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I'm looking for a software that helps me develop and organize the characters for my novel.

What I want:

  • something like a filesystem, with a file for each character
  • it should have or allow me to create categories like name, gender, age, backstory, and so on
  • once created, these categories should automatically be available for each character
  • adding images, text files, movies and stuff, or linking to these
  • it would be nice if it somehow interacted with my writing and timeline software (Scrivener and Aeon Timeline)
  • creating relations between characters (married to, boss of, lives next door to, etc.)
  • these relations should not be limited in number

What I don't need:

  • character development from archetypes (as in Persona) or a list of mental disorders (as in Character Writer)

What I know of:

  • Persona: looks nice, but has these stupid character development tools that I don't need
  • Character Writer: looks awful

It does not have to be specialized software, but something with the above functionality. If you know of some software that does all that but has some other originally intended purpose, that's fine, too.

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Wow, just looked at Character Writer -- is that sort of software widely used? Would that explain the two-dimensional stereotypical characters in so many books? Still, imagine how much better Dickens could have been with such a tool at his disposal. –  David Aldridge Sep 19 '13 at 22:08
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Favourited; really want to see some answers to this. –  CLockeWork Sep 20 '13 at 8:10
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This resource doesn't have everything you want, so I'm leaving it in a comment instead of an answer. Charahub. I only briefly experimented with it, but I liked it and I can see it improving over time. It supports character relationships, at least. They had a little server trouble this weekend, so if it's down try checking back in a day or two. –  Terri M. May 27 at 18:37

4 Answers 4

Custom Meta-Data in Scrivener. You can do some custom fields in Scrivener. See the "Custom Meta-Data" button at the bottom of the inspector (it looks like a little tag). Here's a photo where I added a few fields:

Custom metadata fields in the inspector

You can add fields by clicking the gear button.

When you add a metadata field, it becomes available for all documents in the project.

You can also view these fields in the outline:

Custom metadata fields in the outline

You can put multiple paragraphs into the fields if you want, but I prefer subdocuments for that.

Fields appear in all docs. You probably don't want custom character fields in your plot outline, and vice versa, so that might nudge you to keep characters in a separate project. Dunno.

Limited support for relationships. This custom metadata feature doesn't let you easily add relationships from one character to another. In my outline photo, you can see a simple relationship, but it's just a text field. You can't navigate it in both directions (uh, or in either direction).

Relationships via wiki links. Over time, I found that I could create the relationships I needed as "wiki" links from one Scrivener doc to another. I'd have to add a link from each related doc to the other. And if the relationship changed, I'd have to edit both docs to express the new relationship.

Relationship docs. For significant relationships, I often create a Scrivener doc for the relationship. I put the "relationship" doc into the folder with the most important character. This gives me a place to put all of the details about a relationship. As long as the relationships (who relates to whom) are reasonably stable, this works well.

Super NoteCard. A few years ago I used an app called Super NoteCard. It wasn't great for writing, but it was much more flexible for organizing things. I remember that it allowed arbitrary relationships among cards.

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Scrivener has features that can be used for this, specifically, templates. You can put all your character notes in one file and use that as a template for other characters. Or, if you insist on having them in separate files, you can create a folder for each character, but you might need to manually copy each file for each new character (may be as simple as an Option-drag).

The major thing missing would be the relationships between characters.

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This is how I do it too, but it doesn't have the database field option which the OP is looking for. –  Lauren Ipsum Sep 20 '13 at 14:37
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Thank you. Actually, just after I asked this question, I googled some and noted that Scrivener can do some of what I want. shame Still, it would be nice to have some more functionality than Scrivener appears to offer, where the character sheet is basically a text file with some subheadings and the option to add an image. I haven't really done any serious character development yet (letting them develop themselves in the telling), so I'm not exactly sure what I might need, but I so love my timeline software that I want something like that for characters as well. Maybe I have to program it ... –  what Sep 20 '13 at 16:32
    
I agree! Having this information at your fingertips is very handy in the editing phase, when you want to check for consistency. –  Alex Feinman Sep 20 '13 at 16:38

You may want to have a look at KeepNote. It's open source and runs on a number of different platforms (Windows and Linux packages are available), but it doesn't do everything you want out of the box. To address your particular considerations:

  • something like a filesystem, with a file for each character

Pretty well check: it allows you to create categories and subcategories to organize your data any way you prefer, and it supports categories with and without text (as "pages" as KeepNote calls them can contain subpages as well).

  • it should have or allow me to create categories like name, gender, age, backstory, and so on

Check: just create another page (as a sibling or child to an existing page) to put the information into.

  • once created, these categories should automatically be available for each character

No do. It can probably be done with a plug-in, and Import Folder Tree looks promising at least as a starting point, but it isn't done out of the box.

  • adding images, text files, movies and stuff, or linking to these

Pages are (X)HTML web pages so in principle you can add anything that can go onto a web page. The built-in editor is somewhat minimalistic but does include many of the basic features for text editing.

  • it would be nice if it somehow interacted with my writing and timeline software (Scrivener and Aeon Timeline)

No do, at least out of the box.

  • creating relations between characters (married to, boss of, lives next door to, etc.)
  • these relations should not be limited in number

You can make a separate page or set of pages for relationships that describe them, and KeepNote supports full-text search, but there is no native support for something like this that I know of.

One nice thing about KeepNote is precisely that it keeps its data as HTML files along with some XML metadata files in a simple file system directory hierarchy, so backing up your work, working with the files in different software etc. is trivial.

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As requested, here is a little more insight into Charahub.com. It's a website intended for writers and artists to store and/or share their characters in a central location.

Screenshot of Charahub's user profile

Free accounts have a limit of a hundred characters upon signing up. Additional characters may be earned through referral. You can divide characters into user-created groups.

Screenshot of Charahub

Screenshot of Charahub

The profile and question sections have set questions that you can fill out. I believe user-created questions is in development right now.

Screenshot of Charahub

You expressed some concern over privacy. Charahub sets your character profiles as public by default, but it's easy to change. I tested this specific feature by searching for my characters. I can confirm that it worked as expected. Once set to hidden or private your character profiles are no longer searchable.

Screenshot of Charahub

Free accounts are able to upload ten images per character, each image with a max image size of 500KB

Screenshot of Charahub

Screenshot of Charahub

The panel called 'Links' is a flexible way to create relationships between your characters.

The features you were looking for that are not in Charahub are:

  • The ability to create new questions and/or categories.
  • The ability to add videos and/or text files directly into the document.
  • Any function that relates to third-party writing software, such as Scrivener.
  • Limitless character creation, the maximum for free accounts is a hundred characters. For gold accounts ($3/mo) you get 250 characters, 25 images/character with max image size of 1024KB, no adverts, and priority support.

Lastly, this website is in its infancy, so it's not a known quantity. If it works for you, excellent, but definitely take precautions. Back up your work to an offline location.

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If all my characters end up looking like the Lowell siblings I'm gonna sign up, lol. Thanks for the great summary! –  what May 28 at 10:44

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