Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Review of Power Structure - 
Story Development Software

By 
Sandra C. Durham
2003, Sandra C. Durham
 

his review covers the Power Structure Story Development and Outlining Software available for the Mac and Windows platforms from http://www.write-brain.com.  I have been using this software extensively over the past few months to plot out my first novel, and I believe it holds a number of key features which can enhance the new writer's ability to remain focused on the building blocks necessary for good story design. 

Writing a novel takes a series of considerable steps that go beyond the actual act of forming well-constructed prose.  Vision articles have recently focused on some of these areas and will present more in future editions.  Key aspects of novel writing include:

  • High-level story development - Including aspects like themes, synopsis, story background, world-building.
  • Character creation Physical descriptions, emotional development, background, reasons for being in story, character arcs.
  • Story movement - How the story will flow from beginning, middle, to end.
  • Plotting - details of the main story arc, conflicts, and major or minor subplots.

Whether you are the kind of writer who likes to determine everything upfront before ever typing a word of your story or the kind who likes to follow the Muse and see what develops, all of the above steps will be part of your creative process.     

Power Structure provides an organized method to design and maintain these detailed steps in the creation of your story.  While it could be useful to those who create on the fly as they write by providing them a way to outline their story for possible queries to publishers, I believe the primary users of this software will be those who prefer some level of plotting and story development before the writing process begins. 

Power Structure allows the writer to start at the very seed of an idea and develop the story from this original premise.  The main menu of this program provides seven useful views into the novel: Story/Theme, Characters, 3 Act Structure, Chapters, Plot Points, Gestalt View, and Conflict Overview. 

Starting at the story/theme view, and taking successively more detailed views into the story, the writer develops things like the Theme and Synopsis. With Power Structure's ability to edit prompts, you could add your own overview tasks like World Geography, Magical Rules, Culture, Family Genealogy, and Back-story issues.  From that point you could enter the Character view, wherein you have menu items to develop your characters to whatever depth you like - physical, emotional, history, driving needs, strengths, weaknesses etc.  From within the Character View you can outline the development each character will experience throughout a 3-act structure. 

The 3-Act Structure view is one of the less thought-out parts of Power Structure.  The program attempts to provide templates for creating novels or scripts, but there is no way to remove this remnant of a script from the novel template.  Rather than ignore it, I chose to view it as a high-level Beginning, Middle, and End view of my novel.  With that in mind, it provides the next level of depth into the novel and the ability to group the Chapter View into each of these three sections.   

The Chapter View provides the ability to write briefly on what is happening in each chapter - opening hooks, how it moves the story forward, etc.  It also provides a way to group the more detailed and more interesting plot points together.    

The Plot Point view provides what I feel is one of the strongest aspects of the software.  Not only does it allow you to write in detail how you want each plot element to move forward, it also provides the ability to create conflicts that a plot point introduces, heighten existing conflicts, or resolve a conflict.  While these may seem pedantic steps, they provide a way to measure the percent of tension as your story progresses.   

In my current work, I have some five overriding Conflicts that are central to the story.  Each plot point in some way relates to one of these five conflicts.  For me, they are items like family disintegration, political infighting, love triangle, mysterious demonic forces, etc.  As I develop plot elements, I link them into these conflicts, and make a determination on what I think the overall tension level is at that point in my story as it relates to that conflict. 

From there, I can go to the Conflict Overview screen and Power Structure builds me a graph with different color lines for each conflict, stretching out across all my chapters.  I have an excellent visual tool to see where my story is perhaps too flat or indications of how I may have left a conflict untouched for too many chapters.   

The final view is the Gestalt view, which opens a rather cluttered window that shows which Chapters are in each Act, and which plot points are in each chapter.  I found this less useful because it is so cluttered and the text in each section is truncated. 

Finally, there are a built-in word processor, a spell checker (which can be rather demonic, as it will spell check in the midst of your typing), a limited thesaurus, and a name bank.  You can generate printed reports of any combination of the above views, as well as export similarly to RTF files or other outlining software programs.  There is also what they call Access Mode, which shrinks the program to a menu bar at the top of your PC screen, allowing you to write in your favorite word processor while still having visible access to your story outline.   

In summary, I found the flexibility, customization options, and overall thought put into Power Structure to be immensely useful in my first endeavors into a full-length novel.  I must comment, though, that all this comes at a significant price.  The program is available from http://www.write-brain.com for $179, but you can download as a demo to view and use all the aspects I discussed above before making your own decision on this software.