Writer’s Tool: Draw.io

There are many word processors and everyone has their favorite. Personally, I use OpenOffice which is free and still updated. But most writers still struggle with whether to outline and how best to outline. And even for those who have established their best method, it often involves lots of stickies and piles of notes. As with anything in writing, it’s good to experiment and find what works best for you. For me, one program that helps greatly is draw.io.

What is Draw.io and what can it do?

Draw.io is a versatile program that does a LOT of things. It can make diagrams and charts of all kinds with tools to make them as detailed as you want. I’ve used it for a couple of things. One, being the biggest, is to map the entries in my gamebook. It is the ideal tool for creating choose-you-own-path type books, or even mapping adventures for an RPG.

Complex Mapping

Above, you can see a sample of my current gamebook, “The Dawnless Valley,” where I’ve mapped the different scenes. The arrows connect where scenes can go depending on the player’s choices. I didn’t start out using colors much, but I’ve been using them to help isolate individual scenes, which has helped the editing process a lot. If I were to make something like this now (and I plan to make more), I would go into even further detail on the map and include more information so I didn’t have to keep flipping through it in the main document. At the bottom, you’ll see that a single draw.io document can have multiple pages that you can individually name and swap between. And each page can expand outward to fit whatever amount of notes and mapping you need to put in there.

Detailing Outlines

But I’ve also started experimenting with ways to make outlines with different levels of information. Above, I’ve split the outline into 4 sections, treating each one like a chapter of its own. The colors help identify perspective characters for the chapters. The adjoining bubbles help detail information that isn’t part of the plot, leaving the outline itself clean and easy to follow when I’m just looking at the story. The bubbles include information on themes, character motivations, and details I want a scene to include. Anything I don’t want to forget.

The great part about draw.io, aside from the versatility of its tools, is how easy it is to add, move, or delete individual elements. Delete a bubble if it’s no longer needed; change a connection to move a detail to a different scene. A simple color change reminds you to swap the POV character for the chapter. And for those writers who like to put every scene in a sticky note for easy shuffling around, you have infinite space to create bubbles of scenes that can be moved with ease. You can reorder your entire book with a few clicks, even selecting multiple bubbles to move in unison if one section needs to be left together.

There are also a wide variety of bubbles/text blocks to use, and many other shapes and markers you can utilize however you want to make your maps and outlines quick to refer to at a glance. Most of these were probably designed for different purposes for other professional fields, but if you can find a use in your work, go for it.

Even as long as I’ve been using it, over a year now, I’ve only scratched the surface. I’m sure there is a wealth of online tutorials that can cover the features far greater than I could, but the point was to raise awareness in the writing community for outliners or even those pantsers who like to do revisions with piles of notes and stickies. The ability to have a virtual space where you can manipulate and add to your outlines and notes instantly, with countless ways to visualize the information, should be an invaluable tool for many writers. I hope this proves useful to others.

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