Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mariner Software StoryMill Review

When I was researching scientific information for my novel, I found that my typical journal technique simply became a mess as I scratched out ideas that won't work and kept jotting ideas around the margins. I like neat notes and I like physically writing my ideas, but writing them quickly became a bigger mess than ever before. That's what happens when you write a complicated, detail-necessary work! How do I get organized? How do I make it easy to find my ideas without a ton of Word files in my research folder? I'm still trying to find a good solution that works for me, and during this process, I've come across quite a few writing tools that sound interesting. The first one on the list: StoryMill.



StoryMill is one of a few software packages by Mariner Software that work to help writers. While StoryMill is dedicated to various aspects of overall novel writing, Persona (character management) and Contour (story outline) are two other options that focus on specific areas of novel development. I'll be honest: Contour is not something I'll try because I am not the type of writer who outlines in any detail whatsoever. I have a general idea, pit stops along the way, and an endgame; however, my characters direct me better than any outline I've ever done. In other words, you won't see a review of it here because it won't be unbiased. With that being said, Persona is on my list because it has what I wished StoryMill did for characters: detail, detail, detail!

Character Screen
This is one of my problems with StoryMill. The most you have under the info block is what you see above: role, height, hair, race, weight, and eyes. You can add photos, tags, links, and blah blah blah, but the majority of your information is going to be typed in a blank word-like document. It's not very organized other than being under the name of the character. This is why I'll be testing out Persona for my characters; however, if I'm going to drop money on software ($40 a pop!), I don't want to have to buy something else I would think should be included.

It does have some simple planning features that make Contour unnecessary for many writers. The main screen for "Scenes" gives you a list of your scenes and the ability to pull up a timeline of your novel's scenes:

Scene Main Screen
In each scene's page, you can write the scene, make notes, add photos, select the chapter, choose the characters in the scene, pick the location, and choose the date and time it starts and ends.

Individual Scenes

When going back and adding the information for my novel, the most helpful parts for me were the chapter, date, and time. I was able to get a timeline going and really think about the amount of time that was passing in each scene and how plausible certain things were in the scheme of that time frame. On the other hand, the timeline feature is only so helpful. Rather than stacking scenes chronologically for each date, everything falls in a line to scroll horizontally no matter how short of a time frame you select.

Timeline
Notice above that the first time shows "The Ex....Dealing". This is because there are multiple scenes in that time period. It would be much more helpful if it was more of a calendar format where each day's scenes stacked in a straight line and then you could scroll right for the following days.

Locations
The locations option is helpful but still basic. You can add pictures, take notes, create tags, save links for files or websites, and see which scenes are related to the location. This is helpful for keeping together information for each location, but there's nothing special about it. The research tabs are similar. The only difference is that the "scenes" tab is missing. You can also create a list of tasks that you want to complete and use tags for them.

There are a lot of small features having to do with formatting, exporting, etc., but they are what you would expect from writing software. A few mop-up features of interest:
  • Word Frequency - See how many times you use certain words in each chapter or the novel overall.
  • Progress Meter - Set a word count goal and you'll see a meter at the top of the screen that shows your progress to the selected goal. It can be progress for the current session or the whole novel's completion.
  • Highlight Cliches - Find possible cliches in your writing.
  • Snapshot - Take a snapshot of your work before you make big edits or changes. 
Full Article

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