Splitting Text Threads: Separating Stories (with and without script)

Question: Can InDesign split a story threaded through text frames in two while leaving the text in the current frames?

Short Answer: There is a script that can do this, and there is a simple process to do it manually as well.

Introduction

In most ways, InDesign excels at managing text flow. it is easy to thread text through a series of frames, and even see the flow by showing text threads (look for “Show Text Threads” in the View menu; depending on your version it will be in a different sub menu). You can even break the connection between threaded frames by clicking the out-port of a frame and then clicking that same frame; the text becomes overset in the frame and the connection to the next frame is broken.

In InDesign there is a clear separation between the content (the text) and container (the frames). Deleting, resizing, or rethreading the containers (frames) will have no affect on the content (text). Many beginning users have expressed frustration when trying to delete unwanted text by deleting a threaded text frame, only to see the text pop up in the next frame in the thread. The only way to change the content is to edit the text with the type tool, or to delete every frame in the entire thread which of course deletes all the text too.

A Tool for an Imperfect World

Occaisionally we don’t realized text would be more easily managed as two or more separate stories until after we have laid it out. In this situation, what we’d like to do is sever the text thread while simultaneously separating the text into two different stories. InDesign does not have a tool that can easily do this.

In a perfect world, we’d always know beforehand that the text would be best managed in individual pieces. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s impossible to know. We’re importing somebody’s messy word document and designing the template as we go along; several hours down the road we realize it would be nice if several of those fully formatted text blocks were a bit more independent. If that’s ever happened to you, and if you struggled with the best way to resolve the issue, then this article is for you!

Custom Script (or Manual Process) to Split Stories

Remember, separation of content and container. There are actually 2 things that must be done here: (1) the threading of the text frames must be broken, and (2) the text content from the original story must be cut and pasted as a second story into the other set of frames. These two steps can be done manually or can be automated through the use of a script.

The script was developed by Adi Ravid and is available at the Adobe Exchange. It allows splitting of all frames in a story, splitting before selected frame, or splitting after selected frame. I’ve used it in CS4 and CS5 (not yet in 5.5) and it has worked perfectly.

In my experience, the easiest way to do this manually is as follows:

  1. Break the text thread between the frames by clicking the out-port of the last frame in the first story, then clicking that same frame. All the remaining text becomes overset, and the rest of the frames are now empty, ready to receive the new story.
  2. Edit the story in Story Editor (click in the text with the type tool, go to the Edit menu, choose “Edit in Story Editor”).
  3. You’ll see that all the overset text is clearly marked and easy to select in the Story Editor. Select and cut it. Close the Story Editor.
  4. Paste the text into the empty frames.
In essence, this is what the script is doing for you automatically. It breaks the thread, selects and cuts the overset text, and then pastes that text into the empty frames. If you need to do this often, then the script will save you time; however, if you plan your documents well, hopefully yo won’t need to do this often!

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11 Responses to Splitting Text Threads: Separating Stories (with and without script)

  1. Tryon Wilson September 30, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    “We’re importing somebody’s messy word document and designing the template as we go along; several hours down the road we realize it would be nice if several of those fully formatted text blocks were a bit more independent.”

    Thank you for the article,, that is the exact problem I have been having for hours with this program….
    I tried to move the pages in the page panel, and it made havoc of the text frame lines…. there should be a “story break” option that you could simple stop the story just like a page break. then the next text box would just pick up a new story line.. Why that is not there I don’t know??? Adobe needs to fix it!

    • Paul Erdman September 30, 2011 at 9:47 am #

      Yes, I agree. This has been commonly requested of Adobe for many years. I believe they fear it would cause confusion, as there is a clear separation of container and content in InDesign; generally, deleting breaking apart containers has no effect on the content. You’re asking Adobe to break that rule. I think it could be done in a way that would avoid confusion (a special tool, with a “are you sure you want to do this” pop-up, etc.) but they have yet to do so. Until then, use one of the solutions presented here or elsewhere on the web.

  2. Kathryn September 29, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Wow, you just got me out of a nasty revision/rewriting tangle on InDesign CS4 with these simple, clear instructions (4-step process for splitting stories, above).
    Bless you! Thank you! And bless Google too for getting me to your post.

  3. Gerard Scortino November 13, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    Thank you for this tip and the link tot he script it worked perfectly for me using Windows 7 and CS5 In-Design. I have a word doc of 96 pages that I imported and had to break it into 6 chapters this helped immensely. Thank you Keep the tips coming.

  4. Jeremy December 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    This would be a simple command for them to add without any confusion. Just make the action as simple as thread one frame to another but use a modifier or combination of modifiers while simply double-clicking the thread. This could simply run the script. It could allow all text frames to be split or another modifier to just split two.

    • Paul Erdman January 2, 2013 at 10:50 am #

      There have been many requests for Adobe to add this functionality as a standard feature. The response, as I understand it, is the developers are concerned that the added complexity could cause confusion.

  5. Flavia January 29, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Hello! I’m doing a bilingual book, and I want the english text to flow on the right (odd) pages, and the french text to flow on the left (even) pages. How do I tell InDesign to flow the texts this way? I can’t create a “two-spread Master Page”, so I can link odd to odd and even to even pages… Please, help!

    • Paul Erdman January 30, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

      Hmm…can’t say I’ve ever tried to do that before. Unfortunately I don’t believe InDesign is really intended to work that way. However, I think I have a few ideas on how to make something work, but they might be version specific–so I need to know what version of InDesign you’re using before I test out a few of them. I’m curious to see if I can make something work for you.

      • Paul Erdman February 4, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

        After some testing using “allow pages to shuffle” and other obsure settings, I’ve decided that the easiest way to do this is simply keep facing pages turned on, use a regular master page, but then manually set up pages and text frames. This is pretty easily done, if you do it all at once and use the “semi-automatic flow” feature.

        • Click the Out Port of the last text frame in your story to get your loaded text cursor
        • hold the option/alt key. You’ll notice the symbol on the loaded text cursor turns to a dotted curvey arrow. This means semi-automatic.
        • scroll down to the next page and, while holding option/alt, click (don’t drag) right on the top margin of the page. InDesign will create a text frame that fills the margins. Because you were using semi-automatic flow by holding alt/option, you’ll see you still have the loaded text cursor
        • just scroll down to the next page and repeat. You can quickly do many pages this way, even if they’re currently empty.
        • Work your way through all the threaded left-hand pages, then go back and to the right-hand pages.
        • Now you’re ready to begin filling the frames with your text. The text will go where it’s supposed to, because the frames are already there.
        • If you need to break the text thread (and in case you don’t already know how) simply click on a text frame’s out port to get the loaded text cursor, then click back inside that same text frame (telling InDesign that the text shouldn’t go out of the frame, but should just stay put!). That will break the thread.

  6. Fixx April 2, 2015 at 1:18 am #

    I think if you copy and paste a text frame it is identical to original EXCEPT there is no more threading. So if you replace original frames with copied ones they are independent frames.

  7. Pame July 27, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    I’ve been using your manual process A LOT! Thanks so much, it works perfectly.

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