...and scales well?

I'm in the process of writing a text game / "Make your own adventure" novel, with a fairly convoluted, non-linear plot. Getting that plot under control has proven to be a rather daunting task, and I started using a Concept Map to map out the interconnections between the scenes.

The problem is I tried pretty much everything from the List of Concept Mapping software and it either restrains me to tree-like structures, or (usually) concentrates on pretty presentation at cost of usability.

The final map will be at least 100 boxes, probably more, with mostly top-down flow and core nodes where action converges and diverges, but there will be jumps, irregularities, dependencies. (that's why not mind map, which is a tree-like structure, no freeform links.)

The simpler programs start getting crowded with 10 boxes and don't allow for easily scaling the map up, making it a big, easily zoomable sheet. The more complex ones throw a thousand presentation prerequisites at me; adding one node takes a few minutes, I lose the focus, flow and perspective muddled in clicking through endless dialogs designed to make the final chart pleasing to the eye of audience, a tool for presentation.

So far I tried two approaches:

  • A drawing in Google Docs draw tool. It works, but it began seriously slowing down on my netbook which is my primary tool. It's burdensome, not really designed for this work but better than others - at least it let me create a huge canvas easily.

enter image description here

  • Arrows-and-Boxes which is fairly fast and has all I need, but requires me to write everything in a fancy script; it's very good to look and acceptable for adding stuff, but a pain in the neck to edit/modify.

enter image description here

As you can see, they are far from optimal. Google Docs will probably be unacceptably slow with several hundred elements to draw, and the Arrows-And-Boxes could quickly grow unmaintainable (plus syntax errors are difficult to find).

Can you suggest a better tool for that task? Something lightweight that scales up easily for the huge project, is easy to fill in and doesn't muddle the process of planning with irrelevant requirements?

3 Answers 3


It is a long time since I used this software so I cannot vouch for the current version; but CmapTools from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition was both powerful and flexible for quite complex concept maps.

  • Once I pierced through the introductory layer of clutter (they REALLY emphasize being shared/collaborative/multiuser!) and learned you can create unnamed links by holding shift while drawing the arrow, the actual process of creating the map got quite straightforward.
    – SF.
    Aug 28, 2013 at 22:19
  • That link now gives a Page not Found error.
    – celtschk
    Mar 31, 2018 at 20:14
  • I guess this is the correct link now: cmap.ihmc.us
    – celtschk
    Mar 31, 2018 at 20:30


I realize this is an old thread, but the Scapple software might be a good choice (though it is not a free software, if one is seeking that). It is clearly powerful and easy to use, based off the short demonstration video.

How scalable it is (especially for output) I am not entirely clear on. But in general, within the software itself, it seems to be "infinitely" scalable. An example they have on their site is this:

enter image description here

So it is just a matter of zoom level to see detail versus big picture.

  • 1
    This sounds like excellent software. Just FYI to others, it is a pay for software option (free 30 day of use trial period). Seems affordable, about the price of a fictionbook. Mar 31, 2018 at 12:21
  • 1
    @EveryBitHelps Yes, I did not mention that it was not free, because the question did not mention only free versions were being sought. But your comment will no doubt be useful to others and I think I'll just add that information into the answer.
    – ScottS
    Mar 31, 2018 at 16:22

I use CMAP tools frequently and like it, but it doesn't shine for ease of use. Not bad, but not great.

The one that I believe will fit your needs best is http://bubbl.us - it's a browser-based app.

It has the least friction between brain and screen. Its disadvantage is that, unlike CMAP, it is not totally free of charge. You can make three maps free, but you have to susbscribe if you want to preserve more than three.

There is another - Inspiration - but it's overkill for the use you describe.


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