Case Study: An App Created in FileMaker for Writers

July 27, 2017
William

So here is an interesting story about just how flexible FileMaker can be to build out great and useful applications.

My brother is a FileMaker developer, having co-created with me the MagicBase Integrated Marketing System in FileMaker. He has sold hundreds of copies of this to people all around the world. It is a stand-alone application, known as a ‘runtime’ in the FileMaker world. He is also a writer, having written a book called “The Smart Kid” (available on Amazon), which is a sci-fi thriller about a genetically-enhanced person, which is part of a five-part (pentology) sci-fi series called “The Chrysalis Chronicles”.

Anyway, one of the tools which he has used to write his novels is called “Outlining Your Novel”. and it is a workbook developed by Katie Weiland. He was ready to buy another one for his next novel when he asked himself the question of why he is buying another one when he could just build this in FileMaker and be able to use it for multiple novels.

He built it out in his spare-time, with Katie’s approval and cooperation. He built a number of very creative elements in it using FileMaker, such as drag-and-drop capabilities in several of the portals. (You can read about it below.) Then they began selling it a month ago. In just four-weeks they have sold over 1000 copies at $40 a piece. They have gotten good reviews on the software. So they are happy about it.

It you want to learn more about this, I asked him to share his recent blog-post about this process:

How to Use the Outlining Your Novel Workbook Software

Today, I’m pleased to get to share with you a special guest post from Bob Miller, the developer of our new Outlining Your Novel Workbook software. I’ve asked him to give you a tour of the program, his own process for using it, and what inspired him to create it in the first place.

Here’s Bob…

The Creation of the Outlining Your Novel Workbook Software

I love origin stories, don’t you? The Outlining Your Novel Workbook
software (available for PC and Mac, as well as internationally) originated at the intersection of my desire to write novels, my programming skills, and Katie’s fabulous Outlining Your Novel Workbook.

I found Katie probably like most of you did: I searched online for instruction on how to write a novel. I’ve been listening to her podcast for years. I learn new things from her every week.

Since I’m in the process of writing a five-book series, I purchased the Outlining Your Novel Workbook to plan my second novel, and then I purchased another copy for my third novel. That’s when I got the idea of making a digital version of the workbook. I do database development for my job, so I thought that it would be a quick, easy task.
Turns out, not really…

I contacted Katie about the idea, and we agreed to work on it. Eleven months later, we’ve just finished it!
Although much of the programming was just a fill-in-the-blanks type of application, there were a number of tricky programming tasks that took much longer than anticipated, such as:
Project export and import
The built-in music player The Scene List
Scene List export

For those of who already have the program, let me share with you a few tips about how you can use some of these features.

How to Export and Import Your Projects
There are three uses for the export-import of projects:
1. To easily save backups of projects. Since all of the projects created in the program are auto-saved, the export option allows you to save specific projects without copying all the info in the program.
2. For upgrades. In the future, when we’re able to offer upgrades of the program, exporting your data from the old program and importing it into the new one will be an easy process.
3. For sharing. If you wish to work on a story simultaneously with another writer, you may export a project to share.

How to Use the Music Player
This feature really highlights the benefit of having a digital, interactive workbook. The printed workbook had a section to list songs that may give inspiration for certain elements in your novel. With the interactive music player, you can now listen to your novel playlist as you write.

How to Use the Scene List

It took as much effort to perfect the Scenes List and Scenes Export as it did to write every other part of the program combined.

I decided immediately I wanted users to be able to simply rearrange scenes by dragging them to new locations. This click and drag functionality isn’t something that’s natural to the database system I use, so I had to create a system that stretched the normal abilities of the development program.

As I started to use the program to write my own novel, I realized I also needed to group scenes together so they could be treated as a unit and rearranged together. That’s why I created the folder system. Now scenes can be grouped into chapters that can be shuffled around, just like index cards, to change the story order.

This second video shows you how to easily add a structural guide to your outline’s scene list:
This third video shows you how to use the Scene Checklist feature in concert with your scene creation:

How to Export the Scene List

Another part of the program that took much effort was the ability to export the Scene List so it can be used in other writing programs, such as Scrivener.

Scrivener is a great program. I’ve used it to write all five of my novels. But there is some essential planning that needs to happen before starting the actual writing process in Scrivener.

The Outlining Your Novel Workbook software assists writers in asking questions about character background and other story development questions that must be thought of before any actual writing occurs.

The writing process is so much easier when adequate planning is done. I recently listened to a writing podcast with some experienced screenwriters. They said one of the reasons writers get writer’s block, or write themselves
into a dead-end, is inadequate planning. The writers don’t really know their characters: the character’s motivation, needs, and goals. The characters aren’t real to the writer because they haven’t spent enough time with them before they started throwing tasks and obstacles at them.

Katie and I view the Outlining Your Novel Workbook software as a pre- Scrivener program that will allow you to know your characters and key story beats before you start writing in Scrivener.

You can export the Scene List section as separate text documents, which you can then import into Scrivener (or Word, etc.) for further editing. The Scene List section is currently the only section that offers this feature. However, you can also “print” the rest of the program as pdfs (you will need a pdf printer, such as Cute PDF, installed on your computer), and then import the pdfs into Scrivener. These will be Read Only and cannot be edited anywhere but within the Outlining Your Novel Workbook program.

7 Advantages of the Workbook Software Over the Book Version

My goal was always to be true to Katie’s original Outlining Your Novel Workbook. That’s why the main titles of the selectors within the program match the main chapter titles in the paperback and e-book versions of her workbook. However, the interactive programming environment has allowed us exceed the limits of a book.

For example:
1. You can include photos or drawings of people representing your characters.
2. The Scene List allows you to rearrange scene order in a way that never was possible with the printed workbook.
3. Although the book version of the workbook included the concept of choosing inspiring songs for each main character and section of the book, the program takes it a step further and allows you to create a Novel Playlist and to play those inspiring songs while writing.
4. The ability to import characters and settings from other projects within the Workbook software saves time and allows for easier continuity between books in a series.
5. The flexibility of the calendar allows you to create a chronological list of every scene in your novel. Even if the novel covers years or decades, you can include only the required months in the program, skipping all of the intervening, unnecessary months.
6. Another great advantage of the program is that all fields are expandable. Writers aren’t confined to the printed limitations of the lines in the original workbook.
7. The feature that gave me the idea to start this programming journey eleven months ago is that any number of projects can be saved in the program. This resource can be a repository of all of your creative works in one place.

Although our program accurately represents every section and question in the book version of the workbook, I don’t consider it to be finished. I see this as just a beginning! We already have fielded suggestions from many of you about features you’d like to see in the program, and we’re open to more!

You can find out more about the program on our Support page, which offers FAQs and more video tutorials. You can find the PC version here, the Mac version here, and the international version here.

And now that the main programming is done, I get to return to writing and using this program to help me finish my own books!