In both 2009 and 2010, I successfully completed the NaNoWriMo challenge. Each of those years I produced 50,000 words of original fiction. My 2010 entry actually completed the story, which I’m currently editing.
I thought it might help to investigate some of the many software packages available for writers of fiction, to see if these would help guide me through the planning phases of my novel writing and perhaps help me to better flesh out my ideas.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve become aware of many software tools of value to fiction writers (some of these include Windows, Linux, and Macintosh versions, others are Windows only). The Fiction and Novel Writing Software List below is the result of my research:
- Black Obelisk Software’s “Liquid Story Binder”: This Windows-only application is rather daunting for first-time users. It incorporates character dossiers, timelines, storyboards, journals, outlines mind maps, and more. It probably has every tool you would want, and although I own two licenses to it (long story, involving keeping bad records) I’ve yet to actually really learn it.
- Richard Salsbury’s (no relation) “RoughDraft”: This is a donationware word processor designed for writers. Richard stopped development on it in December 2009.
- Anthemion Software’s “Writer’s Café”: This application promises to include “everything you need to write fiction”. It features drag and drop cards to help you lay out a storyline, auto-formatting for screenplays, various built-in writing resources like writing prompts and an e-book of author Harriet Smart’s writing experiences.
- Write Brothers’ “Dramatica Pro 4.0”: I purchased an inexpensive copy of this from eBay a few weeks ago. I’ve decided to use its StoryGuide feature to make the first cut through my NaNoWriMo 2010 novel idea. I may supplement with other software later.
- Typing Chimp Software’s “Character Writer”: This looks like a pretty helpful tool for fleshing out a fictional character. It asks questions about the character’s mental health, personality type, psychology, childhood, dialogue style, relationships, etc..
- Space Jock Software’s “yWriter5”: This free software, created by an author, helps a writer track characters, chapters, scenes, locations, etc..
- StoryCraft: This software has been on the market for 15 years, and purportedly guides you through the story development process, helps outline it, improve character development, etc..
- Ravenshead Services’ “WriteItNow”: Includes storyboarding, monitoring your progress against writing targets, a thesaurus, a built-in editor, a “tree view” look at your work, and character profiles.
- StyleWriter: This application is a “style and usage checker” for writers that plugs into Microsoft Word on Windows. It looks for things like jargon, abstract words, passive verbs, clichés, and long sentences.
- Write Brain’s “PowerWriter”: This program includes integrated outlining, story development tools, integrated dictionary and thesaurus, and integrated storage of research.
- Write Brain’s “Power Structure”: This software is supposed to encourage writers to think through their stories. It helps the writer graphically analyze the evolution of conflicts in the story, organize story points in an index card style view, and supposedly acts as a “playground of the mind” for exploring the story you’re writing.
- NewNovelist: This product claims that you can use it to write a novel “your way” whether that means starting with the characters, the ending, or something in the middle. There isn’t a lot of detail about the software on the site, but there are a lot of linked reviews and testimonials from people who have used it. (I reviewed the 2.0 version on this site.)
- Fahim Farook’s “PlotCraft”: Described as a “complete idea/research management database utility for writers” this free software allows you to storage and save ideas for later use, including hyperlinks and images.
- Storybook: This free, open source software helps a writer organize characters, story strands, locations, and other details. It features a chronological view of the story, as well as a “book” view and “chapter/scene” view.
- Anthemion Software “Storylines”: This looks like it may be a defunct product, from the same folks who produce Writer’s Café. It is a storyboarding tool that helps organize the plot of a fictional story. My biggest gripe about this software is it’s appearance. It reminds me of one of those “child’s computer desktop” packages that tries to simulate a computer inside an application.
- Ashley Software’s “Writer’s Blocks 3”: Claiming to be “The Smartest Way to Write”, this software encourages the writer to create “blocks” of text that can be rearranged to better structure the story. It helps outline, organize research, structure the content, and more.
- wikidPad: This free open source software is designed to be a “wiki-like notebook” for storing thoughts, ideas, lists, contacts, etc. on your computer. It features text auto-completion, document history, auto save, search and replace, export to HTML, and more.
- WordWeb: This software is offered in free and Pro versions. It is described as a “comprehensive one-click English thesaurus and dictionary for Windows”. It can look up words, show their definitions, synonyms, and related words. It also includes pronunciations and usage examples.
- WriteSparks: This software can reportedly generate over 10 million story ideas to help you come up with a story idea when you need one. (I haven’t had any trouble with that so far.)
- Fahim Farook’s “WriteTrack”: This is a submission-tracking tool for writers, to help them keep a handle on where they’ve submitted their work, when, etc..
- Spacejock Software’s “yEdit”: This looks like an ideal tool for NaNoWriMo. You set a target number of words to write, and the software tracks your progress toward that goal. It’s free of charge, too.
- WriteWay Pro: Includes book organization, outlining, composition, dictionary, thesaurus, notecards, character profiles and templates, word/page count tracking, reports and statistics, storyboarding, research folders, and more.
- Celtx: This software is described as “the world’s first all-in-one media pre-production system”. It includes screenplay, stageplay, AV script, audio play, comic book, and plain text editors. It contains storyboarding, sketching, document management, and more. Although aimed at screenwriters, it’s of value to all kinds of writers. I’ve seen this one being sold on eBay.
- The Literary Machine: This software is described as a “dynamic archive and an idea management tool aimed at creative thinking” for writers.
- Outline 4D for Windows: Outlining software for fiction, playwriting, and screenwriting.
- Literature and Latte’s Scrivener: This software, a product of Literature and Latte Ltd., is my current tool of choice for novel writing activities. While the current version is Mac-only, there are free public betas of Windows and Linux (at the bottom of the Windows page) versions available as of April 2011. I posted a review of the Scrivener for Windows beta on the site.
- Dramatica Pro: This software is kind of “story brainstorming on steroids”. You start by making some selections about the kind of story you want to write, and Dramatica helps guide you through the plotting and characterization to produce a well-fleshed-out story.
- Sol Stein’s WritePro: Helps you flesh out characters, plot, etc.
- Fiction Master: A more-advanced version of WritePro.
- Book Writer: A word processor for creative writers.
- StoryView: Outlining software for writers.
- Serenity Software’s Editor: Proofreading and style checking tool for writers.
- Ashleywilde Software’s Storybase: Given information about your characters and their mindsets, it generates a list of plot ideas you might want to use. They are currently beta testing an online version of the tool: Storybase.net
- MasterWriter: Word/phrase finding software which claims to help you find the right word or phrase for any situation.
- Melanie Ann Philips’ Storyweaver: Provides step by step guidance to completing a story.
- Storyist: Mac-only story development software
- StoryO: Story development software that resembles index cards
- Storymind Software’s Master Storyteller: Having not actually used it, and not seeing a lot of detail on the vendor’s web site, it looks like a set of “flash cards” with tips and tricks to help you tell stories better. They describe it as a set of interactive exercises.
And there are probably many more out there with which I’m not familiar. It would be a very easy thing for a fledgling novelist to get bogged down for months examining and trying out all this software… and not actually doing any writing. As a computer and gadget geek, I’m doubly susceptible to this. I’ve had to be careful not to spend all my time trying to find the “right” package and actually do some WRITING with the tools.
There are also many excellent free and open source writing tools that you may find valuable.
Over the next few weeks and months, I hope to take the time to at least “play around” with each of the above packages (and any others I encounter). When I feel that I have a firm enough grasp on any of them to be able to review it competently, I’ll share my thoughts here.
I’ve spent the most time with Dramatica Pro 4.0 so far, so it’s likely I’ll cover that one next.
One program I am finding very useful is Microsoft OneNote 2010. As I read useful writing tips or come up with story ideas I want to pursue, I drop them into OneNote.
In any case, the above list may be helpful to you if you’re looking for some software to add structure and organization to your fiction writing efforts.