Let me start this post by saying I really, really liked Bibisco. And I wanted so badly to make it my software tool of choice for outlining and writing early drafts of fiction. I really, really wanted to.
But I couldn’t.
Why? Nothing at all to do with the software itself. The software is very well-written. If you’re a code monkey (I technically am, but I don’t have the time and I’m not very knowledgeable about the usual languages used for projects like this) then you can modify the software to fit your needs.
Let’s start with what I like. Bibisco gives you a broad overview of your novel. In the Architecture tab, you can type a description of the Premise (or, as I like to think of it, the Elevator Pitch), the Fabula (or, as I like to think of it, the treatment or outline or summary), and the Setting.
Also under the Architecture tab, you can create a summary of each narrative strand. You can do what I did and make a bulleted list representing the scenes of each strand, or type a summary or treatment of each.
Next is the Characters tab. You can create as many primary or secondary characters as you like, and organize all of the information about them in one place. The secondary characters allow for a paragraph or two description of them and the function that they serve. The primary characters are insanely detailed, and this is one of my favorite features of the software.
Each primary character has a series of 10 folders detailing them. It has Personal Data (name, age, sex, birthplace, birthday), Physical Features (eyes, hair, nose, etc.), Behaviors (how the character talks, laughs, cries, etc.), Images (for pictures of either the character or inspirations), Psychology, Ideas/Passions (religious or political views, hobbies, etc.), Sociology (the people in the character’s life), Backstory, Conflict (in the story), Evolution (how the conflict is resolved). Each folder has a questionnaire that you can fill out about the character.
One way I used to get to know my characters is to write a first person story about something that happened in their lives before the story began. This section actually eliminated the need for me to do that. I got to know my characters through these questionnaires!
The Locations tab allows you to create a description for each of the locations used within the story. Nice for keeping track of details that might be important.
I want to come back to the Chapters tab. This was my sticking point.
The Analysis tab gives you information on which points of view are used, where each character appears, and distribution of locations. In order to use these reports, you have to select from a series of tags offered as you type the various scenes. It’s quite easy to navigate and actually comes in handy when you can see this information spread out visually.
I didn’t get as far as Exporting anything, so I have no comment on this. The Settings tab allows you to customize the settings of the text editor. Finally, the Info and Suggested Readings tabs give you miscellaneous information that is helpful, such as software licensing and some good books to learn how to improve your writing craft.
So let’s go back to the only reason I won’t be using this software. I’m stressing that this does not stop me from recommending the software. It has a lot of great features, especially the extensive questionnaires about the main characters.
A little background on me to understand why I don’t like the Chapters tab. When I started back to writing fiction, I didn’t want to do novels. I wanted to do screenplays. Fewer people read as watch movies, so I assumed that more eyes would be on my work. Also, it doesn’t hurt that many screenwriters are paid seven figures for individual screenplays. It wouldn’t happen right out of the gate, but it’s something to shoot for.
Therefore, the books I read on how to improve the craft of writing centered on developing screenplays. Screenplays are seldom written by “pantsing it.” Syd Field specifically repudiates the practice in Screenplay — maintaining pantsing is find for novels but has no place in the world of screenwriting. Blake Snyder spends an entire chapter on “The Board” in Save the Cat, which expands on the idea of tacking index cards to a bulletin board first mentioned by Field.
But, here’s the rub: screenplays aren’t divided into chapters. They’re divided into scenes. In novels, chapters are divided into scenes, and books into chapters. Bibisco forces us to follow this rigidly — I have to create a chapter, then divide it into scenes. Changed my mind? Too bad. I can’t move a scene between chapters.
All of this comes to a head right here: If you think like a novelist, then this isn’t a problem for you. But, I don’t think like a novelist… I think like a screenwriter. I don’t care how the chapters divide up. I think first and foremost at the scene level.
Sorry, Bibisco: for all your pros, I can’t get past this.
Another bit of free software, yWriter 5, actually does let you move scenes between chapters. I’m using that to write my new series about a female hardboiled detective (Brooke Steele). I divided the story up the same way as Blake Snyder does in Save the Cat, with a “chapter” for the intro, one for the Debate, one for the Fun & Games, etc. Later, I can reorganize them into the real chapters.
Ultimately, as much as I love my free software (Audacity over ProTools, CeltX over Final Draft), I have to go with Scrivener over Bibisco. Noble effort, but nobody outdoes Scrivener. That package is just too versatile!