Scapple for Quick Maps

I’ve mentioned my use of the relatively new application Scapple before, but as I work towards finishing off the epic that ‘Some Other Scotland‘ has become, this apparently simple little app has been making a growing impression on my workflow.

Using a Google map as background

Quick Recap: Scapple is in essence just a small mind-mapping application that gives you a little more freedom than most, not forcing you to have everything in a strict hierarchy, but allowing you to join ideas together and to other items. I have tried several mind-map applications over the years and none of them came close to just writing it down on paper until now. Another key thing Scapple has going for it is that it is really easy to quickly add a lot of content, so there is no need to mess around with layers of menus.

For the scenes I am currently working on, I have around five different point-of-view (POV) characters coming together for a grand showdown that forms the climax of the action. There is a lot to keep track of and I want to avoid a situation where a character is described as being in two or three different places at the same time – this thing is going to be busy enough as it is without making it difficult for my readers & listeners to follow. My conclusion was that the only way to keep on top of it all was to create some sort of interactive chart of what I wanted to happen to check that it was possible and realistic. Think of those scenes where generals move little figures around a reconstructed map: that was the kind of thing I was looking for.

The ideal solution would be some sort of war-gaming software that was customisable, but I would need to learn how to use such a thing, which I just don’t have time for (at least not for the sake of a single section of a single book). I already have a Google map of many of the key locations in the story, but to avoid spoilers I only update it after scenes have been podcast, but I considered using a new map to add pins and lines to with Google. Flexible though that system is, however, I wanted to be able to shift things around to try out different ideas and G-maps keeps editing and use of maps quite separate and that would add another layer of complexity that I didn’t need.

Scapple to the rescue!

From a paper scribble...
From a paper scribble…
One thing I had never used in Scapple was the ability to load background images. The idea (at least according to the documentation) is to allow you to have a pleasant textured background to make everything less clinical, but let’s get creative. The image you choose is not affected by scaling, which means that when you stick text, lines & boxes over a point on your background image, it stays there, so you can overlay diagrams on any background you like. I tried this out by taking a screenshot of the Google map of the area I was interested in (shift+cmd+3 on Mac, shift+prtscn on Windows), loading the image into any basic image editor and trimming off the bits I didn’t need. This image was then loaded into Scapple as a background texture – just open the Inspector and choose the ‘Document’ option to see the ‘Choose Texture’ button. It worked perfectly!
... to an interactive map!
… to an interactive map!

You might find it useful to make the image a little fainter in the editing software so that your text stands out better. Depending on the size of the image you might find you need more space, in which case you might want to double or half the image size before saving it – you’ll need to experiment (I found an image of 1600×1200 to work well for me, but it will depend on how far in you want to be able to zoom).

With this in place, I was able to easily add labels and arrows showing how certain characters will move around during this key scene and then output the whole thing as a pdf to import into Scrivener. So much faster than trying to learn a completely new package and completely compatible with everything else I’m using!

This is only the start of what I can now see as a REALLY great feature. You can load ANY image, not just maps, so if you have old mind-maps or plans you could take a photo (or scan) of them and add new annotations. Or draw a plan of a house and use Scapple to work out where the characters are when the murder takes place – like a Cluedo board!

One thought on “Scapple for Quick Maps

  1. Ingrid Elfberg

    Very interesting! I also have been looking for a mindmap program that would suite me but almost given up. I will abolutly try this. Thanks from a fellow author in Sweden. Ingrid

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