Tools for writers, design considerations

Funny piece in the NYT by Rachel Donadio about recent tools used by novel writers:

"Powers wrote in an e-mail message — or rather, dictated, since he uses the voice recognition software built into the Tablet PC operating system to compose everything, including his novels. (...) Powers has turned to a program rather ominously called Mindjet MindManager, which creates vast, sprawling outlines resembling family trees. (...) Powers created a visual outline for each character. It included material on his or her “life history, personality traits, physical characteristics, verbal tics, professional and educational background, choices and actions, attitudes and relations to the other characters,” he said. “As the material grew, I created topical sub-branches and sub-sub-branches (...) Vikram Chandra had similar results with Microsoft Project, (...) the program (which he says he first heard about from an Israeli crime novelist) helped Chandra keep track of the nearly three dozen characters across 900 pages — “not just people by themselves, but people in relation to time and place,” he wrote in an e-mail message. Since the novel uses flashbacks to cut between different plot lines — a narrative structure Chandra likens to a mandala, a series of concentric circles used as an Eastern meditation device — “it was really useful ... to be able to see the events arranged on a timeline.” (...) He is also a devotee of the Logitech io2 pen, which uploads handwritten notes from special paper and then converts them into searchable text (...) Excel spreadsheets helped Marisha Pessl structure her novel “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” (...) Pessl made spreadsheets for each chapter and character. “Because I was plotting a mystery, I wanted to be very sure as to what clues I would plant.” It also helped her see who was doing what when. “With a first-person narrator it was really important,” she said. The novel’s protagonist, Blue, “has such a blinkered view of the world, and as the author you have to have a godlike perspective.” (...) Some novelists even admit to using screenwriting software (...) The program “prompts you step by step to answer a lot of questions,"

Why do I blgo this? what is interesting here is the discussion of the design process (it's not industrial or interaction design but still). For instance, the vocabulary about the process + how/what tools for what, how tool shape the design process are of considerable interest. And for naive people, as the conclusion says, "these computer programs may offer helpful frameworks, but they can’t substitute for talent and imagination.