I’d like to share with the community a few tools that I have found and use for worldbuilding, story making, plotting, visualizing, and formatting. I personally try to stick with free and open source software as I want to support those communities and they are tools anyone may use.
Get yourself a wiki
There are a hundred different wiki systems out there, if you are very hands on and also slightly paranoid about your ideas somehow getting out there before you publish them, I recommend Ema Personal Wiki (which as of writing this looks semi-abandoned), which you can setup to sync with Dropbox and your phone for mobile brainstorming. Instead of linking you to a single one here is a great list of different types of wikis, the important thing to consider is how do you want to access it (via phone and PC, Linux, Mac?) and if there are any must-have features that you want.
For online wiki wiki experience, I use and recommend ShoutWiki. I like the MediaWiki type of separating editing from content and the control that gives one over formatting. But for many others wiki markup is complex and a non-starter so I recommend looking for a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) styled wiki.
This probably goes without saying, but inspiration often strikes at the strangest of times, in the middle of a hot shower, late at night falling asleep, and many other ways, the important thing is to have a quick and easy way to get that brain wave of information down and synced so that when you come back to it 1) you understand your own stream of conscience 2) you do not have to worry about forgetting it if you are busy.
MicroSoft OneNote – Semi-free if you have Windows 10, has mobile apps and allows a nice mix of text, images, and other mixed media that fits well in an unstructured notebook.
Google Keep – I am unabashedly a Google Product Fanboy, and I use Google keep for everything; from grocery lists to late night sudden inspiration.
On the Open Source side of things, I have recently discovered the app CherryTree which works for Linux and Windows, it is like a much much simpler version of one-note. I have been using it in my day job a lot and I really like it for raw quick notes with a very simple tree based outline structure.
Organizing the Notes
Alright, so you’ve got a tonne of notes either online or on your desktop, now it is time for Outlining and building more details out of your notes.
checkvist.com – A free VI inspired outlining tool. It is designed to work with keystrokes only so that your hands stay on the keyboard and away from the mouse and away from any distraction that might take you away from your work. I just recently discovered this tool, but have used it to outline and expand the plot of an entire series I am working on.
Bibisco – Free, Opensource Novel writing software that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Now I have not committed to using this for a full novel, but this absolutely does help if you need something to guide your notes and ambition into words and paragraphs. Bibisco is really good for developing characters, plot, locations, and much more. The only thing I do not like about it is that you can only work on a project from one single computer, you cannot like sync with google drive and open it up with another Bibisco app.
Twine2 – This is an odd tool, but very useful for fiction writing and story planning. It is described as a tool for interactive “non-linear” stories. Which sounds awesome if a little confusing, but I have found it very helpful for if your story has a lot of characters and you need to keep track of them in a visual manner and when their stories and paths intersect.
Visualizing the story
The Gimp – GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is the open source alternative to Photoshop, and I although it does have a learning curve. I use it for map making and quick mock-ups of visualization to help the real artists bring my words to life.
Inkscape – Inkscape is an open source vector graphics editor, and is great for logos, titles, and even artwork. It uses math to render it’s images instead of pixels so no matter how big or small one makes the image it will scale and not “look weird” like a bitmap image from gimp/paint/etc would.
Writing the story
There is basically an endless list of different apps for writing, all of them have pros and cons. I’ve tried a lot of them from FocusWriter to gVIM to Microsoft Word, but I seem to always drift back to Google Docs. It isn’t the nicest, it does not have a dark mode (Brightness is the enemy), but it’s always there, I can share and collab with editors and friends. I can use it from any device and it has nice tools for quick research.
Manuskript – Very similar to Bibisco, but with less guiding. Manuskript simply gives you an empty structure to write your story in, with nice features like character/plot tracking and in-editor markup. It is fairly visually appealing and looks similar to Scrivener.
Finishing the story
You’ve written the masterpiece but now you’ve got to worry about formatting and getting it into an .epub file or cutting the pdf down to size for a 5′ X 7′ paperback that you want to self-publish. It’s enough to make your head spin…unless there were already some pretty awesome apps to help you.
Scrivener – This should be marked as the ONLY application I have paid money for, and I am very happy with my purchase. Not free, not open source, better on Mac than Windows, but from notes to tracking characters, to writing; Scrivener is a solid B+, where it excels is in the finishing process. This app will guide you to make your ebook or printed work look professional, which as a self-publisher is one of the most important things to do in order to attract readers.
You can do all of the same with Microsoft Word but it is so much more difficult. Trust me, I’ve done it for a book before discovering Scrivener and it was grueling.
I hope this list provides some insight into the tools authors are using to create their art. If you have tools that you have discovered that help you tell a story let me know, I would love to check them out as they very well could be better than what I have here.
I am not affiliated with any of the tools listed here, I am only an avid consumer that has found some great help by using these tools.