Written by Doug O'Neill

Plot lines and programming. Story arcs and software. Character development and computer applications. While not unheard-of, it’s not every day you encounter an entrepreneur who’s adept in all of these areas. But that apparent study in contrasts pretty much describes Tanya Gough, whose career path has traversed education, content management and technology. She’s also a published author who ran her own CD and video store in the early days of e-commerce. At one point in her career a typical day would find the solo entrepreneur installing finance software while also working on an educational catalog dedicated to all things Shakespeare.

“Logic and analytical skills have always been there. I’m the daughter of a mathematician and I once scored 115% in geometry class, but for various reasons I found a home in the world of English studies,” says Gough, who grew up in New Hampshire before moving to Toronto. 

It’s this specific blend of skills that has led Gough to create StoryBilder, a creative writing platform that simultaneously stimulates a writer’s imagination while providing all the tools and supports a budding scribe needs to write a book.

The StoryBilder platform, which Gough has developed singlehandedly, contains three parts: The StoryEngine, The Toolbox and The Library. As Gough explains: “The StoryEngine provides structure and/or guidance to writers who need such support, and advanced editing tools for freestylers. The platform also allows writers to borrow and share characters, maps and outlines.”

Educational, organizational and fun!

Gough, who found that other writing platforms failed on several fronts, spent three years developing a platform that met specific criteria: “I wanted the system to be adaptable. Writers can follow the prompts from beginning to end, or jump right in at the start, writing from scratch. And, perhaps it’s due to the teacher in me, I felt whatever platform I created had to be educational. I’ve actually encouraged people to think of StoryBilder as ‘training wheels for your book.’ For example, if you’re weak on structure, we can provide help with that. If you’re unfamiliar with story structure, the system prompts teach you what comes next in when writing a book.”

Drawing on first-hand lessons from her own book-publishing achievements, Gough determined early in the development process that the platform would need to deliver strong organizational components: “Imagine you’re writing a mystery novel and can’t remember who was in the room at the time of the crime, or where the characters have been, or better yet, which characters have already met. The visualizer component I’ve developed for StoryBilder can do that kind of work.”

And it had to be fun. “I think it can be instructive to take a chance when writing, be open to suggestions,” says Gough. “For instance, if a writer can’t decide whether they want their heroine to be blue-eyed or if a character should have an outlandish hair colour or not, the writer simply uses the randomizer and lets the StoryBilder build such story details.” Gough says the fun element can also unleash people’s creativity. StoryBilder users can access set storylines – and change them. The platform invites users to play, for instance, with the storyline of “King Lear” and potentially draft their own take on “Queen Lear and Her Three Daughters.”

Unleashing the creative juices

By no means is the Storybilder about filling out the appropriate boxes, selecting from pull-down menus and hitting ‘submit’ to generate a manuscript. “The approach of this platform is to be suggestive, never prescriptive,” says Gough. “I built StoryBilder to stimulate ideas, rather than limit them. We don't care if you deviate from the standard models we offer. But you are going to break the rules, you should do it for a reason that serves your story, not because you just didn't know any better.”

As a solo innovator, Gough has been able to draw on her extensive experience in content management, social media, interactive campaigns and her work on multi-platform projects for companies such as Research in Motion/BlackBerry. She’s also connected to the startup community in Toronto, where she’s learned from others while also sharing highlights from her own career path. “I’ve learned so many lessons as an entrepreneur over the years. Top of the list: Just do it. It’s the most important decision you’ll make. Whatever your concept or innovation is, do it – but in an intelligent and planned way. If you haven’t spent time thinking about the big picture, identify what work needs to be done, think about those issues first and then start.”

Gough also insists it’s imperative that solo entrepreneurs acknowledge the skills they have – and don’t have: “Do everything you can on your own – and then concentrate on filling in the skills you’re missing. Equally important: fill in the skills you don’t like. No one I know loves the accounting side of operating their own business, so get someone else to do it.  Do some serious thinking about what you’re going to outsource. I pay for legal expertise and for financial advice – but the rest I do myself.”

Next up for StoryBilder? Gough is launching a Kickstarter campaign (beginning April 9) to help with server costs as she moves the platform into the beta testing phase. Additional funds will be used to accelerate new features and app development. For details, visit www.storybilder.com

 Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real