Never let it be said that the writing process is boring: on the contrary, it’s full of bumps and hurdles that threaten to throw a writer out of the marathon any moment. First, for instance, the writer needs a story idea. Once the idea presents itself, the writer must begin to plan out the plot of the story. Then the writer faces the most intimidating obstacle of all: the blank page and blinking cursor of a Word document.
Fortunately, we live in the 21st-century. Our peers have since harnessed the power of technology to help aspiring writers around the globe. If you’re wondering where you can find them, this post has five fun story tools to give you a headstart.
1. Are you need of some fact-checking?
So you want to research your story but don’t know where to start? Quartz’s Atlas might be your port of entry here. It stores data and statistics on pretty much every subject under the sun — from Ghana’s FDI over the past 15 years to the US states with the highest number of millennials (California and Texas, in case you’re wondering).
Doing due diligence for a story is never a bad idea, and a site like this is especially useful if your book is set in the present day and you’re keen on making it feel realistic to readers. A wrong detail here and there might not seem like the end of the world, but it would make an otherwise good story seem false — and it would definitely throw discerning readers off-balance. Even if you’re not excited about the idea of having to research for your book, feel free to simply wander around the site. You never know: you might even get inspired by a random chart.
2. Do you need a name?
Stop me if you’ve experienced this situation before: you’ve just gotten a brilliant story idea and you’re really excited to start writing about it now. So you grab your computer and fire up that blank Word document. It’s not until you start typing it out that you realize, “Oh. I don’t have names for my characters yet.”
Character names are a fundamental part of character building. A good name can make your character iconic (Scrooge, Willy Wonka, and Sherlock Holmes, for instance) and reveal little things about your character before has been said (Remus Lupin, whose name means “wolf” on multiple fronts, is a good example here). At the very least, it’s best to have some kind of name ready and at hand as you write, so that you don’t end up using [BEST FRIEND 1] as a placeholder.
Luckily, character name generators are enjoyable story tools that can help you out. Many existing ones are extremely flexible, depending on your needs. Need a name for a character who’s specifically Greek? This generator might be able to help out. Want a name that’s packed with meaning? You’ll want to go to this name generator over here, which provides etymology along with the name.
3. Do you need a book title?
Book titles are a source of angst for many an author. F. Scott Fitzgerald agonized dearly while choosing a book title for his book about a rich man who seeks to re-invent himself to get the girl, cycling through many titles, including Trimalchio in West Egg and Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires. (He only very grudgingly went with The Great Gatsby in the end). Meanwhile, Lord of the Flies was almost Strangers from Within and the now-seminal Pride and Prejudice was nearly titled First Impressions.
In a nutshell, that captures why book titles are important. How do you want your book to be remembered in history? More than that, a title is one of the most effective marketing tricks that you have in your belt. When a reader is browsing through Amazon’s bookshelves or skimming Bookbub’s newsletter for new reads, it’s your book title (along with your book cover) that will grab their attention for the first time.
For anyone who’s struggling to come up with their own book title, a book title generator such as this one might come in handy. The best title generators out there can provide you with a plethora of potential titles in multiple genres, whether you’re writing a book in crime, fantasy, mystery, or romance. If you’re stuck, this is a fun way to inspire yourself — and look at trends in each genre when it comes to book titles, while you’re at it.
4. Do you need to plan your story?
If you haven’t heard of mind mapping before, you might be missing out. In a nutshell, mind mapping is an incredibly powerful way of organizing and connecting the ideas in your head. Businesspeople use it chart the flow of projects, teachers use it to show kids how concepts are related, and writers use it to plan out the skeleton of their stories.
For authors in particular, mind mapping can be useful in the very early stages of your book — when you’re putting together story ideas and wondering how you might be able to relate one to the other, for instance. Or when you’re just starting to come up with your story and want to see if the progression of your plot makes sense. In these cases, mind mapping is able to provide you with a visual diagram of your story that gets it out of your head (where it isn’t very useful) and onto paper (where it is).
If you’re interested in it and want to give it a shot, Coggle is one of the best mind mapping platforms out there. It’s easy to use, and even lets you color-code all of your thoughts — another way to make your story look better on paper!
5. Are you only inspired in specific environments?
Interestingly, writers and coffee go together like peanut butter and jelly. J.K. Rowling famously wrote most of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a tiny café in Edinburgh, sipping coffee while her daughter slept next to her. Jonathan Swift, the beloved British satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels, even went so far as to say: “The best Maxim I know in this life is, to drink your Coffee when you can, and when you cannot, to be easy without it.”
For those writers who find it hard to be “easy without” coffee, Coffitivity is a godsend. It’s a free app that simulates the ambient noises of a coffee shop — from the murmur of conversation to the occasional scratch of a chair being tipped back. On that note, if you find that you write better on rainy days, there’s an app for that, too. Rain Rain Sleep will replicate different kinds of rain for you: whether it’s a little patter on the window or a torrential downpour.
All of this is to say: if you find that you’re more inspired in specific environments, don’t worry if you can’t find it nearby — you can just create it yourself.
Emmanuel Nataf is the founder and CEO of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers and marketers. Emmanuel dedicates most of his time to building Reedsy’s product and is interested in how technology can transform cultural industries.