A 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.
Once 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.
Making 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?