What should I write about?
How will I DECIDE WHAT COMES FIRST, in the middle, and last in my story?
How can I CREATE REALISTIC CHARACTERS that jump off the page?
And how, pray tell, does anyone wrangle all the details of PLANNING A STORY SO THAT NOTHING IS LOST … so it all makes sense in the end, and along the way?
We’ve heard your questions. The StoryShop story-planning app is the answer.
Hi there. We’re Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright: co-owners of Sterling & Stone — an indie publishing company that produces around 2 million words (double the Harry Potter series) of eagerly anticipated, well-reviewed, often bestselling fiction every year.
We’re also the authors of the cornerstone self-publishing guide Write. Publish. Repeat., hosts of the Self-Publishing Podcast and eight other popular creative podcasts, and the guys behind Fiction Unboxed: a record-setting Kickstarter in which we wrote and published a full-length book starting from scratch in 30 days, live in front of the world.
Our podcast listeners and nonfiction readers constantly ask us: How do you write good stories so fast? But what they’re really asking is, How can I do the same?
The short answer is that the better you know your characters, your plot’s key points, and your world before you start writing, the better and faster the story will pour out of you once you begin … and, honestly, the more fun you’ll have while telling that story.
The even shorter answer is that if this campaign funds, we’ll build you an invaluable story-planning tool that will MAKE ALL OF THAT EASY — AND CHANGE THE WAY YOU WRITE FOREVER.
Enter StoryShop: A First-Of-Its-Kind Story-Planning App For Writers That Helps You Write BETTER STORIES FASTER
We’ve got some questions for you, fellow writer:
What’s your planning method?
Do you use notebooks and write things out by hand?
Or do you prefer Microsoft Word or Scrivener?
Do you use notecards to map out your story, then drag them around until the scenes fit?
What about your characters?
Do you write out full character profiles so you’ll know them well?
If so, how do you organize those profiles?
As you’re plotting the story’s structure, do your characters ever change? Ours certainly do, because the story often demands it. So when that happens, do you scribble character corrections and notes on your notecards or make notes on your computer? (And then, with the changes in the characters, do you ever find you need to go back to the plot and correct that too?)
And hey, speaking of plot, are you a plotter? Or are you a pantser? Do you meticulously outline everything from your tale’s beginning to end … or do you just start writing and see where the narrative takes you?
Either way, how do you keep track of your characters’ appearances and quirks? We know how hard it is to stay consistent with those things.
And hey, have you ever gone to write a book's sequel … and realized you don’t remember which characters from the original were friends with each other, who knew which secrets, or even what hair color all those different people have?
Planning stories and keeping track of all those loose ends is an inherently messy, chaotic process. It takes forever … and leaves you at least a little confused when you go to write your story’s intimidating first words.
We get it.
We’re always in the middle of several series at Sterling & Stone, set in many distinct story worlds. Keeping track of what’s happened and what needs to happen in the next book is tricky. Keeping track of who is whom — and who knows what — is even trickier. We practically maintain big, thick dossiers on each, as if our books are unsolved cases. We pre-plan our stories to make the whole thing as easy as possible … but there’s only so much that an inherently chaotic system can do.
So we got to thinking: What if, rather than trying to track everything manually, there was an app that could help us?
What if the app (not our messy, manual system) could keep track of relationships between characters the way Facebook and LinkedIn keep track of connections?
What if we were able to tag scenes as taking place in locations we’d established, featuring characters we wanted to use … but because it was all a big, user-friendly database, we could sort through who went where and click links through places and people and happenings -- with everything being ABC Easy?
We’d love to have an app that could do all those things. But unfortunately that app — that revolutionary story-planning tool to organize and make sense of our mishmash — didn’t exist.
At least not yet.
But ... maybe we could build it.
Problem is, the app in our mind is ambitious. Creating it would be pricey.
But maybe if other writers were anything like us — if they, too, wanted a tool to make their lives easier and improve both the quality and speed of their writing — they’d be willing to help us build it … for everyone.
And, well, that brings us here, to this campaign ...
We’d LOVE TO BUILD THAT APP, which we call StoryShop.
We have fantastic partners, ready to go: a team of experienced app developers led by Seth Atwood of Strange Wind Studio (see Seth's bio toward the bottom) who can make this dream a reality and have already shown us wireframes that blow our minds as to what StoryShop will be able to do.
But we’d be asking those developers to divert all other work for months and stream all of their focus onto StoryShop.
In order to build the StoryShop app and get us all writing better stories faster, WE NEED YOUR HELP.
But let’s not rush into business just yet. First, let’s take a tour of what might be the most revolutionary thing to happen to storytelling since pen and ink.
Characters so real, you’ll expect them to send you friend requests
See that image below? That’s our partner and lead developer Seth Atwood’s mock-up of a “character” screen inside StoryShop. You’ll see that the character list for one of the user’s story worlds is open in the menu bar on the left. The other worlds are collapsed, as are the “Setting” and “Beats” (plot stuff) submenus for this world.
Look it over. Does this seem familiar at all?
Here, Seth has wireframed the character section of StoryShop in a way that should feel intuitive and familiar to just about everyone who knows what the Internet is. It’s as if your characters have real profiles on social networks, complete with intertwined “relationships” (see them below the main photo there?) that works a lot like a Facebook friends list.
You can place a large photo for your character at the top, along with anything else that visually identifies them. (At Sterling & Stone, we actually “cast” our characters like we’d cast a movie. So for us, those would be a movie star’s photos.) Then you get a summary of that character, which can be brief like Seth shows here or epic-long, like the character histories Sean writes for Johnny before a new story is written.
The related characters are all linked database-fashion in the text and the relationships list. You can click between them, never worrying about keeping consistent information between a character’s information in one location and information about the same character stored elsewhere. You’ll also see “Setting” links in there, which we’ll get to next … just one more way StoryShop keeps everything integrated and tied together rather than letting loose ends unravel.
The last thing you’ll notice in the mock-up is “Character DNA.” We find the most realistic characters come to life when we know things about them that probably don’t even make the draft … like a favorite hobby or quirk. So the app will ask you some of these questions from a huge master list, and you’ll learn about the character by doing, as if you were being interviewed about him or her.
Settings and world elements familiar enough to move into — and make yourself at home
Now let’s check out the “Settings” pane. “Settings” is a bit of a misnomer; we may ask Seth to change the wording because it’s actually more than just settings and also includes “world elements” that complement setting but aren’t actually places characters can walk around in.
(We’re sure Seth will be very willing to do so. He’s super nice and used to smoke a long pipe like a Hobbit. We were very disappointed to learn he gave up that pipe, but I suppose life goes on.)
Anyway, pipes aside, check out what “Settings” will look like:
If you look at the menu on the left now, it’s open to one specific location — in this case Oldtown. Inside that setting you get the “world elements" that correspond to that setting. Stuff you need to know about the world. You sci-fi and fantasy writers or video game creators are going to fill these screens with all sorts of stuff you might otherwise forget about your unreal worlds:
How does warp drive work in your world? That needs a setting card. How are three mystical magic orbs linked? Same deal. You get the idea.
When Sean hands Johnny a new story package, characters and settings are what Johnny reads first. He has to understand the characters, their motivations, and their world … and only then look at what they actually do as the story unfolds.
So that comes next, now that we’ve seen the “who” and “where” on our tour of StoryShop. Now it’s time for …
“Beats” based story outlining that’s drag-and-drop easy, equally useful for plotters and pantsers
If you don’t know The Self-Publishing Podcast, you might not know the term “story beats,” which is what Seth and his magnificent beard have outlined in the mock-up below. Basically, beats are a loose, free-form way of outlining. For us, they’re somewhere between rigid plotting and pure, carefree, by-the-seat-of-your-pants storytelling. We write down what we THINK will happen in the initial beats, then understand that as the story is actually told, the beats will become less and less relevant … save the “rhythm” (and hence the word “beats”) that they give to the story.
Check out how we envision the Beats pane in StoryShop coming together:
There are two elements within any story or part of a story chosen from the left-hand menu. There are “dividers,” which are like chapters or sections, and beneath those (or within them), there are individual beats … which are things that will occur in that period of time in your story.
If you’re a plotter, you can just add a lot of dividers and pack your beats under each one. If you want to list every single thing to the tiniest detail that will happen in your story, you can do it here.
But if you’re a pantser, you can use this section sparingly. Just create a few dividers and beats, instead of many. Give a rough structure to your novel. A simple sense of direction to keep you from getting lost.
Either way, StoryShop automatically keeps track of the characters used in each scene so you can keep track of who is where (see them there in the divider bars?) as well as where that scene takes place, pulled from your settings.
And as we saw in the character profiles, the beats allow you to link to characters (@ mentions, in green) and refer to elements within your settings (# mentions, in blue). Everything is linked; everything relates right back to the original entry and greatly reduces chances you’ll contradict yourself.
Everything is neat and tidy SO YOU CAN FOCUS ON YOUR STORY … rather than a mess of documents and loose ends on your desk or screen.
There’s a lot more to StoryShop’s first release (adding images via upload, from a URL, or even a simple Internet search, a comprehensive search function, the ability to export via OPML), but at this point a Q&A might be an easier way to learn more.
Got questions? We have answers!
Q: Will StoryShop’s features evolve over time, or is this it?
A: It’ll evolve! This isn’t an app you get once and then use, in static form, forever. It’s not like Microsoft Word, which you have to reinstall and update every so often. StoryShop is hosted by us, on our servers. That lets us add new features and iterate forward, just like any great app where Version 2.0 follows Version 1.0. We’ve already decided what many of these features will be, but many others will come from our using and learning about the app daily … and from the community using it, giving us their requests and feedback.
Q: Which computer platforms will StoryShop work on?
A: Any system that has a web browser can use it. StoryShop isn’t something you download; as a web app, it’s something you access. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a Mac or a PC, on a tablet or a desktop. If you have a browser, you can use StoryShop.
Q: But is it for my iPhone? My iPad? There must be versions if it’s an app, right?
A: Think of Evernote. Have you ever used Evernote? Or Asana. Or Slack. For each of those, you can use the main website to do your work (Evernote.com, Asana.com, Slack.com), or you can download an app to your device and use it that way. Regardless, the data “lives” on the website. The app on your device accesses that data, but the processing power of the app is actually online. For the 1.0 version of StoryShop, there’s only the web-based version — the equivalent of needing to do your Evernote work by going to Evernote.com rather than using the Evernote app on your phone. We think that will change down the road (that we’ll eventually make little “sub-apps” that download to devices like Evernote’s app does), but not right away. So no, versions don’t matter. You only need a browser.
Q: Can't I already do this with Scrivener or Evernote or Microsoft Excel or a trunk filled with parchment scrolls?
A: It's a little like asking a fine woodworker "Couldn't you just use a chainsaw for that?" StoryShop will be excellent at World Building, Character Development and Story Planning, to help authors write better stories faster -- because that's what it's designed for.
StoryShop will not be a writing app, per se. Scrivener is already (in our opinion) the best on the market without a close competitor. StoryShop will not be a place to manage your grocery list, handle your email newsletter, or do your taxes. Tools already exist that are great at that stuff.
Scrivener CAN be used as a screenwriting tool, but that isn't its main purpose. Sean tried using it for his first couple of screenplays, because he uses it for everything else. But he quickly realized that he'd be much better off with a dedicated screenwriting app, because although Scrivener could handle a screenplay, another app could do it better.
We've tried for years to fit our story planning square pegs into the available round holes, and found that they never quite fit. We love the tools we use daily, like Scrivener and Evernote and Slack and Asana, but we've reached a point in our process where keeping track of our worlds and characters and stories in tools that were intended for other purposes is now a productivity bottleneck. But whether you're a pro or a novice, this tool is specifically designed so you can create rich characters and stimulating, consistent worlds that your readers will want to return to again and again.
This is the tool I wish I'd had seven years ago, before I ever started writing.
The writers we talk to every day are facing many of the same obstacles, whether they're aware of it or not. StoryShop will be a square hole for square pegs.
We're building StoryShop as a natural extension of the process we've been honing throughout the last few years. It will have Character Profiles that read like social media pages, complete with web image search for casting characters and building memory galleries, a Character DNA pop quiz that will rapid-fire background questions about your characters at you, and character relationship tracking that's as easy to monitor as a friends list. Because we work as a team, sharing and collaboration are essential for us and will be built right in.
After we launch version 1.0, detailed timeline tracking, personality tests, mind maps, geographical maps and a marketplace for buying & selling worlds are all part of our long-term roadmap.
All of these features, all the ones we have planned but haven't mentioned, and all the features StoryShop's users will suggest in the future will be built with a singular purpose: to help writers craft better stories faster.
And of course, because we use Scrivener for everything, StoryShop will export naturally to the app.
Q: Will StoryShop be a subscription service or cost a one-time fee?
A: Because we will continually support and upgrade the app (adding a whole list of features we’ve already identified for Version 2.0, Version 3.0, and beyond), it must be a subscription. After StoryShop is publicly released, the basic version will cost subscribers $9.95 per month: less than most people pay for website hosting, for a tool they’ll use every day.
BUT THAT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE TRUE FOR YOU!
During the Kickstarter funding period, you can choose a support level that gives you lifetime access to StoryShop’s standard service level ... and never pay another dime no matter how many new features we add to it.
Q: WHY is StoryShop subscription based, rather than a one-time fee?
A: StoryShop and other top-notch web apps like it have two main areas that require ongoing attention: iterative development in response to user feedback, and storage in the cloud that increases every time a user adds something. Likewise, there are two main business models in the app world: Pay Once and Subscription.
With the Pay Once model, an app must constantly be trying to generate revenue through new sales to new people to cover future development & overhead. This can lead to a developer putting an unbalanced amount of attention into marketing & acquiring new users rather than focusing on improving the app experience itself to retain existing users.
Furthermore, there eventually comes a point when there are not enough people left in an app's target market to generate more new sales. Angry Birds is a great example. It was originally a fun 99 cent game with no ads and no in-app purchases. Fast-forward to them selling tens of millions of copies, and they ran out of new users. To keep the lights on, and to continue funding development of the franchise, Angry Birds is now a frustrating game experience driven by pushing slot machine junkies to buy another virtual token.
The subscription model allows us to have our primary focus always be "Make StoryShop Better" rather than "Sell More Copies." It also allows us to grow and thrive no matter the size of our niche market.
That's all without considering the Cloud Storage facet of StoryShop. We will basically be paying rent for a big slice of the cloud, and the way the cloud works is that you pay monthly based on how much space is filled, and how much bandwidth is used uploading and downloading the stuff that takes up space. Even with a fixed number of users, StoryShop's storage needs will continue to expand month to month as users add more images and other files. This would simply not be sustainable with a Pay Once model. Even if every writer in the world signed up, the war chest would eventually run empty and there wouldn't be anything left to pay the bills.
Q: How will StoryShop integrate with my existing writing tools, such as Scrivener or Word?
A: We use Scrivener to write our books and stories. We think it’s the world's best writing tool, and would never create something that didn’t work with our most important piece of software. Accordingly, StoryShop will be able to export to OPML format, which is an outline-based format that Scrivener (and Word) can read.
It’s not an exact files-and-folders mapping sort of export, but we think you’ll be happy with how it integrates. You won’t have to keep opening StoryShop every time you wonder something about your world, and can instead open the export inside your preferred writing software.
Q: When you say "the standard version of the StoryShop app" in the Kickstarter reward descriptions, what do you mean? Is this some kind of bait & switch?
A: At this stage of the game, "the standard version" will include all the features we have planned for version 1.0 of StoryShop, and will include new features as they are released ... meaning versions 2.0, 3.0, and beyond. That word "standard" might sounds like it's giving us wiggle room, and it is. But here's why: with all of StoryShop's planned features for conducting research and importing images and files, there is a chance that one day we will need to charge a little extra to super-users who want to add several gigabytes of new stuff to their account every month. We may also one day grow into offering team, business, or educational plans, and because those more complicated plans and platforms may demand more resources, those sorts of accounts may cost a little more or be priced under a different structure. The short version is that "standard version" is a bit of legalese to cover ourselves in the long term, but should not impact what you're probably expecting to get, with all our planned bells and whistles and development plans, from StoryShop in the future. (Our intention is to offer all the powerful functionality of StoryShop to all our members, but at the same time, if we don't make sure that each account's subscription fees offset their cost in resources in the cloud, we run the risk of a handful of power users eventually making the whole StoryShop project unsustainable.)
Q: Do I need a web connection to access StoryShop?
A: For Version 1.0, yes. Later versions will have offline capabilities, but the first one will require access to the StoryShop website via a browser. (There will, however, be a small amount of cache storage so you won’t lose what you were in the middle of writing if your Internet blips out.)
Q: Will my data be secure? Will I be able to take my worlds and leave StoryShop later if I choose to, or am I “locked in”?
A: All data will be securely stored on our servers. Beyond being able to export stuff, if a user ends their subscription, their worlds will simply revert to "read-only" mode for a year before expiring, with the option to reactivate any time.
Q: What will happen if this project overfunds?
A: We want to make this app as amazing as possible, so if we overfund, we’ll put all of that money right into the joint venture we’ve set up to develop StoryShop. More funding means more features means a better, richer app. We have that “next-generation features” list already brainstormed, and we’ll update contributors as to what awesome stuff we’re adding in the event that this campaign hits the moon.
MONEY! SUPPORT! REWARDS!
Okay, okay … so you’re digging the idea of StoryShop, right? You know we can only build it if the community shows up to fund the project and makes it a reality, right? And you’re interested in contributing so you can get in there and start building your own characters, settings, and beats, right?
FIRST OF ALL, THANK YOU. We can’t build this app without support, so thank you for being on Team StoryShop.
But secondly, you probably want to know about contributor rewards. What do you get when you help fund us? Well, the specific reward levels (what you get at what contribution level) are in the right-hand sidebar, but here’s a bit more on what each of them mean:
** Character DNA Sheet: The $5 contribution level is our “high five” level, given by folks who want to show their support but don’t need actual access to the StoryShop app. But we still want to give you something for being cool, so we’ll give you a PDF listing all of the “Character DNA” questions mentioned in the “Characters” app pane shown above. If you pull questions from this list (the actual list Sean uses to plan all of our stories now, in the pre-StoryShop days) and answer them as you’re planning your stories, your characters will come to bigger, bolder life. Having well-rounded characters can sometimes help your story "write itself."
** 3 Months, 8 Months, or 18 Months of Access to StoryShop: These are exactly what they sound like!
** Lifetime Access to StoryShop: If you choose this level (and it’s the one we suggest; there’s a limited quantity “early bird” level for this reward that will save you $100 if you ACT FAST), you’ll get the standard access level of StoryShop for as long as the app exists and is supported –– and yes, we expect that to be a very long time.
** "The BeatBox" Video Tutorial Series and Template: Once the app is complete, this reward is where we'll show you how WE use StoryShop for our own stories in an insider video! See exactly how we use the app you're supporting to map out our stories from start to finish, with full characters and casting, location scouting, and beats for one of 2016's biggest projects. This reward includes a video tour and a copy of the completed StoryShop package that Johnny will actually use to write an upcoming Realm & Sands book.
** Exclusive Sterling & Stone Digital Storyteller's Summit: For those backers who really love their craft and want to take their storytelling to the next level, we'll be holding a digital storyteller's summit with six people who sell stories for a living, and can't wait to share an hour of their time telling you what they know.
The Sterling & Stone Storytelling Summit will feature one hour from EACH of the following artist-entrepreneurs:
Julie (J.A.) Huss, multiple NY Times bestselling author and master worldbuilder whose characters and plots have her readers craving new books as fast as she can write them.
CJ Lyons, hybrid author and expert on Agile Publishing who knows exactly how to get her reader-loved books into libraries and stores in every format imaginable.
James Tonn, co-founder of Podium Publishing (publisher of The Martian and many other bestselling audiobooks), who has an industry-insider's knowledge of what it takes to make a story HUGE.
Joanna Penn, an author who understands where the future of storytelling is headed better than anyone we know –– and where trends and technology will be taking storytellers tomorrow.
Libbie Hawker, author of Take Off Your Pants and Gotta Read It!, who specializes in helping authors learn the art of story planning even if they think they're pure pantsers who are unable to plan, plot, or outline ... or, in the case of StoryShop, to use "story beats."
... and one mystery guest for the Digital Summit who we will reveal later.
** Corporate Sponsorships: For companies who support the work of writers everywhere, we are offering an opportunity to have your linked logo and a writeup or case study featured on our site, getstoryshop.com, as well as in the footer of the app dashboard itself for the first year after StoryShop launches. (If you choose this level, we will be in touch to arrange details. Contact this project's creator with enough time to respond before the Kickstarter clock runs out with any questions.)
About Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright (Professional Storytellers):
You’ve been hearing about us all along. Do you really want to hear it again? We’re so embarrassed.
As we said up top, we’re the co-owners of Sterling & Stone, an indie publishing company that produces around 2 million words (double the Harry Potter series) of eagerly anticipated, well-reviewed, often bestselling fiction every year. We’re also the authors of the cornerstone self-publishing guide Write. Publish. Repeat., hosts of the Self Publishing Podcast and eight other popular creative podcasts, and the guys behind Fiction Unboxed: a record-setting Kickstarter in which we wrote and published a full-length book starting from scratch in 30 days, live in front of the world.
About Seth Atwood (Lead Developer):
Seth is Head of Operations for Strange Wind Studio, a digital agency in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Seth wrote his first lines of code around the time he learned to read, and was using his telephone line to connect to bulletin boards and university computer networks years before the World Wide Web was born. He is passionate about pushing the web forward, and sees StoryShop as the perfect next adventure.
Seth has assembled a Dream Team of his brightest peers to help with the heavy lifting: Andrew Boyd is a Front-End Specialist and owner of Oxdeer, a design and development studio in Charlottesville, Virginia. Chiedo is the CEO of Chiedo Labs, a rapidly-growing mobile app and web development firm in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Mae Read is currently a Lone Design Wolf, focusing only on the projects that excite and inspire her (and making art on the side).
Together, the development crew represents decades of web design and development experience spanning dozens of large-scale projects that have served tens of millions of web visitors since the turn of the millennium. They are all thrilled to be involved with StoryShop, and eager to begin building.
We know this app will be a dream come true for writers, and we hope by now you know it too. Please help make this dream a reality by funding us (EVEN $5 will help!) and choosing your reward on the right.
Risks and challenges
When building a feature-rich web application such as StoryShop, there are a few primary obstacles on the road to success.
EXPERIENCE: We live in an exciting time where we constantly hear stories of overnight viral hits. There's a tendency for enthusiastic creative folks to have a great idea and think "How hard can it really be?" before telling the world they're Coming Soon. Time and time again, we've seen people get overwhelmed as the reality sets in about what it will take to deliver on the promises they've made in their initial excitement.
Fortunately for StoryShop, we have a group of all-stars. Seth and his team have 30-plus years of professional experience on the frontlines of web design & development, and the Sterling & Stone crew are the tip of the spear when it comes to writing better stories faster. We know how much work it takes to build something as game-changing as StoryShop, and we're all chomping at the bit to get started.
PLANNING: Perhaps the greatest weakness we've found in our extensive research of other ventures like StoryShop is a failure to create a comprehensive plan before diving in. Without a plan, even the most elegant ideas can grow into unwieldy behemoths that collapse under their own weight before completion. It's easy to believe the creation of a web app can be pantsed; that one can afford to "trust the process." Meanwhile the creative juices are flowing and the future features pile is growing higher, but the countdown clock to launch day is ticking. It's easy for things to get out of hand, and lose serious momentum trying to figure out what the heck happened.
We couldn't build a planning app for writers if we weren't skilled at planning. We LOVE it! We've already poured a ton of work into carving down a massive wishlist of incredible features to a solid plan for our Minimum Viable Product. Not only are we clear on what will be included on Day One, we already have a priority map for what we'll be working on way into the horizon.
AUDIENCE: A final challenge faced by many fledgling web apps is a lack of people interested in using what's being built. Many wishful dreamers have been crushed by putting everything they have into what they believe the world wants, only to open the doors to chirping crickets and rolling tumbleweeds. It's easy to think that because nobody else is doing an idea that it must be fantastically original. The sad truth is that sometimes it's because nobody wants it bad enough to show their support.
We've addressed this concern by coming here to Kickstarter for our funding. By relying on our future users for funding, we'll know we're really on to something if enough people contribute to make StoryShop a reality.
Are you as excited about StoryShop as we are? Show your support by donating, and by telling all of your friends. We'll see you on the other side of launch day!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)