Writer’s Tech Toolbox: Plottr 2.0 Visually Plan and Organize Your Books

“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.”

Stephen King

I enjoy writing into the dark. I like discovering my story through my characters. I've written books with nothing but a title and a vague concept, having fun the whole time. Or at least most of the time.

Every writer is different. I'm not a writer that sits down and plans out a book down to detailed beats before writing it. If it works for you, that's great. Use what works. No matter what your style of writing, I think that Plottr 2.0 can help.

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Creating Visual Timelines

Let's get clear right at the start: Plottr isn't Scrivener and isn't trying to be Scrivener. It isn't trying to be the application that you use to write your novel. It is focused on a few areas of writing a novel.

  • Creating visual timelines of plot points.
  • Capturing your notes for the book.
  • Reviewing and exporting an outline.

The first point, creating visual timelines, drew me to the program. I wanted something that I could simply and visually lay out timelines for different characters. I could use a bunch of different tools for the job. Anything from Scrivener to creating the timeline in InDesign or Illustrator. But I wanted it to be easy. I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it. 

And I didn't want to program it myself.

Cameron Sutter did it instead. He created a program with versions across platforms that makes it easy to create the timelines. Click to add a heading (such as a character name, chapter, scene, etc.). Then click to create cards. Each card can be opened to add additional text and details.

The resulting timeline can be viewed horizontally or vertically, toggling between views. You can filter it, export it, and view it all in an outline mode.

Horizontal timeline showing hover text.

Vertical timeline

Edit card view

Story Bibles and Notes

Additionally, Plottr provides sections for notes, characters, and places. This provides a place to note all those details that come up about a character. You can add pictures, custom fields, and then attach those characters and places to the cards created on the timeline.

All of those details can be export along with the outline and used in Word, Scrivener, or other programs.

How I'm Using Plottr

As I said, I enjoy writing into the dark. That said, I have written brief notes about books. That can be a couple paragraphs or some notes about what I expect to see in the book. For my current WIP, I created a brief outline. It's entirely subject to change as I write and characters go off in different directions.

What I do then in Plottr, is go back in and fill out the timeline and notes in more detail based on what I've written. By the time the book is finished this gives me a complete outline of the book that I can review. If I discover I skipped something, I can see that and write new material.

It also becomes more useful when writing sequels and a series. In the 2.0 upgrade, Plottr added a series view. Like the timeline for a book, this makes it possible to create a series timeline. I'm excited to work with that and build the outlines and notes for my series.

Story Analysis 

I also plan to use Plottr for story analysis. Basically, after reading for enjoyment, going back over a book or story I enjoyed and outlining it and taking notes with Plottr to study and learn what the author did. Why did that opening catch my attention? What is it about the character that I like? Besides helping me with my own books and series, Plottr can serve as a study tool to help me continue to grow and learn as a writer.