Posted On July 3, 2013 by Print This Post

Pat Haggerty: Idea Capture & Story Planning with Scapple

pat_haggertyToday, RU’s tech wizard Pat Haggerty walks us through a new product called Scapple. (Not Scrabble, not Snapple. Not Scalpel. Scapple!) Pat makes it look easy, even to the less techy among us. (Who, moi??)

When I heard Literature and Latte had released new product for writers, I knew I had to give it a try. These are the same folks who created Scrivener and I don’t think there’s a better writing tool out there. So I headed over to their site:

And sure enough there it was, Scapple. $14.99 (30 day free trial also available).

Scapple? What the heck is a Scapple? Figuring they had used a play on a less than common word (like they did with Scrivener), I pulled up the O.E.D. and sure enough, “Scapple, v: To reduce the faces of (stone or timber) to a plane surface without working them smooth.” And that, my dear friends, is more or less exactly what Scapple does.

The idea is simple. All of us writers, pantsters and planners alike, like to jot notes down on paper. You planners out there might like your Pinterest boards, and note cards, and you might have walls covered with pegs and strings, and notebooks full of planning. I’m more a pantster myself so I mostly end up jotting ideas down in my moleskin or my iPad and then I transcribe them into planning documents that I make part of my Research folder in Scrivener.

So where does Scapple fit?

Think of Scapple as a blank piece of computer paper that you can use to create structured idea diagrams. Sounds cool doesn’t it? Structured idea diagrams? I totally just made that up. What’s it mean? Well, in this case a picture might be worth a Blog post. So let’s pull an example right out of Scapple.

Imagine you’re reading one of Jeffrey Schecter’s books on story design and you come across his Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr progression for hero development. You already know the 8-sequence theory for scripting and you’d like to play with mapping the two together. With scapple you could easily create:


Not bad, huh? Don’t give Scapple too much credit though. Honestly, you do most of the work (typing), Scapple just makes the visualization simple. Like I said, it’s virtual paper.

So how does it work.

Once you’ve installed Scapple, click Help | QuickStart Guide and spend a few minutes reading the two page overview of Scapple’s abilities. Keep the document open so you can refer back to it while you play and if you need more detailed information, Scapple also comes with a 100 page manual.

To build an example like the one above, start by creating a new Scapple document. File | New

I’m more than a little paranoid about losing work so as a best practice, I’d immediately save the new document with File | Save either into the Apple iCloud or into your Dropbox folder (I love Dropbox).

Pasted Graphic

Initially, there are two main windows in Scapple. The note board or canvas:

Pasted Graphic 1

And the Inspector. Note: if the Inspector isn’t in evidence, enable it with View | Show Inspector

Pasted Graphic 2

Getting started is simple. Do you see what the text in the canvas reads? Yeah, so let’s do just that. Double click somewhere near the upper left corner of the page and in the new note that appears, type:

Jeffrey Alan Schecter

And hit <Escape> or click the mouse somewhere outside the note. This was a bit of a learning hurdle for me. I kept hitting <Return>, but that puts you on a new line in the same note rather than completing it. Just a little something to get used to.

You might notice that in my example picture, Jeffrey’s name is italicized, but in what we just created it isn’t. To alter a note’s appearance, select it (border switches blue) and then use the Note Style tab in the inspector to change the Text Style to Italics.

Pasted Graphic 3

Now double click bellow Jeffrey’s name and in the new note that appears type, “1. Orphan”

Play with the inspector again, this time make the font larger and give the note a rounded border with a shadow. For now, don’t worry that it isn’t perfectly aligned with the note above.

Pasted Graphic 4

There are two main ways to connect notes together: as you create them, or using drag and drop. To create a new note that’s automatically connected to an existing note:

1. Select the existing note (blue border again)

2. For a dotted line connection, hold down the <Command> button and double click where you want the new note to appear. To create the note with an arrow connector, hold down <Option> button and double-click.

In this case, I’ll use <Option> double-click and create the rest of the left hand notes. Go ahead and fix their text, but don’t worry about alignment.

Pasted Graphic 5

Cleaning up the note alignment is easy. Drag a box around all of the notes to select them and then use the Notes menu to Make Same Width and Align | Left Edges. And if you like, Distribute | Vertically. Not too bad:

Pasted Graphic 6

If you feel like giving it a shot. You could use the same approach to create the right hand column. Create the heading. Then create a note below it with a smaller font and a square style boarder. Use the same <Option> double-click to copy the style to each new note and to create the arrows. Then fix all your alignment and with a little fiddling you’ll have:

Pasted Graphic 7

Connecting the notes in the first column to the second is easy. Click on note 1 and drag and drop it on top of note A. By default this will create a dotted line connection which is just what we want. Repeat for the other notes in the two columns:

Pasted Graphic 8

When you drag one note onto another:

  • By default you get a dotted line connection
  • Holding down <Option> as you drag and drop will create an arrow connector pointing towards the drop end
  • Holding down <Option>+<Command> will yield an arrow pointing towards the drag end
  • Holding <Option> and dragging from Note1 to Note2, then doing it again while dragging from Note2 to Note1 will create a connector with an arrow on both ends

If you drag one note onto another and the two notes are already connected, then the connection will be removed.

A couple of other tips:

  • Dragging an image into the canvas will add a picture note
  • Dragging a text file of some kind (.txt, PDF, Word documents, etc) to the canvas will create a new note that contains that text
  • Selecting a note and then pressing <Command>+<Return> will create a new note right under the selected note using the same style but without a connector between the two
  • A canvas may be exported to a number of different formats (PDF, PNG, .rtf, .txt, etc) for note sharing

And last but not least. If you’re a Scrivener user like me, add your Scapple documents to your Research folder for very nice, seamless integration.

If you’d like a cool video demo of everything I’ve outlined here and more, check out the one up on the L&L site:

That’s about all I have for y’all this time around. Please use the comments to hit me with questions and I’ll do my best to help you out.



Got Questions? Ask Pat, RU’s Tech Wizard Extraordinaire!

On Friday, Marketing Expert Sharmeen Akbani Gangat reveals “The Shocking Truth About Online Marketing”


Bio: After four years in the USMC, Patrick Haggerty studied Actuarial Science and Computers at Georgia State University. He has spent the past 15+ years developing and delivering technical training courses for Learning Tree International. On the side he has a successful consulting practice doing web application development for clients ranging from the United State Marines to Delta Airlines.

Seven years ago, stuck reading a mediocre book in yet another hotel, Patrick decided to try his hand at fiction. He may not be published, but these days you are much more likely to find him spending his evenings writing romance, than code. Patrick is an active member of RWA, RWAustralia, RW New Zealand, and is VP of Membership for Gulf Coast Romance Writers of America, and VP of OIRWA.

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14 Responses to “Pat Haggerty: Idea Capture & Story Planning with Scapple”

  1. Morning Pat!!

    Oooooo I want it! =) Do they have plans for rolling out a PC version? A girl can never have too much writing software….=)

    How do you add your Scapple notes to Scrivener? Is it drag and drop or import?

    Thanks so much for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 3, 2013, 8:11 am
    • Check my comment below on the Windows version. As far as getting Scapple documents into Scrivener, drag and drop or File | Import will both work. Once there, you can see the full diagram when you click on the document in the Binder. You can also click a button at the bottom of the document view in Scrivener and open the document in Scapple for future editing.

      All in all, the two products link together quite nicely.


      Posted by Pat Haggerty | July 3, 2013, 5:23 pm
  2. Hi Pat,

    I barely passed Typing in high school. I still hunt and peck. Kudos to you for making it look easy to do.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | July 3, 2013, 8:18 am
  3. Oh, I want it too! This could replace the giant white board on my wall. But, alas, I’m a PC user also.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out to see if they release a PC version.

    Thanks, Pat!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | July 3, 2013, 12:59 pm
  4. Hi Pat,

    This program can be used for so many applications, i.e., menu planning, party ideas, and of course, writing, especially for a visual person like moi.

    I bought a Mac Air a couple of months ago and I’m still learning to use it. After checking out the Google images of Scapple, I’m going to get the program.

    Have you tried printing a diagram or chart from Scapple yet? Just wondering if it prints to scale. Thanks for being with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 3, 2013, 4:54 pm
  5. Hey y’all,

    For those of you looking for information on a Windows version of Scapple, the official word is:

    “At this time, Scapple is only available for Mac OS X. However, we do intend to bring a port of the software to Windows. At this point in time, no plans beyond that have been made.”

    They then go on to say that if you’d like, you can sign up for their Windows newsletter here:

    You will then receive emails announcing any new Windows products.


    Posted by Pat Haggerty | July 3, 2013, 5:06 pm
  6. Thanks for a great post, Pat. This sounds like something I might actually use!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 3, 2013, 5:33 pm
  7. Oooooh! This looks great! Thanks Pat! It is perfect timing for me right now.

    Posted by Alli | July 3, 2013, 6:14 pm
  8. If I’m not mistaken (can’t check here at work), but the windows version of Scapple is LIVE!

    Posted by Deb | October 23, 2013, 4:02 pm

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