I use Scrivener for dead boring technical stuff related to m my job and it’s just great. However, really I just want to be a “writer” but inspiration don’t come easy.

Does something like Mariner’s Contour help or is is just profiteering by them.

I sit and stare at the screen… until someone says, " put this mind-numbing crap into something my client can understand"… and then I win praise… so I know I can write, it’s just ideas!!!

Before I get started, I’ll say up front that Scrivener is all the writing support software I need right now. From what I can glean from their web site, Contour wouldn’t help me any further. But that’s just one person’s opinion.

I’ll assume you’re talking about writing fiction, and therefore, about processes a writer might use to generate ideas for short stories, novels, and such like. I’ve just started this journey myself, so I’ll share a little of my own very limited experience.

I’ll start by saying, as I always do when I write about writerly things concerning myself, that I have only been writing about a year. So I am very much a newcomer to all of this. But here’s how it happened and is happening to me.

I started by purchasing a book called “the making of a story” by Alice LaPlante. Great book for me, who knew nothing. I have finished about half of it and worked through the exercises and prompts at the end of each chapter so far. Some of the prompts turned into small short or short short stories in themselves. So one thing I can suggest is looking for books on writing, perhaps books on some subskill – plotting, perhaps, or character generation, just to name two – that you would like to improve on and work on the exercises in one or more of the books dealing with that subskill. Each such exercise could turn into its own story idea.

For example, another book I’m working through – “The Playwright’s Guidebook” by Stuart Spencer – has a first exercise called “The Action Scene”:

Write a short five- to ten-page scene … in which there are only two characters and the first character wants a book from the second character. All the details of the scene (who these people are, where they are, what their relationship is, what the book is, why the first character wants it, why the second character has it, etc.) are up to you. In other words, you have been given the action for the scene, but nothing else.

That prompt alone could be turned into a full story idea. Just start by answering all of the “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Why?” questions the prompt brings up. And for variety, something as simple as changing the object from a book to a gun, or a painting, or a sack of rice, or a vote, or a kind word will form the basis for a completely different story.

Another thing I did was research authors on the web who took “a teaching stance”, that is, their websites were oriented toward teaching newer (or very new, in my case) writers. Two web sites I found useful were Randy Ingermanson’s site,, and Holly Lisle, Both of these writers talk about ideas, how one gets them, and how one develops them.

And just so you know, on that scale of pantser-plotter – pantsers write “by the seat of their pants”, while plotters take notes and (some) outline before they begin the writing process – I’m more a plotter than a pantser.

I have tried Randy’s Snowflake method for exploring story ideas and I like his top-down approach. At the very top, all one has to do is write one sentence, what he calls “the storyline”. And I think every story idea, no matter how vague, can be turned into a storyline. Also, he has recently written a book on writing fiction titled “Writing Fiction for Dummies”. I’ve read it and can recommend it to newbies like myself. It talks about his ideas in more depth and detail than his web site.

Holly has so many things on her site for up-and-coming (or new-and-hopeful) writers that I can only say “explore and enjoy.” I think Holly is somewhat unique in that she tackles the issue of how one can think in such a way as to keep getting ideas, as necessary, for as long as one wants to write. She has written thirty-two novels and is working on her thirty-third. She knows what she’s talking about. When I grow up to be a professional, I want to be like her.

Lastly, I bought a book called “The Writer’s Idea Book” by Jack Heffron. This is an entire book on the subject of idea generation. I can’t yet tell anyone my opinion of it because my bookmark is still at the beginning of Chapter One, but it looks like I will learn a lot if I ever take the time to read it.

Right now, I have an idea and I’m working on a story.

Good luck.

Contour – it seems to me – is in the tradition of a very long line of software, books, seminars, lecture courses and so forth produced by a very long line of creators (Blake Snyder, Robert Mckee, Christopher Booker, the Dramatica folk, Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler, Karen Wiesner, John Truby, James Bonnet to name just a few), and from a cursory look it’s no worse than any of them, a bit better than some and probably quite a lot less expensive than most.

But – and in my probably prejudiced brain this is key – what they’re mostly about is helping you structure a story to best effect. What they’re mostly not about is defining what actually grabs and grips a reader, what is interesting, what is the spark that makes a story – or sparks, because most book-length stories need several.

For that – it seems to me – you need: scissors to clip newspapers on a daily basis and a big bottom drawer in which to store the clippings, a clipping application on your computer to take and store stuff from the Internet, a willingness to read books extensively and time to do it, a notebook always with you to make notes about events and people you encounter in your daily life, an imagination that frequently daydreams what-ifs, a relentless and wide-ranging curiosity about the world and its inhabitants, and – most importantly – the sort of instinct that when you were a kid made you want to run home and shout “Hey, Mum, guess what I’ve just seen?”

If you have all of those, or even some of most of them, that would be a good start. :slight_smile:


Thanks for your comments, both. I guess I am looking for the philosopher’s stone of creative writing and I just can’t seem to find it!

Hi Foxtrot

Although what I wrote above I put together with my tongue in my cheek, I simply didn’t want to leave you with the idea that tools such as Contour are the complete answer. My impression is that some people do start out thinking that (not necessarily in Contour’s case, but in some others), but are then disappointed. I expect Contour is pretty good at what it does. It just doesn’t work the magic that is probably at the heart of all good creative writing.

One investment that may be worthwhile for you, if practical, would be to attend a seminar given by one of the writing gurus, or a writing retreat; in the UK, Arvon run a famous series. You may not agree with all that you’re told, but if the teacher is good the boost to your confidence alone will be worth the fee. You should emerge feeling much more as if you have got the philosopher’s stone in your pocket.


Although this is way outside my usual domain, I think the question asked on another thread — though I don’t remember exactly which one — is perhaps pertinent here … “What is it that you want? Do you simply want to be a writer, or is it that you have something that you really want to write?”

If it’s the former, then I think all Hugh’s and Jravan’s advice is very much to the point. If it is the latter, that you have something you really want to write, but don’t know where to begin, then Contour might help by giving you a more pre-structured approach to work in that might help you … assuming I have understood the nature of Contour — I’ve not looked at it at all.

But to me it all comes down to having something you want to write, and that seems to be your issue from your original post. Many people have told me on many occasions that I should write a novel, or put together all the anecdotes from my life … Sadly, I have nothing I want to write in terms of the former, and I don’t see that putting my anecdotes together would turn into something worth reading as a whole. So I don’t see myself as a potential “writer”, any more than I can see myself with a PhD, as spending years looking down an intellectual microscope at one issue, no matter how important or ground-breaking, is not something I have been able to conceive of myself doing.