More Writing Tools

While distracting myself  from buckling down to write, ostensibly to pursue the potentially productive, I like to search the Internet for tools for writers.  They must be free or open source writers’ aids, for I am cheap.

And you must take what I say with a grain of salt, and maybe a fleck of pepper.   I have played around with many of what I’ve found, but I haven’t used any of them enough to really pronounce on their final utility.

I’m not above investigating the childish, or at least the student version of such tools.   This site has a lot of online student materials that are writing related.  If you have kids interested in writing there’s some good stuff here.   But I found stimulating for myself such tools as the Drama Map which in a large scale schematic way lets you take a look at your characters, conflicts, resolutions, and settings.

There’s also a simple Plot Diagram utility and a mind-mapping tool with hypertext called the ReadWriteThink Webbing Tool.

I found this site called the Discourse Engine which has a series of generators for playing with your story ideas: character, mood, conflict, etc.   You fill out a variety of  grids with text and then generate different sequences and combinations.  The way it’s organized takes some time to get used to.  I would recommend starting off with the 1×6 grid generator to familiarize yourself.  It’s interesting but not that useful to me.

A very simple program is MikkoMatrix.  It takes two lists of names or descriptions or whatever you choose to set up and combines them randomly.   Could be good for characters’ names or for many other uses.  Combine the lists you’ve created with Slimlist (mentioned previously in this post), and just go crazy.

Visit the site and scroll around to find the link to Brainbox.  This is an ambitious free package of software designed by a educator and researcher to help people “learn more quickly, think more insightfully and communicate more eloquently.”

It has electronic tools for speedreading, a scribble pad, a mind-mapping flow chart utility, “rich text format templates related to creative thinking techniques and writer’s templates,” dictionaries, and access to free e-books on topics like accelerated learning and “mind technologies.”  There are even applets to help practice oral presentations.

For the writer, there’s the application called FreeThought which incorporates over thirty different ways in which to generate and sort ideas.  In addition the module WriteNow provides templates and suggestions for many kinds of writing.

This is one I haven’t explored much yet, but I plan to.

There’s InfoMagic, which is a Personal Information Manager (PIM) that seems to be more widely useful than just for contacts, phone numbers and to-do lists.  In its free version, which is older but still capable, you can create and store text documents in any hierarchy you choose, use email and web links, and search for text.  A freeform, simple program to organize writing notes, it seems to me.

In the same vein, but more sophisticated is REMLAP knowledgeBASE 2.21, another free program that may lend itself to organizing your writing.  This program allows you, however, to store not only text, but also photos, diagrams and other image information.  It uses a keyword index method to organize all the info rather than a outline-type hierarchy.  It’s also apparently useful as a collaborative tool among more than one user.  This is another one I have yet to try.

Speaking of collaborative tools, there is the open source screenwriting software Celtx.  Not only does it provide a comprehensive environment for putting together your next movie, it allows others to join in if you set your project up that way.

So far, I’m not that interested in writing screenplays, but there are features of Celtx that could lend themselves to novel writing, for instance.  The character sheets, how the scenes are structured, even the storyboarding function could well be adapted for non-screenwriters.  It’s worth taking a look at, and there are video tutorials and an active forum.

There’s a new freeware word processor for writers called Q10.  As its author  Joaquín Bernal says: ” Q10 will clean your kitchen, walk your dog and make excellent coffee.  Well, not really. But it’s really good as a full-screen text editor.”

It has full screen display, live word and page counts as you type, even programmable page-count determination, portability to allow use on a flash or pen drive, timer alarm for freewriting, spellchecker, note capability, autocorrections, autosaving, and the ultimate feature: typewriter sounds to get that old-fashioned Smith Corona feeling again.

Moving to the web-surfing, researching end of things, Cogitum Co-Citer is an interesting application: it’s a database for collections of texts captured from the Internet. It automatically captures the selected text, its Internet address, its title and date of adding to the database.  You can add comments, search and print your finds.  You can manage your collection offline.

Similarly, Vizual Einstein is “a revolutionary freeware standalone application for investigators, researchers, academics, lawyers, scientists, essayists, students, and writers.”

It allows you to store, classify, cross-reference, retrieve and collate notes by reference to a subject category, a unique hyperlinkable word or phrase, and date.  It requires MS Explorer, however.

One of those computer post-it programs for jotting notes, specifically LITTLE Yellow Stickers, allows notes and graphics to be incorporated into Vizual Einstein.

One of the sources where I found some of these programs is the article 150 Resources to Help You Write Better, Faster, and More Persuasively. A lot of useful references there, especially for researchers on the web.

I found this selection of posts from Beth’s Blog provides some stimulating ideas about using Flickr and RSS feeds as a way to spark the writing engine.

And finally, when in doubt, and you need some kind of off-the-wall plot device to further your story, here are some plot devices off the shelf: the Chekhov’s Gun, the MacGuffin, the Deus ex machina, and the ever popular Mexican Standoff.


Explore posts in the same categories: Internet, Writing

4 Comments on “More Writing Tools”

  1. Diana Says:

    Um, yeah… You could have written A LOT in the time it took to unearth all of these. ;)

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Diana,

    Ah, the voice of my conscience!


  3. sputnki Says:

    Boy oh boy Fencer, I think you’re approaching critical mass in writing tools! Pretty soon you’ll just need to think a general outline at the computer and the finished draft will pop out the hopper! ;-P

    Ok, ok, you’ve still managed more writing than I this past month, just writing about writing tools… Looks like some interesting ones in there, I know there are still a couple from one of your last excursions into writing avoidance that I keep around.

    Here’s a cool free online tool I keep looking for ways to use. It lets you display a sequence of events in a cool diagrammatic format. Great for conspiracy theories!


  4. fencer Says:

    Hi Doug,

    That’s kind of what I’m looking for: provide a general idea for a story, feed into software which automatically and randomly provides a number of plot variations and characterizations, from which I then choose the most promising and the software elaborates like all those monkeys on the typewriters. Then I have to winnow through those, and… you know, that’s starting to sound like work! Just writing my own story is starting to sound better now…

    Is there a career in writing about writing tools? I wish there was… I seem drawn to that field.

    Timeplot looks quite interesting, and with the right data sets, potentially insightful on many matters. I have the book The Timetables of History, 3rd Edition, which seems similar to the Timeplot idea, although obviously not so flexible. It provides a horizontal linkage of people and events from BCE to 1990. I’ve used it occasionally in writing to give context on the political and literary events in a specific year that I didn’t know about or forgot.

    Do more writing, Doug!


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