Writing Program Review: Campfire Pro

Back in April (what feels like a lifetime ago), I wrote up a review on the yWriter program I’ve been using for writing-related projects. As I go through making revisions for my current WiP, I decided now is a good time to take a look at Campfire Pro and how useful it’s been for both the first draft and the revising process.

Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by or affiliated in any way with Campfire Pro. This is just my personal opinion on the successes and failings of this particular program. For the purposes of this review, I should also note that I have the most recent version of Campfire Pro + Worldbuilding Pack available right now.

Previously, I had kept all of this information on a Google Site, where I kept information organized as best as I could through pages and subpages. It was a decent system, although visually lacking. I liked the Sites because it was online and because it was easy to link information and locate any details I’d put on there. I also lagged in updating the information, however, so oftentimes I’d find I’d forgotten to put something on the Site and would have to go track it down in my current draft or perhaps even in a previous one. I was hoping Campfire Pro would solve at least a few of these issues.

Campfire Pro is a vast program, one that’s supposed to be serviceable for anyone who needs to keep a lot of story-related information in a single place, whether that’s for a book or a D&D campaign or whatever other use you may find for it. I was introduced to the program through a sponsorship from one of my favorite bookish YouTubers, Daniel Greene.

It is not a free program, but it is a single-purchase one. You can get a free 10-day trial that includes all functions including the advanced world-building pack. After the ten days, you can buy the Campfire Pro for $49.99, or you can buy the Campfire Pro+World-Building pack for $74.98. This is all listed on the Campfire Technology’s website.

The Program Has a Plethora of Usability Options, Even Without the Worldbuilding Pack.

Campfire Pro is a one-stop shop for essentially every single piece of information you may need to refer to during your project. For writers, the only thing it’s missing is a place to write. Not only can you keep track of characters and plot, but you can also track the character’s arc progression throughout the story. And while the Worldbuilding Pack has plenty to offer, one could make do without it by including the details on the maps found in the World tab.

Campfire menu; yellow tabs are foundational elements while red build off of elements created in the yellow tabs.

Some functions can stand alone, while others draw from one or more other functions. That is something that can be a little frustrating with the program. To use it to its fullest purpose, one would need to invest a lot of time in it to make sure it has accurate, in-depth, up-to-date information… time that could otherwise be spent writing.


Characters

Example of a character sheet, pulled from the Campfire Pro tutorial page. Click to expand.

The character page held a lot of promise. There’s a lot of random information that could be compiled there. More than that, it promised a way to make things neat and organized, which is something that I want above all when it comes to all things related to my stories. Characters could be sorted into folders (I did mine based on their primary location), and you can also save particular page templates so that minor characters have less detail on their pages than main characters.

But, and this is across the board for the entire program, while the boxes allow for all kinds of rearranging and size changing, it doesn’t have an automatic suggestion as to the size or placement of an element box. Which… is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does require manually moving every single box that you want to switch. It’s a hassle. Still, even having a place where I could compile my characters and any known information about them made it easy to refer back to, especially for the minor characters, and that will always be a godsend.

Example of a relationship web, pulled from the Campfire Pro tutorial page. Click to expand.

As for the relationships, well…I think that for some types of stories, it might work. I actually have another work in progress where the relationship web would likely come in handy. I’d be much happier if there was a template for family tree type relationship webs, one more structured rather than the fluidity of its current state. Again, I think it just depends on what you’re intending on using it for.


Timeline

Example of a timeline sheet, pulled from the Campfire Pro tutorial page. Click to expand.

The timeline is slightly simpler in function. It offers two specific features: events and dividers. I created an event for every scene in my novel, and used the dividers as a way to keep track of the dates (rather than the acts, or even the chapters). The events can be expanded upon to add more in-depth information. If you plan to utilize the character arcs function, you need to add a list of characters present in the scene.

For me, though, it was enough to use the timeline simply to visualize the scenes as they were laid out, to kind of help me keep track of the overall arc of the narrative. Even when my characters were off gallivanting elsewhere, I knew what trouble was brewing at home, and kept in mind how it all needed to tie together.

Example of a character arcs sheet, pulled from the Campfire Pro tutorial page. Click to expand.

As for the character arcs tab, I wound up not using it. It looks really cool and useful, but it’s not exactly beneficial for me to spend time on it. I have a pretty good sense of where my characters are and what they’re feeling at any given moment, and as I said, it’s a lot of time to invest–both in filling out the timeline event info as well as the character arc info (and making a list of which character traits need to be included). It seems like it would at least be most useful for the main characters, who get the most page-time and whose arcs probably change the most, but you will also have to fill out all of that information for each event, and since they do get the most page-time, that’ll be a lot of events to fill.


World

I found some use with this tab. I already had a map that I had hand-drawn early on in the writing process. Often, what can happen, for me at least, is that I find myself needing to move certain pieces of my map, and it’s hard to do once it’s already on the paper. So I used the locations and moved them wherever I needed them to go.

It’s also nice that you can add multiple maps and stack them on top of each other. The maps appear as a box (the size is customizable) with the name of the map on the box, but then once you click on it, it shows the new map. Stacking maps is different from adding locations, as a location, like an event, is simply a place to collect details.

The Encyclopedia

This is the only feature I have not touched at all. I’m not sure what function it is supposed to hold when set next to the others. The last thing I want is to have to track down information. I haven’t yet come across any details where it’s unclear if it’s best placed in character or timeline or world, and I’d much rather keep everything all in one place.

To be fair, the Encyclopedia is not part of the Worldbuilding Pack, and for those of you who don’t want to pay for the extra features (which I will get into shortly), the Encylopedia could very easily serve the same function without needing to hand over the extra cash. I just cannot speak to it because it’s not a feature that I have used.

Notes

I shouldn’t waste space on this feature. It’s a little icon on the bottom right of the window (though not shown in any of the Campfire’s example photos; it may be a relatively recent added feature). If the notes were tied to specific pages, they might be far more useful, but right now, it is a simple text box whose text will appear no matter what page your on. So, for example, rather than being able to jot down some quick notes on a specific character, or even just characters in general, if you write “X character to feel sad after Y event”… that note is going to be what pops up even if you’re on the World page. Which is obviously unnecessary.

What the Worldbuilding Pack Offers

World-building pack features

As you can see on the left, there are a variety of features that one gets with the world-building pack add-on. Some may be more useful than others depending on the nature of the story you are writing. For example, if you’ve read my setting study of A Song Below Water, you know there are several mythical creatures that walk the earth, so author Bethany C. Morrow probably could have used the species feature.

My current work-in progress doesn’t have any fantastical creatures. It does, however, still have magic, and I used that feature not only to define the various types of magic a character can possess, but also notable ways that it can be used. Additionally, I used the religions and languages features, but most of the information included there, I already had typed out elsewhere and in greater detail.

The feature I wound up using the most was the cultures. In fact, it was probably one of the things I visited most frequently within Campfire. Although I would have preferred some way to organize the information a little better, it was easy for me to add and edit whatever details I wanted, and for the most part, it was easy for me to locate those details again when I needed to refer back to something. I made one page per country. Like with pretty much every other tab, there are ways to easily create a template, and folders, so one could theoretically make a folder for each country and thereby break the information down into separate pages so it’s easier to keep track of everything.

I cannot speak to the philosophies, systems, or items features, as I did not use them. The philosophies seemed redundant, as theoretically most authors could just clump the philosophies in as part of their religions. Systems are to be used for governments, organizations, and so forth, but that was only made clear from the website and I learned about it far too late for it to be of much use. And again, there were no items in my story worth listing. I think that several of these features are either redundant or too niche to be worthwhile for most people.

Learning Curves and Usability

Difficulty Learning

Considering the extensive functionality that the program tries to cover, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a learning curve for Campfire. I never felt like I wanted to pull out my hair for struggling to make sense of the program, yet it’s very easy for a beginner to stick with the basics, perhaps not making full use of the program. Luckily, there are both webpages and videos designed to help inspire creators to take full advantage of Campfire.

Overall Design

Speaking aesthetically, I will say that the program looks good. It makes a difference. It makes me want to keep going back to use it. There are only two adjustments that I think would better the design. Firstly: many programs that rely heavily on design (examples: website makers like Wix and graphic design platforms like Canva) often work intuitively with the user to help them line up or adjust the size of different elements so that it doesn’t look all wonky.

Secondly: in the most recent update, Campfire added a toolbar to the bottom of the window. It serves the same function as the menu above, and there is no way to move it, which means it can block the view of some of the text elements located near the bottom of the screen. If there was a way to minimize it, or simply to remove it, I think Campfire would function better for it.

State of Recommendation

Overall, I would say that Campfire can be an incredibly useful tool if one is willing to invest the time and money into it. I do also think one could find Google Sites to be as effective, especially for the more basic functions (i.e. the character and setting details, especially.) It’s also worth pointing out that, should one decide they’d only want to use specific functions of Campfire (perhaps just the character set, or the setting, or whatever), they are due to release Campfire Blaze in November, where the plan will be far more customizable, but Blaze will be subscription rather than one-time purchase.

If you’re questioning whether or not Campfire Pro is worth the cost, it boils down to how detailed you like to get in your writing. If you’re a fantasy or even sci-fi writer, I would definitely recommend the free ten-day trial. I don’t even think they asked for any payment information to download, so I don’t think they’ll charge you if you forget to cancel by the end of the ten days. Personally, even if you’re an avid world-builder like I am, I might recommend you try out the program without the Worldbuilding Pack and see if the Encyclopedia is serviceable in its stead.

The Campfire Technology team is constantly working on new and old, so I think we can expect great things to come out of it, whether it’s updates to the Campfire Pro or the launch of Blaze.

If you’re familiar with Campfire Pro, please feel free to share your thoughts down in the comments… Whatever you liked or disliked about it, whether you found it useful overall.


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