Plottr, the novel plotting app

Update 26 February 2021:

In this blog post from last November, I reviewed Plottr, saying that I would “highly recommend Plottr to other writers” and describing the Windows app as being “worth every penny that I paid for it”. I was, however, also reasonably critical of the Android app, although I now understand that a fix is in development.

Starting next week (March 2021), I am actually going to be joining the Plottr team on a freelance basis, helping out with technical support. I think Plottr is a great product and I am really looking forward to supporting its users!

I just wanted to add a short disclaimer to the start of this post to make absolutely clear that what follows is an unbiased review of Plottr written before I was in any way associated with Plottr.


Last week I told you that I’d treated myself to a new piece of writing hardware, my reMarkable 2 tablet, and a new piece of writing software, Plottr.

Last week I reviewed my reMarkable, so this week it’s time to go over Plottr!

What is Plottr?

Plottr is a highly visual software app designed to make planning your novel (or series of novels) easy.

Plottr includes tabs for storing information about characters and places and other notes, but the heart of Plottr is the timeline. The timeline makes it easy to visually lay out your story and to quickly and simply reorder scene cards as you’re planning your book.

You can create separate plotlines for main plots and subplots, and you can also create plotlines for each character to help you track their development. You can even colour-code each plotline however you wish.

Plottr vs Scrivener

I’ve tried other plotting techniques before, such as pen and paper and Scrivener’s corkboard, but Plottr easily surpasses these. Its simplicity and its highly visual nature make it a real pleasure to plan stories using it.

I should say, before I go on, that Plottr is purely a planning tool. It’s not an application in which you actually write your book. As such, I’ll continue to use Scrivener to write my stories.

The good news is that Plottr lets you export your outline to Scrivener (or to Microsoft Word) when you’re ready to start writing.

A simple interface

Plottr is really easy to use, and what’s more there’s a video series of getting started content to get you going.

While you could no doubt attempt to just figure things out yourself, I recommend putting aside a bit of time to work through the videos. It’ll help you to get the most out of Plottr. There are a few handy features in there that you might not otherwise notice.

Missing features

One of my pet hates is when software becomes “bloated” with features that few users will ever use, crowding the interface and increasing the learning curve for new users.

Well, that’s certainly not a problem with Plottr, but perhaps the opposite is true. To take just one example, there isn’t yet a find or a find and replace feature.

When I start planning stories, I don’t tend to worry about character names until later. In the early stages, I usually just refer to characters using placeholders such as “Love interest” or “Antagonist”.

I thought I might be able to replace these placeholders with character names at a later date, but nope, that functionality isn’t yet available in Plottr. That being said, I have found a workaround. More on that later!

In active development

Sure, find and replace isn’t yet available, and a few other features that you’d probably expect to find aren’t yet there either, but updates are being pushed out regularly.

In the short time that I’ve been using Plottr, two updates have been released, each including useful new features.

One of these updates also fixed a bug that I myself reported. I was very impressed both at the speed at which Cameron at Plottr got back to me to confirm the bug and then the speed at which the fix was released.

An unusable Android app

Plottr is available for Windows and Mac and comes with a 30 day free trial. In addition, Plottr is also available for Android and iOS, and here is where I become considerably less complimentary about the software.

I can’t comment on the iPhone or iPad experience since I’m an Android user, but I can comment on the Android app. It’s simply unusable.

The interface consists of various rich text editors: multiline text boxes with a toolbar at the top that allows you to insert formatting such as bold, italics and so on.

And… every single one of these rich text editors includes a warning:

Compatibility on this device is prone to errors.

What’s more, every time I actually try to enter or edit text in one of these editors, I get an error:

Cannot resolve a DOM point from Slate point: {"path":[0,0],"offset":6}.

My phone is a Samsung S7, but from reading comments in the official Facebook group, I can see that other Android users have experienced this issue too, including users with newer phones.

Here’s the thing: it’s not like this is some minor feature that’s not working quite right. If you can’t enter or edit text in these rich text editors, then the entire app is essentially rendered completely useless.

Why was the Android app released?

I was very impressed with the Windows app of Plottr, and I’ve been pleased at the quick and friendly responses to support questions that I’ve sent over to the Plottr team. It’s clear that these are nice people capable of creating great software.

As such, this raises the question: why did the Plottr team decide to release the Android app in its current state?

My best guess is that the iOS app works OK, and that the Plottr team felt they couldn’t release the iOS app without the Android app, so they just went ahead and released both (even though the Android app is clearly in no way release-ready).

Why does this bug exist?

I raised a support question about the Android app and, assuming I’ve correctly understood the response, the rich text editors are external components that the Plottr app makes use of.

The issue is not in the Plottr code itself but rather in the code for this external component. As such, the Plottr team can’t fix the issue themselves; instead they have to wait for the developers of the component to fix it.

As someone who has worked in software for a number of years, to some extent I sympathise with this. On the other hand, as a consumer, I don’t really care why the problem exists. All I care about is that it shouldn’t exist.

Pricing and value for money

I should say that the mobile apps are not an additional purchase. Rather, when you buy Plottr, you get to register it on three devices, and your phone counts as one of those devices.

Because of this, I’m rather more relaxed about the unusable Android app than I might otherwise have been. (Had I paid specifically for the Android app, I would have been pretty furious!)

That being said, the existence of an Android app – and the promise of being able to seamlessly work on my stories when at my desk or on the go – did influence my decision to buy.

Plottr’s pricing works like this. You get a 30 day full-featured free trial and, after that, you have to buy the software to continue using it. Your purchase gets you lifetime access to the software plus one year of updates.

If you want to continue receiving updates after the first year, then you have to renew your licence, which basically means buying Plottr again. This might sound expensive but, actually, I think the pricing is reasonable for what the desktop app offers.

I cut short my free trial

A a money-conscious guy, I’d normally have made full use of Plottr’s 30 day free trial before purchasing the software. That way I’d have got 13 months' worth of updates for the price of 12! To use the mobile apps, though, you first need to purchase Plottr.

On my first day of my free trial, I was so impressed by the Windows app, and so interested to see how the mobile app worked, that I went ahead and purchased Plottr.

Big mistake! As I’ve said, until it’s fixed, the Android app is worthless. I’d have been much better off getting an additional one month of Windows updates.

Despite all my complaints about the Android app, when all is said and done, the price of Plottr is worth it for the Windows app alone. As such, I don’t regret my purchase and would still highly recommend Plottr to other writers.

JSON and workarounds

I mentioned earlier that I’d found a workaround for some of the basic features that are missing from the Windows app. This workaround isn’t for anyone who’s afraid to go behind the scenes!

If you’re happy with all things technical, however, then the good news is that a .pltr file (the file name extension of Plottr files) is just a JSON file.

What does this mean? Well, let’s say you want to perform a find and replace to replace all occurrences of “Love interest” with an actual character name. No problem! Just…

  1. Close Plottr.
  2. Back up your .pltr file. (Always make a back-up before editing the JSON directly!)
  3. Open the .pltr file in your favourite text editor. For example, in Windows, right-click the file and select Open with and then Notepad.
  4. Perform the find-and-replace operation in the text editor and then save your changes.
  5. Close the text editor and then open the file in Plottr again. All occurrences of “Love interest” will have been updated with the character’s name!

Conclusion

There you have it! Plottr is a hugely helpful tool that makes the job of plotting your novel easier than ever by offering a clean, easy-to-use user interface.

I do feel that the software is missing a few key features, but the app is actively being worked on and updates are being pushed out regularly.

My biggest bugbear with Plottr was the Android app – it isn’t usable and quite frankly should not have been released in its current state – but despite that, the Windows version alone is worth every penny that I paid for it.

If you’re interested in trying out Plottr for yourself, then go get your 30 day free trial over at plottr.com!

And in other news…

Back in October I wrote about the Wallace and Gromit DFS advert. A new advert has been released in time for Christmas. Here it is!

Gavin