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Notes for a Novel (Read 110851 times)
JeffAbbott
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Notes for a Novel
Jan 08th, 2008, 12:20pm
 
Hi all, I'm a Tinderbox newbie. I'd like to use Tinderbox to organize detailed notes for a novel. I've written ten suspense novels (published in fifteen languages), and have also written film treatments for studios. I've done most of my work with analog methods and the Inspiration outliner. Tinderbox represents a new way for me to work and I wondered if I might get some advice.

Normally I've kept a notebook for each book I write, filled with thoughts and ideas on characters, plots, twists, and sketches of scenes. These usually ran about 200+ pages and were not highly organized. I would fill up these notebooks, outline my plot on index cards, and use that stack of cards as a guide for a more detailed outline in Inspiration, then write the novel in Word. I also used Inspiration a lot for brainstorming. But I discovered there were lots of detail in the notebooks that weren't making it into the index cards and thus into my early drafts, which led me to Tinderbox as a way to preserve the visual outlining of index cards/Inspiration with the meat of the notebook's details inside the notes: linked, organized, searchable and at immediate hand. I'd also like to use Tinderbox to keep ideas that aren't quite ready for a book or film or story, but could be mined for later projects.

But for my first project, I'm feeling a bit lost. I want to be able to create scenes, identify those that share the same point-of-view character, identify those that are either part of the main plot or one of two subplots, AND identify a particularly important subset of scenes called "pivotal" scenes, and group all scenes into a three-act structure.

So here was my take on how I might organize this and I'd like thoughts from more experienced users:
--create a "scene" prototype note that carries three attributes I'd like to track as I shape the book: point-of-view character; plotline; and whether or not the scene is a pivotal scene (I have about thirteen of these in the book)
--create a note for each scene, entering in the three attributes
--group scenes into three acts using adornments (Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3)

I think color would be best to identify the plot attribute. But I'm wondering how best to ID pivotal scenes or those told from a certain character's POV. I know I could just show notes that match the attribute's value, but I'd still like to easily pick those out when looking at the whole structure. I suppose I could do it so that if a note's attributes were hero+main plot, the color would be green, but hero+subplot the color would be brown, but I REALLY did not want to overcomplicate. If this is the simple way to do it, that's fine, I didn't know if there was a simpler way.

Thanks for reading all this and any suggestions greatly appreciated.

Regards,
Jeff Abbott
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David Nelson
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #1 - Jan 11th, 2008, 1:41pm
 
I used Tinderbox to write a non-fiction book.  I first started using TB as a place to dump research pieces I found that I wanted to include or that jogged my thought process to say something that grew out of the reading.  I then outlined the entire book in TB, taking full advantage of the ability to constantly tinker with the plan, moving things around at will.  I mainly used the map view in the early stages, but then worked only in text views once the outline was more or less established.

I am now drafting a novel, and TB is helping.  I have never published fiction, so I am a complete newbie.  I have created a file in TB for each character.  Scenes (or major segments of the story line) are each files.  My notes range from fully formed text to just random memory joggers.

For my non-fiction writing, I have exported into Word but I just started using Scrivener and so far find it more pleasing.

My biggest problem with TB is that I am not computer saavy enough to take full advantage of export or prototypes.  I read "The Tinderbox Way" but I am still struggling to maximize my use of the software.  Even with my limited abilities, I marvel at how adaptable TB is for writing projects.
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JeffAbbott
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #2 - Jan 11th, 2008, 8:53pm
 
I don't mind sharing what works and what doesn't--even if it makes me look not very bright--as I try to use Tinderbox to structure notes/scenes for a novel.

Using Adornments for Act One and Act Two (just to visually group scenes) sounded fine, but when I switch to Outline View the Act Two scenes are not in the expected order. (I know Adornments don't show in Outline--but going to Outline view changed the order of the scenes as laid out in Act Two, and I'm not sure why). Major setback #1. I don't want to make Act One a container because I'd very much like to be able to see the entire book in one view. So I have to make a call here: Outline view or Map View to finish the rest of the scenes. I think I am going to stick with Map View because that's the view I was picturing analyzing the book in much more than Outline view. So I'll press ahead and hope I can figure out a way to not have to reorder everything in Outline view when I want to switch to Outline. I keep thinking of Tinderbox as index cards on steroids, so I'll stick with what's closest to index cards for now.

I've only created two prototypes so far:
POV, with three attributes: Pivotal (yes or no), Point of View, and Subplot.
Character (with all the notes for every character in the book kept inside a container called Characters). Very helpful.

And I've set up one agent, to capture Pivotal Scenes and highlight them as red so I can be sure the structure looks solid. I'd like to set up other agents for subplots but haven't gotten there yet.

I did set up a separate Ideas document, for things I've thought of and want to develop later. The only prototype I've created there so far is an Idea prototype. Just very basic. But I created containers for book ideas, film ideas, story ideas, essay ideas, etc. Again, I'm not a techie, so I'm trying to keep things basic so I don't get in over my head.

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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #3 - Jan 12th, 2008, 8:55am
 
In Tinderbox, the sequence of notes in the outline view is independent of the way the notes are positioned in the Map view.  So, moving a note onto the Act I adornment doesn't change where it appears in the outline.

And, when you think about it, that's probably what you want.  For example, suppose you're planning a big historical thriller with a complex, braided plot.  You've got several narrative strands with different points of view: a band of Polish guerrillas fighting outside Minsk in 1944, the Hero, and The Girl.  You're going to have flashbacks, you're going to have cliffhangers, and you're going to have a headache keeping track of everything.

So, you've got TWO things to explore: what happened when (so the Poles discover the Nazi treasure *after* The Girl's future grandmother joins the Resistance) and at what point you disclose it (so you establish the charming little oil painting in The Girl's dorm room before it is stolen, and so it is stolen just after we learn that it's really a masterwork of McGuffin).  You want to be able to move incidents around in the story (outline view) while leaving them in place in the map view (history).  

(The theoretically inclined will recognize our old friends suzjet and fabular here.)

Or, if this is a novel you're adapting for the screen, you might need to disentangle the book's sequence of presentation to make it filmable.

Just drag the notes where they belong in the outline; it's faster (and more interesting) than you'd think.  (Note: you *can* derive the map position from outline order if you want, using a Rule or an OnAdd action.  But this might be gilding the lily.)
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Michael Bywater
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #4 - Jan 12th, 2008, 9:30pm
 
Speaking as a Tinderbox oldie -- I've written three non- (or almost non-)fiction books relying heavily on Tbx for the purposes Jeff mentions, and countless other stuff (articles, papers, conference talks etc) -- my first thought is that the key to using Tbx for this purpose is incremental organisation.

Tinderbox shares with my other two favourite apps, DevonTHINK and Scrivener, the ability to watch your structure emerge as you work, which, I'd gamble, is at the root of any "creative" writing. Whatever they teach in school, if you're a writer, outlines just don't work. I think it's common to 90% of us (based on other writers I've talked to) that once we start writing, the words call the tune. This sentence prompts the next sentence; this paragraph, the next; and so it goes until we're done and it's time to rewrite.

The great strength of Tinderbox for me is that I can start with a fairly simple outline. I know things are going to need research notes, vague ideas, structural notions, snippets of stuff that strike me as particularly finely written (and which will therefore never make it into the final draft; murder your darlings) and so on.  I also know that I can make sense of this stuff in Tinderbox as it begins to make sense to me. For example

-- Hey, this thing is linked to that thing!
-- I need to make sure this bit goes in chapter 3
-- I ought to be collecting everything I know about sworn-brotherhood.
-- Maybe I should formalise my notes on source material now.
-- I want an easy way to see the stuff that I've already allocated to a chapter.
-- I've lost track of what my researcher is doing; I'd better have a system for that.
-- I've got too much material on this subject; I want to see instantly which of my notes has the most links to other notes, as good a measure of importance as any.
-- I need to lay this bit out visually, in Map view.

. . . and so on.

Tinderbox lets me do this, and I know the ideal is that we "grok" something but, to be honest, I've never "grokked" Tinderbox; just found that, whatever it is i want to do, 95% of the time I can (with a little bit of fiddling sometimes) do it, and, most of the time, do it on the fly.  The underlying stuff remains intact.

One of the beauties of this is, as Jeff mentioned, that I don't get to the end of the thing and hand it in and then think "darn, I never included that bit about X".  In fact, I'm going to go to my Tinderbox file for the current book, just nearing completion, and set up something to find all the things I said I'd use but haven't. A little Agent will do it; look for "Crucial=yes" and "Used=no", and gather them all together. Less than five minutes' work.

I've a gripe, though. A major gripe. Mark Bernstein knows all about it, because I've been whining to him for a few years now. It's this: semantic links.  Tinderbox shows its genealogy, its interactive/hypertext DNA if you like, in its links and specifically in the Nakakoji view.  Link-sets are called "Paths" and it was only when I realised this was a hypertext narrative idea (you could have a "ends in disaster" path and a "gets the girl in the end" path and so on) that it made any sense.

Unfortunately it doesn't make sense to narrative writers, certainly not at my end of the game. What I want is to take a given item and see what's linked to it, and how.  I want to see all the stuff that supports it; all the stuff that refutes it; all the "see also" stuff; all the things that reference it.  Instead, I can only look at it by links across the board. So I can see everything that refutes other stuff, everything that cites other stuff and so on, with no idea really of the underlying semantics at all.

Minor gripe. But one that must be made.

I've said more than I intended to. I was going to say "Fascinating topic, let me have a think about it and I'll post some hopefully useful stuff in the next few days" but as usual -- as always, with a deadline looming -- I've banged on too long. Forgive me. I'll be back with something sensible. As for "suzjet" -- this must be the only software forum where one's not surprised to see Interventional Narratology rearing its pretty little head...
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briankpenney
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #5 - Jan 13th, 2008, 12:24am
 
Jeff-

For your "Major Setback #1", i.e. how to view the everything at once, and whether to organize by adornment or containers. I had a similar issue trying to set up my ToDoList/Life Organizer TBX. (Aside: Mark, this was the file you saw over my shoulder at the TBX weekend Boston) I found a good compromise in some cases was to use a container, but to expand its size in the map view. If you go inside (highlight the note, then press the down arrow key) you can arrange the notes within. There is a grey outline square in this view that indicates what will show in the map view one level up.  

I use color to pick out to what realm of my life the note corresponds: personal is blue, college or departmental service is magenta, etc. If you need to be able to scan for more than one characteristic, you can use color for one, badges for another, and borders for yet another.

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Sarah Smith
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #6 - Jan 13th, 2008, 12:32am
 
I'm currently using Tinderbox for two novel projects.  

One of them is about survivors of the Titanic in 1912 New York.  The other is a projected probably-5-book series that includes a lot of worldbuilding.  

What Michael says about incremental organization.  When I start out, any information database I have is a dumping ground.  Source notes, ideas for scenes I think are going to be there, bits of dialogue, background stuff, thematic notes.  My other favorite PIM is Lotus Agenda; Tinderbox's advantage over Agenda is multimedia, pictures and music and maps.  Map views let me create a city or a family tree.  With Outline views I can just keep dumping and sorting and playing until things start making sense.  As Mark suggests, I'll often have several different views, organized differently.

Essentially my Tinderbox outline serves as the first draft, when the presentational problems get worked out, before the characters and the writing take over.

I have Characters prototypes and Scenes prototypes.  For the set of books, there's a prototype for each character, which in turn serves as a prototype for the state of the character in each book.  I have several others (Source, Book, Location).

I love Jeff's idea of coloring pivotal scenes in red.  (Hi, Jeff!  We've seen each other at Bouchercons.)  

To see pivotal scenes all together, you can create an agent.  To see pivotal scenes per POV, you can create a few agents.  (Unless there's a way to show them all together.  Mark?)

My principal pregnant dog against Tinderbox, which I've mentioned to Mark, is that Tinderbox agents aren't as strong as Lotus Agenda views.  In Agenda, you can create any number of views, and set up the views to show information pretty much as you like.  You can then add new notes to any view, giving them attributes like a Tinderbox note.  But the views are entirely independent of one another, so any playing around with organization in one view won't affect the others.   You can also display information about notes in views, without sorting by that information.  For example, you can set up a view showing only your pivotal scenes, display the point of view from which they're told, and sort them in the order that you'd like them for this view--without affecting any other view.  To that degree Tinderbox shows its roots in hypertext and Agenda, its basis as a relational database.

Not complaining, just making a suggestion (again)  Wink

Hello, Brian!
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JeffAbbott
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #7 - Jan 13th, 2008, 11:18am
 
Thank you all for the terrific replies and the excellent suggestions.

Probably part of my challenge here is that I've already written most of this book; what I'm trying to do is use Tinderbox to tighten it, bring order out of existing semi-chaos, bring out new elements of the story to greater attention, figure how to better integrate certain threads and characters, and also figure out the best overall structure for the novel. I wrote a fair number of scenes out of order, and I'm trying to figure out where they need to be consigned to limbo or if there are relationships in them to other scenes or ideas that will strengthen the book in the all-important rewrite.

What I've decided to do is to finish fleshing out the notes in Outline View instead of Map view, while keeping a Map View open as well so I can see where I've been and where I need to go next and I can still stick with my beloved index card look. . I think the visual component is important to me at this point; I'm wanting to see the shape of the story, and how the parts relate to each other. I think I might group things a bit differently in the Map view if I was starting this book from scratch. Right now I still am using Adornments for the acts, with agents to capture pivotal scenes, three subplots and POVs, and outtake scenes (scenes I'm not sure where they will fit in or if I will use them) off to the side. It's sort of like having a giant wall to move around and play with the ideas.

I did have a few frustrations in setting up agents for subplots; and I probably should have used stamps for those, just to get it done and finished, but it was valuable to make some mistakes with agents and then fix them.

Michael, your incremental organization approach sounds a lot like what goes on in my head during a write. I also use DevonThink for holding all my research but it didn't feel quite like the place to keep book outlines and creative-style notes and such.

Sarah, hi, great to see you here. Your novel about Titanic survivors sounds absolutely intriguing. I don't think I ever used Lotus Agenda--it was a DOS program, right? Are you still using it? I'm afraid the antique program I miss the most is MORE, something I adopted long after it was taken off the market. I like very much that Tinderbox lets you create aliases, as MORE did (MORE called them clones), which is helpful in seeing scenes in more than one context: having a scene exist in the overall story's structure, but then being able to collect and clone it in a suboutline for a subplot, such as a love story or one character's story arc, so you can get a tighter view of that one section of the book.

I'm using an agent and the color red to identify the pivotal scenes, and this is key to me because that's about as much detailed outline as I give my US and British editors when they sign-off on the proposal. I know some people think suspense is nothing but action and noise but the scenes that make or break the book for me are the greatest moments of choice and emotional impact for the main character. Those are the ones my editors care about and so those are the ones I want to be sure work in the structure.

Thank you all again for the suggestions and I'll be sure and post back about how this goes. I did notice the view count on this thread has taken a big jump up. Smiley
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Michael Bywater
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #8 - Jan 13th, 2008, 12:13pm
 
JeffAbbott wrote on Jan 13th, 2008, 11:18am:
Michael, your incremental organization approach sounds a lot like what goes on in my head during a write.


Yes... the great think being that my head isn't as good at keeping track of stuff (or indeed just *keeping* stuff; a lot seems to just trickle away somewhere) as Tinderbox.

Quote:
I also use DevonThink for holding all my research but it didn't feel quite like the place to keep book outlines and creative-style notes and such.


I agree. I don't know why, though. Perhaps because Tinderbox's multiplicity of views means -- for me, anyway -- I seldom if ever find myself thinking "I wonder what the hell I was thinking of when I made that note."

Quote:
Sarah, hi, great to see you here. Your novel about Titanic survivors sounds absolutely intriguing.


+1.  And while the compliments are flying around, I loved Panic, Jeff. I shouted "Aha! Gotcha, Mister Mysterio So-Called Big Shot Suspense Author! I see through your little game!" at least half a dozen times. And each time I was wrong. That's the way I like 'em.

Quote:
having a scene exist in the overall story's structure, but then being able to collect and clone it in a suboutline for a subplot, such as a love story or one character's story arc, so you can get a tighter view of that one section of the book.


I may be missing the point, but if you had an attribute for each subplot you could set up agents to capture each scene in that subplot, surely?  The agent would look for e.g. <NorbertRealisesHeIsAnIdiot = true> and then do whatever you want with it.  (Including, of course, see where each scene fits in the main structure).  It took me a long time to realize that I could have as many attributes as I want, which was sort of foolish, but once I realized it, things became a lot simpler. Want scenes where Eunice Wrestles Yet Again With Erotic Desire Versus Her Religious Beliefs?  Just set up a Boolean attribute called that, and an agent to look for it. Or use keywords as ad hoc tags. One of the problems with Tinderbox initially is that very often it can do whatever you want but in several different ways... in one case, involving such a lot of fooling around (and the renaming of every single note in my huge book file as "YetAnotherBloodyNote" Cool) that Dr Bernstein surrendered and introduced the new NameExpression.  (Attrition sometimes works...)

I may have misunderstood what you're trying to do.  But the thing about forums is of course everyone's eager to help everyone else, so if I have misunderstood, throw it back & I'm sure someone will come up with an answer.
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JeffAbbott
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #9 - Jan 13th, 2008, 4:33pm
 
Michael Bywater wrote on Jan 13th, 2008, 12:13pm:
+1.  And while the compliments are flying around, I loved Panic, Jeff. I shouted "Aha! Gotcha, Mister Mysterio So-Called Big Shot Suspense Author! I see through your little game!" at least half a dozen times. And each time I was wrong. That's the way I like 'em.


Oh, thanks very much. It was an enormously fun book to write. Panic was the novel where I really really decided to focus on structure as much as I did other elements in the book, which is what I guess has eventually led me to Tinderbox.

Quote:
I may be missing the point, but if you had an attribute for each subplot you could set up agents to capture each scene in that subplot, surely?  The agent would look for e.g. <NorbertRealisesHeIsAnIdiot = true> and then do whatever you want with it.


You're absolutely right, and that's how I'm approaching it. I have a Subplot attribute and if its value is anything other than "main", it's getting picked up by an appropriate agent. Being able to easily see every scene within a subplot has been a big help so far. The other thing I've done that's helpful is an Outtakes attribute--which lets me easily identify those scenes that I've written but don't have a confirmed place yet in the story. A couple of those outtake scenes will get dumped as part of that murder your darlings creed, but a couple of others will be reworked into other scenes to make them stronger. So, this is progress for me.
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Patrick Lynch
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #10 - Jan 13th, 2008, 4:41pm
 
[quote author=Michael Bywater link=1199812821/0#8 date=1200244435][quote author=JeffAbbott link=1199812821/0#7 date=1200241122]

Quote:
I also use DevonThink for holding all my research but it didn't feel quite like the place to keep book outlines and creative-style notes and such.


How are you using DevonThink and does it seem to bog down your memory (RAM)? Thanks. I also have Notetaker and am hedging between the two for notes.
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Michael Bywater
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #11 - Jan 13th, 2008, 5:08pm
 
[quote author=Patrick Lynch link=1199812821/0#10 date=1200260496]Michael Bywater wrote on Jan 13th, 2008, 12:13pm:
How are you using DevonThink and does it seem to bog down your memory (RAM)? Thanks. I also have Notetaker and am hedging between the two for notes.


Lord... now I have to actually think about what I'm doing. I'm an info t*rt and an organisation sl*t (this BBS recast that as "very friendly person"; mealy-mouthed software, eh?)so it's all a bit ad hoc. Essentially Yojimbo is the holding station for everything. Then I go through Yojimbo and what I want to keep (whether or not I know _why_ I want to keep it) goes into DT Pro, unless it's obviously and exclusively for the current stuff I'm working on, in which case it goes into Tinderbox.  DevonThink, then, is a kind of data attic. Tinderbox is the Planning Department. Scrivener is the Machine Room; and Mellel is the Finishing Shop.  But, as I say, it's chaotic.

I used NoteTaker but drifted into DevonThink (a) because I am disorganised and (b) because I marginally prefer DT's ability to show me multiple windows.  But NoteTaker is also a fine piece of work and I use it for highly pre-structured stuff.  Purely personal choice.

Yes, DevonThink is a bit of a RAM pig. With my main database (>6,000 entries, 8 million words) it likes around 200Mb on my 'umble BlacBook 2GHz.  But that's only 10% of the available RAM and I don't see any performance degradation.

NB DevonThink 2.5 is faster, AND is now Spotlight-friendly. Given the great improvements in Leopard's Spotlight implementation, that makes it _much_ more useful.
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JeffAbbott
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #12 - Jan 13th, 2008, 5:39pm
 
Mark Bernstein wrote on Jan 12th, 2008, 8:55am:
Just drag the notes where they belong in the outline; it's faster (and more interesting) than you'd think.  (Note: you *can* derive the map position from outline order if you want, using a Rule or an OnAdd action.  But this might be gilding the lily.)


I wanted to comment on Mark's suggestion here. At first, I resisted it--because I wanted to work in Map view solely as I laid out the scenes. Because Map view is one of the reasons I bought Tinderbox. But I figured, okay, he knows what he's talking about. And he's right. It is much easier to start in Outline View when you've got lots of notes to create. I moved to Outline View, using separators to divide the book up into acts (and days) and it's been much easier than trying to create and order and frankly absorb everything in Map view.

I still might want to have the map position follow the outline order at some point (and so may venture toward my first rule or add-on thingamabob), but I wanted to thank Mark for this basic albeit helpful suggestion. Anyone else trying this at home might take it to heart.
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JeffAbbott
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #13 - Jan 13th, 2008, 5:47pm
 
Patrick Lynch wrote on Jan 13th, 2008, 4:41pm:
How are you using DevonThink and does it seem to bog down your memory (RAM)? Thanks. I also have Notetaker and am hedging between the two for notes.


My use of DevonThink is basic. I put in all web and print articles and research materials for my books or anything else that I think might even be peripherally interesting to any book or story idea I've got on the stove. I also keep quotes/clippings from books I read for research in there, organized by book and author. I do try to classify each article fairly specifically because it makes it easier to put similar with similar later on. I also use it for an Apple Mail archive database and to keep a personal database of odds and ends. Next month my assistant is going to start scanning old papers and documents into DT Pro Office for me, to digitize a couple of file cabinet drawers of stuff. I don't find it's a big memory hog but I frankly wouldn't know how to tell how much memory it's consuming when it runs, I'm not very technical. The mail archive is the slowest of the databases, though. I am a happy user of DT Pro. Hope that helps.
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Re: Notes for a Novel
Reply #14 - Jan 14th, 2008, 12:46pm
 
Hello,

I am a Tinderbox neophyte and have been enjoying this thread on novel writing.  I have a question for those more experienced.  The answer may be right under my nose, but here goes:  I noticed some of you do your planning in Tinderbox and then export to Scrivener to do the writing.  Can you please give me some ideas as how to most effectively export to Scrivener and if there is a way to break the Tinderbox file into divisions that Scrivener will recognise as the "note cards"?  

I am currently planning a non-fiction book.

Thanks for your time.

Colin
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