Novel Writing Software

I’m about to start a novel that will have some complex characters and an intricate plot. After hearing writers sing the praises of Scrivener, which is a Mac only application, I’ve been looking for something that will do the same thing on a PC.

I’d like to be able to create an outline, character files, plot files, the text of various chapters, notes, random ideas, and of course the text of the novel, and have it all available on one screen. It should be easy to jump from one thing to another and if I change something – say, the position of the scene or the name of a file, everything should update automatically. I want to be able to add margin notes, like “research this” or “sounds clumsy, rewrite” and get to them quickly. All that stuff should be on a sidebar, or otherwise easily accessible. And when it’s finished I need to be able to export the manuscript to Word.

I tried Liquid Story Binder. There are a plethora of options – binders, planners, storyboards, etc – but they all look the same. Once the window is open you can’t tell what it is. I can’t figure out how to link things – nothing in the program is intuitive. The instruction manual is a joke. Even worse, the second time I loaded it, the files I started with are gone, and so is the example book that came with it. They’re listed on the file menu, but won’t come up. Since I don’t plan on writing the entire novel in one sitting, the program is useless.

Next I tried Keeper, which appears to be better, but has one fatal flaw: New pages are titled “Untitled 1,” “Untitled 2,” etc, and there’s no way to change it! It also keeps everything, including the example files. Evidently once you put something in there you’re supposed to keep it forever. Since I’m not writing about Sparta or the Greek Pantheon of Gods (the samples that came with it), I don’t need those in the sidebar. But they’re there, evidently, forever. At least until I uninstall the program, which I’ll be doing soon.

I’ve found lots of other similar software out there, but rather than spend days looking at various programs to find one that might do the trick, I’m asking you fine folks for advice. Is there any fiction writing software you’d recommend?

Two other requirements: It has to have a free trial download, and it can’t be too expensive (no more than $50 or so).

18 Comment(s)

  1. Well, this isn’t exactly for Novel writing, more for script writing. But it has many of the elements you are looking for. And it’s Open Source.

    Chris | Jul 16, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks, I’ll check it out.

    Dave Hitt | Jul 16, 2009 | Reply

  3. Celtix is the kind of thing I’m looking for, but the real power is in script writing, which locks you into a script format. There is a plain text document, but when you use that you lose the ability to link to anything. I haven’t given up on it entirely, but I don’t think it’s going to do the trick. We’re in the right church, wrong pew.

    Dave Hitt | Jul 16, 2009 | Reply

  4. WriteItNow or Storybook is probably what you’re looking for. Storybook is free and open source. WriteItNow has a free demo but costs 59.95. Check them out here:

    Secret Agent X9 | Jul 21, 2009 | Reply

  5. Write it now has a demo that doesn’t allow saves. Idiots. I don’t have a problem with time limits or page limits (as long as they’re long enough to let you put something through it’s paces) but never bother with something that won’t let me save.

    Storybook is only missing an editor, but it looks like it’s got everything else I want. I’ve been using Celtix to keep track of things, but I think Storybook will do a better job. Thanks. (And keep those recommendations coming.

    Hittman | Jul 23, 2009 | Reply

  6. I have found a great software in called ywriter5. It is totally free and makes it easy to keep track of everything on one screen. I use it when I compete in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

    Will | Jul 29, 2009 | Reply

  7. I’ve tried yWriter 5, and that’s the winner. I like the layout and the organization, and have used it to track everything I’ve written so far. It’s so handy when you need to find the name of a minor character or a reference to a specific event.

    It has a text editor, like most of these programs do, but it’s pretty primitive (again, like most of these programs). I’m still using Word for writing, switching to yWriter to retrieve information or update something.

    Dave Hitt | Sep 4, 2009 | Reply

  8. I agree that writing is mostly in your head, but some of us need a systemized option to layout out writing projects. Being able to have you ideas in front of you and manuverable is an advantage.

    Allen Daniels | Jun 2, 2010 | Reply

  9. Dismissing something as a “scam” because it doesn’t fit your idea of how something should be done is a remarkably narrow view — not to mention smacking of defensiveness.

    For myself, I find that after chapter 7 or 8 (which might mean 15 to 30 scenes), it gets a little difficult just to navigate around in the book, much less write it. So something like Scrivener can be extremely helpful.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything on Windows that’s as helpful. YWriter comes closest, but it’s hampered by a cluttered UI.

    eric | Jun 24, 2010 | Reply

  10. As far as actual software, I’ve been surprised to learn that a number of these programs seem to work very hard to hide how you actually create or edit the text of your work.

    StorYBook is a case in point. I can start it up and see how it organizes work pretty easily; I can create new scenes; I can place these scenes into new chronological orders. What I can’t figure out how to do is actually edit the scenes (apart from a small edit box attached to the scene summary).

    Dead loss. Total waste of the time spent evaluating it. Others do the same thing, but I don’t have their names offhand.

    As I’ve said, on Windows, yWriter is the best I’ve tried. On a Mac it was Scrivener, and yWriter comes closest to that. So maybe people should go out and pay Hal money for yWriter so he feels like it’s worth his while to spend more time on that instead of writing books…nah, it was just a thought. (That is the downside of yWriter: Hal seems to be a pretty competent professional software developer, but — like any dedicated writer — he’d rather be writing. So you get what improvements he is willing to make time to make.)

    eric | Jun 24, 2010 | Reply

  11. Get someone else to edit? That’s like chopping out the first 1/4 of a sculpture and having someone else finish it.

    Writing is editing, and rewriting, and editing, and rewriting some more. Having someone else do the COPY editing, the proofreading, is a good idea, and something most of us need. But unless you’re that one in ten million writers who gets it perfect the first time through, editing IS writing.

    Hittman | Jun 24, 2010 | Reply

  12. Skip MS/Word ($400.00 a copy) and use the superior FREE totally compatible Open Office Writer. It does everything the MS product does, and it’s entirely FREE. I use it for everything and don’t have to pay Mr. Gates one red cent.

    Excellent / professional / Free


    Curtiss | Aug 16, 2010 | Reply

  13. So what’s the verdict? Was yWriter the true champion? I have a couple of stories in my head, but have a difficult time getting them written down because the project overwhelms me. I am looking for something that will allow me to focus on smaller chunks at a time. Once I have the outline and the major scenes, I think that I could arrange it all and tie it all together. I hope.

    I am not a professional writer. I have written a couple of short stories just to get them out of my head, and now it’s time to do the same with a couple larger scale projects. Doing the important scenes and smoothly transitioning between them in a logical chronology is something I can do. Trying to do that within a giant block of text is where I lose my resolve. I never even heard about authoring software until very recently. This may be the pole I need to vault this beast.

    So again…was it ywriter?

    Martin | Feb 8, 2011 | Reply

  14. I went with yWriter for the first draft. It was very helpful in keeping the time-lines and characters, especially minor characters, consistent.

    The novel is finished, but it very much sucks, and needs a complete re-write. I just started playing with Scrivner for windows, which is a beta version, for the re-write.

    Hittman | Feb 8, 2011 | Reply

  15. Thanks.

    As for Arrogance XII Pope of All Writing, I think he’s missing a very important aspect of this discussion. I am not, and don’t believe anyone else is, looking for a program to write fir me. I am looking for a tool to help me organize my ideas and take on the monumental task of writing a novel in much smaller, more manageable chunks.

    Did Shakespeare, Faulkner, or Heinlein use such a tool? No. Would they have, had they had it available? Probably.

    How many awesome stories did we miss out on because the story tellers whose heads they were in weren’t wired in such a way as to allow them to write coherently for hours and days and weeks and, well YEARS at a time?

    Write, write, write! I hear it and read it all the time, and believe it. But my brain simply does not lend itself to sustained writing, nor does the flow of my life. For all that I get a ton of words typed in a given month! Emails, blog entries, blog comments, work, play, and recreation, I write an awful lot!

    The reason I began hunting for a piece of software to aid me, was that I think that I can write email sized chunks at a time and then worry about gluing the scenes together here and there. Once I have the majority of the important scenes finally committed to print, I can focus on transitionary scenes to make it flow, chronological notes to help it make sense, and then, with luck a first draft that I can edit or get edited, and maybe someday we will look back on this thread as the impetus to my entrance into the ranks of authors :)

    Hopefully, when I am published and am at work on my second book, I won’t be as arrogant and snotty as that SOB that you wisely banished from your blog.

    Thanks again for the info and encouragement.

    Martin | Feb 12, 2011 | Reply

  16. He’s been posting two or three messages a day here, each one snottier and goofier than the last, and I’ve been deleting them as soon as I see them. I can only guess what kind of pathology drives this guy. I’m not well versed in psychological disorders, but I’m guessing someone who was would diagnose it has a combination of jealousy combined with anger issues and being fucking nuts.

    It’s rumored that Tolstoy had dolls set up on his desk representing his characters, and when he killed one of them he’d knock the doll over, to help him keep track. Mark Twain was enthralled with the typewriter, and bought one as soon as it was available, singing the praises of this wonderful machine that let him write more than he could before. I know some writers who like to write their first draft in longhand with a fountain pen – the feel of the pen on the paper inspires them. Others eschew word processors in favor of an old typewriter. Still others use index cards to arrange every scene before tackling the novel. Every one of them has made the correct choice – for them. Just as a chef may have a favorite knife no one else likes (not that he’d ever allow anyone else to touch it) or a carpenter may always reach for the same worn hammer, an artist’s tools are a very personal thing. Any “writer” who insists their method of writing and the tools they chose are the only legitimate ones is a non-artist, a wannabe, a failed writer, and a useless hack with nothing worthwhile to offer anyone else.

    Dave Hitt | Feb 12, 2011 | Reply

  17. I have both yWriter and Storybook installed but I don’t know which one to use. Can you tell me which one is better please?

    Ishaat | Aug 22, 2011 | Reply

  18. I’ve discovered that Scrivner is the choice for most writing pros. They used to be just on the Mac, but now they’ve got a Windows version. It’s in the last phases of it’s beta test, and you can get it at their site for free, for now. When the trial runs out it’s about forty bucks, a real deal.

    I’ve been using it all through their beta, and it’s great. I never used Storybook (although I think I tried it briefly.) I used yWriter quite a bit, but Scrivner blows it out of the water.

    You can find it here:

    Hittman | Aug 23, 2011 | Reply

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