Since computers became the "go to" tool for my profession, I've been searching for software programs that would help me to write more effectively. Over the years, I've tested dozens of options, investigating them all like a kid test-driving all the toys at the store before deciding which one to bring home. As a Passionate Plotter, my software requirements include a long list of "must haves"; things that simply using Microsoft Office alone can't provide. (Although for some, MS Word works just fine - no disrespect intended).
On my "short" list are the following:
For all of this, since 2004, I've been using a program called "Power Structure"; and it works beautifully, for me. I've tried nearly every other piece of writing software I could find... always looking for the better writing mousetrap, but could find none. A few days ago, however, I came upon something new. It's called Causality.
This is an interesting combination of outline writing and visual writing. It's been designed specifically for screenplay writers, but certainly, novelists could use it as well. It has all of my "must haves" listed above, as well as other features, and a customized color coding system. If you're a visual writer, this is a nice thing.
Imagine the process of index cards tacked to your wall. You write a little bit about a scene or a plot point on each card, and move it around the wall until it gets exactly where you want it. You add more cards underneath with extra details and dialogue, and group the rows of cards into ordered scenes. Once your wall is filled, you write. This is exactly what Causality does, only DIGITALLY... Oh, and you don't have to wait to write, you can draw up your cards and fill in the writing holes as you go - or double-back and get to them when the inspiration hits. It's kind of a nifty program.
As I said, I spent several hours working in this environment, and learning it's nuances. It's pretty cool. It's very adaptive, in that you can move things around on a whim to fit your storyline, all while keeping your story timeline intact. The color-coding is a great feature, keeping you more organized without too much effort. It also gives you a space to create a "mind map" version of character connections, so you can see visually how each of your main and subplot characters are interconnected. That's a cool thing, if your writing process depends on visuals.
A particularly nifty feature is a thing they call "dependencies". Think "If/Then" statements on steroids. Essentially, it gives you the ability to tag plot points to each other in order of occurrence in your storyline. Imagine tagging that your bank robbers have to rob the bank BEFORE they can jump in the getaway car for their escape. If the escape should happen before jumping in the car, the program alerts you to that dependency and reminds you to fix it. Be clear, YOU have to set the dependencies, the software doesn't intuitively "sense" those for you... but it does keep good track of them.
This program doesn't give you leading questions to build your book, or help with setting or character development. But it handles separating dialogue and scene transitions especially well. Another thing it does very well is give you the ability to work on Flashback and Present tense storylines simultaneously, with multiple timelines in parallel. This is super-helpful if you have a story that's heavy in flashback memories.
After spending a lot of time digging through all it does, I have come to the conclusion that, sadly, it's not the right tool for me. I'm not a visual writer. I don't think in pictures, or visual elements. I think in words and phrases, and tend to focus on the emotion and intellect that sentences derive, rather the bird's eye view of the way a story looks. Mapping programs, like this one, don't work as well for me. I found it to be clunky and more work than it was worth. I was spending too much time trying to make my story "look" good rather that writing a good story. This is no fault of the software... this modality simply isn't the way my brain functions.
I will continue to work in Power Structure, probably until I die or it does. But I'm glad I looked into Causality, because now I'm aware of another software approach that I can recommend to writer friends... because I know we all work differently, and it's nice to have options.
I recommend you check it out, test drive the free version (more features requires a monthly subscription or one-time, "all-in" fee), and see if it works better for you than what you're already using. Be aware, however, it only works on desktops and laptops. They do not have a tablet or smartphone version just yet.
After you check it out, I'd be interested to hear your opinions, you can leave them in the comments below.
***I am not being paid a fee to sample Causality, or endorse Power Structure. I just like to share new things as I learn about them.
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