Why You Should Use Scapple for Brainstorming Your Book

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 5.11.31 pmA while ago I mentioned I had started playing around with Scapple, a brainstorming app from Literature and Latte, the makers of my favourite piece of writing software, Scrivener. Given how much I love Scrivener, I had high hopes hopes of falling in love with Scapple too. And my hopes were not misplaced.

Firstly, a word about brainstorming. I’ve not been much of a brainstormer in the past. If I had an idea for a story, I tended to sit down and start writing, letting the story unfold, sometimes very slowly, day by day. That process takes a while. And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from writing 3 books, it’s that having some loose ideas about plot makes the writing quicker, and for me, more enjoyable. I’m not talking about a chapter by chapter plan but simply a few ideas that give me some direction but that still allow for new ideas and new directions to emerge in the writing.

I’ve also had lots of other projects I’ve needed to generate ideas for over the past few months. For instance, I’ve been pitching some new writing courses to the places where I currently teach. I’ve found that brainstorming has been an excellent way to come up with lots of ideas for a course outline, to group those ideas and to narrow down those ideas. Scapple has been my tool of choice in doing this.

Start With A Free Trial

The first great thing about Scapple is that you can get a free trial for 30 days. The trial is for the full version of the software, with all functionality. Also, it’s for 30 days total use. So if I only use it on 2 days in one month, then 5 days the following month and 10 days the month after, I still have 13 days of use to go until the free license expires. This gives you a truly great opportunity to road test it and see if it works for you.

How It Works

The other great thing about Scapple is that it’s all free-form. There are no awkward pre-set boxes for you to type text into or awkward pre-set arrows that aren’t in the right place. The picture at the top of this post is what Scapple looks like. This is a brainstorm I did for a new writing course I was developing. It begins as a blank piece of paper. You type words anywhere on the screen. So if you have lots of ideas, you just type them randomly anywhere you like on the paper.

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 5.20.45 pmOnce you’ve exhausted your ideas, you can then begin to group them. I want to run a 6 week course so I needed to have 6 groups of ideas. All I had to do was click my mouse on the piece of text I wanted to group with another and drag it on top. Scappple automatically creates a line that joins the two ideas together. So, say I had 5 ideas for Week 2 of the course. I would just drag each of the 5 ideas onto my Week 2 heading and then Week 2 would have 5 lines emanating from it, each joining to one of the ideas.

I could generate sub-ideas too. You can see in the picture on the left that in Week 2 of the course I decided to discuss Plot. The first idea I dragged over to Week 2 was to discuss different types of plots. As a sub-idea from there, I have a branch off to a note to find examples of each different plot type.

So the brainstorm generates my course outline for me. If I was using Scapple to plan the writing of a book, which I have also been doing, I can start to get an idea of the different scenes to write, the plot trajectory, the thread of causation in the story—i.e. this happens because this happens—character background etc.

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 5.29.17 pmMaking Things Look Pretty

Of course, there are lots of other things you can do with Scapple. I can change the colour of each of the bubbles around the ides so I can see at a glance all the ideas relating to Week 1 which is blue, Week 2 which is red etc, as you can see in the picture on the right. You can use arrows instead of lines if you want to show the direction the ideas are moving in relation to one another, you can make it all look much prettier than I have here if you need to show others. You can also drag and drop images into the brainstorm map if you need pics to help you. And of course you can drag the whole map into Scrivener with one click of the mouse and then your manuscript and brainstorm are linked into the same document. Genius!

I’ve only scratched the surface of Scapple here because that’s all I’ve used so far. But I think it’s allowed me to be more creative and generate more ideas and make connections between ideas easily because I can see everything at a glance and I can move things around so effortlessly. If I join an idea to another idea and then realise it needs to go somewhere else, I just click and drag and voila—it’s moved. So I can thoroughly recommend giving the trial version a go and seeing how you like it and how you could use it. And I didn’t have to do a tutorial to work it out; it’s very user-friendly.

Are you a brainstormer? What is your tool of choice? And do you like the sound of Scapple?


  1. Snooky

    Thank you. I’ve been using Scrivener for a while but was unaware of Scapple until I ran across a mention in your blog. I downloaded a trial version and found I loved it. I’ve since purchased it; it’s priced reasonably. My current story features several characters and types of beings. I used Scapple to organize the traits for each. I also sneaked in some ideas for events and some historical background (real or imagined). As my story progresses, I check Scapple and use color coding to “erase” those items I’ve used. Both Scrivfener and Scapple are fairly new to me. These tools may not make me a better writer, but I’m surely a more organized one. Thanks again.

    • And thank you for commenting. What a great way to use Scapple. I’m finding it useful for so many different things and yes, it’s certainly making me more organised. Glad you found the post useful.

  2. Pingback: Why You Should Use Scapple for Brainstorming Your Book | Everything Scrivener

  3. I had heard of Scapple, but didn’t understand its power. Thanks for the explanation. I will download the trial version before I start my next project.

    • I’ve only been using the trail version so far Elizabeth and it’s such a great way to try it out. I will definitely be converting to the paid version once the trial is finished. Good luck with it and let me know how you go.

  4. Sven

    Natasha, I started using Scapple in December 2013, and it is groundbreaking, just as you mention. I can brainstorm so thoroughly with it. I was worried about the learning curve, but now that I have used it for outlining my short and long fiction for four months, I can see that everything there is to know about it is in the single utube video from L&L, there really isn’t any more to it than that (I actually watch the video about once a month just to remind myself of something), unlike Scrivener, which is fantastic, but a long-term, multistep process to learn.

    There’s the video with all the details (despite it being titled, Introduction…), as I am sure you have seen, Natasha.

    Anyhow, I just stumbled upon your blog when I searched Scapple and am glad to see that you have found it useful also. I am a big fan now. I put so much detail in it (website links, I cut and paste research data from the web, etc.). Cheers, and happy writing, Natasha and others. –Sven

    • Thanks for dropping by Sven. And thanks for the idea of watching the tutorial video once a month or so. I always find that I pick up a few things form the tutorial, use those things and then have the capacity to add some more tricks so going back to the video is a great way to add those extra tricks. Glad you’re enjoying Scapple as much as I do.

  5. Scapple? An instant, huge, hit. As close as I’ve got to scribbling on screen. With the added advantage that I can read my notes. And the added advantage that I can move things round. And the added advantage…. Well, you get the gist.

    I tried it. Five minutes later I bought it.


  6. Pingback: The 10 Things I Must Have Before I Start Writing a New Book | While the kids are sleeping

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