question about TotallyWrite

Does anybody know what TotallyWrite is about? I understand now that Mariner Software is going to release Contour that is based on TotallyWrite, but I would love to know what it is about. Is it based on something like the Monotmyth again? I searched everywhere, but cannot even find a simple outline that they maybe use.


Hi Andreas.

When LordLightning posted a link to the Mariner press release I was curious, too. Here are 2 interesting pages on TotallyWrite: … -suite.php


Thanks, I found them already before but they don’t show much about the program itself. I am curious about the system behind it and would like to know more about that.

See if you can get hold of a book by Dr. Carol Pearson. It’s title is “The Hero Within”.

TW is a system based on 44 extremely clear and well argued plot points using various top ranked films as models. It interrogates story development in a tight-loose way that leaves you looking at your script as it comes together so that you can see the big picture at a glance and at the same time look at each plot point in great detail.

It is broken into three acts (which is really just a way of saying beginning, middle and end so you can explain your screenplay to Hollywood accountants). Intriguing beginning, compelling crisis, exciting climax and satisfying resolution - as per James Bonnet’s ideas - a great formula for writing a synopsis in three or four short paragraphs.

Act One has 12 plot points. Intriguing beginning
Act Two has 14 + 14 plot points. Compelling crisis
Act Three has 4 plot points. Exciting climax and satisfying resolution

Think, ‘Save the Cat’ with brains and a real respect for screenwriters.

Hope this helps a little - but the new app based on TW will have the deft and engaging touch of the Mariner stable. It will also be more fully developed and focus on writing for getting produced. I would strongly suggest that getting a handle on the ideas and the practical no-nonsense approach to getting your screenplay in shape is worth the effort. In that sense it is a bit like Scrivener - the more you invest in mastering its tools the better they serve you.

Why not contact Logan Ryan at Mariner and make a case for beta testing of Contour. It should be ready for beta testing in a couple of weeks.

PS: Dr. Carol Pearson’s book “The Hero Within” and James Bonnet’s “Stealing Fire From the Gods” can change the way you write screenplays. Contour will confer a huge advantage to any screenwriter who has read these two books and understood them.


Mariner is looking for beta testers here:

Thanks, I signed up for the beta testing of Contour.

In your opinion, what program or screenwriting system is better, Save the Cat or Totallywrite?

TW - No question at all. STC is really a marketing plan.


I have to admit I am VERY sceptical about TotallyWrite, STC, Contour etc… I don’t know, perhaps I’m an idealist who believes modern authors should try to find modern approaches to story telling, rather than rehashing Archetypes and plot structures that have sold Hollywood movies …

I just don’t know.


P. S. Perhaps I should also say that I’m just as sceptical about those university degrees in “creative writing” you apparently can earn in the US. Somehow, it just feels … wrong to me. As for the application Contour itself, I’m sure it will work pretty well for what it’s designed for. Mariner is quite determined to deliver good user experiences. -.rb

It isn’t just that they have sold movies, it is that they are deeply embedded in pretty much every important work of world literature for the last several thousand years. Arguably, the classical archetypes and plot structures like the Hero’s Journey capture stuff that is fundamental to the human condition. IMO, a “modern” approach to storytelling cannot succeed --artistically or commercially-- unless it also touches those deep roots. Without that human connection, you’re just playing word games.


My opinion has always been that archetypes and standard plot structures are tools in a storyteller’s toolbox. If they’re all you use, then either you’ll perfect them or (more likely) you’ll be an incredibly limited storyteller.

No matter what, though, being aware of what tools are readily available is a good idea.

A creative writing degree is like a degree in clinical psychology. Knowing exactly how to do it is impossible, but the degree gives you a better idea of what’s been done before and more importantly provides you with a network of people who all want to do the same thing.

nggalai, perhaps you should read the two books I suggested earlier then enter the argument for abandoning archetypal approaches.

You are treading surface water with an opinion that may or may not make sense after a bit of intensive reading.

By reading, I mean very close study, not superficial glossing over of the text.

So let me repeat:

Dr. Carol Pearson’s book “The Hero Within” and James Bonnet’s “Stealing Fire From the Gods” can change the way you write screenplays. Contour will confer a huge advantage to any screenwriter who has read these two books and understood them.

Katherine and George are making solid sense here. Do the reading then see how you feel about your current views. You might actually change your mind.


Mornin’ y’all!

You may be right that I appear a bit short-sighted here. It’s just that I don’t feel comfortable with the idea that a piece of software should do this kind of work for me. Hence the scepticism.

I far more prefer the way Lord Lightning suggests: Read a book about that sort of thing. Or two. So you can mull it over and really understand how it works, rather than relying on software.

Just to make it clear – I am fully aware of the importance of, say, archetypes in writing and literary criticism. I wrote enough papers about it myself. :wink: I am just not sure this is something an application should do for me. Hence the “sceptical” above, rather than “I am totally opposed to”. :slight_smile:


P. S. As for the University stuff, perhaps I should have put a smiley behind it. It’s just that us former literature majors like to sit on the high horse from time to time, too. :smiley:

Edith says:

I totally agree with George here:

(My emphasis.)

My scepticism above means as much as: Will such applications really help you becoming aware of the tools? Or will they produce cookie-cutter outlines?

But as I said – scepticism. Not holy crusade. :smiley: -.rb

I believe that it’s a good thing to know about structures in creative writing. I love to write music as well and did a lot of study about all kind of musical structures of the classical composers. Doesn’t most of their music sound very original and very different? Doesn’t Mozart sound totally different from Chopin? And still they use the same basic structures in their sonata’s, their rondo’s etc. I’m convinced that this works the same in writing. Knowing the structures that has been used a lot in the past by others, doesn’t mean that your writing will be the same as that of other writers before you, it all depends how you fill in this structure.


But there is a difference between the detailed definitions or specifications represented by the labels in each form of “art” (I know I am re-starting a potential flame war here but hear me out). A “sonata” is DEFINED as having a very specific structure and the art is expressed through the way a composer works within that definition. Unless you are dealing with a specific form of writing like a “haiku” it is very difficult to make this analogy. Is a “poem” so distinctly defined that it must have a specific meter, rhythm, and phrase length?

I think for you music <=> literature comparison to hold you would need to look at genre. Rock to fiction, punk to sci-fi, etc. Suddenly the formalized methods seem as ridiculous in music as thy do in writing.

That said I think there is value to understanding WHY something worked in the past. Understanding a “save the cat” concept provides the historical context that I can use to know why my stuff sucks in the opinions of the masses. Just like listening to Dylan (which I really dislike) explains why my attempts to reach that genre are absolute failures. Why? Because I don’t like using the structures.

Basically this comes right down the the old flame war. Why are you writing? Art or bread? If you need to eat you should really keep those structures handy. If you are like me and never expect your stuff to see the light of day them you can pretend they don’t exist.

Or I could be completely wrong.

I’ve already been called fundamentalist on another thread for daring to suggest that software like Contour/TotallyWrite and STC does nothing for you as a writer. It is pandering to the idea that your structure problems will be solved by programming and ‘plot points’. By all means read all the structure books* you want (I’ve read enough of them myself that they form a blur) but at the end of the day you’ve got to sit down and write your own story.

My advice, for what it’s worth (and that aint much), is to read works of fiction if you want to write fiction, and to read screenplays if you want to write screenplays. There isn’t a better way to understand story.

*You can read three different approaches to structure that reference the same blockbuster film and all are able to retrofit the story into their own paradigm. :confused:

PS the nice thing about Scrivener is that you can apply any off-the-shelf structure in it without buying the software.

I would add to the list above, Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” and, if you are serious, Carl Gustav Jung’s “On the Nature of Dreams”. You will find a synchronistic loop in these readings. It was while studying the Holy Grail legends, that Joseph Campbell discovered the work of Freud and Jung which enabled his approach to myths, legends and dreams. Pearson offers a truncated version of Campbell and Vogel offers a film interpretation of Campbell. Totally write was based on a ‘beat’ insight (Jeffrey Schechter calls them Plot Points) into Pearson’s work. So you can see the ‘virtuous loop’ you need to travel to understand where this new application is coming from.

And you do not need a degree in fine arts to follow it. Just read the books as if your life depended on it.

If you really want to get a handle on how these things can be applied to current conditions take a look at the Elliott Wave Principle -

How like a classical tale of human frailty and predictable mythic structure it is. Just one real world example to demonstrate the universal imprint in the human psyche. Even the markets are structured like a 5 act Shakespearean play.



Good structure is not shameful. Emulating the past classics is not either. I’ve had a look at Contour and find that the logic of its method is surprisingly well thought out–the main substance is not the software itself but the manual explaining how to use the software! That is to say, the storytelling approach that let’s you use the software wisely.

(The software itself is fairly uninspiring, basically providing space to write in your info in response to the questions).


Yes. Everyone is right.

It is still a good idea to know where the black notes and white notes go though.

Here is a comparative look at several beat systems. It is better to know them all rather than none of them.


It seems to me this is all part of the Dramatica ‘fill in a form and get yourself a novel’ nonsense. As I repeatedly tell people at writing classes… through ITW and a stack of festivals around the world over the last decade and a half I have come to know an awful lot of professional writers. I’ve never met one who will admit to using this stuff. I’m sure they exist. But I doubt they’re numerous and I seriously doubt they get much out of it.

Most professional writers use nothing more than Word. They find Scrivener an eye opening experience - and I know that for a fact because a bunch of them are using it now. But an app that can ‘quickly recognize archetypes which protagonists journey through in all the top movies’. I don’t know whether that says more about the current state of the movie business or the software business right now. Excuse me while I barf.

Instead of faffing about with this sort of nonsense Mariner would be better off improving Storymill which they bought in much the same way a while back and did very little with indeed. It still lacks a word count for individual scenes. I did point this out to them and was told, ‘But why would anyone want that?’

I suppose if you have ‘story development software’ that writes the plot for you maybe it is superfluous. Yes, as people here have pointed out, there is plenty of theory around, much of it good, in the books others have mentioned. You don’t need a piece of software to lead you through a Q&A session based on those, which is what much of this software actually is. Reading the kind of fiction you like and hope to be close to in your own work is still, to me, the best source of inspiration around.

Even within genre it doesn’t always, or even usually, work. I teach Tragedy and there’s a standard Aristotelian approach to what a tragedy actually is. Hubris, hamartia, peripeteia, anagnorisis and all the rest of it. Din it into 'em. Send them off to read a few tragedies. Ask them how they fit. Puzzled looks all round. Then ask how “Clockwise” (Michael Fray, dir. Chris Morahan) turns out to be a comedy when it’s built on an immaculately Aristotelian structure – Oresteian chthonic ending and all – and lo!, a brick wall.

Same applies to Hero’s Journey epic. I’ve read all the monomyth stuff, starting with Campbell and Vogler, and it’s all very well but it just won’t do. Vogler is a simplified recension of Campbell and Campbell’s academically a bit iffy at best; all the stories he cites fit his theories perfectly because he chooses the stories which DO fit. Even if we go back to basic basics – Gilgamesh – it doesn’t work without some grunting, wrenching and a squirt of WD40, and even then you end up with the looming theory that the purpose of epic is to deliver itself…

If you want fireworks, ask the Boss Narratologist, Nick Lowe of Royal Holloway University, what he thinks of Dramatica et al. I once gave an entire paper on computer games and second-person mythos purely to get up his nose, and it was three beers in the curry-house afterwards before he’d even speak to me.

My own feeling is the underlying theory, as Lightning says, can give you some fresh ideas. But software which constrains or offers magic solutions is strictly for amateurs. And why not? Good luck to them, because it’s the amateurs that keep Keith (and Final Draft, Screenwriter and possible Montage) in business. They obviously love it. But I disagree that it puts bread on the table, any of it. (Though I don’t write much of that stuff, except in the case of TV formats, so I may not know really what I’m talking about.)

Music’s a different matter. And a different subject. But on the whole (what ho, Fingal) it doesn’t exist to carry a narrative, but to encode a formal structure.

(First person to mention Levi Strauss gets a thump in the eye. First person to mention Derrida gets two.)

Oh nuts. I reckon I simply don’t like them, is all.