Limitless (The 2011 movie that inspired the TV show) is one of my favorite movies. I’m sure you can guess why. The protagonist Eddie Mora starts out as a struggling writer who doesn’t know what to write. We’ve all been there at one time or another. We’ve all wondered what comes next, and felt some variation of stupid and incompetent because writing is what we’re supposed to do.
Then Eddie takes a pill. The book he’s been struggling to start he finishes in four days. Why is he able to perform this miracle? Eddie says it himself, “I knew what I had to do and how to do it.”
If you’re lucky as a writer, you’ve experienced this too. The last time I was able to write like that was in 2006. I wrote a one-act play in college for class. It took two hours to write the first draft, and when the star of my show quit, requiring a massive revision I was able to do that in 12 hours with the help of my actors.
The reason I could do it is I wrote an autobiographical play. I was intimately familiar with the setting, characters and conflict. I knew what I wanted to do and how to do it.
What if writing every story was like that? What if you always knew what you wanted to do and how to do it? Wouldn’t writing be easier and more fun?
Sure, but how do I get to that place?
The answer is simple. If you know your characters, setting, conflict, and plot really well you will never get lost telling your story.
Great, so you want me to outline my story to within an inch of its life. I’ve heard that before and it’s either too much work, or the notes become overwhelming to keep track of.
No. I’m not saying you have to outline your story to within an inch of its life. If you’re a plotter, you need to know your characters, conflict, setting and what comes next really well, so that you can pull your reader in and keep them turning pages. If you’re a pantser you need a way to keep track of the details you’ve written so far so you can easily review them for future sessions.
Either way you still have the problem of how to organize your ideas so that you can easily retrieve them when you’re writing your story. Well now, “there’s an app for that.” Well, almost.
StoryShop is being created by Seth Atwood and a team of software designers with the help of Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright. Together these guys have written 2 million words in two years (that’s two Harry Potter series in about 1/4 the time.)
They were able to do that because they knew their characters, setting, conflict and plot as well as they could before starting to write. StoryShop makes collecting these details and linking them together effortless. After you’re done collecting details in the pre-writing process you’ll be able to export a file that can be read by the word processor of your choice. Then you will be able to write your first draft fast because all the details of your narrative will be at your fingertips!
Every character you create will become part of the social network of your story. You’ll be able to track relationships with ease. Don’t know where to start when creating character? That’s okay. StoryShop 1.0 will come with Character DNA questions you can answer to get a sense of your character is. You’ll be able to cherry pick questions you want to answer, create your own questions, or have StoryShop generate a random list of questions. Future versions of the software will include personality tests which will help you see in greater detail how different characters interact with one another.
In fact StoryShop links everything together. Every time you mention a character story shop will link back to their profile. Every time you mention a setting StoryShop will link to its setting card. This way, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting some detail when you go to write your draft.
The setting interface for StoryShop functions a lot like the corkboard mode in Scrivener. Every setting will have an index card. And within that index card you can link to other index cards and create a stack. So you can have an index card for your villain’s lair, and a series of linked index cards for every room in the lair. Or you can have an index card for “how magic works” and create a stack of index cards for each form of magic and how they interact.
The setting index cards can also be used by non-fiction authors. If you are nonfiction author outlining a chapter, and you want to get to the end without stopping to review your notes, all you have to do is use a hashtag to link back to a setting card where you put research.
So something like:
StoryShop is awesome! You can even write nonfiction books with it. Staying in the flow is easy because you don’t have to review your notes when writing an outline.
#StoryShopResearch that proves my point.
Then, when you go to write your draft, you just review the #StoryShopResearch card in your setting file.
What I really like about StoryShop though is how the beats pane works. The beats pane has two elements: beat cards and dividers. Beats are story events, or plot points that take place in your story. In this example below a divider is used at the beginning of the chapter. And every time you mention a character the divider above the beat keeps track of the mention of automatically. So at a glance you can tell who was mentioned when you review your notes.
So what do you think? Are you excited about StoryShop? Do you want to get your hands on the software? There’s one problem. It doesn’t exist yet. The good news is that creators are running a kickstarter to raise the money needed to develop the app. Back this project at any level and you will be able to write better stories faster.
If you’re happy with the way you write stories now, that’s great. But if being able to capture all the details of your world, characters, and plot points into a document that’s easy to navigate sounds exciting to you then go to The StoryShop campaign page and back StoryShop at whatever level makes sense for you.