Welcome to Tools of the Trade. In these articles, I’m going to share with you my opinions of the tools and techniques I’ve come across throughout my writing experience, hopefully offering an insight into what works and what doesn’t. It’s all just a matter of opinion though, so take from it what you will and bin the rest. Hopefully you’ll find something along the way that helps improve your writing experience.
This week, I’m taking a look at a tool I’ve started using for outlining: Scapple.
What is it?
Scapple is the sister app of Literature and Latte’s Scrivener (check my review here), with the former doing for notes, ideas and brainstorming what the latter does for novel writing.
It’s described on the website as “a virtual sheet of paper that lets you make notes anywhere and connect them using lines or arrows,” which pretty much sums it up perfectly.
It couldn’t be easier to use. Double-click anywhere in the page and a new. note is created. Type in what you want the note to say, then click off it and job done.
You can drag and drop your note onto another to create connections between them, as well as customise their appearance and style. You can stack notes in columns of related ideas, or create background shapes to group them together. It’s completely free form; meaning you can move your notes anywhere on the page and it will automatically adjust so you never run out of space.
What did it do for the Cave?
I’m currently up to book number 3 (and 4, if my plan to work on two simultaneously comes off), but it still feels like my writing technique is under development. Maybe it will always feel that way? Maybe every book calls for its own approach?
Either way, my latest work-in-progress started as a note on my phone. I laid out the basic premise of the story, including a few ideas on how the plot would unfold and a brief description of the characters involved.
Armed with this, I then got to work in Scapple. I began with a very basic overview of the main characters, detailing no more than their name, an image to help develop their description, and in some cases the name of an actor (whom I may or may not like to see play them in the movie… if I had such frivolous thoughts).
I mean, that’s one hell of a cast, right? I also included a very brief, one/two word description of the character based on the earlier notes. That’s it. No details, no traits, no motivation. Little more than an introduction to help familiarise myself with the characters.
Next up, I started a new Scapple project for the more serious task of outlining the plot. This involved identifying the opening scene, and, more importantly, figuring out how the story should end. Once I had that, I could begin unravelling how the characters would get from point A to point B.
This helped me to develop the story structure, in which I realised past events played just as important a role as current events. So the story moved from a linear timeline to something more akin to Reservoir Dogs.
As the structure developed, so did the scenes. Each new note represented a scene, complete with a description of what takes place and a style to denote which POV character is involved. I then connected the various scenes to depict the flow of the story, creating a timeline of events, and, in effect, a storyboard for the plot.
As you can see, the finished product might look a little complicated, but it’s actually a really straightforward, effective road map of the entire story. I’m quite confident I won’t stick to it perfectly, but it will definitely help guide me through the journey… even when I take it off road.
Plotting Vs. Pantsing
When it comes to the two camps of plotting versus pantsing, I fall somewhere in the middle. I certainly like to outline the story. Not only do I want to know where I’m going, I like to have a rough idea of how I’m going to get there. But for everything else – character development, world building, descriptions – I leave that to the journey along the way.
That said, I’ve found Scapple a very useful tool. As mentioned in my Scrivener review, the corkboard is a great tool for helping to organise your novel. Scapple is like that, but on drugs.
It doesn’t help you manage your documents or organise your manuscript, but it offers a wonderful tool for fleshing out your story in greater detail, while providing a fantastic visual overview that is hugely flexible and easy to adjust.
If you’re a full on pantser, I doubt you’ll find much use for Scapple. Though if you like to brainstorm ideas or use post-it notes for anything, this app is a great option for digitising that work.
Pros & Cons*
- Easy to use
- Simple but useful features.
- Similar interface to Scrivener.
- Lifetime licence, low cost.
- Room for better integration with Scrivener.
- Lack of drawing tools limits creativity.
7 / 10
* Disclaimer: I use the Windows version of Scapple, and I’m by-no-means an expert, so I might be missing plenty of hints and tricks to make even better use of it. If you’re a Scapple user and have anything to share, please leave a comment below.
**Also, apologies for the poor quality images – I can’t be giving away all my secrets before actually writing the book!
7th June 2020
Brilliant article – really helped me get my head round the plot I’ve been working over for the past 18 months. But how did you created those parallel lines that run at a right angle? The only way I can find to do it is to generate a tiny new note, white on white, and use it as a dummy on the junctions. There must be an easier way.
Thank you, glad you found it useful! 🙂. I agree that it does seem to be a missing feature that would make life a bit easier. I ended up adding a new note and just putting a period in it. You can then use that as an anchor point for the horizontal or vertical lines. Hope that helps!