Everyone has their own way unique way of pushing through the creative process. I’m no different. I know writers who will only work with Microsoft Word, and are quite happy to just sit and write – all linear, some semblance of plot in their head, maybe a few notes about character off on the side, scribbled in a rough notebook. And then voila – genius!
I, however, cannot work like that. I know this, because I tried twice and belly-flopped like a whale dropped from a helicopter, from a great height. It wasn’t pretty.
The first 2 failed drafts I had written were done in yWriter. Since then, I’ve identified a couple other programs to help me whip my frenzied thoughts into submission and order. I’ll talk about the programs I use here – but please note that this is unique to the way I work.
God bless Simon Hayes for coming up with this software, because it’s FREE, and it does a helluva decent job. It enables you to break up your book into chapters and scenes, and swop and change scenes easily between chapters. It also allows you to keep a log of locations, items, and characters. Each scene gives you the option to add date and time, things like goal/conflict/outcome, and other gems like whether this is part of the main plot, and where it rates in terms of humour etc. Whatever floats your boat. I’m using two other programs to help with the planning bit (more on that later), but in terms of getting down to business and writing the actual book – I’ll do it in yWriter.
And for those Aussies out there… it appears Simon Hayes is one of us. Which is so gratifying.
- It’s FREE! He is THAT generous. But you can donate. I did, because it gave me so much value.
- The fact that you can upload decent-sized images. I derive a lot of inspiration from looking at a muse or a location, and yWriter allows plenty of opportunity to store and retrieve images easily.
- Running word count: allows you to see how far your book is going. Also allows you to toggle between scenes that add to your word count, and scenes you’ve created for later.
- Global find and replace – so handy when you’ve changed your character’s name halfway through, or something like that.
- Target tracking: Got a minimum word count per day? You can set this in yWriter and it’ll keep track of where you’re at and how far you have to go.
Room for improvement:
- Pretty basic WYSIWYG editor. Doesn’t always work with standard shortcuts like Ctrl + B, and you can’t do fancy indents or use two different fonts to denote different voices, etc.
- Spell check quite lame. Don’t use.
- No dictionary. I suggest downloading and using WordWeb instead. Simply highlight the word you want to check, and Ctrl + Alt + W brings up the dictionary. Also works in all other programs. It’s free, if you’re not a business. Please note: it’s not a spell-checker.
- No WYSIWYG editor in characters/locations/items function. And because the dialog box is so tiny for each element, not being able to highlight your points to aid scanning seriously makes things hard when you’re looking back on what you’ve planned for your character. Which is why I’ve used another piece of software (mentioned later)
- Limited storyboarding capability and no real big-picture of timeline. It allows you to set viewpoints per scene, based on characters… but plotting your story using the storyboard feature is painful. Again, have resorted to something else instead.
But all in all, just easy to use and very low learning curve needed. If you’re not too attached to formatting your work as you go, this gives you more flexibility than just MS Word.
Character Writer makes you think seriously about how your characters live and breathe. And for me, it’s working out well for my major characters because it forces me to work on things like their motives and motivation, what they’d typically say, how they’d typically dress, whether they had a twisted childhood or grew up well-adjusted and happy. The software goes through facets of each character and asks probing questions like “Why do you like this character?” and “What makes the character annoyed?” etc. You don’t have to answer every single question, but if you’re starting from a blank canvas, it throws up suggestions based on typical novel archetypes, and even has a section on ailments and psychological disorders.
Also includes the story-writing section, where you can create chapters and scenes. But it’s nowhere as detailed as yWriter in that regard, so I don’t use it.
- All that probing! I thought I already had (some) rich characters in my head, but just answering these questions helps distill the essence of each character, and prevents the trap of my minor characters turning into clones of each other. It also helped make my characters consistent – no point deciding one moment that your major character tends to blow up with expletives, and then act like a perfect gentleman in another similar situation. Unless, of course, your major character is inconsistent to begin with.
- Ability to add other questions to use later on.
Room for improvement
- Itty-bitty space for pictures! 100pxls by 100pxls – you can barely make out what colour their eyes are! Hopeless for me, as I practically need to be surrounded by posters of them so they feel real to me.
- Again, limited WYSIWYG editor. But what’s even more sillier is the fact that you can’t undo the last action when you’re in character mode! That’s, like, word processing 101! UNDO! UNDO!
- Gotta pay for the darn thing. Yes folks, it ain’t freeware. And it ain’t that cheap, for what it is – USD69.99, which was ~AUD80 at the time of purchase. If Simon Hayes were to create one of these free, I’d give my money to him in a heartbeat because at least he pays some attention to usability. No undo button, pffft. Seriously!
This may not be the case for your book, but my current project has one main plotline, and about 7 subplots. Probably not the easiest thing to write, but hey. Let’s talk about what I’m doing wrong some other time.
Because of my 8+ plot lines, I had initially bought a swag of visitor cards and coloured pens so I can do some card sorting. And card sorting is still not a bad idea to get the timeline and your story board in order. I’ll cover this off in another post one day.
But back to Storybook. Unlike yWriter, Storybook focuses on plotlines, and allows you create several plotlines in the one canvas and date each scene. What you get at the end of the day is a pretty good grid and a top level idea of how your entire story hangs together. It’s GREAT for working out dependencies (this has to happen before that), and helps you work out pacing for each subplot.
It also allows you to create character profiles, and write your chapters in full – but again, I still prefer yWriter for this.
- Big picture canvas of what happens when. By far the most useful feature of the software.
- Colour coding of each plot line, and the ability to colour code your characters as well so you know where they appear when. Helps counter the doppelganger problem.
- And it’s FREE! But more on that below.
Room for improvement
- Can’t export big picture canvas of plotlines. The single biggest let down of the program, IMO.
- Donation nag – everywhere you turn, there’s a reminder to cough up some money. Which makes me NOT want to cough up some money.
- Again, lousy WYSIWYG editor. In fact, it only allows you to write in plain text! But as I’m only using the plotline feature, I’m not too fussed.
And there you have it – my two software for the planning and analysis phase, and my one software for the actual writing. Let me know if there are others you’ve worked with, that you highly recommend.