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I plan to write a series of books set in the same universe, with a major plot about war, destruction, murder, killing, love, betrayal etc.

But I am having problem getting the big view of my universe plot and each separate book plot. Does any one of you know of a program, tool, anything that can help me get a better picture of the plot as I write the different books?

Most of programs for writers I have seen have only the option for one plotline - the one the specific book is about - but I need one where I can put in the major plotlines and what happens in the universe and then put in each separate bookplot.

Does anybody have an idea for a nice tool or program to use?

  • ideas for use until/if you find the perfect program: one could try labelling "Parts" (yWriter can do this at least, I'm sure other software can), with each part being 1 novel. Not quite what you're looking for but maybe it'll do until you find something better (actually for that matter yWriter does allow you multiple files, one for each novel, but I'm sure that's not what you want) Indeed if you have 1 pov, ywriter allows you to see the plot lines of each pov; make several povs of same name and then have each be 1 book and 1 be universe plot; each is a line on the plot screen – Mac Cooper Sep 4 '14 at 16:32
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Allow me to introduce you to Scrivener.

Scrivener is a word processor which allows you to create unlimited documents within a single project, and organize them into folders.

You can have each book project as a folder, and within a book folder have multiple subfolders.

You can see all your documents in a nice document tree in a side pane. You can drag items around from here to there, link documents within the project, tag documents for easy searching, and even display your documents as note cards on a cork board. You can also have two documents open at once, top/bottom or side by side, so you can look at a reference document while typing in another document.

Scrivener exports as Word and text, so you're not stuck in a proprietary format, and it has a full-screen environment if you need to cut out distractions.

$45 for Mac OSX, $40 for Windows. You can test it full-featured for 30 days.

You can search for other discussions of Scrivener on this SE, including a lot of cheerleading from me. :) In fact, I picked up this answer from another similar question:

What is a good tool for organizing story notes?

I also use Excel to keep track of scene details, and some people use mindmap software (although I find that kind of interface overwhelming).

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I'm writing something similar to what you describe (a "War of Worlds" in a SciFi setting with a horrific number of characters, plots, cultures, and locations).

With the risk of being a bit off topic, I am going to list the tools I use and how I use them. I'll also talk about some things I've realized while working on this project with regards to keeping track of everything.

I am, however, not going to list any tool that has explicit handling of several books and a "book superstructure"... The closest I can get is Scrivener that could be described as a file system on steroids (if you were a bit mean about it). And as such can keep track of any form of structure you want.

I need to use several different software tools. Which should be about as surprising as finding more than one type of tool in a carpenter's toolbox...

I have a number of programs that I know how to use and when I need to do something or document something I pick the one that makes the most sense.

And if you stop reading here, you've gotten my best tip: use several tools you know how to use to get/create/keep the information you need.

Don't try to pack it all into a single tool. I've been there. I've tried to build that! And I've decided to go with the carpenter's toolbox analogy and be happy about that.

Timelines in Excel and Aeon timeline

Having a timeline for the overall story helps bring clarity.

I'm using Excel and Aeon Timeline. Actually, both since I feel they give different perspectives on the timeline and allow me to do different things.

If I had to choose, I'd go with Excel only.

Aeon is a bit of spice here. It has a sync function with Scrivener (more about Scrivener below) but when I tried it, it was buggy and now I've realized that's not really the way I want to write this story anyway.

Character lists in Excel

I have a number of different lists of characters in Excel documents.

My main list contains a matrix of all characters and all books, one cell per character-book combination, where I've noted the "size" of the character in the book and if they have POV.

Apart from that, my character lists usually contain a group of characters, maybe a crew on a ship, a rebel group, the advisors to a dictator.

This is a character index that, for most parts, has one or several equivalent documents in Scrivener, and my main benefit is that I get to have a group in a separate Excel document and the characters grouped on size and ordered in alphabetical order in Scrivener.

I guess I could also use metadata and collections in Scrivener to get the characters both by groups and sorted but that just hasn't happened yet.

Wold building and "Snowflakes" in Scrivener

I use Scrivener to record Worldbuilding information and character information (using the Snowflake method, one for each book).

However, it's just like a file system. You need to have a structure for your files and folders.

In my case, this is still a work in progress, and I'm guessing it depends on the story and the author how exactly this structure is designed.

I use Scrivener tags to mark what document belongs in what book, and then a search collection to get only those documents and folders.

Unfortunately, that information isn't that usable in Scrivener, but you can print it out as a pdf and use the pdf if you need to see a single book.

This information could also be well placed in a Wiki, but I have tried several solutions and opted not to use them for two main reasons:

  • Backups — I'm paranoid enough to want to have a backup copy of my work (or in fact several) and I'm not keen on having my hard earned information in some cloud solution that happens to have a bad day
  • Secrecy – I don't want my information floating around "downtown"... mostly because I don't want it to be out there when I have a readership... a nightmare would be to publish book 1 and then have an enthused fan tell everybody about book 12...

Scrivener's link functionality does, however, give an almost Wiki-like feeling anyway.

Update: I did look into Wikis and found DokuWiki. It apparently can be run from a thumb drive and has, among all *nixes, support for Windows and MacOS, negating all above issues, adding one of technical complexity instead. I haven't tested DokuWiki though.

yEd for relationships, families, etc

yEd is a great tool for visualizing relationships between things, events in a story, family trees, etc.

One of the greatest things, that I really recommend you learn if you are going to use yEd, is it's layout functions.

It has several pretty smart functions for taking a jumble of lines and nodes and lay them out in a way that makes sense.

The three I use most is hierarchical layouts, family tree layouts, and something akin to organic chemistry layout.

Bonus tip: Divide and Conquer

Quite early when I started planning my current project I realized that for all this overall structure and grand plotting, the readers will still want to go to the bookstore to purchase one of my books and have an I-read-a-book-experience from it.

Each book has to be self-contained primarily and rely on earlier books, or foreshadow later books, only if it doesn't break self-containment. (I.e. the reader doesn't get annoyed or confused by it...)

My project contains a number of books and I've spent a very long time doing "Snowflakes" for them, to step 5. Some to step 6.

I have a pretty large number of characters; a handful with POV and their important helpers, their antagonists, and the antagonists' important helpers. And then a bunch of rank and file characters below these characters in importance.

Of these, I've so far "snowflaked" all characters to step 3 and then continued with the POV characters and their main antagonists to step 5.

My original plan was to do snowflakes for all books, one step at a time, and then finally start pumping out first drafts.

However, I've come to realize that after a certain level you need to write a book all the way to the first draft to really get your hands dirty with the plots and characters.

I suggest you do the same thing. Plan the overall world, story and character arcs to a certain level and then allow it to be a chaotic mess and clean it up one book at a time.

Sure, I anticipate I'll shoot myself in the foot with some details that may force me to do changes, but for now, I haven't written any actual scenes, anything that I feel "has my heart in it". I've spent most of my time thinking and making decisions and documenting them on a very high level.

Conclusion

In essence, I suggest that you find several tools and combine them to get what you want, that you accept that you will still feel out of control, do plotting and worldbuilding to a certain level and then write one book at a time and let the rest be what it is.

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I am not a writer, but I know of a software tool that is used by writers in game development, specifically in games that are very story-heavy. It's called Articy Draft. It allows writers to view the story at various levels of detail and it also makes non-linear storytelling (a big thing in games) easier to manage.

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Some people like to create a private wiki to hold all the documentation about the world. The best free (and easiest) way I've found to have your own wiki is Google Sites. If you have a Google account, you're all set, you just have to create a new site and start creating pages and filling them with information.

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