Curious about "Curio"

I’ve read about Curio sometimes in this forum and I’m wondering how people use it in their writing workflow. How does it compare with Tinderbox?

– MJ

Curio is totally and different, and in my opinion, much more abstract. While you can brainstorm in Tinderbox (and it has many tools for doing that), I find it to be a bit too rigid for my taste. I like to “doodle in the margins,” so to speak, when I’m thinking without limits. Curio with a pen and tablet is amazing for that kind of free thinking. You can drop your first draft into it; draw proofreading symbols right on top of the text with a pen, put in pictures, links to web pages, all like arranging things out on a large drafting desk. If you are a visual thinker, Curio is tops. Tinderbox on the other hand has much more in the way of actual data mining. While its map feature is very rigid and formal compared to Curio, it has many features that exist nowhere else to my knowledge, in the realm of collecting and connecting bits of information. Tinderbox can also be “programmed” so that its maps and outlines become functional depending on the content.

I think both applications have different goals, but both can be used for story planning and editing. Which appeals to you the most is probably up to how your brain works. Unfortunately, Tinderbox’s trial is next to useless for evaluation.

Scrivener has impacted my opinion of Curio. A large reason why I used it before was because I prefer editing with a pen and paper, but did not like the idea of wasting so much paper. Back then my writing tool of choice was Ulysses which allows comments, but only between paragraphs. Scrivener allows you stick a comment anywhere, and for the most part I have found that I no longer need a pen in my hand to edit. I think the main problem was that prior to Scrivener, no writing applications really allowed me to (a) put comments anywhere on the page, AND (b) see all of these comments at once in their original context (unlike margin notes and Avenir link style notes).

For brainstorming though, I still prefer Curio to Scrivener because I am very visual. Actually drafting out a room, or a map of a city is far more effective for me than describing it (which one would think would be the last problem a writer would have, ha). With Curio I can put down a few strokes and slap some pictures from Google Images in which match what I was thinking for the location. You can kinda do that sort of thing with the Corkboard, but not really–it is a step toward the Tinderbox way of brainstorming.

Thanks, AmberV –

I think I’m going to have a ride on Curio soon. (Even if the pdf guide for it seems scary!)

– MJ

One other thing I forgot to mention. The current version of Curio is quite old. It hasn’t changed in around a year now, I think. They are (supposedly) getting close to a 4.0 release.

In regards to the documentation–you really have to play with the program itself to see what it is all about. Just using some of the most basic tools, running through the tutorial idea spaces a bit, got me hooked without even needing to know what it was fully capable of. The basic idea of being able to easily add visual elements to a blank canvas is intuitive to grasp, and its main winning point.

I’ve owned Curio for some time and have neglected it. Your discussion and the idea of working on a good Curio workflow got me thinking…have been editing a tough part of my novel and using mind mapping as a way to brainstorm ideas, both on paper (just found some great BIG blank moleskine notebooks that are perfect for trips to coffee shop, etc.) and Tinderbox, etc., etc. In retrospect I realize I had been moving slowly in part because I had about a dozen pretty key unresolved issues/problems to solve to finish the book, and that was kind of a lot to have rattling around in my head and in partially completed mind maps scattered about.

So I dug out Curio, spent half a writing day (anxiously…I feel more aware of wasted time lately) refreshing myself and being concerned because, well, it seems like it can become a very BUSY and distracting working environment if you let it.

Then I hit on what seems to work very well for me: I used Curio’s organizer to set up a blank notebook page for every area or problem that seemed unresolved in the book (which sort of accidentally emerged from a listing of various topics–everything from “theme” to “how do we explain how that event happened?” That resulted in a kind of blank outline, similar to what we do in Scrivener, the difference being that Curio allows for more visually-oriented brainstorming.

Next step in the workflow was spending several hours basically flitting from one of these blank pages to another; I’d write the main question on top and then just use the “draw text” thing to scatter any thoughts on the page that came to me, from simple one-word things to small paragraph-length insights or ideas. Instead of continuous lines of text, the randomly arranged words/phrases allowed me to drag things around as they seemed to fit together. I can also make some bigger, bolden them, or use the pen/markers to circle really important ones; I also used the arrows to connect them, arrange sequences of events, etc. Even the “time wasting” doodling I sometimes did (like putting the key questions inside boxes/making “sticky notes” of them, etc.) seemed to give my brain moments of rest that allowed new ideas to surface. (One could also start finding and adding images to the pages; mostly for me that gets distracting but for issues like trying to get a clear mental picture of a character/their traits, etc., it can help if you find just the right photo to stick on the page, etc. This would allow a writer to really use their “visual thinking” skills/preferences to best advantage.)

Of course, this could all lead to a mess: page after page of random jottings that could flood one with too much information to be useful. For me, the next step in the workflow helped: At the bottom part of each brainstorming page I created a new text object I labeled “Insertions”-- lists of specific things (images, scenes, bits of dialogue, etc.) to add into the novel, which are all based on the results of the brainstorming work I’ve done. It sounds perhaps a bit eerie but it actually works very well: having both the “big picture” outline of the major problem areas in the book and the brainstorming sheets for each specific problem seemed to help me a lot coming up with specific additions, a good sequence for them in the book, ideas about best insertion or change points, etc.

The final step in the workflow was paring everything else away except the insertions lists. That’s easy, it turns out: I just created in Curio a tag called “insertions.” I go through the pages and tag each “insertions” list. Then just go to the Find toolbar and toggle the tags list to “insertions” and voila! – everything in the project disappears from view except my twelve short (mostly) lists of insertions, which I can now go through one at a time and easily insert into Scrivener using it’s editing tools (my novel is divided in Scriv into scenes, so it’s very easy to locate best places to insert changes or additions.)

This whole thing is really quite helpful; if someone needs to do at least some visual thinking, doing brain dumps of all those things that have been rattling around in your head, moving things around on the page to find the best clusters, before boiling it all down in a nice linear way into a list that then can go into the Scrivener document, Curio might be a good way to go. I think for me it’s more aesthetically appealing and easier than Tinderbox or anything else I’ve found except the Moleskines, but they don’t allow the flexibility of dragging things around, linking from topic to topic, etc.

Thanks for bringing Curio up! I think it just saved me a week of work!


Zengobi released Curio 4 today after a year without updates. Aside from a fine interface revamp, the big additions are mind-mapping figures and the ability to assign beginning & completion dates and done percentages to objects.

If you like white boards and collages to do your thinking, it will be well worth your while to take a look at this update. There’s a fifteen day free trial but you can request an extension.