Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Whenever I attempt to write something, I do it in a common word processor (like Microsoft Word), but I was wondering if there is a special software for it.

Something that would help me keep track of the story lines, times, and characters in an easy and organized way as to not get lost in my own story

share
4  
Lol, I have learned to write with a typewriter. Wordprocessors are just great. –  Toon Krijthe Nov 18 '10 at 21:00
    
Not exactly an answer, but I imagine the ideal software for writers would be a plugin to Word (and/or OO Write) that adds features. Most of what's useful is already there. –  MGOwen Nov 18 '10 at 23:21
    
MGOwen: I disagree. For a person like me who's running a pretty craptastic laptop, Word takes up a lot of resources and tends to lag my system a bit. Not a big deal when I'm writing a paper for a class, but if I'm working on a long-term personal project, it's too bloated to be practical. I love Word, but an editor like yWriter really is better suited to writing. –  Maulrus Nov 20 '10 at 15:28
    
The biggest problem with fancy word-processors like Word is that it is too easy to waste time mucking with fonts, styles, line spacing, etc. instead of actually writing content. –  JohnFx Jul 8 '11 at 6:07
1  
As you can tell from all the answers, there's a lot of software out there, and at least as many opinions. No one software is the "ideal", "right", or "best" software. It depends on what you're trying to write, what your hardware/software platform is, what your preferences are.... It's quite a personal choice! –  Mark Beadles Feb 2 '12 at 17:40
comments disabled on deleted / locked posts

locked by justkt Aug 3 '12 at 12:55

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

25 Answers

I've been using Scrivener, which is available as a free beta for NaNoWriMo participants.

It's a writer's project organizational tool that allows you to have many different associated files, and to view more than one on the same screen. For example, you could open a file about a particular character while writing about them, have an outline open while you work on non-fiction, etc. You can also move pieces (smaller files) around easily to rearrange parts of a work. When you're done, you can compile your manuscript to multiple formats: plain text, Word, et cetera.

share
3  
The Windows version is currently available as a beta, as well as an upcoming Mac version. Until recently, Scrivener was only available for Macs. –  Johnny Nov 18 '10 at 22:47
2  
To add to why Scrivener's helpful: it allows you to have many different associated files, and to view more than one on the same screen: for example, you could open a file about a particular character while writing about them, have an outline open while you work on non-fiction, etc. You can also move pieces (smaller files) around easily to rearrange parts of a work. –  Jennifer Arnott Nov 18 '10 at 22:53
3  
Yes, and also, you can compile your manuscript to multiple formats: plain text, Word, et cetera, so it's not stuck in Scrivener. –  Johnny Nov 19 '10 at 0:09
add comment

I recommend yWriter. Free, easy to use, all the features you might want, free, and pretty compact. And it works on OSX and Linux under Mono.

Also it's free.

To elaborate on its features: It allows you to divide a story into chapters and to subdivide those chapters into scenes. In each scene, you can keep track of what characters are in the scene, where it takes place, what time of day it takes place; pretty much every conceivable detail is an option.** If you really like organizing down to the most minute bits of information, yWriter is a good idea for you.

** I'm sure it has more features, but to be honest I've never explored it that much.

share
2  
Is it free? ` ` ` ` –  jmfsg Nov 19 '10 at 3:38
4  
Lemme just check the website - oh yeah it's free. –  Maulrus Nov 19 '10 at 4:23
2  
Can you elaborate on this answer a bit? (From your description, I thought it was just a barebones word processor. When it got upvotes, I checked the site and was surprised to discover it has writing features like "scene" organising). –  MGOwen Nov 22 '10 at 23:56
    
@MGOwen: Good idea, I'll add a bit. –  Maulrus Nov 23 '10 at 1:19
add comment

Storybook (free)

For German writers: Papyrus Autor (not free)

share
2  
Story book is really good. Unfortunately only real AD dates can be used. –  Randomman159 Nov 23 '10 at 20:56
    
Can you tell us more about these tools? –  Neil Fein Mar 6 '12 at 5:16
add comment

I use emacs, editing LaTeX files, with a text editor I am used to (as in 20+ years "used to"). This has some advantages and some disadvantages. It allows me to separate text in whatever "file chunks" I find convenient (usually chapters) and allows me to re-arrange these in the document as a whole (by having a series of include statements, referring to the chapter).

It allows me to generate decently-typeset output in the end. I also have some conversion tools that allows me to generate other formats. However, it does not fit well with any publisher's work-stream and this is a potential problem for the future.

If you don't already have a substantial amount of time invested in a specific tool, I have heard good things about Scrivener (as in, it allows you to do the things I find to be a "win" with LaTeX+text editor, with "integrates better with publishers" as a big win).

share
    
+1, I almost use the same set-up and also for the work-stream problem you'll get (but if you publish something yourself using a printing-on-demand service, you'll be fine). –  Marcel Korpel Nov 19 '10 at 13:39
add comment

Writeroom for Mac is what I use. Nice and simple with as little distraction as possible.

share
add comment

Over time I have found the only way to write in an uninterrupted flow from beginning to end is to write the thing as a text file in the text editor of choice (Notepad is perfectly suitable). Mucking about with notes organisers and chapter defabulators and character combobulators as I'm writing the actual novel itself just slows me down. However I spend months and months and months on notes beforehand so by the time I sit down I'm literally fishing the thing out of my head as if I'm recalling it rather than trying to create it fresh.

It's an approach rather than a bells and whistles laden killer app, sure. But I thought a luddite view might provide counterpoint.

share
add comment

Some tricks here: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2008/04/07/how-i-write-a-novel-revisited/

Tobias tends to work offline, using post-its for notes. He then organizes these and uses them as a starting point for an outline. He then uses Scrivener for organization.

share
5  
Would you mind paraphrasing the tips in your answer? We should not merely be a repository of links, but actually have the answers to the questions on our site. –  StrixVaria Nov 18 '10 at 21:16
    
Added a few notes –  way0utwest Dec 1 '10 at 16:24
add comment

There's Writer's Cafe. It has many features that support writing.

Here is a description from the website:

Writer's Café is a set of power tools for all fiction writers, whether experienced or just starting out. The heart of Writer's Café is StoryLines, a powerful but simple to use story development tool that dramatically accelerates the creation and structuring of your novel or screenplay.

Writer's Café also includes a notebook, journal, research organiser, pinboard, inspirational quotations, daily writing tips, writing exercises, name generation, and a 60-page e-book, Fiction: The Facts, distilling 20 years of writing experience.

Runs on small laptops such as the Eee PC - Windows and Linux. Writer's Café is designed to be a playground for the imagination, making writing fiction fun and fulfilling. But it's also a serious tool for professionals, with highly configurable formatting, import/export and reporting facilities.

share
add comment

I've tried many of the things mentioned above, but they never really worked for me. I have a tendency to get distracted by the shiny. So, when writing at my computer instead of with my fountain pens or typewriter, I use Pyroom.

Pyroom is a free, open source editor with no bells and whistles. It runs in fullscreen mode only, providing you with an eye-strain easing green box of text on a black background. The colors, box dimensions, font, and autosave behavior are configurable, and that's it.

I use Freemind (also free and open source) to manage my notes. Keeping them on separate desktops, I can shift back and forth as needed without getting distracted when I'm writing in Pyroom.

I write in Markdown, because it's easy to deal with in plain text mode and does not distract me from my writing. I put together a script to translate from Markdown directly to LaTeX for when HTML isn't my target output, and may add other formats down the road. I do use Markdown Extras to get support for footnotes, fenced code blocks, definition lists, etc.

share
add comment

I like to use Celtx. It's a free open source script writing tool but I find it really helpful for regular writing too. There are lots of add-ons available to specialize it to your specific needs.

share
1  
Looks promising, thanks! –  jmfsg Nov 19 '10 at 15:34
add comment

It depends on what you're writing. For example, if you are writing screen plays (or even stage plays), Final Draft Pro is absolutely the way to go.

When I'm working on prose, I do tend to just use my standard word processor of choice (Microsoft Word 2010 on Windows, 2011 on Mac), but I keep my notes, timelines, outlines, etc. in a series of OmniOutliner documents -- think a combined outliner and spreadsheet, and you pretty much get the gist. (And also, you'll probably figure out why it's so darned useful while writing!)

share
add comment

I use Scrivener for most of my writing. I see some have touched on it already, but I think Scrivener deserves an explanation, because it is truly a great piece of software (and even though it isn't free, the price isn't that hefty, either).

Scrivener is a writing tool that is great whether you write short stories, novels, scripts and even essays or scientific articles. One of the big features of scrivener is that you can organize the project however you want, by chapter, by scene, anything. In the end, when you are ready to export, it all comes together into a single text.

You can append all the research files you need to the project, for fast in-application reference. You can add labels, status and even your own meta-data to separate pieces of text, so you have a say on how it all will be sorted.

You can have two parts of text viewed side-by-side, for comparison or reference, you can even have that second chapter in the same window where you are just writing chapter nineteen, because their events are closely linked - all without any copy-pasting.

I find Scrivener a very streamlined piece of software for writers and am happy with it. I use it for almost all my writing.

share
add comment

I've heard from pro writer friends that Scrivener is very good, but it is only only for the Mac right now. I've also heard that there is a Windows version coming out soon.

share
19  
Just for clarity's sake, I think you shouldn't have posted this as an answer, but simply upvote Johnny's one and add a comment there about the availability of the software. –  Marcel Korpel Nov 18 '10 at 21:37
add comment

There are many tools you can use, as listed above, though in the end the best thing to use is what works for you. Try out what looks good and see if it helps you out. If something gets in the way of your writing it can't be to helpful, can it?

Myself, for many years I used TextPad to do all my writing in. Useful application that did plain text and did it very well. Over the last couple of years I've been moving to Word 2007, mostly because it has a homogenize checker, something that is still a problem for me.

share
add comment

Dark Room

For windows users wanting a distraction free writing environment something (similar to Writeroom on the mac)

share
add comment

I use a variety of tools:

  • Tinderbox (pricy but powerful) for planning story arcs and other details - I'm a very visual thinker and I like something where I can build rich structures, more than with simple tools like Freemind
  • Instaviz for sketching out little diagrams of relationships whilst I'm on the move, on my iPhone,
  • StoryMill for fiction writing, a competitor to the Scrivener tool recommended in other answers.

But, the most powerful tool I'm using right now is Evernote because it lets me write little inspirations, scenes and ideas on any of my systems including my iPhone and iPad and they are all synchronised. I also collect all my odd snippets of research in there using the web clippings - the fastest way to grab a portion of a web page along with the URL and a reasonable amount of formatting.

share
add comment

Storyblue

To add to the list, Storyblue is a writing tool I developed. Index-card-esque, keeps your characters/scenes/notes organized and immediately available while you write. Cross-platform via Adobe AIR.

Lets you set writing goals: Words per day, and X words by [date]. Keeps track of your progress with pretty graphs :).

I want to keep it opinionated and simple; No long forms to fill out with character information (eyebrow color, girth), or built-in web browsers to store every page and article I find...

share
    
very lean. Like it a lot! Will give the demo a try. –  Stu Andrews Feb 7 '11 at 3:24
add comment

I find the Ulysses (mentioned above) is a great tool for writing longer form stuff on the Mac.

For everything else I like to stay in plain text editors to keep formatting issues from distracting me while I write. My text editor of choice is TextMate, but that is probably over kill for most.

share
add comment

OmmWriter is my favorite. It's a full-screen editor similar to Writeroom, but is designed to inspire creativity. It has calm backgrounds you can choose to see behind your text, as well as music that helps you zone out and get your writing flowing. I personally really enjoy writing in it. Runs on Windows and OS X.

share
    
Ommwriter is a simplistic editor designed to improve your concentration. It's is available on Mac, PC and iPad. There's a free version and a paid version for the desktop, although I believe the iOS version is paid only, –  Moshe Aug 19 '11 at 12:35
add comment

I've started my own tool since I didn't like yWriter and Storybook. You can get it here: ePen

The main idea behind ePen is to be as unobtrusive as a pen:

  • There is no "Save" button or menu - what you type is saved automatically.
  • It has some features of a Wiki but 95% the links are created automatically. No need for WikiWords or odd brackets or stuff.
share
    
haha :D Im checking it out! –  Randomman159 Nov 23 '10 at 20:57
    
O.o doesn't work –  Randomman159 Nov 23 '10 at 21:04
    
@Randomman159: Please send me an email with the error message (digulla@hepe.com). –  Aaron Digulla Nov 24 '10 at 8:07
    
You did read the README, right? –  Aaron Digulla Nov 26 '10 at 23:13
    
Can you edit your answer to tell us more about the tool? Short answers are of limited use. –  Neil Fein Mar 6 '12 at 5:13
add comment

I like Liquid Story Binder. It's not free but totally worth it.

And I second yWriter. I have found it to be unreliable though :(

share
add comment

I have found Dramatica useful, and I tend to use Final Draft for my work. However, I think any word processor you're comfortable with is good enough - applications that assist you in tracking your notes and story are more important than writing app itself.

share
add comment

Mac users should take a look at Ulysses, in addition to the other Mac writing tools mentioned in this thread. They offer a 60-day trial that's fully feature-enabled. They just dropped the price significantly, too.

Scrivener seems nice, but wasn't the right fit for me; it seems to be designed primarily for long-form fiction. The Ulysses interface is simpler and seems more generalized. For example, I started keeping several journals in one Ulysses project using collections, and it fits pretty well for that purpose.

All that said, as a developer geek, I'm not sure that anything beats plain text files using an editor that you're already comfortable with.

share
add comment

You might like to take a look at PangurPad, it is a web based full-screen editor for creative writing that has all of those features you ask about: keeping track of story timelines, characters and notes etc. It also keeps all of your writing backed up automatically with a cool auto-save feature. I've been using it for two weeks now and it's fantastic. It is very new though but you can sign up for free to try it.

share
add comment

I would recommend Xiosis Scribe. Its got all the features I need in one app. Mind mapping, research, lots of time saving features in the editor and content separation from layout. It can also be configured to work like Dark room and can manage your document better than Scrivener.

I dumped word for it, and have never looked back.

share
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.