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Ninc Newsletter

It’s a Note Jotter. It’s a Mind Mapper.
It’s an Idea Organizer. It’s Scapple.

BY CAROLYNN CAREY

Scapple — for those who may not be familiar with the name — is a relatively new (April 2013) Mac application created by Literature & Latte, the company that developed the popular writing program Scrivener.

When I received an email from Literature & Latte in late April telling me that the company had released new “sort-of-but-not-quite-mindmapping software for Mac OS X,” I was skeptical. After all, despite having bought Scrivener twice, I wasn’t really a fan, and I didn’t want to waste my time on yet another piece of software I wasn’t going to use. However, the description sounded intriguing, and I could download a free 30-day trial, so I decided to give it a whirl. I was sold instantly. In fact, I sent in my $14.99 payment for a license long before the 30 days were up.

What did I like about Scapple that I hadn’t liked about Scrivener? While I always felt somewhat fettered by the features of Scrivener (unlike many writers I know), Scapple set me free to plan, to organize, to map, and to do it my way.

But what exactly is Scapple? As described in the email I received from Literature & Latte, Scapple is “like a freeform text editor that allows you to make notes anywhere on the page and to connect them using straight dotted lines or arrows.” The email continued, “If you’ve ever scribbled down ideas all over a piece of paper and drawn lines between related thoughts, then you already know what Scapple does.”

Actually, I wasn’t in the habit of scribbling down notes, so that didn’t apply to me. But I had struggled for years to find a convenient way of keeping up with details related to my works in progress. I usually have two or three stories under way at one time, and it’s easy to forget what happened in chapter one when you haven’t written on that particular project for a few weeks or months.

To illustrate how the software works, I outlined this article on a virtual sheet of paper in Scapple and then exported it as a pdf file so it could be reproduced with this piece. First I headed the sheet “Article for NINC Newsletter.” Under that I made notes of various titles I’d considered. I used different colors, shapes, and borders to illustrate what is possible. However, to show that a stack of notes can be consistent in appearance — such as those under the “Online Research” bubble — I created a Note Style and set up the parameters for the notes in that stack.

When you open a new document in Scapple, you’ll see two lines of instructions in the center of the virtual canvas: “Double-click anywhere to create a note” and “Drag notes onto one another to make connections.” The instant you double-click, those instructions disappear and a bubble appears in the area of your double-click. Inside the bubble are the highlighted words “New Note.” Click inside the bubble to begin typing your note.

You can change the appearance of notes in many ways. If you do nothing but type, only your words will appear on the sheet. But if you prefer, you can embed your type in colored bubbles with borders of various sizes and shapes. You can make your bubble appear to stand out from the page by choosing the Shadow option, or you can have the type appear light by choosing the Fade option (see illustration).

When I first downloaded Scapple, I decided to try outlining my current work-in-progress, which is the fourth book I’ve set in the fictional town of Barbourville, Tennessee. I summarized my completed chapters on the left side of the virtual sheet of paper, stacking notes on top of each other and using blue for scenes in the hero’s point of view and pink for scenes in the heroine’s point of view. Next, I created a stack of notes on the     

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