New Projects - Fresh from the Labs

Storybook—Novel Writing Organizer (storybook.intertec.ch)

Before I begin, I have to offer a mea culpa. I wrote about this several months ago in the Projects at a Glance section, promising to cover it the following month, but it got lost in the noise, and I remembered it when reading over the section in LJ months later. Apologies to any Storybook fans and developers! Anyway, on with the show.

To quote the project's Web site:

Storybook is a free (open source) novel-writing tool for creative writers, novelists and authors that will help you keep an overview of multiple plot-lines while writing books, novels or other written works.

Storybook assists you in structuring your book. Store all information about your characters and locations in one place. Then, use the included Storybook features for managing chapters, scenes, characters and locations. A simple interface is provided to enable you to assign your defined characters and locations to each scene and to keep an overview of your work with user-friendly chart tools.

Storybook is a clever tool designed to help you structure a book and keep track of characters, scenes, locations and so on.

Given that characters typically are the most important part of a story, Storybook's character options are wonderfully thought out. Note the color assignment option—a brilliant touch for creative types.

Although the Web site shows a girl using Storybook, trust me, this one's really for adults.

Installation

As far as requirements go, the only one that jumped out was Java 6 (Storybook won't work with Java 5 or earlier), which shouldn't be much hassle.

Available from the Web site is what appears to be a distro-neutral tarball. Download and extract the file, and open a terminal in the new folder. Once there, enter the following command to run it:

$ ./storybook.sh

Usage

Although I can't really give you a whole rundown on how to use Storybook (that would require an article all its own), I at least can introduce you to the main elements and highlight the coolest parts of the program. Thankfully, the Web site has a very good tutorial, so have a gander if you want to explore things further.

When you first enter the program, it prompts you for a project title. Once you're past that, you'll be in the main screen where you can start exploring. The largest part of the window is called the Chronological View, which shows your scenes in chronological order (as this project is still new, this window essentially will empty for the meantime).

To the right, in the top section, is the Object Tree. This shows all the objects involved in this story thus far (such as characters, scenes, locations and so on) in a hierarchical order. In the bottom section is the Quick Info area, which pretty much does what it says—provides info for each object you're looking at in the upper pane (the Object Tree).

As for actually taking your first steps in Storybook, you need to begin with new characters, scenes and so on. The toolbar at the top with the icons will be your best friend here. The first icon is Open (ignore for now), but continuing right are New Scene, New Chapter, New Character and New Location. Each of those has very well thought-out dialog screens that link to other sections of the program.

For instance, the New Scene dialog allows you to link individual or multiple characters to a scene, as well as individual or multiple locations. The New Location dialog lets you be very detailed, giving you the chance to assign a name, address, city and country to this location, as well as a large description box to flesh out as many details about this place as possible.

However, it's the New Character dialog screen that's particularly well thought out. Each character can be assigned everything from first and last names, abbreviations, gender, birthdays, date of death and occupation. They even can be assigned a color. But, the most important feature is defining whether they are a Central Character or a Minor Character, which then affects the rest of the information throughout Storybook—masterful.

But what is the point of all this categorization, you may ask? Well, it allows you to see patterns in your story and give it structure much earlier in the process than a bare-bones, traditional pen-and-paper approach would allow. Are you overusing a character? Have you broken a piece of continuity somewhere or perhaps lost or missed out on some vital context to the story? Storybook likely will show it long before you see it yourself.

______________________

John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.

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