So, over the years, I have been looking for a story planning resource that will help me formulate and compile all my complex fantastical stories in a way that is understandable, accessible and removes the time-consuming elements of planning a whole universe. I would sit there with thousands of ideas, and they would remain in my head, only to slowly leak out again because I didn’t have the patience to write down all of my thoughts and I found the ones I had written down really difficult to sort through when I’m looking for small details.
I gave up attempting to plan my stories before writing them, sticking to a short 2000 word summary of what I wanted to happen at the beginning, middle and end. However, what that meant is that all the beautiful ideas I had in Chapter One would either have to be put into the story there and then, or I would have to see if they would survive the passage of time and the slow leaking of my memories, so that I can place them in Chapter Ten instead.
So what the hell was I supposed to do? I tried so many different apps and ended up spending a fortune on Persona, Timeline 3D and MacFamilyTree 8 for my MacBook Pro in the vain attempt to compile all my data into timelines and family trees and character profiles. It did somewhat help, but having to use three apps for planning stories caused so, so many issues. There are too many of them, so I’ll just mention a few that really affected me.
For one, I was forced to work on four documents when writing down the original draft of a chapter to keep my facts straight. Sometimes I would employ my iPad on the side so that I didn’t have to keep opening app after app and feeling a little bit lost.
Secondly, there was the problem of the fact that each app only had one function. One could help me understand the elaborate makeup of the Royal Family, but it didn’t help me to cross-reference this with who was in charge of the country when a specific war was going on and how they would have contributed to the growing tension, for example. That would involve me going back to the timeline and cross-referencing it with the Family Tree app, then looking at the character profile app to have a little delve into their character.
The worst issue, in my opinion, is the fact that using three apps at once can cause so many discrepancies to appear! On one particularly frustrating writing session, after I had decided that it was stupid of me to not add all the Royal dates to the Timeline app and spending three hours doing that, I realised that I needed to know how old Princess Evanna was when she was captured. I went to my Family Tree app and had a look at her birthday… hold on!
The story starts in the year 2206, and I had established her as seventeen! So why does the Family Tree app say that she was born in 2190 while the Timeline app says she was born in 2189?! Uh oh. I had to go back and cross-reference once again to make all my dates match. What a palaver!
Do you know what would be useful? An app that does a lot more than just the character profiles or locations or magic systems or different races that I have in my story. An app which compiles a lot of data that would possibly serve as super useful to me when I’m trying to sort through my ideas and actually use them in my writing.
Something that can link characters via their relationships like a family tree app, whilst also allowing me to explain what the differences are between the various fantastical humanoid races I have used. Something that looks pleasant, cuts down the planning time, and has a search feature so that I can remember what the hell I was talking about when I wanted to add in a special plot point back in February 2017.
It has taken me almost two years, but I have found exactly that! And I don’t want to keep it to myself!
I want to make sure that you all have access to it, so here it is!
So what makes the website so special, Shannii?
Well, for one, it compiles a lot of the little things I was talking about. It might not have a timeline or family tree function as of yet, but it allows me to not only add in character profiles and their birthdays but also link them to their family members, love interests, friends, enemies and even their animal companions! The free version only gives you Universes, Characters, Locations and Items, but that can definitely be enough for anyone who isn’t writing an elaborate fantasy series like I am. It is extremely user-friendly and has a life-saving search function for all of those pesky little details that usually slip by your scanning eye.
How detailed are the character profiles?
Incredibly detailed! Not only can you write down their weight and height, but also add their birthdays, their history, their race (supernatural races or different human races), their flaws, strengths and weaknesses… and anything that’s not there, you can add yourself using custom fields! The profiles are organised in a user-friendly way that allows you to sift through their various details without so much as a second thought! Link them to their favourite items if you want to, and also to their place of birth and where they live. The website is full of possibilities that broaden your horizons and make planning your stories a complete breeze. It’s turned what used to be my least favourite part of the story writing process into hours of fun!
Is it free?
Yes! You can use the Universes, Characters, Locations and Items features 100% free of charge. To be honest, they can be enough for a lot of people who don’t feel the desire or the need to write out a detailed universe for their stories. For example, stories set in our time or in the past are likely to have a governmental structure that we’re already aware of, making the Governments section redundant. You won’t need to focus on the Creatures section if you’re using animals that exist in real life. Most of the premium features seem to be more aimed at a fantasy, dystopian or sci-fi writer.
There are a few exceptions, of course. The Groups section lets you plan out what characters may form organisations or rebellious groups, etc. Towns and Landmarks may come in useful. All in all, however, I think the most useful feature for a premium writer who isn’t focussing on creating a whole new world is the Scenes section, which lets you plan out chunks of your story, linking Characters, Locations and Items to various events in your writing. You just have to ask yourself, then, if it’s worth the $9 a month or the $84 a year! If you’re going to find a use for all of the features, I would highly recommend it!
What else is this website used for?
According to the website, it’s also used by indie gamers to create their game narrative, as well as a lot of dungeon masters who are keen to make Dungeons and Dragons an extra-intricate treat!
What does it mean by “Universes”?
It’s a good-old fandom term that refers to stories which exist in the same reality. For example, the Star Wars universe, the Marvel universe or the Star Trek universe. Your universe would include all your stories which happen in the same reality, regardless of whether or not they’re linked or related. You might find that stories in the same universe may refer to the same historical events or characters (such as how Dumbledore is in both Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter, and Newt Scamander being referred to in Harry Potter, with his book being on their school reading list), but that’s not a requirement.
So what are the different categories?
Good question! They are Universes, Characters, Locations, Items, Countries, Creatures, Deities, Floras, Governments, Groups, Landmarks, Languages, Magics, Planets, Races, Religions, Sciences, Technologies and Towns, with a lot more coming soon! As you can imagine, I’ve personally requested Timeline and Family Tree Features!
So why do you recommend this?
This is a tiny enough blog for you to trust me when I say that I’m not being sponsored by them… and as such, I can honestly tell you that this is the best thing I’ve found for planning stories! It asks you questions on the homepage to help you fill out missing parts of your profiles and makes you think about things you probably never considered before! You can write as little or as much as you want and it appears extremely professional! The occasional little glitch aside, it is the best thing (and the best-looking thing) I’ve found for the job. I’ll continue using it and it’s well worth the price!