An example of just how exhausting the world of writer's software can be.
First and foremost, Happy Dress-up-like-your-Favorite-Characters-without-Shame Day to everyone.
In this article we return to the Writer's Toolbox series by looking into the wide world of software. While this selection is a mere gleaning of some of the programs used by writers, it should at least give an idea of what is available. If you've ever typed "writers software" into google, you would know there is a veritable sea of shareware, freeware, and other wares designed for authors of all genres.
The primary tool most modern writers need is a solid word processor. There are a number of options in this arena, the most popular being Microsoft Word. It's simple, ubiquitous, and probably the most widely used Word Processor on earth. Many writers have complained, however, that the newest version, is a bit too dumbed down and can be frustrating to advanced users. One solution to this issue is to purchase a classic menu download from Microsoft's website, though the fact this is not a free option has put off quite a few once-loyal followers. Still, Word is easily available, customizable if you learn the program, and gets the job done. It's cousin, Microsoft Works, is also not half bad.
Word's strongest competitor is arguably Corel's Wordperfect, which has a very strong following among professional writers. Some of its key features over Word are its ability to create and edit PDF files, integrate with Microsoft Office file formats, produce XML documents, and advanced customization options. Whereas Word is designed for the masses and can certainly meet a writer's needs, WordPerfect is, in a way, designed specifically with career writers in mind. Speaking as a reviewer, I've been a loyal Word follower for many years, but the continued simplifying of Microsoft Office and positive blurbs I keep hearing about WordPerfect are certainly tempting me to convert (a more thorough comparison of these two primary word processors may constitute a future article).
For other options, Web based word processors are becoming ever more prevalent, specifically in the addressing of collaborative writing. Both Google Docs and TextFlow are designed to allow live updating of drafts being done on the same project, at the same time, by multiple authors in different locations. For those who prefer to speak and transcribe, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is renowned as an excellent voice recognition program. IBM ViaVoice is the Mac equivalent.
While a word processor suits an novelist or non-fiction writer just fine, scriptwriters require software that can accommodate the specific formatting required in entertainment genres, and adjusting a word processor to handle this formatting can be tedious (though I do highly recommend the Script Maker template program for MS Word; their website is currently down so a direct download is the only way to still get it at the moment). The two kings in this arena are Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft. Both have their benefits and are excellent programs, but each require a unique learning curve. Final Draft is considered by many to be the industry standard, though I have heard of writers having difficulty with both the price and its customer service. Movie Magic is extremely customizable once you learn how to adjust its simple menus, but can cause some frustrations during the learning process (for Movie Magic 2000 users, try the demo of Screenwriter 6 before upgrading. They are not horrendously different and the extra bells and whistles of the new version has been noted by some as not worth the price). Both programs can accommodate screenplays, teleplays, stage plays, and comic book scripts, and can also make PDF's (in Movie Magic, this option is hidden in the "Print" feature). My suggestion is to check out the free demos available for both programs and proceed according to your preference. For a free option, Celtx is a favorite of penniless screenwriters and film students. While not as versatile as either of the larger programs, many swear by it. It also has some cool production management and breakdown features.
Another large area is story development software. The most popular on the market is Dramatica Pro, which is another love-it-or-hate-it beast. I've honestly yet to see a middle of the ground review for this program. Those who enjoy having detailed organization for their stories seem to adore it, as do academics. More free-form writers seem to find it cumbersome and annoying. For those who love approaching their stories from an analytical perspective, it is a fantastic program and excellent for organizing your ideas. If that approach makes you gag, Dramatica likely will too. Graphics junkies be forewarned, the resolution is absurdly poor. Dramatica is also very expensive.
For those who want something similar, StoryRight is a pleasant alternative, though this is more of a web application than software. Similar to Dramatica, it helps you plan and organize your story by asking you specific questions about it. It also has an excellent character development feature that lets you answer hordes of questions about your character to know them inside out. A whole slew of other options include (cited from Writer's Digests Annual Writer's Software Listing, August 2008 issue, article by Jenna Glatzer):
- NewNovelist (Structured Story Development, Simpler than Dramatica)
- WriteitNow (Same as above without extra questions)
- YWriter (Novel breakdown focusing on chapter details including word count, characters, locations, and notes; Free! I've heard a few NaNoWriMo contestants swear by this)
- Scrivener (Mac Based, multi-functional, includes backup capability)
- StoryMill (Great for tracking daily writing goals and timeline)
- Save the Cat! (Screenplay specific, idea organization and script development tools; Based on the book)
There are also some fine options available for those who want help with revisions and editing. There is only so much a spelling and grammar check can catch, but programs like StyleWriter can sift through your manuscript and point out things like style issues, cliches, words out of context, and even use of 'passive voice' and common mistakes. Writer's Workbench and Editor offer similar solutions.
Again, there are hordes of software-based tools available to writers. Once again, I'll mention one of the best compendiums of these I've seen is Jenna Gatzer's article in the August issue of Writer's Digest. To close, here are a number of other programs she mentions that are available for free!
- Bullfighter (jargon slayer)
- Manuscript Tracker (Organizing submissions)
- SAMM (Same thing)
- Sonar (Ditto)
- Syncback (Basic version; File Backup)
- Plotcraft (Idea Management)
Have any other favorite programs to add to the list? Have a review for one of these? Share your insider knowledge in the comments section.