Keep Your Story Straight with Storybook

Manage your book's details and characters with open source software

Storybook Logo
Image © Intertec

NOTE: Storybook is no longer being developed by the original creators, and the related website has been taken down. But, in true open source fashion, someone else has taken the original source code and put it up on SourceForge. This version is only available in French and English, though, and they point out that this is an ongoing recovery project ... so please be forgiving.

Everybody, at some point in their life, decides to write the next "Great American Novel," but when it comes to organizing the plot, keeping all the character quirks in place, and designing a great story arch, it can get a little overwhelming.

Luckily, there's a piece of open source software called Storybook that will keep you on track while helping to eliminate all those sticky notes attached to your monitor. But, more importantly, Storybook allows you to focus on actually writing the book ... which is, after all, why you started this project to begin with.

Storybook At a Glance

Storybook runs on Linux and Microsoft Windows (OS X isn't officially supported but users can still install it), and there are two versions -- Storybook (which is a free download from Sourceforge) and Storybook Pro (which costs $34.90 USD). Essentially, the software allows you to organize, track, and chart your book's characters, locations, plots, and chronology (among other things). The Pro version also lets you chart various plot pieces to ensure that nothing remains unresolved or forgotten.

Background

The developer behind Storybook is somewhat mysterious.

There isn't any information on the website about them, there isn't a site dedicated to the company, and the only way we were able to come up with an actual developer's name was to search through the source files. What I can tell you is that the company's name is Intertec, they're based in Switzerland, and they've been members of Sourceforge since 2008.

Ironically, there doesn't seem to be a story behind Storybook anywhere online.

Features

For this review, I downloaded Storybook 4.0.9 and ran it on Microsoft Windows. Here's what I found:

  • Various Ways to View Content - Both the free and pay versions of Storybook offer four different ways to view your content -- Chronological, Manage Chapters and Scenes, Book, and Reading. Chances are that you'll be able to find the right organization view for how you think about your data and how you want to use it.

  • Organize Multiple Plot Lines - The real value of Storybook comes into play when you're trying to juggle multiple story lines. Trying to remember all the minutia that goes into a plot can be impossible (or at least tiring), but Storybook's system lets you track each one and link them to each other or specific scenes.

  • Detailed and Customizable Character Descriptions - The New Character option, by default, already includes a lot of options, but you're not limited to the software developers' imaginations. Maybe you're working on a sci-fi novel and you need to keep track of who belongs to the various alien races? No problem -- just add the race field. Your characteristics can match whatever you need them to be.

  • Export Tools - These are actually on both the Feature and Drawback lists (see below for the con). The pay version of Storybook, Storybook Pro, offers some export and print tools that could be useful to an author. Specifically, it enables you to export various reports as .txt, .pdf, .html, .rtf, .odt, and .csv.

Drawbacks

Although I was generally happy with Storybook, there are some issues with available functions and the interface. These may not ultimately deter you from using Storybook, but they're definitely worth thinking about before you decide to invest in it.

  • Free Version Has Ads - A lot of free versions of software have ads these days, but it seems like this might be an unpleasant distraction when you're trying to think through some complex plot pieces. The pay version, however, is ad free.

  • Free Version Lacks Export Tools - It's nice that the pay version provides the ability to export your data, but it's not so great if you're in the free version and your data is essentially stuck in Storybook. If you decide that you want to switch to a different piece of software halfway through your novel, it might not be so easy to get everything moved over. And what would happen if the Storybook developer stopped production? Would you be stuck in a non-supported piece of software? It's always good to be in control of your data, and the lack of this feature should be a concern.

  • Frustrating Interface - In my tests of Storybook, I ran into a few frustrations that I felt were worth mentioning. My tests were done using the free version, but I believe that most of these would be the case in either version. The interface design itself felt a bit clunky, unpolished, and old-fashioned. When you start Storybook, there are a lot of tabs, and every time you select a new option from a dropdown, either another tab or a pop-up box appears. And, if you're using the free version, there seem to be constant reminders that there is an upgrade available.

Getting Storybook

You can download the free version of Storybook for Linux and Microsoft Windows from Sourceforge. And, if you're interested in buying Storybook Pro, you can purchase it from the official website.

Contributing to Storybook

Storybook doesn't currently list any areas actively in need of help, but if you're interested, you can contact them directly.