Six impossible things

Tools of the Trade, part 2

So I’m still poking through all the programs for writers. Storybook turned out to be another one that was more of a planner than a writing program, which shouldn’t have surprised me, since it bills itself as a writing organizer. If I wanted a separate one of these, I think I’d really like it. I think it would be especially good for a multiple-viewpoint, ensemble-cast, multiple-storyline book, as it allows you to track which characters are in which places (as well as which characters are in which scenes, which a lot of other programs do). And the program is free under the GNU license.

I rather liked MyNovel. It’s a free demo, pay $35 if you like it program. Unlike some of the earlier things I looked at, I had no trouble finding the word-processing part, which has a full-screen button and exports in useful file formats. I also liked having all my neatly organized notes available on a popup screen at one side whenever I wanted them, and I really liked being able to link characters to each other, to important places, and to events, independent of whether they were linked to particular scenes. I wasn’t quite as fond of the forms it wanted you to fill out for each character, but there weren’t a lot of required fields.

This one had a “diagrams” page rather than a corkboard, which I also liked because it seemed to be more flexible than the corkboards I’ve used. I could draw a geneaology chart as easily as I could shift chapters around. I rate it B+. It’d be an A, except…

…Except I also tried yWriter5. Full disclosure: this was programmed by a writer net-acquaintance, which is how I came to know of it. It’s free-please-donate, so the price is right, and in terms of features and flexibility, it does pretty much everything MyNovel does. It has things like character, location, and item tracking, a storyboard, etc. The online manual is a bit skimpy, but I found the program fairly intuitive to use and fun to poke around in when I couldn’t see right off what I wanted to do. It organizes your work by scenes, which roll up into chapters; they’re stored as rich text files, so you can get at them easily with other programs (a must for professionals, who are probably going to have to convert everything to MSWord for submission because that’s what all the publishers use).

And I absolutely adore the analysis tools in yWriter. It lets you assign values to each scene for things like tension or romance – you get to pick – and then graphs them so you can see how different aspects of your plot are progressing. It can generate a schedule that shows what you’ve done, what stage each chapter or scene is at (outline, first draft, etc.), finished word count, days and words til deadline, what you still have to do,  target daily word count… It can analyze word usage so you can find out which words you’ve used too many times. And other stuff. (Why yes, my day job was as an analyst, and I really liked it. Why do you ask?)

The only thing that made me frown slightly was that I couldn’t figure out how to make the work window go to full-screen mode, and I don’t know whether that was me or the program. But the work screen was fairly large anyway, and it was easy enough to stretch it out manually…and when I did, I didn’t cover up anything I wanted to see. Overall, I’d give it an A.

The last writing program I’ve been playing with a lot is Liquid Story Binder. It’s a download-the-demo-for-30-days program, so you can try it out and then decide if you want to pay $45.95 for it. Of all the programs I’ve seen so far, it is well and away the most flexible. It’s also the most complex, with a fairly steep learning curve. I’ve been messing around with it for a month, and barely scratched the surface of what I can make it do. It’s the only writing program I’ve found that lets you make up a music playlist right there in the writing workspace, to be saved right along with everything else, for instance.

LSB is in many ways a kitchen sink program, and unlike most of the others, it’s designed to be maximally flexible. For instance, instead of a “Characters” tab, where you are expected to enter specific information about each character (name, gender, birthday, description, etc.) and a “Locations” tab where you enter place names and descriptions, it has a “Lists” file type that has a “Characters” template and a “Places” template – and you can edit the templates to provide just the information you think you need, just the way you want to see it. It seems to me that it would be especially good for people who have lots of visual references – pictures, photos, and drawings – because several of the file types are obviously meant to store and organize graphics.

The down side is that all these options can get a bit overwhelming…and there’s that learning curve. The key to using this one, I think, is realizing that I don’t have to use every possible feature it has. (It will take months just for me to look at all of them, let alone figure out how they can all be useful.) I’m tempted to rate it A+…but I’m a little worried that playing around with all those options will actually get in the way of writing instead of being useful. So for now, it’s a plain A.

Right now, these two (yWriter5 and Liquid Story Binder) and Scrivener are my top three contenders for replacing my current word-processor, and I think I’m going to have to play around with all of them for a while before I make a final decision. And, of course, look at whatever other options come up in the meantime.

15 Comments
  1. I’ll have to give yWriter5 a try. I’m enjoying Scrivener a lot (as I said in my previous comment) but you make a good case for this other one.

  2. Dang! yWriter5 sounds very cool, but making it work on a Mac looks a little too daunting for me.

  3. Would your current program be WordPerfect, by any chance?

    • Alex – I’m waffling horribly between the three top choices, so… Really, it’s a matter of what works best for the way that you, personally, think. I know plenty of people who are quite happy with MSWord; I just don’t think like it does.

      Allegra – Can’t help you there, I’m afraid, but you could try emailing the author of the program and seeing if he has any suggestions for making it easier.

      nct2 – Not WordPerfect. Lotus WordPro 97.

  4. I agree that your three choices sound like the ones I’ll look into. I’ll navigate yWriter5 first. Thank you very much for your sharing, Patricia.

  5. I got yWriter up and running on my mac. It was a bit hairy for a while, but Terminal pulled through. So it is possible. If you follow the directions on the ‘install on a mac’ page, it will work. I forgot I had an Intel and downloaded all the things for Power PC which screwed it up, but I fixed that, and it opened right up. So, Allegra, give it a shot. There are only two commands that you really need, and the webpage walks you right through it.

    http://sites.google.com/site/ywritersj/installing-on-mac-os-x

  6. As I posted on Usenet, these were a couple of eye-opening posts; I don’t recall reading about any of these things previously, so it was startling to see programs that did all this stuff. I can’t personally see using most of it (unless the program was magically smart enough to do most of the work itself), but obviously with all those available there’s a big market.

    I do like the soundtrack-making feature of the one, but since I already do that a lot on my iTunes…

  7. Patricia;

    On the Mac, we use CopyWrite for basic story organisation and ‘writing,’ and Scrivener for organisation and development. My partner and I also use StoryMill.

    For WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) writing, there is Microsoft Word, but we also employ the open-source equivalents; OpenOffice, and it’s Mac-specific counterpart, NeoOffice.

    If you like experimenting…

    The Literature & Latte (Makers of Scrivener) site has a fairly thorough and objective list of Writing Tools for Writers for both Mac & Windows.

    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/links.php

    For Linux fans in your audience, there is a list of writing tools for writers at

    http://www.writerstechnology.com/2008/10/moving-to-linux-tools-for-writers

    If you find Scrivener interesting and you’re a Linux user, the Scrivener-like WWMKR might be of particular interest to you.

    http://www.wwmkr.com/

    Gwen

  8. I have been using Scrivener. I have a Mac, so I’d have to bother with the Beta version. It worked well for me during NaNoWriMo last year, but none of the features are doing anything to make editing any easier for me. I’d be interested in another tool or program if it was somehow focused on editing features.

  9. Hmm. Yes, editing. What I meant to write was: “I have a Mac, so I *didn’t* have to bother with the Beta version.”

    • Gwendolyn – CopyWrite certainly looks interesting, but it appears to be strictly a Mac program, and I’m using Windows.

  10. The closest equivalent to ‘CopyWrite’ for Windows is PageFour.

    http://www.softwareforwriting.com/pagefour.html

  11. Hello! Ms. Wrede, I have loved The Enchanted Forest Chronicles since I was in middle school, that is now 10 years ago… I listen to the books on tape so often that I had to buy them from my local library!

    Because I listen to them so much and because they are cassette tapes… Is there any way to get CD or iTunes recordings of these books? I have fallen in love with these characters and I don’t want to lose them to technology. Do you know of any way this is possible?

    I have suffered from severe anxiety for many years and these books have helped me get through a lot. Thank you so much!

    Caren

    • Caren – Listening Library (Random House) has done audiobooks of all four of the Enchanted Forest books, and I believe they have downloads of the audio available; I know there are CD’s available through amazon.com, because I just went and looked. 🙂

Questions regarding foreign rights, film/tv subrights, and other business matters should be directed to Pat’s agent Ginger Clark, Curtis-Brown, Ltd., 10 Astor Place, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10003, gc@cbltd.com

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