Software revisited: Action Outline

A couple of months ago, a software offer turned up in my email box for a program called Action Outline.  I remembered using an earlier version two or three computers (and Windows versions) ago, but I no longer had a copy.  I followed the email link back to the home page of Green Parrots Software and took a look.

At the time, I was in the midst of plotting the second half of Bathtub Jinn.  I’m usually more pantser than plotter, but I wanted to enter a couple of contests that required a synopsis, so I was doing my best to organize the rest of the book.  Action Outline looked like it might help with that, and it was on sale, so I pulled out my writing-only credit card, paid for and downloaded the program in a matter of minutes.  Talk about instant gratification!  I remember when software came in the mail.  And we made storage copies on big black floppy diskettes before we installed anything.

The latest version of Action Outline has been all dolled up for Windows 7 (it runs on XP and up).  It’s faster, cleaner, and more versatile than I remembered, and it turned out to be very suitable for my purposes.  As soon as I had it running, I set up a file for the chapters I’d already written, breaking each into scenes, with time, location, POV character, other characters, and a line or two covering the general action.  I used colored flags on the scene labels, visible at a glance, to indicate point of view.  The program allows you to expand any, all, or none of the branches at any time, so you can see whichever sections you choose.

Action Outline can keep several files open at once.  Currently I have open both of my working Bathtub Jinn files (chapters and scenes already written in one and plot material for the rest of the book  in another), as well as one with notes on a possible future book.  As I write, I fill in the new chapters in the first outline and remove that material from the other, which is not nearly as neat:

I’ve been using Action Outline on this project for two months now, and I think it’s a keeper.  I still track an abbreviated outline on Excel, but I’m beginning to think that’s overkill.  I’m also beginning to think writing with a rough synopsis rocks, although I doubt if I could write one from scratch, before any of the book was written.  The program also does a good, and flexible, job of printing, from the entire file down to one item.

The current price on Action Outline is about $40, but you can download a somewhat limited free version to try it out.  The investment has definitely been worthwhile for me.

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