#amwriting #writingtools #hiveword #outline
Hiveword online writing tool to organize, outline, and plot your novel
For writers who are “plotters”, the perennial favorite topic of organizing a novel is perhaps only surpassed by discussions about outlining. The reason is simple, of course—both can sometimes feel like chores, both are difficult to do well, and most successful writers consider both absolutely worth doing.
Writing applications and tools are all over the place, more of them than anyone could keep track of much less test and review. Tools exist for virtually every step in the writing process, from taking initial notes, to detailing environments, to spitting out a formatted ebook. I said “virtually”… There isn’t much out there for knocking out amazing book queries. I did find one that I’ll write about in a bit.
The available tools take a confusing variety of approaches and have different strengths and weaknesses. Not every tool was created equal. Some are clunky to the point of uselessness while others sing and make you want to sing along with them.
When it comes to the crucial tasks of novel organization, plotting, and outlining, the situation gets worse. There are so few really good tools. Even among the best tools, quality for the important tasks becomes highly subjective. Writing tools either do one thing very well but neglect the others or they try to do them all in one program and don’t do any of them very well. This is frustrating because those initial tasks are so deeply intertwined. You can’t do a good job of one without consideration for the other.
When taking notes (part of novel organizing, as well as later writing), it’s best if we don’t do it randomly or willy-nilly. The purpose is to bring the seeds of details into full bloom so we can use them more or less as crib sheets when outlining or plotting the novel.
But those very same notes will necessarily inform and inspire the outline we develop to guide our work. If your notes aren’t accessible in a sensible way once you start outlining, then you aren’t getting their full value or, put another way, not getting the most you could from the time you’ve invested. Time is precious…
Some tools do try to integrate these tasks—organizing, plotting, and outlining—and even build them into the writing process itself, but even the most popular tools don’t do each task in the best way possible. They’re “good enough,” but no more, though having them as an integrated suite can be pretty darn useful.
Still, every major function added and integrated requires compromises to other functions. A pretty good integrated tool will do one thing really well but other things only middlin’ well. Scrivener (purchased and beautiful) and Bibisco (free but not so pretty), for example, both will help you with adequate notes, plotting, and outlining in a single interface. But I don’t feel they do a great job at all three of those basic tasks. Scrivener excels at notes and especially at outlining if you’re a fan of the corkboard function, but it’s merely adequate for plotting. Bibisco isn’t great for detailed, connected notes or for outlining things fluidly, but it is top-notch for plotting. If only we could blend the two… but that would take other compromises.
As a personal taste, I prefer Novlr’s writing environment to those included in the writing tool suites. All working writers simply have to juggle, mix and match the available tools to fit their personal strengths. Ultimately, you have to build your own set of best tools.
Both well-known suites will do the job in a new way that almost no other tools can manage, yet both are merely okay at the individual task level. Okay but not exceptional. You need more than adequate tools if you want to bring out your best possible story, to step up to the next level in your writing.
My Ideal Solution
If I could have my writing tool wish, it would be this: the ideal tool features for plotting, outlining, and novel organization would exist—along with a writing environment and ebook/print formatting function—in one novel writing suite such as Bibisco or Scrivener, but would not try to do everything there is to do in writing a novel.
I’d also wish it to be cloud-based, so I could work on my Chromebook or do simple edits on my tablet instead of just working on my laptop. To my knowledge, such a tool doesn’t exist. Not yet. That’s another issue for another time, though.
What are my ideal features?
- For starters, there would be segments for detailed write-ups of characters, locations, and items (such as spells used in my book, or legends that impact the story).
- It would gracefully handle both scenes and chapters, provide areas for a summary, and let me move it all around however much I want.
- Changes made in one segment (for example, outlining) would be reflected immediately in the other segments. The ideal tool needs segments for me to detail all my plot arcs and subplots, whether it’s the grand arc of a trilogy, the story arc of a novel or subplot, or the MC’s “Hero’s Journey” character arc. If I change something in one segment, the others change as well.
- It would directly connect items in all of those segments—characters, items, locations, scenes, chapters, and plotlines—so they aren’t just separate stacks of notes but interconnected so I can see at a glance how and where they touch each other.
Fortunately for me, I discovered that such a tool does exist. It’s not integrated into a package suite like Scrivner, so it lacks an integrated writing environment, but that’s a small concern given the plethora of writing options it does offer. The tool more than makes up for lacking a one-size-fits-all interface by doing everything it offers extremely well.
The tool is called Hiveword.com, an online working space, and since I discovered it a year ago I have edged more and more toward using Hiveword ahead of all other tools in my chest.
Maybe its appeal stems from how the Hiveword.com creators approach it as writers first, not as software designers. Creator Mike Fleming—who has co-authored books with James Scott Bell and is also a developer—handled the Hiveword application portion.
Elizabeth Craig, a renowned Cozy Mystery writer, has published well-received novels through Penguin Random House and other major houses. Writer’s Digest named her blog among the 101 Best Websites for Writers. She manages Hiveword.com’s other major resource, The Writer’s Knowledge Base, a fantastic search engine database that she actively curates. It is dedicated specifically to articles on writing.
From the ground up, you can tell that Hiveword.com is designed professionally for writers doing professional work. It homes in on the features authors most need and want, and a little thought will tell you these are not necessarily the easiest software structures to program, or the prettiest. Hiveword is a standalone online app without an integrated writing environment and lacks various pretty bells and whistles, so they have fewer code interactions and requirements (or bugs) to worry about. What it does extremely well is to provide tools for doing serious work.
Pretty? Nope. Yet I suspect this best-of-class tool’s design has more to do with the fact that Mike Fleming is a professional writer first, developer second. What he created is a site that not only lets me, but actively helps me, create the best work I’m capable of doing.
The Hiveword novel organization tool has every feature I could need or want for the critical first stages of the novel-writing process. While these features aren’t presented in the order I would prefer, they are all available on one screen so that isn’t an issue.
Hiveword recently added the ability to include images, which you can attach to scenes, characters, or anything else. It also rolled a large number of usability improvements into the same upgrade. It might be my imagination, but it seems to run faster and more responsively now as well.
If you develop your outline and details in the app (or just “import” or transfer them in), Hiveword prints out what amounts to world-class content for a book query. The kind of query that goes well beyond what most authors would even think to include, the kind you might otherwise have to pay a freelance writer like me to create from your input. Hiveword lets anyone create queries that are simply good beyond belief. I mean, fantastic output.
You can probably tell I’m impressed by it. I’d bet you’ll feel the same, once you try it.
Here’s how it works for a first-time user. After setting up a free account with Hiveword, you’re presented with an option to create a new project. You get fields for author name (which can be your pen name), subtitle, and a box to enter a short description. Put in something useful when you begin, as a placeholder. At the end, you’ll want to enter your back blurb. Or maybe just use what you wrote here as your blurb if it still fits!
Create all the characters you know you’ll need, then add more as they come up in your story. The Characters tab can generate a list of random male or female names and let you create a character from the name you choose, or you can create a new character and then enter a name of your own devising. Hiveword’s names mostly seem like they’d be a great fit for a near-future or fantasy story, in that they sound familiar but most are slightly off standard spelling. I immediately thought of CyberPunk when I saw the names it generated for me. If you’ve ever struggled to name a character, you’ll know what a convenience such a generator can be.
If you want character names that sound unique, here’s a tip: use the Settings (locations) tab’s name generator to come up with unique, consistent-sounding names from dozens of cultures! Then type those into your new character.
I rarely fill out a character form completely. Most of it, I don’t need. I’ll put in their name, fill out the Nickname box if it needs one, and for the title at the top, I enter their role (MC, Mentor, etc.) and their first name. You might prefer a different approach – the app doesn’t force anything down your throat. Once you put in the key information, Hiveword helps you keep track of who or what you’re using in your story.
Hiveword helps make characters richer and more complete.
- When I make a character, I’ll fill out their physical attributes with something general. For example, in the “Hair” box I don’t write the length in inches, but I might write Blonde, shoulder length, ponytail.
- I do the same for height, weight, eyes.
- I usually leave the description box alone, other than to describe their clothes (if distinctive) or other unique details, such as whether they have tattoos, or they stink, or they radiate an air of command, so my characters and descriptions stay consistent as I write.
I’ll fill in the Age box if needed, but you can also just put in something like kid, teen, ancient, or young adult. If you list a specific age, don’t forget to put in their Birthday (several sections lower) so you remember to update age as the story progresses.
Under Occupation, I put in something like or Street Urchin or Failed Wizard, but you could also put some other significant “tracker” here like Caste or Clan (I use Tags for those instead, but that’s a personal choice).
The other text boxes I use are Backstory for historical tidbits and Miscellaneous Notes for anything else I want to remember about them. There’s room for anything and everything you might want to put in, from likes and dislikes to personal goals, personality poles, relationships with other characters, and anything else that’s important about the character.
This area is used to list locations in the book, with descriptions, secrets, people usually found there, and so on. You could just as easily use it to describe each of the Nine Planes of Hell, the bridge of a recurring starship, or the Netrunning layout of a bank.
This is where you’ll keep descriptions and notes about uniquely important objects or McGuffins. The description of the muscle car your characters drive across the country while hunting demons and vampires, for example. What the MC’s Hellforged soul blade looks like, what it can do, its known history. Different Glyphs of Power and their description/abilities. The MC’s antique revolver that can slay any living being. You get the idea.
Now we get into the nitty-gritty, linking it all together. All your scenes go here and can be listed, you can add more, or rearrange them however you like. Within each scene, you can add the POV character and a list of characters, items, and settings that appear. Then give it a brief 1-2 paragraph overview to guide your actual drafting. You might paste in a bullet list of the sequence of events, or even leave them blank until you’re done writing.
After you’ve written a scene, remember to remove your bullet points and write or improve the overview of what’s in that scene. It’s important for later—cleaning up the scene makes it ready to use via export later.
I tend to begin with about 48 scenes as placeholders to go with my 24 chapters [see inset] but this can grow to as many as 80-100 scenes as I flesh out the story or while writing.
From within an individual scene, you can assign it to a chapter, which is very useful for adding a scene while you’re writing (unless you’ve got an outline already and are importing it into Hiveword).
In the Scene List screen, Hiveword lets you specify filters to show only those that include a particular location or character. You can also bulk-assign scenes to specific Plotlines and Chapters from here.
When you create a chapter, you can only add the chapter summary—the big picture of what’s in its scenes.
You can filter the list view for details. You can assign scenes to chapters, as well.
The Chapters list shows all the people, places, and things attached to each scene, automatically, once you assign them.
If you are the type who outlines everything in detail before drafting, you can add your Plotlines right away, but you can also add plotlines as you go. Be sure to include one for the main plot of the book, and if you’re writing a trilogy, include a plotline for the central plot of the series. Additional plotlines are up to the writer and can include anything from the personal growth arc of the main character to a side-quest for pizza and beer.
After creating plotlines and assigning scenes to them, you can click the Scenes by Plotline option to see a grid displaying where plotlines connect with scenes. This is great for its quick graph that shows whether you’ve neglected a subplot for too long. Or perhaps you’ll find that you have a cluster of scenes focusing too heavily on one plotline, and may need to break it up by moving around scenes with other plots to get the pacing you want.
In addition, every item in Hiveword can be assigned Tags, searchable 1-2 word descriptors that show up under each Category’s List View. This makes it easy to see at a quick glance while you write that Amy is Peter’s Daughter, or that Jim has a crush on Amy.
Each category has an option to re-sort the entries within it; you can easily rearrange the order of characters, items, locations, scenes, chapters, and plots. For scenes, this is useful if you decide one needs to be moved earlier or later in the novel. I tend to group Characters by their “clique,” or shared tags, rather than alphabetically or by importance, but the system is completely flexible. You can sort them any way you choose.
The inexpensive paid version of Hiveword adds useful new features but isn’t required to make your novel organizer shine.
- Add a category. If you have a list of fifty spells, they needn’t clutter up your Items list.
- Add unique fields to entries. If there is a list of Mecha, you could have a field for their weight category.
- Add Images to any entry, so you can include a picture of your locations and characters (or Mecha).
- Improved Notes for each entry
- A Journal to jot down ideas, like keeping one big Note.
When You’re Finished
Once you’re done writing, having updated your Hiveword data as you go (or at the end, if you’re lazy like me), then go back through and fill out more details on the Characters, Items, and Locations entries. Make sure your Tags for each entry are up to date (such as “Dead”). All your Scene and Chapter 1-2 paragraph summaries should now be written or revised to match what happened in each. Check that your original Book Summary is updated—mine usually needs changes between the idea phase and completion.
Now the magic happens, and it’s time for the fun part. Go to your Dashboard. Click your book title. Drumroll, please…
Click Export. You’ll get a formatted writing Story Bible that is perfect for including in any book submission or query letter. I’ve always said that most query letters don’t reach their potential. With this book export, however, you needn’t worry about that ever again. Seriously, you have to see the output to believe it.
As an unintended bonus, if you fill out as much as you can before you write the novel, you can keep your “story bible” at hand while you draft it.
If you’re on a professional writing track, I suggest you check out http://www.Hiveword.com right now. It’s free, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’d love to hear your experience with this outstanding writer’s tool for novel organizing, outlining, and plotting, in the comments below!