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I tend to write bits of stories out of order. If I have a great idea for a scene, I want to get it down it while I have it, even if it doesn't come until three chapters later than the part I'm on right now. I also have smaller bits lying around -- a line of snappy dialog I haven't figured out where to use yet, things like that.

The problem I keep running into is where to keep it all, so that I can find the pieces I need when I need them, or easily rearrange the pieces I have as I try to figure out how events will play out.

When doing major plot organization, I usually work with plot points on index cards, but this becomes unwieldy when I add in scenes (which are often too long for a card), and snippets of description and dialog.

I'd love to hear how others manage this. I'm open to digital or analog solutions, but digital ones need to run well on Linux.

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7 Answers 7

I can only speak for myself, but I do believe Open Office has a version of the outline mode that word has, so this should work well on Linux as well as Windows. It's been a while since I've used Open Office, so not 100% sure.

I give every section a header with the proper formatting, usually something short and descriptive of the scene. In the outline mode I can collapse the story down just to the headers. In this mode I can rearrange the headers easily, which will also rearranges all the text under the header, allowing me to move all the pieces around willy-nilly without to much trouble.

If you can't use the outline mode, I would do the same header trick but this time number them (something unique so you can search for them) the copy all the headers into a text file or other document. I would then rearrange the headers there until I know roughly how I want the blocks placed.

Once that is done I would save the original file then create a new blank file. I would they cut and paste out everything from the original to the new file to piece it all together. It would be tedious and is hard to quickly adjust, but it would get the core of the work done.

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The great piece of software that makes exactly this possible is called Scrivener. Unfortunately though, it is only available on Mac and now a beta-version for Windows PC. I still mention it in case anyone on any of those platforms interested in the question ends up here, as the title doesn't mention the Linux-specificity. I wrote more about Scrivener in my answer to this question: Is there a special software for writers?

A piece of software I heard is very similar in features, and is supported on the Linux platform as well, is Writer's Cafe. I cannot compare them myself, as I lack any experience with the latter, but it should be worth testing out.

Even though I cannot directly help with Linux software, I will elaborate on analog options. These will always be less streamlined than using dedicated software, as the organization has to be done manually.

The best way would be to have folders with printed out/jotted down text, organized by project. So, if you have a scene that you want to use in a certain project, only later on, get it on a piece of paper and file it in the folder. You then always know where to look. It is also a good idea to color-mark, or otherwise mark the papers for sub-sorting, and you can clip small cards with a synopses in the top corner for even more clarity. Again, the exact system is up to you, and will have to be manually maintained.

Generally I would recommend to have one folder per working project, plus a 'Misc' folder for all those great ideas that you have had which aren't strictly part of an already existing project (maybe they will become seeds of future projects).

I hope this helps a little and good luck organizing and sorting.

P.S. You can of course use boxes instead of folders, or anything else that suits you personally.

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+1 - this is exactly what scrivener is for –  Alan Dec 1 '10 at 19:30
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A Linux beta of Scrivener is now available on the same page as the windows beta. literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows –  shadowfission Mar 3 '11 at 1:34

yWriter is a free program that can be helpful in this regard. It runs on Linux.

For commercial applications, though, I think Scrivener is probably the only "real" choice. There are others, but I have yet to find one that can beat Scrivener. It also runs on Linux, even natively; you can find help on Scrivener's forums on how to get it working. I know it can also run in WINE.

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Personally, I usually write it in another file and keep it in the same directory. Either that, or I skip ahead in the file and leave a comment for myself to fill in, if I'm not skipping ahead too much. (Yes, my software-writing habits have pervaded my general writing habits.)

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I usually don't answer my own questions, but... wow.

I just discovered Emacs org-mode, and I am stunned. The tools for catching bits as I think of them, then organizing them on the fly are both powerful and customizable. Like all of emacs, it is keyboard-driven (no extensive dragging and dropping to irritate my RSI when using the laptop), and looks great in CLI mode.

I think I've fallen in love.

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+1 for a nerd answer with emacs –  gmoore Mar 2 '11 at 16:53

I work by organizing ideas on a mind map, using one mind map per work I'm handling.

Mind maps are sort of trees of ideas and categories, so you can have "Main plot points" with a branch per fleshed out point, and another "Unplaced Dialogs" with the pieces of dialog. You can have an indefinite amount of branches with an indefinite amount of subdivisions. I highly recommend it.

I have found FreeMind a useful tool for this: it helps you categorize your thoughts under different branches so that they're easily accessible, plus you can add relations among them, and fold the branches you're not working on currently.

Your distro should have it available from the official repos, otherwise you can find it at sf.net.

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I like tags more than categories. Years ago I tried to organize ideas by category, but software often treats categories as mutually exclusive. Tagging schemes allow you to tag each snippet with whatever tags are appropriate.

My main tags are the CLOSAT scheme: Character, Location, Object, Situation, Action, Theme. I learned this scheme from Michael Rabiger's book Developing Story Ideas. I can't exactly recommend the book, but I do like the CLOSAT scheme.

I also often use other tags: Dialogue, Title.

Finally, I have a few tags related to my feelings about the idea. Several popular science fiction writers once advised (on some podcast) to write about whatever pisses you off. So I have a "pmo" tag for those. Another advised writing about things you're afraid of, so I mark those ideas with "afraid". I know that those are ideas I have some energy for.

I keep my notes in Scrivener, which calls its tags "keywords." Before Scrivener, I used something else (I forget what) that had no built-in tagging mechanism, but it did have search. So I added my own tags by putting @character, @theme, etc. at the bottom of the file.

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