My question is about word processing tools and outlines specifically.

I've been hacking at a story idea for a couple of years now, and enough is developed to commit it to paper. But, as an inexperienced writer one problem I have is economy of language. My energy level correlates to how much detail I give a topic.

My solution is to use an outline to draft most of the story details, and assign page amount guesses to each topic. I can decide how much "language" to devote to a topic in the outline itself.

What I really want is not only a great outlining software, but the ability to almost color code or tag topics (i.e.: items pertaining to a specific character, an interwoven theme, etc.). I want to be able to collapse or hide all topics but the one I'm looking at. This way I can see how a plot point, character development, or theme develops across the narrative. This will let me judge how much attention is given to different things and how to balance it all before I put pen to paper so to speak. If I know exactly what I'm writing about, my word economy will be much more focused.

Does anyone know of a software that can do this (separate topics within an outline), or otherwise recommend a good outlining program (M. Word might be fine, but I'm not super familiar with its outlining tools, I also have OneNote).

2 Answers 2


Scrivener does all of what you're asking for.

  • You can color code documents.
  • You can organize documents in an outline, in a "corkboard," in various collections and categories, and in a hierarchy.
  • You can create keywords represent anything that interests you (characters, locations, plot threads, themes, ...), tag each document with the relevant keywords, and view and select documents by keyword.
  • You can assign target word counts to each document.
  • You can add custom metadata fields to the documents, to show (for example) which character is the viewpoint character.

I personally would use a mind mapper like freemind but there are many alternatives out there.

You may want to look up an earlier question: How do you map out your storyline? which features a simple spreadsheet solution.


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