Category Archives: General Design

yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 2: Using the Novel Creator

Yesterday, I introduced you to a writing app called Fictionary StoryTeller, which functions as a developmental tool for any writer who wants to see if his or her story is structurally sound before shopping it off to beta readers or actual editors. Its purpose is to provide visual cues to any trouble spots the story may have before any living reader ever sees the flaws.

It works best when the story is finished and imported.

But, it doesn’t require prewriting to be useful to writers.

That’s because Fictionary StoryTeller also allows writers to construct the story from within the app.

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Starting a new novel in Fictionary StoryTeller

Yes, that’s correct. Building the story from within is just another feature that comes with the Fictionary StoryTeller subscription (along with the feature of paying every month to use the service, but more on that later).

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The blank canvas of doom in Fictionary StoryTeller

Now, I could spend precious article-writing real estate discussing everything that StoryTeller can do, from labeling scenes, to organizing chapters, to defining characters long before they ever enter the scene, etc. I could also discuss how the savvy writer can label plot points or scene intentions (like establishing setting, character arc, etc.) through metatags within the scene constructor itself. I could even talk about how StoryTeller allows the writer to manage each scene detail through four categories of informative story elements (giving credence to Fictionary’s boast of tracking 38 of them).

But I don’t want to do that because the app’s Web page will do all of that for me.

What I would rather do is to use this article as an opportunity to express what Fictionary StoryTeller can’t do, at least as of this writing, so that you, the writer, have a better idea whether this app is even worth your investment, at least for now.

I should also note that I have a video companion on my Zippywings YouTube channel that not only shows the app’s novel creation feature in motion, but also voices my opinion on what works and what doesn’t, and what the app still needs if it wants to be truly formidable in the war for writing software dominance. So, if you’d rather watch a demonstration than read about it, then click over to my video and spend the 15 minutes it takes to get to the end. And, if you missed yesterday’s article, it’s worth noting that I have a longer video (43 minutes) evaluating the 38 story elements that are already featured in the program (or at least the ones currently implemented).

Now, if you’ve read up on the details, then you should already get a sense of what’s missing, but in case you’re not sure, here are the top elements I believe Fictionary StoryTeller needs to truly stand out as an exceptional program for writers. Keep in mind that these elements are currently missing, or are at least not as well developed as they could be. The app may have improved by the time you read this, so you should still check it out for yourself to be sure. Also note that, as of this writing, some of the 38 story elements may actually be missing or inactive in the trial version:

Scene structure tracking. What Fictionary does well is to track and visualize the story’s global structure, but it does not accurately track how well the scene or scene unit maintains its own five-point structure, in particular when it comes to establishing conflict and resolution or scene beats. It does allow you to set certain “elements” through scene tags, like setting details and mini-descriptions, and even puts them up in a chart, which is a great start, and for anyone who wants a big picture view of his story, it definitely fills a hole that Microsoft Word cannot fill. But when it comes to tracking actual conflicts, polarity shifts, and miscellaneous scene intentions (like scenes that should only establish exposition), the program is good but not yet perfect. When it comes to scene tracking, I still think yWriter and Scrivener allow for a bit more flexibility, even if they don’t handle the visual element nearly as well. What it does track, it tracks well, but it is certainly not complete. Maybe someday it will be.

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A sample of the many scene elements at a glance in Fictionary StoryTeller

Character tracking. Again, Fictionary StoryTeller has some competency in tracking characters throughout the story, but not at the level a subscription-based app should perform to be worth the cost. What it does, and does well, is to crawl through the entire novel and extract every named character it finds and populates them inside a master character list, which you can then check for accuracy. This character chart allows you to set POV characters, mentioned characters, and combine same characters together (“the chef,” for example, may have a real name later, so both instances would be tracked to the same character). It’s a handy management tool.

But, it has major limitations compared to yWriter and Scrivener, and even, oddly, compared to itself. What do I mean by this? Well, Fictionary’s appeal is in the visuals. The two elements it tracks and converts into visuals are the character’s entrance and exit scenes (which can be accessed from the master plot graph) and the number of scenes that the character appears in. It does not actually chart which scenes the character appears in. An app like this should place dots everywhere the character appears, and allow the user to click on those dots to access those scenes. And, on these same lines, I think the character tracker is weirdly absent of character description. Unless I missed something, all you can do at this stage is to name the character and determine his importance to the story (POV only—not even protagonist, antagonist, mentor role, lover, etc.). So, the character tracker needs a lot of improvement. It also has trouble identifying merged characters as the same character. Even if it lets you combine them, it seems to forget sometimes who those combined characters are.

Character arcs. This is a separate component to story structure, but I think StoryTeller could stand to handle character arcs in the same manner: draw a line along the character’s path toward three-dimensionality. It comes nowhere close to doing this at the present. In fact, as I noted in the above bullet point, tracking any kind of character development is currently low-rate in StoryTeller. This isn’t to say that all characters need three-dimensionality (and that would be an option worth selecting: Does this character need three dimensions?(Yes/No/Let me think about it)). But those that do should have a tracker and visual component attached. What StoryTeller does do is allow the writer to set whether the scene develops the character via a simple “scene intention” tag. It just doesn’t let the writer note how it develops the character. The closest it comes is to identify what the character wants, which is still very important, and very useful. But it does not note how the character succeeds, fails, or changes. Not yet. It needs to.

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Another scene visual reference in Fictionary StoryTeller

A/B plot tracking. Perhaps a major omission to Fictionary StoryTeller, both in actuality and according to the 38 elements, is the ability to track subplots within the main story. On a similar note, it does nothing to track external and internal storylines. For any writer who wants to see if the A/B plots or the internal/external plots converge at the end of the story, Fictionary won’t be able to tell them. Right now, it’s all about the main plot.

Genre and obligatory scene tracking. This may not be intuitive to writers who haven’t studied story structure or genre development, but any story written for genre still has its particular obligations (like a romance that fails to bring the lovers together at the end is, perhaps, not really a romance), and Fictionary StoryTeller seems to leave these elements out in the cold. Even a quick scan of the 38 elements suggest that this feature isn’t on the planner. But it probably should be.

Element highlighting. This missing feature is arbitrary, but adding it would greatly enhance the user experience. In short, clicking on buttons and dots in Fictionary StoryTeller will open up whatever scene corresponds to the selected element, so that the writer can review the scene for the specific instance he wants to check. Sometimes it will even jump to a point in the scene where the element can be found. However, what this fast-access method grossly lacks is a simple highlighter that draws attention to the element immediately. I’ve found that whenever I click on the visual that opens the scene, I then have to read the entire passage to figure out where the element sits in the prose. It takes time to find it, especially when the text is small. A simple highlighter on selection of the element would make opening the scene much better. As of now, this relates to character names, but as the program evolves, it should also search for embedded tags the writer may place within the scene to identify “important moments” that link to that tag to make searching for these broader-based elements faster and easier.

And that’s for starters.

Now, in fairness, I believe these limitations are simple enough to add within the current architecture that I’d be surprised if Fictionary never addresses them. So, my belief is that this app will become quite useful for every type of fiction writer in time. But, as of my trial period, I was a bit underwhelmed by my cost-to-usefulness ratio. I’d like to see some of these elements taken into consideration before I take in consideration a subscription to the service ($20 a month or $200 a year).

But, you may feel differently, so by all means give it a go if you’re interested. You get the first 14 days free, anyway.

Also, in reviewing the 38 scene elements listed on the main page, I think it’s possible that the current version of Fictionary StoryTeller doesn’t yet have all the elements implemented (I know that’s true of two of the five senses) but will shortly. It certainly seems that some of the elements listed appear nowhere on the app, as far as I could find. Maybe they’re behind a paywall. Maybe they’re on the way. It’s worth keeping an eye on them if they are.

Anyway, don’t forget to check out my video reviews of Fictionary StoryTeller if you haven’t already.

Video 1: Overview and Review

Video 2: Using the Novel Creator

And, if you don’t think Fictionary StoryTeller is your cup of coffee right now, then check out my series yWriter vs Scrivener to see if either of those programs are a better fit for your storytelling needs.

yWriter vs Scrivener Presents: Fictionary StoryTeller, Part 1: Overview and Review

So, remember that time you told all of your friends that you’re a writer, when what you really meant is that you plan to become a writer, someday?

Well, now’s your chance to prove yourself true, thanks to a new weapon in the arsenal, a new tool in the chest, a new float toy in the pool . . .

Okay, that last one got away from me a little.

Introducing Fictionary StoryTeller, the writing app that actually helps the writer track his or her story’s development structure and informs him if he’s on the right track.

(. . . and also makes it fun to stop wasting time dreaming about becoming a writer . . .)

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The main navigation page in Fictionary StoryTeller

For the next two days, I’ll be bringing you both written and video content about this handy option for the writer’s development needs, the former which you can read right here, and the latter which you can view over at my Zippywings YouTube channel, specifically at this link (but don’t go just yet; you should read on—I’ll repost the link at the bottom so you don’t forget).

So, now that I got your interest, what is Fictionary StoryTeller?

Well, StoryTeller is the developmental tool for writers from Fictionary (see, calling it Fictionary StoryTeller is a lot like calling PhotoShop, Adobe PhotoShop) that provides structural feedback via flowcharts, graphs, and other fun visual things that would make Microsoft proud (or jealous), giving writers an opportunity to spot weaknesses from a bird’s eye point of view.

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Example of the plot structure graph in Fictionary StoryTeller

In short, it tells writers if their novels or novellas still need developmental considerations.

But, how does it accomplish that, exactly? If StoryTeller is just a piece of writing software, a measly app on the Internet, then how, pray tell, does it inform you, the writer, if your story needs more development?

I know what you’re thinking: The robot apocalypse has started.

While that may be possible, that’s not actually what’s happening here. No, what’s happening here is that you feed the app your story’s information, by scene, and based on your knowledge of structure, including inciting incidents, plot points, scene shifts, etc., you’ll essentially give the program something to track, which it can then convert information back to you via graphs, charts, and other visual matters.

So, it’s not entirely scary. It’s barely even an algorithm.

But, if that’s all StoryTeller did, just feed you visuals on the stuff you’ve already written, then it probably wouldn’t be particularly impressive. Clever writers who moonlight as Excel wizards could probably accomplish something similar on their own, for a lot cheaper.

What StoryTeller does well is convert your manuscript into indexes for easy labeling and makes those tracking adjustments on the fly, so you can always know what your development looks like at every stage of the story, even as you’re still writing it.

And what does it track, exactly?

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Using the scene editor in Fictionary StoryTeller

Well, Fictionary’s StoryTeller Web page will give you all the details, but the short version is that it allows you to check 38 different developmental categories, from the core elements of story structure, all the way down to sensory details (minus touch and taste, as of this writing).

It also, conveniently, searches your document for all known names and converts them into character lists (in some cases erroneously), which you can also adjust, reference, or delete as needed. Nearly everything in Fictionary StoryTeller that you can click will take you back to your scene of reference.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it’s definitely heading in the right direction—I’ll say that with confidence.

The question is, is it worth the price? At $20 a month (yep, subscription!), it offers writers the answers to a number of questions, such as, “Is my structure in line with proper story structure?” and “Do my scenes begin and end in different places or times?” but it still lacks the answers to other important questions, such as “Do my scenes follow an internal five-point structure?” or “Which scenes does Fred appear in?”

In other words, even though StoryTeller does track the entrances and exits of characters, and it tracks how many scenes a character appears in, it does not tell you, the writer, specifically which of those eight scenes he’s in, which would be convenient given that everything in StoryTeller can be clicked, whisking you away to the very scene you wish to explore, and this means, ultimately, that StoryTeller isn’t yet perfect.

But, it looks like it’s trying to become just that, so whatever it lacks today may likely appear as a feature tomorrow, or whenever its engineers figure out not only which good ideas need implementation but how to implement them.

Anyway, I offer you a full look at Fictionary StoryTeller in action, through the lens of my novella Gutter Child, over on my Zippywings YouTube channel. Check it out to see all of its strengths in weaknesses, as well as get my full opinion of the program (and whether I recommend it).

Then come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my mini-feature on Fictionary StoryTeller, when I review its capability as a writing substitute to yWriter or Scrivener. There will be a video on that, as well.

Now I Can Make Proper Industry-Standard Paperbacks (without using Adobe InDesign)

Just found another useful resource last night that I’m super impressed with. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe not.

All of us know about Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign. We also know that we have to spend $52.99 a month to use all three programs, which is useful only if we plan to use more than three Creative Cloud apps every month. Fortunately, we get a ton of apps for that price. Unfortunately, most of those apps are just add-ons to the big three (or four, if you include Premier). Seems hardly worth it to pay over $600 a year to rent a bunch of apps we’d hardly use.

For years, I’ve been troubled by this price point because I really wanted PhotoShop for game and cover design, Illustrator for additional vector design, and InDesign for accurate layouts for my books. In fact, I’ve often thought I needed InDesign to make my paperbacks industry standard.

Turns out, I don’t need any of them.

When I searched for “indesign alternatives” on YouTube last night, I kept seeing videos for something called “Affinity Publisher.” I’m usually skeptical of any software that claims to compete with the titans of industry, and it didn’t help that the thumbnails for these videos were amateur-looking. But I checked out what they said about it, anyway.

The first video got me curious, so I checked out the more “official” videos. Finally, I watched a 30-minute video from someone who creates books.

And each video got me wanting this thing more and more.

So I bought it last night.

affinity publisher 1

Turns out, Affinity Publisher is so much like InDesign that I don’t even know if there’s a noticeable omission. From my understanding, the user-interface is actually easier than InDesign (and the free alternative, Scribus). But here’s the cool thing: It integrates with Affinity’s other two flagship programs, Photo (the worthy PhotoShop alternative) and Designer (the worthy Illustrator alternative), by allowing you to press a button, in Publisher, and switch immediately to the profile for the other program, allowing you to access all of its tools. That means you can edit images and other elements right from the page you’re designing for your book, magazine, whatever.

It’s probably no surprise that I also bought Photo and Designer, just to maintain the entire suite.

So how close to $600 a year did I come to buy these programs?

Well, they retail for $50 each. One-time purchase. Free updates forever (I believe).

And I got them during one of their 50% off sales. So I spent $25 for each one. I never have to buy Adobe Anything now, but I can still do just about anything the Adobe products would let me do.

That said, if you’re looking for an alternative to Adobe Creative Cloud that you can own for a one-time payment at a fourth of the cost (or eighth if you get it during the same sale that I bought my copies in), I’d give Affinity a look. I’m impressed with it so far.

Seriously, these are good programs and worth the look.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Fun with Cover Design Using PaintShop Pro 2020, Corel Painter 2019, and GRFX Studio Corel Edition on My Ebook “Lightstorm”

This weekend, as the title implies, I ran my concept cover for Lightstorm through another round of edits, this time by employing the services of a few new programs that I picked up in the Painter: Create with Confidence Bundle over at Humble Bundle (available until Wednesday at 1pm EST).

The bundle, which includes a number of designer products, including PaintShop Pro 2020 Ultimate, Corel Painter 2019, and Pinnacle Studio 23 Ultimate, cost me just $25. Individually, I would’ve spent over $250 for them, maybe much more, and finding the bundle was perfect timing, as my copy of Paintshop Pro 2019 (normal edition) kept bugging me to upgrade to 2020 for just $47.99 (a 70% discount!), which I was planning to do anyway until I found the bundle, but now I don’t have to, though doing so would’ve meant I would also get a video editor program, VideoStudio Pro 2019 (noticeably absent from the bundle, but hopefully Pinnacle Studio will work just fine), which probably would’ve been nice. But I ended up getting a lot more for a lot less, and I’m typically fine with that.

So, just to give a little backstory, I released Lightstorm in September 2015 with this cover (created with my old copy of PaintShop Pro 9, which is probably 14 iterations of PaintShop Pro ago):

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Lightstorm Cover Image

As you can see, it isn’t very good. I needed to upgrade it, but I didn’t have any software that would be particularly useful for the job.

Then last year I found another photography bundle at Humble Bundle that included PaintShop Pro 2019, and I thought, Yeah, I’ll buy that for a dollar! I think I actually paid $25 for that bundle, (a dollar would’ve gotten me just the cheap stuff) and I got a load of decent software for designers that I haven’t really used yet outside of PaintShop Pro 2019. I plan to use them eventually. Maybe.

A few months after getting that bundle and practicing my cover design on other covers, particularly Eleven Miles from Home, by locating free stock photos and manipulating and combining them for effect, I decided it was time to upgrade Lightstorm. This is what I made:

lightstorm new background 8

And when I wasn’t fully satisfied with that version, I kept toying with it until I got this:

lightstorm new background 10a

So, that’s the version I have online at the moment. I thought it was pretty good. But I still had my doubts. Compared to the original, it’s a masterpiece. But compared to other book covers, it’s meh. I figured I could do better, but I didn’t know how if all I had at my disposal was PaintShop Pro 2019 and other painting programs I hadn’t actually used yet but probably should’ve looked into. Oops.

So, then came along the Painter Bundle, and now I’ve got programs that can do more than simply adjust the visuals of an already assembled composite photo (I used four different images and a lot of blurring to make the above image). With Corel Painter, I was able to add particles, including glow brushes, make my title font (Vallen) much better detailed, and I ended up with this:

lightstorm new background 12.png

Now it’s looking more thematic, but I admit I wasn’t fully satisfied. As much as I liked the new particle effects, I worried they were cluttering the image too much.

So, I doubled-down and opened up GRFX Studio Corel Edition (included with PaintShop Pro 2020 Ultimate) and added a bunch of light flares:

lightstorm new background 13a.png

So, that’s the state of Lightstorm‘s cover and what I did this weekend with my new design programs. Just to recap, I went from this:

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Lightstorm Cover Image

to this:

lightstorm new background 13a

I’m sure PhotoShop and a proper graphics designer would’ve made this cover even better, but as I say on this blog from time to time, I’m not rich, and while that remains true, I won’t throw money at high-priced subscription software or someone I can’t afford.

For the resources and skills that I have, I think I did pretty well. What do you think? Can you do better? Hopefully the answer is yes. Comment below if you have an opinion!