Plot, environment, characters, each one is a layer in a story. Each layer is also a compartment for further layers that are internally affected by external changes in their own, unique way, and each will be affected differently by the same stimuli over the development of the story.

What systems exists to keep track of story development on such minute level? Or at least any that would be closest fit to what I'm describing? I'm looking for one where even if the first draft was lost it could easily be recreated from the planned structure.

I have arrived at a final iteration of my story concept, now I want to set up the framework to build it upon, like a mason building a house, I want to build a world.

Edit: Trying to clarify, sorry I'm bad at wording my thoughts and I'm struggling to wrap my head around what I'm trying to plan/ask/do.

  • A story can be broken into common, independent collections of elements, like plots, characters, environments.
  • These collections is what I refer to as layers. They share similar attributes and behavior, but apply them differently.
  • Within the layer, each element has its own common attributes and characteristics that directly affect only itself, e.g. a character can have fears, strengths, weaknesses, but a plot would not and vice-versa, but it would not directly affect another elements's attributes.
  • Each element is the default characteristics + culmination of interactions with other elements, resulting in development/changes of said element's attributes.
  • In a single world, most if not all elements will be interconnected directly or indirectly, therefore any single event would have rippling effects on every aspect of the story.
    • E.g. an earthquake could cause a landslide that destroys MC's village, which forces them to adventure, which is attributed to goddess Tera, at the same time it changes the environment causing Dark Lord's army to lose their advantage and rebellion to prevail in their clutch battle. MC curses Tera while the Rebellion reveres, MC proceeds to kill Tera and sides with Rebellion because DL is BBEG, Rebellion swears to avenge Tera, creating a conflict when MC and Rebellion cross paths to defeat DL after finding out MC was Tera's murderer all along or something like that.

System I'm thinking of would keep help keep track of each compartment, relationship to other elements, history between it and other elements, direct and indirect effects of other elements on it, how it affects and its changes affect other elements, how these relationships change over time, how element can be expected to respond to change/interaction etc. The more I think about it the more it seems that to pull it off on this level I would need to write a program for this task.

tl;dr I'm extremely meticulous and I'm planning a complex story which I will struggle keeping track of without efficient planning and tracking system in place.

  • 2
    Hi Atlas! Welcome to Writing.SE! While your imagery is beautiful, I'm not sure I understand what it is you're asking. Could you edit your question and add an explanation in simpler words? Jan 21, 2019 at 11:29
  • 1
    Hi Atlas, do you mean like what tools can you use to outline? Or a database/spreadsheet to store and categorise information?
    – user18397
    Jan 21, 2019 at 12:53
  • Hi! I tried to clarify what I meant without diluting too much. Please let me know if it's still confusing. @Thomo Yes and more. A system could be a single tool or a framework that implements multiple tools, or just a framework e.g. a scrum framework. I'm not sure if system is the best term for that
    – Atlas
    Jan 21, 2019 at 14:23
  • Perhaps what you are struggling with is the amount of information to retain, while making it easily and immediately accessible to yourself. -- a bit like visualizing an entire game of chess.
    – NofP
    Jan 21, 2019 at 14:46
  • I’m up against a similar issue, though without the compunction to outline everything to such detail (which is probably a failing on my part). I am, however, a researcher, and what I’m writing is in an historic setting. I need better tools than text editors and spreadsheets. Someone below suggested a snowflake diagram, which is great for intersecting ideas, none of which have primacy over the others. If you have a central idea or character to which everything else relates, consider a “fishbone diagram”.
    – J.D. Ray
    Jan 22, 2019 at 17:25

3 Answers 3


You might find Scrivener to be useful. Scrivener is a writing program which allows you a lot of control: organization, nesting files inside folders inside folders, tags, summaries, highlights, links, snapshots of individual bits of writing, and so on.

If you want to be able to recreate a lost project from an outline, you simply have to have a very detailed outline. Sci-fi writer Diane Duane lost an enormous chunk of her novel Spock's World very shortly before deadline, but was able to rewrite the entire thing in an insane 10-day sprint because her outline was at the level you describe. That outline could be in Scrivener, Word, a spreadsheet, crayon, or coal on the back of a shovel.

  • An aside, keeping everything in scrivener (which I use and love) narrows the failure point to a single source. So backup your outline or work and don't go through this. But yes outlines are great if you can write from them.
    – Kirk
    Jan 21, 2019 at 14:10
  • @Kirk oh, absolutely! Scrivener makes it every easy to export everything with practically one keystroke. It doesn't matter what program you use — you MUST back up everything. Jan 21, 2019 at 19:20
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    Just finishes installing it, and was going to provide this same answer. +1
    – user49466
    Jan 22, 2019 at 3:38

The snowflake method may help you organize your thoughts and build a story in the way that you want. There are ten steps which move you back and forth between creating characters and creating plot. Each one challenges you to think deeper and grow your story.

Here's a broad outline, but you need to give a more detailed resource to understand it fully.

  1. A single sentence describing your story. (You need this to sell your book anyway, so start here)

  2. Expand your sentence into a paragraph. Sentence one is setup. 2-4 are your three main acts. 5 is your conclusion.

  3. Now write the same type of paragraph for each main character in your story (including your villain, if there is one) so that you know what each character is doing or thinking at any moment.

  4. Expand the paragraph in step 2 to a page with give paragraphs (one for each sentence). You now have a synopsis.

  5. Write a synopsis for each character.

  6. Write a for page long synopsis. Now you are getting into book details.

  7. Create character Bibles. A point for you to research.

  8. Write down every scene that you need, based in your synopsis and character sheets.

  9. Pre plan the scenes a bit.

  10. Write the novel.

Because most of the planning work is done up front. If you revise your score flake heavily as it expand and are experienced, this actually makes the writing process faster for some people.

For you, I think it's a good way of staying focused on the parts of the story that matter so you don't get lost in the weeds and so that you value the space that you actually have.


Another program you may find useful is Archivos. I saw it demo'd at BaltiCon (a local lit-focused con) last spring.


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.

You can add all sorts of attributes to your characters, mark where and when they are, and zoom in with the map and timeline to see how everything intersects.

It sounds like this would suit your writing/world-building style! It's free for building one world, and $6/mo for unlimited.

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