A story is only as good as the back story and setting developed for the characters to live in. The hardest part of creating a new/original setting is collecting the notes, establishing the setting, and building an tale that lives comfortably within that setting without imposing artificial limits upon it. I have found seven programs that I cannot live without when I am world building or constructing a new story.
My life was hell before Evernote. Okay, that might be a little melodramatic, but before I discovered the Evernote Beta, I relied on countless handwritten notes and Word DOCs filled with the milieu and minutia of my settings. Piles of notes that I printed out to me consumed into the setting littered my desk and surrounding area. These notes were easy to loose and hard to find.
Evernote allowed me to clip these notes directly from the web and other digital sources, keep them in one program, and edit them to fit the setting they were clipped for. I wish Evernote gave me more hierarchical and webbing features similar to the Brain, but the search is fast and keeps all of my notes right at my fingertips.
The notes sync with an app running on my PCs and my Mac, they are also available through a web interface.
It's Full of Star is one of my favorite bits of software for making star maps, but it has not been updated since March 27, 1998. I keep hoping that a new programmer will pick up where Claus left off. The program is simple and powerful, allowing you to great planets, solar systems and even galaxies that conform to known science. It also allow you to apply original maps to each planet as well as add historical information about the societies that inhabit them.
The program is free, and available from Claus' Geocities page.
As my need for features has grown, I eventually had to break down and buy Astrosynthesis to fulfill my star mapping needs. Astrosynthesis has all of the features that It's Full of Stars does, and adds the ability to map interstellar bodies other than just stars and planets. Maps can be up to 4GB, with Stellar routes, sector definitions, and animations that let you see what it would actually look like to travel between the stars and planets.
The best feature is its integration with Fractal Mapper to automatically generate terrains for every world you create.
Astrosythesis is free to Try, but star sectors and planet surfaces cannot be saved. It is $39.95 on CD and $35.95 as a download from NBOS. They have sample maps, screenshots and animations on their site.
I have tried ever piece of map making software that I have found. Each and every time I hope that I will find the freeware solution that will do all of the things that I want to do, and every time I return to Fractal Mapper.
I have lost track of how many years I have used the various versions of this software. The primary feature is that lines are drawn using a fractal algorithm so coasts and rivers always have a natural appearance. The software also features a nice set of tools to age a map over time to take into account erosion from wind and water. Best of all, you build your maps in layers so it is easy to remove cities or map the evolution of a city over time.
Fractal Mapper is free to Try, but only a subset of map symbols are available and the maps cannot be saved. It is $39.95 on CD and $35.95 as a download from NBOS. They have sample maps, screenshots and animations on their site.
Langmaker is software that helps give depth and context to any setting. The software offer many simple tools to create new languages and dialects based on linguistic rules that add consistency and realism to the language.
Dramatica is the most expensive item on the list, but it is worth far more than the price they charge.
Dramatica is the best outlining software that I have ever used. Honestly, I cannot imagine writing without it. Dramatica is allows you to create detailed character profiles that can be exported and imported into other projects, and helps you create the "story mind" behind your plot, then it has the most powerful outline system I have ever seen.
First of all, there are 3 levels to detail you can choose from so if you are writing a short story you don't waste time creating detail you do not need for the tale, or if you are working on a novel it will remind you of the little details you might forget to come up with.
Secondly, the relationship manager helps you develop the interactions between your characters so their history is shown through their actions without a lot of exposition.
Thirdly, the story forming tools are perfect in the questions they ask to help you remember to include ever detail.
Finally, Dramatica is the best tool I have ever found to defeat writer's block. If you don't know what you want to write about, you can spin the story wheel and it will generate a random storyform that you can write or you can extract the storyform from a favorite book, movie, or television show and build an original story through that form.
It is hard to explain the elegance of the Dramatica theory of Storyforming, but they a free eBook on the theory. You do not need to read the book to use the program, the information is integrated into each step, and it is possible to us the theory without the software, but the program vastly simplifies the process.
If you don't want all the power tools, or if Dramatica is not in the budget, Celtx is good preproduction software.
I use it with Dramatica. When I have finished the story with Dramatica, I put the reports in Celtx so I only have to open one file to have all of my finished work in one easy place.
Celtx was designed for preproduction on films, but can be used for prose as well. It has built in templets for stage plays, audio plays, screenplays, and comic books. If you are writing a script, all the tools are here to format and develop your idea. They recently added the ability to automatically adapt a screenplay to a comic script or any other template they have,
While Celtx is best for media projects, it has a lot of nice tools that will help you capture your vision.