I've been looking for a certain piece of software for a long time, but I never quite found something that matches what I need. I'm a very visually oriented guy, the best way for me to keep track of something is to see it in front of me like a mindmap. A big must for me is the ability to nest mindmaps within nodes of other mindmaps.

The closest software I found that meets my demands is articy:draft, however, it has a major flaw for me that makes it unusable: no search and replace function. Not to mention, it doesn't allow you to reference characters in text. What I want is to be able to create a character and just put a reference to that character in the text, so that in the event that I want to change my character's name, it is automatically updated in the text as well.

What I'm looking for is a software that allows you to:

  • create mindmaps with mindmaps in them.
  • create characters once and reference them in your text.

I have a lot, and I really mean A LOT, of notes for a story, which are very disparate in content, quality and many more things. I'm trying to bring them all together, and having such a software would be a godsend. Does anyone know a tool like that?

Bonus points if it has a functionality like this as well, though it's not as important to me:

It would be useful if you could reference other things about a character as well, which may change later. One of your character was in the military for four years, but you change your mind and make it ten years instead? No problem, just change it in the character profile and all references to the length of the military service for this particular character are automatically updated, no need to manually look and replace that detail.

6 Answers 6


https://archivos.digital/about-archivos/ ARCHIVOS sounds like what you need.

(I saw a demo about it at BaltiCon last year, and it's in my pocket as something to explore when I have brain-space for it.)

From their about page:

First, ARCHIVOS helps Storytellers document the characters, places, and events of their stories, detailing the basic framework for the tale.

Then, Storytellers connect those story elements by defining the relationships between them that articulate not just the existence of the connection but also its nature (professional, personal, political, geographical, etc.).

The relationships in ARCHIVOS also support a hierarchy, like that of a parent to a child, or a manager to an employee. This framework will help identify and organize the structures within the story world.

In their FAQs, they appear to describe these changes you want:

Your element roster is displayed with additional details, all of it sortable and searchable. But the best part is the ability to select multiple elements and apply an update to all of them. Quickly save or hide or show dozens of elements with the click of a mouse.

It's free for the basic level, which I think allows unlimited elements within a single "story world"

Let me know if this meets your needs!

  • 1
    Looks very interesting! Thanks! I'll give it a go as soon as I can.
    – user23083
    Feb 20, 2019 at 9:27
  • While it may not have the one feature I want (referencing characters within text), ARCHIVOS seems to be exactly what I'm looking for to sort my endless notes. It wont replace Scrivener, but it looks like it'd be a nice addition to use alongside with it. Only thing that bothers me right now is that there doesn't seem to be an export option, but that's not a deal breaker at the moment. Thanks!
    – user23083
    Feb 22, 2019 at 14:38
  • 1
    Thanks! I think that's something they want to make available, especially if people have paid subscriptions but will be downgrading to free, so they can avoid losing everything from their other worlds. I see it's a goal on their feature poll: archivos.digital/archivos-feature-poll Feb 22, 2019 at 14:48
  • Nice, hopefully I'm not the only one who thinks an export option is a high priority.
    – user23083
    Feb 22, 2019 at 15:16

All software is limited by

a. what the software creator allows you to do with it, and
b. screen real estate.

Like you I am a person who needs to organize their notes both visually and spacially. Having information off screen – either in parts of the current file that lie outside the viewing area because I have zoomed in or in other windows behind the current one or even in other files in other software – makes organizing my mind impossible for me. And being unable to draw lines and order the content of a file whichever way I want makes all software that I have reviewed a severe hindrance in creative thinking.

The most flexible and versatile tool that I have found for me is

pen and paper

Many of my notes and ideas are handwritten in notebooks or on small slips of paper, others I have on a computer and print out and cut into sections with scissors. I then sit on the floor and play with these snippets until they are in the order I want them to be. Sometimes I glue some pieces together, or number them, or whatever I want.

Here is an image (from some group effort at brainstorming, but it shows what I mean):

enter image description here

Other people like to combine a whiteboard and post-it:

enter image description here

enter image description here

You can take a photo, if you want to preserve a certain state of the process. What I do is order my notes into a special binder (in German it is called Vorordner):

enter image description here

There are "pockets", often either numbered or labelled alphabetibally, into which I put the notes for chapters (one pocket = one chapter), characters (one pocket = one character), or steps (in a screenplay). That way they stay organized. I can take out the notes for one section, add to them or reorganize them elsewhere. When I'm done planning, I begin to write from these notes, one pocket at a time, or work the relevant information into another format, either on paper or in an electronic file.

  • Few people know this, but there is a special whiteboard paint. You can turn about any wall into writing real estate
    – Kirk
    Mar 1, 2018 at 13:21
  • Thanks for the suggestion, but no thanks. That will just open up a whole **** load of more work for me, more than I already have, and I simply don't have the space.
    – user23083
    Mar 2, 2018 at 14:46

I have two recommendation, but neither only fully meets your criteria:

  1. There is Scrivener. It is a full text editor made for writer. It has elaborate note taking features for characters, locations, etc. I believe it meets your criteria for integration, but it is not visual. You can quickly reference your notes, but it doesn't have the automatic update feature you are interested in (I don't know of anything that does.) You can find it here.

  2. What I use for more note taking (since I also like to visual things) is Scapple. It is from the same developers of Scrivener. It is entirely visual based, nested, and has search features. However, you don't write your book directly in Scapple, so there is no character reference ability. I love it. You can find it here.

So, what do I recommend? Both. I use and love both. Scapple for visual note taking and Scrivener for writing/text notes.

  • I use both those programs already and they're simply not enough for me :) but thanks anyway.
    – user23083
    Feb 28, 2018 at 16:50
  • @noClue Well, sorry :/ Feb 28, 2018 at 16:58

Any decent mind mapping software would do. We commonly use editors for words, sheets, and slides, but there do exist editors for mind maps. As a class of software. Desktop and online. Almost all of them support what you asked for.

I personally use Mindjet Mind Manager (ten years old verion, but still 200% functions to cover all my requirements):

  • nested mind maps, including links to other files;
  • easy references, tags, visual stuff, etc

Export to Word is a powerfull feature.

I easily wrote and edited a complex draft using a visual tree of logical blocks (chapters, paragraphs), with notes attached to each block. Then exported the entire story into Word. In visual mode I had a logical structure with to dos, completion progress, research notes and even alternative branches. I edited notes, marked the ones I liked as "completed", and clicked "Export". Once exported, it was a clean text in Word with styles I pre-configured. A clean, proofread, logically structured, and formatted book in MS Word from a pile of notes with a click!

It is a paid software, but there are similar apps for free as well, I believe.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Alex, glad you found us. Please check out our tour and help center.
    – Cyn
    Aug 30, 2019 at 22:41

I use a program called yWriter6. It is developed by an author, Simon Haynes (who also happened to be a terrific programmer) and tailored to most writing needs. It can be downloaded for free.

What it does best to save your work in scenes with each having enough note for further world-building or plotting, which can be easily referred no matter where you are in the story. These scenes can be nested within chapters or moved around, and are easily referenced.

Similarly, there are also segments for characters where you could flesh out details. Changes to them can be easily made to reflect on the work itself. Each chapter has a list of characters making appearance in it as a side note.

Besides this, there are word count target prompts, segments for locations and key items, a storyboard page, spaces to mark story goals, conflict, and outcome.

Still new to stackexchange, so not certain if I'm permitted to share links to works here. But goggle yWriter or Simon Haynes and you'd be able to find it.

EDIT: link to Ywriter.

  • Including links is OK if they are genuinely useful to the OP, you disclose any relevant affiliations, and you don't keep repeating the same links. See How to not be a spammer in the Help center for a more thorough discussion on this. Generally, you'll also want to discuss how to use the software suggested to solve OP's problem, or summarize external material if you're referencing other content to support or elaborate on your answer. Welcome to Writing, and enjoy your stay!
    – user
    Mar 1, 2018 at 10:52
  • Actually, spacejock.com/yWriter6_Linux.html says clearly that "yWriter6 is free to download and use ('freeware'), but it's not open source. The source code is not available."
    – user
    Mar 1, 2018 at 10:53
  • Sorry, have corrected it now.
    – RonnetClaw
    Mar 1, 2018 at 11:07
  • No need to apologize, we're all new at some point and I just happened to have looked specifically at the yWriter web site recently.
    – user
    Mar 1, 2018 at 11:59
  • Looks interesting, I'm gonna give it a try when I can.
    – user23083
    Mar 2, 2018 at 14:47

World Anvil


I like using this website for world building/story creation because there is so much available and it can all be interconnected. Though you can't see all these things in detail at once, they're there visually in the sidebar.

  • You can link characters to other characters
  • You can link characters to articles
  • You can make timelines
  • You can make complex relationships between characters
  • You can make notes and secrets that aren't in the main profile for whatever it is you're making (e.g. a character).

The one thing I don't know for sure is if you can find and replace one word. I haven't used it all that much the way it's designed to work because I don't want to subscribe.

I made a few random characters, places, governments, organizations, etc. for you to see how it works. Here's the link. Note that I didn't fill out all the areas just because there are SO MANY. If you're interested I suggest you make a free account, make a world and poke around.

Here's a link to someone else's public, much more well done character. PLEASE, look around their world, it's much better than the one I threw up and shows you more of what yours might look like. In the articles they've written, you can see that when another character is references, they have chosen to put a link to that character's profile. (Their character is for game play not writing, so it has powers and levels, etc.)

The downsides

  • You have to subscribe if you want your world(s) to be private
  • If you don't have an ad blocker there are adds on the side.
  • Thanks for the suggestion, but I'll have to give it a hard pass just for the privacy settings alone. I f***ing hate it when websites hold the privacy settings hostage behind a paywall...
    – user23083
    Feb 22, 2019 at 14:13

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