Liquid Story Binder Tutorial Part 1: setting up for brainstorming

This is part 1 of my tutorial on using Liquid Story Binder (LSB) my way.  I’m writing it to give you tips on using this complicated but useful program, and also as an illustration of the way I work.

If you look at the picture in this post, you can see how I work with pen and paper.  It’s a fairly simple system, but I end up with a lot of notes, pads and cards scattered across the desk while I’m working.  I have tried numerous writing programs in the past, but they don’t work for me, because I still end up with masses of notes (which I consistently lose) while the bulk of the text is in the writing program.

When I read about LSB, I thought I might have finally found a program that suits the way I work.   Because LSB is basically a folder (binder for the US readers) only electronic.  You have the facility to store everything; notes, characters, chapters, worldbuilding, scenes, all linked and related and easy to find.

Unfortunately, the program itself is not intuitive and has a steep learning curve.  And for some reason the designers opted for confusing and non-intuitive names for things.  Planners?  Not what you think.  Builders?  Sequences and storyboards?  What’s the difference?  Dossiers, listings, galleries, images, mindmaps!  The possibilities are endless, but opening the program for the first time is overwhelming.

But it’s worth persevering with.  It really is.

There are tutorials, and I learned a lot from them, but I still had to sit back and think about the program, work out how to use it to my advantage.  This series of tutorials is the result.

So, lets start from the beginning.  The very beginning.  You have an idea, maybe a character or two, and you need to develop that into a story.  (Please note that I am a plotter.  If you are a panstser, you will probably be more interested in the tutorial on writing the first draft.)  One of the great strengths of LSB is that you can set the program up with different layouts, depending on what stage of writing you are at; brainstorming, first draft, revision etc.  More on that later.

So the first thing to do is open the program and create a new ‘book’.  Click on the ‘Library’ menu, then ‘Create New Book’.  Give your book a name.  It’s important NOT to call it ‘my WIP’ or ‘nameless’ or ‘SF draft’.  Give the thing a draft name, even if you can’t think of a decent title.  I’ve chosen ‘Dark’ for this book.

Think of the ‘book’ as the folder that holds all your work; your notes, character sketches, chapters etc.

Now, since we’re in the brainstorming stage, we want to set up an area for all of our preliminary work.  When I’m writing by hand, I use an A5 notebook.  In LSB, this notebook is called a ‘Builder’.  So let’s set up one of those.  In the ‘Create’ menu, choose ‘New Builder’.  Give it a name like worldbuilding or brainstorming or story development.  This builder will be open for the rest of your brainstorming session, and you’ll do the bulk of your work in there.  When you start writing though, you won’t use it much at all, except for reference.


The builder is actually a very powerful tool, and when we get further along with the writing, you’ll see what else you can do with it.

Next, we need somewhere to keep all those notes and ideas that you develop on the fly.  This is your scratchpad; in LSB, it’s called a ‘Note’.  So go into the ‘Create’ menu and choose ‘New Note’.  Call this scratchpad, or something else representative.

Next you’ll need a place to keep track of scenes as you think of them.  From the same menu, choose ‘New Outline’.  I called my outline ‘Scenes’.

Finally, we’re going to create a handy little tracker to keep tabs on all of our items.  Click on the ‘Files’ menu and choose ‘View Files’.


Now you’ll have a screen with four items on it.  They can all be moved and re-sized.  Shuffle them around until they fit.  I use the following layout:


I work on a 19 inch widescreen, so I can fit everything in a line.  You may have to stack windows if you work on a small screen.

The setup is simple; on the left, I have the file listing.  That’s one-click access to anything I have created.  By giving the items distinctive names that mean something to me, I know immediately what they are.

Next is the brainstorming window, where I will be doing the bulk of my work.  You can see I have entries for worldbuilding, character and plot.  Each of those entries is a file that I can fill with my ramblings as I work my way through ideas.

After that is the scenes list; as I think of scenes, I type them straight in.  Order doesn’t matter; you’ll develop these scenes into a storyboard later, just before you start to write.  And you can fiddle their position in the scene list by using the up/down arrows or indent  dependent scenes.  For now, it’s just a repository for my scene ideas.

Finally on the right is my scratchpad.  This is where I put in thoughts and questions that need further development.  When I’m happy with them, or ready to explore, I simple cut and paste into the builder.

Now that we’re set up, we can use one of the more powerful tools of LSB; workspaces.  Go into the ‘Workspace’ menu, and choose ‘Save Workspace’.  Call it preliminary work, or brainstorming; I usually use the same name as I used for the builder.  By the end of the novel, you’ll have workspaces for all sorts of things; brainstorming, writing, revising, plotting, character development.  Anything you can think of.  The strength of the workspace is that you can flip from working on the draft to developing characters with a single command.  When you’re ready to go back, choose the appropriate workspace and LSB will open all the items associated with that workspace.

At the bottom left of the screen are tabs for every item you currently have open.  So if you lose an item, check down there first.


At the bottom of the Builder you can see statistics for your session wordcounts and times.  I don’t find these useful when brainstorming, but when you come to writing, you can track your daily wordcounts and times.  Right click on the stats to turn the timer on and off.

You’ve got everything you need now to start developing your story.  Once you’re comfortable with using the setup, there are other items and tools you might find useful.

You can create a Dossier for each major character.  The dossiers are customisable character sheets, that you can make as simple or complex as you like.  You can even upload a pic of your character, if you do that sort of thing.  There are pre-set lists:


Or you can make your own, if you are into detailed character information.  I’m not, so I never use the dossiers.

There is a mindmap option; again, I don’t use this, as I prefer pen and paper and mad scribbling for mindmaps.  But if you are used to working with electronic mindmaps, it seems to be a reasonably functional item.

You can also make playlists of MP3 files on your computer if you like to listen to music as you write, and want a themed set of music to compose to.

Before you close the program, go into the ‘Library’ menu and choose ‘Create Desktop Shortcut’.  This will create a shortcut directly to your book.

So that’s my brainstorming setup in LSB.  When I open the program next, it goes straight to the last open workspace, and everything I need for my development sessions is right there in front of me.

The next tutorial will be taking my ideas and scenes list and turning it into a list of chapters, ready to write.

I hope you’ve found this demonstration useful; if you have any questions, please post them in the comments.

47 thoughts on “Liquid Story Binder Tutorial Part 1: setting up for brainstorming

  1. This was THE most awesome introduction to LSB. Thank you!! I’ve tried using the program with 3 other projects, each time giving up because i simply could not wade my way through the overwhelmingly nonintuitive interface. Even with the Black Obelisk Software tutorials for LSB, and the program’s own help section… i just could’t figure out how to make it work for me. Ugh.

    But here with this one single, straightforward post, you’ve made the software manageable, understandable, and incredibly useful. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  2. Yay! Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this! I’ve always thought LSB looked awesome and have downloaded the trial version a couple of times over the years, but always gave up because of the complexity. This year I was //determined// to use it for NaNoWriMo, and your tutorials have made all the difference.

    You’re a goddess! :)

  3. I downloaded Liquid Binder before finding your blog, and almost gave it up for too complicated. Thanks to you, I’m finding my way through it. THANK YOU!

  4. I followed your 2 main tutorials up until you did the video ones and now im totally confused.

    Like i have set mine up like yours with 2 workplaces


    Under brainstorming is

    file listing, brainstorming, scenes

    Under storyboarding is

    Filelisting, storyboard and scenes

    Now according to your new videos, do i just move into using the planner? and creating a table of contents

      • I think Jon has me confused with you Merrilee, heh. I made series of video tutorials on my blog regarding Liquid Story Binder XE. As far as I know, they’re the only video tutorials available on the web regarding the program. It’s by no means complete, but if anyone wants to check them out, they (and you as well) are welcome to them.

        I actually really like the way you structure your tutorials. I came across your blog when I searched though active tutorials on LSBXE. I had to follow a steep learning curve to the program for myself, so I wasn’t as fortunate to come across your blog while I was learning the program, but once I started to use it, it was really easy.

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