OneNote for Authors: Drawing Tools

As an author who likes to write series, a tool to help me keep track of characters relationships in the form of a family tree-style chart is very helpful. OneNote meets some basic needs with drawing tools. I like Microsoft’s PowerPoint tools for this even more. I’ll cover both here today.

OneNote Drawing Tools

To create a family tree using only OneNote:

  1. Open OneNote
  2. Create a new page in the Notebook/Section you want your family tree saved (see OneNote Basics)
  3. Click the “Draw” menu at the top
  4. Creating the boxes for the names.
    1. In the “Shapes” section below the menus, select the rectangle shape.
    2. Click and drag on the OneNote page to draw the rectangle.
    3. Simple click inside the rectangle to type the character name
    4. Repeat steps 1-3 for each character
  1. Connect the boxes
    1. In the “Shapes” section below the menus, select the line.
    2. Click and drag between two rectangles (the ends of the line should connect to the boxes automatically)
    3. Repeat steps 1-2 until the tree is complete
*Note: I have Office 360. A full Office software suite may have more functionality than this.



PowerPoint Smart Art

OneNote’s option is great for basic charts. But if you want to get complicated or be able to easily expand or play around with things, I find Microsoft PowerPoint Smart Art to be a better option. Since I haven’t posted on PowerPoint yet, I’ll start with the very basic instructions. The “Apply Smart Art” section below is the key to this trick.

PPT change layoutGet a Slide Ready

  1. Open PowerPoint
  2. Click the “File” menu
  3. Select “New”
  4. Select “Blank Presentation”
  5. Click the “Home” menu if not already there
  6. Click the “Layout” button
  7. Select “Blank”

Type the Names of Your First Few Characters

  1. Click the “Insert” menu
  2. Click the “Text Box” button
  3. Click anywhere on the blank slide (a cursor should pop up)
  4. Start typing (Just the names of your first 3 characters or so.) Put a carriage return (hit enter) after each name.PPT smart art

Apply Smart Art

  1. With your cursor still in the text box
  2. Click the “Convert to SmartArt” button
  3. For family trees, select the basic tree chart graphic from those that are in the dropdown (you can play with look and type later)
  4. Your list of characters will switch from just text to text inside boxes

Create Levels/Lines

  1. To move a character to a “child” level…
  2. If you click on the boxes of names, a new box will appear to the side called “Type Your Text Here” with all your characters listed
  3. Click to put your cursor in front of the child.
  4. Hit the tab key to move them out a level (like an outline)
  5. PowerPoint automatically drops the box down and draws the lines to the above boxes for you

Finish Your Tree

This is where it gets fun. In that “Type Your Text Here” box add the rest of your characters. Use tabbing to put them in outline format (more tabs means more levels of generations). PowerPoint will do all the work organizing the boxes and lines. Awesome right?

PPT smart art editing

I will typically save my family tree in PowerPoint. But once I’m satisfied, I will copy and paste it into OneNote with all the rest of my research and preparation for a story. I hope that this is helpful to you in your writing and note-taking as you move forward!


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