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Software Review: Outline 4D from Write Brothers, Inc.

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Outline 4D is a tool that is aimed at the fictional writer who wants an electronic system to structure their ideas into a logical order so as to get a visual view of their projects. Outline 4D allows you to outline, plan, and present your story ideas into either a standard or a timeline-based format. Its goal is to give you a way to brainstorm, create, structure and organize your ideas into one of these two layouts.

Outline 4D has the traditional vertical Outline view which you probably learned in school, but it also has a horizontal Timeline view that will give you a stronger sense of your project especially in the area of time flow. There is even a tracking feature that lets you show connections between events and characters, objects or keywords all giving a more revealing look at your project.

Outline 4DOutline 4D is geared toward anyone who needs to plot or chart a story in a visual manner. It will let you create printouts to present your ideas to others and it is especially useful for the creation of complex projects or stories. It is ideal for everything from short stories, screenplays, commercials, and even business plans.

So how does it work? When you start up Outline 4D and create a new document, you are presented with a number of templates. These include ones for novels, commercials, screenplays, teleplays, and more. As you become more familiar with the program, you can adapt and create templates that work with your own style of working.

As I said before, there are two views that you can look at your story. The traditional Outline view and the Timeline view. Which you work with depends on how you work, what feels most comfortable, and what you are working on.

In both views, the pieces of your story are broken up into "events". These events have optional title and content areas. In the Timeline view, the amount of text that is visible depends on the scale you are viewing. The segment of the Timeline corresponds to the length of the event. On the other hand, in the Outline view, you can see all of your text from top to bottom. You can collapse the segments and view individual events.

To be clear, an event is a generic term for a specific thing within your story. If you are writing a novel, it could be a chapter or if you are writing a screenplay, it could be a scene. An event has duration in that it begins at a specific point and moves to an ending point. In the Timeline view an event that lasts six minutes is three times as wide as an event that lasts two minutes. You can also choose not enter durations and each section will be the same size.

Outline 4DNext in the nomenclature is the term "levels" and "hierarchies." Again, these are generic terms and will have different meanings depending on what you are writing. A novel may have a part level, a chapter level, and a section level, whereas a screenplay might have an act level, a sequence level, and scene level. Hierarchies refer to groups of these levels.

The Timeline view is unique in that it also has a concept called the track which is not available in the outline view. A track is a concept that allows you to track just about anything from a theme to a character, or even a series of scenes that are scattered throughout your story such as flashbacks. You can even track props and special effects. You just set up your tracks and drag them to the event or drag the event to the track. The track can even be set to automatically look for specific words in your text and it will make the connection for you.

From there it is just a matter of setting up your story. There are a lot of examples that are provided for you to study as well as a series of video's on the Learn Outline 4D site. The examples you can find including Star Wars, Gone with the Wind, Groundhog Day, Pulp Fiction, Lord of the Rings, Huckleberry Finn, a Tiger Woods commercial, and more

The way that the story of Huck Finn is set up, is in three parts. The first part takes us through the first 10 chapters of the book and takes us from St Petersburg to Jackson Island. This part is further broken down into three episodes. The first covers St Petersburg, the second is about Huck and his Pap, and the third is about Huck and Jim on the Mississippi. Each of these episodes is divided into sections. In episode one, section one is about the Widow Douglas, section two is about Tom Sawyer's gang, and the third is about Huck's fortune.

Within each of these sections is the description of what is taking place such that when you are ready to commit this to paper, your thoughts and ideas are arranged and formed. This information can also be exported to other systems such as Microsoft Word, or if you are a screenwriter, TV writer, or playwright, you can also export to Movie Magic Screenwriter. If you use Dramatica Pro, you can also import the Dramatica story file as well.

Outline 4D is very intuitive and easy to use and understand. There are times where the implementation is a bit cumbersome in that to truly be effective, you will have to master keystroke shortcuts, but that just takes the time to learn to get proficient with them. Some of them are easy and familiar, some are not.

Outline 4DWhat it does do well is provide an electronic board that will let you organize your thoughts and put them into a format, much like index cards, such that you can get a real feel for your project.

There is no limit to how much you can do with the program once you get going. You can start off with a basic outline and over time build to a very complex layout that has levels of detail. You can cut, paste, and move anything around, and when you're done, print it out full size and paste onto a wall for even better feel for the layout of your project.

If you are a writer, work with commercials, work with screenplays, or anything else that requires time-based outlines, Outline 4D will give you a much better feel for all the nuances that it takes to create one of these projects. With the tracking abilities, it will also make sure that you don't miss an important piece to your story. I have to say I highly recommend Outline 4D.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.