Sticky pixels and electronic cork

I’ve been experimenting with doing more thorough pre-planning/outlining/storyboarding.  I’ve always written a pretty thorough synopsis and had a clear idea of the overall story, but there came a point in each of my past books that I would get lost.  Somewhere between chapters 8 and 12, give or take, the synopsis would say something like “they spend several days tracking down the McGuffin.” It worked for selling the story to my editor, but left me to work out the details when I was actually writing.  So I’d try out 10 or 15 possiblities—by writing them out.

Ack! Days of wasted writing.  Sometimes weeks. 

Clearly, with a nine book series stretching out ahead of me,  I need to get a handle on that, so inspired by Cherry Adair, the Manuscript Mavens, and others, I decided to make a thorough storyboard.  I bought lots of sticky notes and and a big folding display board and started scribbling and sticking, just like Ally Carter, whose storyboard is to the left.

And promptly lost interest.  Too fiddly. Same with 3×5 cards. 

But I still need SOMETHING, plus I have this sense that if I find the right method, this is all going to fall into place.  My instincts tell me that if I can jot scene ideas, add content, reorganize until the scenes are in the right order, and expand the content some more—a method called Outline-Edit-Edit-Done by Dustin Wax at Writers Technology Companion—my writing life will be less, er, psychotic.

So, I’ve been testing a series of different purpose-built software programs for writers that include or are based on, some sort of outline or storyboard (including a couple pointed out to me by fellow struggling storyboarder, R. Scott Shanks, Jr.). Surprisingly, there are more than a few programs out there, most written by writers frustrated by Word, that actually emulate cards pinned to a corkboard.  Some are good, some less so, but all have some nice features and great possibilities. 

I was discussing this bounty of what amounts to electronic 3×5 cards at a local writers group and was asked to put the info in an email.  I dutifully typed it up and was about to hit send when I realized the wealth would be better shared here.  So here you go.  Some of the following programs are freeware, others shareware.  Visit the sites, download demos and try them out. You may discover one that works for you.


For Mac users, the holy grail is Scrivener, from Literature and Latte, which has a ton of features, including a cork board view that lets you move around index cards that represent your scenes (it then translates directly into the tree outline). You can write an entire book and export it into a Word or rtf file.  It also can keep all your notes and images in the same file. A snap of the corkboard mode is to the right.  

Another program a lot of Mac users like is SuperNotecard. I haven’t tried it, but it looks like it has great possibilities.

OmniOutliner is a terrific linear outliner (not tree-style or card based like the others) and simple database.  You key in ideas or scenes, one per line, and then you  can reorder them and add notes to each item—very expansive, detailed notes, if you want to. Some people write entire books in OmniOutliner, then export to a regular word processor for final editing/formatting. Straightforward.  Can also be used as a simple database, with mathematical functions.


Writers Cafe is terrific for storyboarding/planning, especially if you want to plot along various storylines (hero, heroine, villain, for example).  I’m playing the most with this one, and discovering that it has places to expand the material on the cards, which you can then print out.

Write it Now has a variety of unique tools including relationship charts, event graphs and free (to registered users) add-ons that include name and historical info for a range of eras.


(I don’t do Windows, so this part is only theoretical, but a couple of these look nifty.)

Keynote is a program that some folks love, but it’s no longer supported, so be aware of that (it is totally free, though, and open source, so if you’re so inclined, you can continue to develop it).

yWriter4 looks very good. Written by a software designer who is also a writer, it organizes your project into re-arrangeable modules that automatically renumber as you shift scenes or chapters around.  Says there’s a storyboard view, but there was no screenshot, so I’m not sure if it’s the same pseudo-corkboard as the others have.

If you really *love* Microsoft, you could try OneNote (pricey!)

Finally,  you can give MS Word some very basic but clumsy heirarchal functionality by combining the outline and Document Mapping functions.  It’s pretty ugly, though. Here are some helpful links if you want to try it:

FWIW, my current favorites are Scrivener and Writer’s Cafe (love the Storylines portion of the latter, but find Scrivener easier to actually write in).

If you’re not sure if you should outline or storyboard, or why you might want to, here’s a nice article by Jurgen Wolff at Time to Write.

Hope this was some help.  If you have some favorite storyboarding/outline software I didn’t mention, or if you have some other approach to creating a detailed outline, please share it in Comments.




  1. I’m a SCRIVENER addict. I LOVE IT. But I’m going to look at SuperNoteCard, too.

    If you use Windows, look into WriteWayPro. I’m told it’s fantastic. I really, really, really, really wish they had a Mac version.

    Also, Blake Snyder has a software program for SAVE THE CAT. I might give that one a whirl, too.

  2. Hi. Thanks for introducing SuperNotecard. I built it after running into too many writing road blocks, after losing great character ideas, and forgetting what was happening in my story.

    Minor tidbit, but SuperNotecard runs on Macs, Windows and Linux. The resulting “project” files can be share among all.

    Thanks again,

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.