Bento, or....?

I started using Bento on my iPhone today to build a database of the nearly 100 characters for the novel I’m writing. I need to track DOB, physical attributes, psychological tendencies, medications, where they live, likes and dislikes, temperament, how they interact with the other characters, etc.

Is there a better software for this?

Just curious what other folk recommend. Thanks!

This is precisely what Tinderbox is good at, but anyone looking at that software should definitely play with the demo a while first, as it isn’t for everyone. While it packs a ton of power, it needn’t all be used, and indeed it would probably be an exercise in ridiculousness to try and use everything in a single project. Because it doesn’t really try to hide all of this power, it can feel a bit overwhelming, and this is perhaps its only real fault for there is no reason to use everything you can see. At its most simple, it can be used like any ordinary hierarchal outliner, gradually building up layers of complexity as required (if ever). The ability to couple an outline with a free-form map mode is where things can get interesting for usages like you describe. It becomes trivial to visually link characters together and arrange things in a manner which is logical to your mind.

Vic-k, She is excluding us again!

I am becoming a big fan of a lower tech approach with a high tech tool. I have been using the livescribe pulse pen for notes. I have a couple of pads for different “things”. This simplifies the inputs (not a big fan of typing thoughts on the i*) and using OCR you can get editable text. Once I have the text scrivener’s “research” folder is your friend.

For the record I am not a serious writer (I am not even be a serious human the more I think about it) so my suggestion may not work for others.

I too like Tinderbox for this sort of purpose, though I don’t know how you’d get its notes to sync with a database on the iPhone.

A combination that would work with an iPhone is Excel and Docs to Go. To my way of thinking Excel is the 800-pound gorilla’s most useful product and an often-overlooked weapon in the writing armoury, useful for tracking or planning not just characters but also word counts, submissions and, if you’re so minded, entire outlines. With Docs to Go you can sync and edit Excel spreadsheets on the iPhone.

That is, of course, if you possess and understand Excel already. If not, Bento is likely to be the cheaper and simpler choice; if you also abandon the iPhone for a Mac, Tinderbox will be the cleverest option.


As for easily getting things to Tinderbox from an iDevice, e-mail would probably be the best if you have a steady connexion on the computer. You can set up a free Gmail account just for this purpose, turn on POP, and have your Tinderbox document check this account for new notes. Since most information based applications on the iDevices have an easy way to e-mail content, this makes sending notes fairly easy, and getting them happens automatically when you fire up Tinderbox. The other direction could be possible. Consider exporting HTML files from Tinderbox to Dropbox and then use the Dropbox app on the iDevice to read them.

I’ve used Bento for a while on both my desktop and iPhone. Once you have the Bluetooth connection set up, synching files is a cinch. I have worked with more complex DB software (i.e., Panorama from ProVue), but Bento is very simple for setting up flat-file data, like your character DB. If you already own both versions of Bento, I would try them for a while to see how you like. Another bonus is being able to clean up Address Book, iCal, and iPhoto files far more easily than in those apps. After revision in Bento, the apps auto-magically update to reflect changes.


Off topic, but I’m very interested in the pulse pen. Does the OCR work well? Any info on your experience would be greatly appreciated, thanks!

The better your handwriting the better the ocr. I find it adequate for my chicken scratch but then I can’t figure out what I wrote down either so the computer gets a “get out of jail free card”.

My biggest complaint with the MyScript software is the odd grouping of words. Not the end of the world, but when you are editing the content in myscript it is odd. I typically just fix it later.

Makeshift donut moth allure.

(My review of MyScript OCR, as transcribed from my handwriting by MyScript OCR, using Pulse pen.)

Print or script? I find that script (cursive) works much better (maybe a 5% edit rate) but I will admit that even I can not read my print.

Thanks, this is very useful, I really like this. But one more question: do you use the pulse pen to write, say, entire paragraphs, or do you use it to outlines, a few words at a time, etc?


That really wasn’t a helpful answer. I use the pen for whatever I happen to be doing at the time. I have found that my writing is so terrible that long passages are frustrating to edit, but I feel that the issue is with the idiot driving the pen. I bought the pen to help with meeting notes but its use has expanded.

Thanks for pointing me to it.
Uh-Oh - wrong agent.
My, where was that attribute again?
Ah, here we go:
I will thank you for pointing me to it as soon as I succeed in taming Tinderbox. Don’t hold your breath…