I find them helpful as they make me think about things I may have forgotten. On the other hand I find them limiting as I might have thought about something that does not appear on screen. That's where the notes tab comes in handy, though in my case it's currently rather fuller than it probably should be.

On the whole I'd give 4 out of 5 stars. It's a useful tool to writers.

One of the creators has confirmed that an outlining function is in the pipeline. It will make a great tool!

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