It should be noted, before I begin, that I really should be writing something. This doesn't count, and makes me feel even more unproductive than I am in reality ... maybe. For the purpose of this review, I'm going to give my impressions of a couple of software packages, rather than actually giving you an indepth review of the functionality of the various packages presented. After all, you can Google as well as I can, and everyone has a different way that they work.
The second thing I should tell you is that this is a long post, so you may want to find a time and place when you're comfy and have lots of nothing to do before proceeding.
That being said, I should point out that I'm a software junkie. I love software. I like it most when it's free, but if it's affordable -- and I'm working -- I won't let price stop me from fully immersing myself in the software. I like to move from one software package to another and play with each of them. I've provided a couple of tips for folks, but haven't done this in a while. While my previous reviews were about blogging software (like Windows Live Writer). Today, however, I'm going to try and tackle writing-specific software.
Once again, I reiterate, I will give you my impressions of the packages and not much more. There's a reason for that, and I'll make that clear as I review (not really reviewing) the software.
Okay, disclaimer finished. On with what we're doing.
One of the best writer's tools out there right now is Simon Haynes' yWriter. Simon is a published author who's putting the final touches on his fourth book. He's also a computer programmer, and has combined these talents into a nicely functional, very capable and extremely consumer-friendly program called yWriter, now in its fourth version.
The program is free, and can be downloaded here. You can donate to Simon to help improve the software. I just found it impressive that he could update yWriter and do NaNoWriMo at the same time. Incredible job, Simon! Bravo!
The program allows you to handle books in discreet files called projects. Within each project, you can add things like characters, locations, items. The manuscript is broken into chapters, and the chapters are broken further into scenes. (I wonder if it will ever be able to have chapters fit within scenes? I don't know if that's just wrong, but I wonder.) It's really cool, because you can then edit the scenes and add the actual content of your book in the scene editor. Change the font if that floats your boat. It's very cool, and one of the best things about it is that it will not only allow you to set a word count goal, it will also give you a running total on the words in the book. It exports in a couple of different ways, and it will take your scene descriptions and other items you've entered and export them to text files, RTF files, an outline, a synopsis, or even as NaNoWriMo obfuscated text.
Not only does it export, but it imports too. I was finding myself spread pretty thin between updating my blogs with the new chapters, writing them in one software, having to copy them to a standard Word processor and then feed them to Live Writer to post them. With yWriter, I can import scenes from TXT or RTF files with ease. All I need to do then is fill in any gaps in the portions of the file you haven't filled in yet -- like the scene description, long and short, elements and characters, etc. Very cool.
Overall, it's a really nifty piece of work. I don't know about version 4, but previous versions (I've tried both 2 and 3) ran portably. That is, they could be run from a USB flash drive and taken from PC to PC. I would, for instance, create a new project at home, do some work on it, and then at lunch at work the next day I'd edit it and make changes if I had time. I carried the project around with me on my flash drive, so it never left anything behind on my employer's equipment. Cool. It's a little slow running that way, but it did work.
Simon's website is SpaceJock.com; give him a look-see. He's got a lot of other programs you can try out too. (I'm fond of his yBook software, which lets me look over my text documents or RTF docs in a tiny little book-like format that I can adjust and play with. It's like an eBook reader without the cost and hassle.)
Did I mention that this is free software? You ain't gonna get a better deal than that, friend. Try it. If you don't like it, you're out nothing, and it's not like we all don't experiment with stories and ideas, right? You'll like it, I think.
PageFour (or is it Page Four? I can't remember) is one of the coolest writers programs I've ever used. It's got a lot of terrific features, and it can do things I really, really like. It's a blend of all of my favorite elements from a lot of other software packages out there, in some ways. I used this one a lot in constructing my online novel. It's a nice text editor, it's got a flexible environment (you can change the colors and fonts in your editor screen and such), and it allows for a nice, clean GUI that makes writing pleasant.
Like other writers' software, you can import and export to and from the file in a pretty straight-forward manner. It's nice not to have to copy and paste everything around from one place to another. And you can export entire notebooks, too. Really cool.
I didn't really understand the whole "snapshot" vs. "backup" explanation, but that's not because the developer and company aren't helpful. It's because I'm kind of slow like that. Basically, you can take a snapshot, which is a fall-back position you can revert to if something goes wrong, or you change your mind, or you just don't like it for some reason. The backup just ... backs up the project file, I guess. See the website for more information on this topic.
The system is set up in little nodes called "Notebooks". You can have any number of notebooks (once you register the software -- i.e., pay for the license), and any number of pages within the notebook. I used the pages as chapters and the notebook was the manuscript. Then, you can have folders within the notebook, too. Within those folders I stored different things about the book. For instance, I have one called "Scraps", which is where I store everything that I wasn't too sure about or wasn't going to use.
The software can do full-text searches through an entire notebook, and gives you repetitive word view capabilities. It also allows you to get a word count for the entire notebook, which I really liked. It's not quite as cool as Simon's package though, for one simple reason ... it's not free. But it is cheap, and like I said, I love it. It was worth the money to me, and I'm a junkie.
Liquid Story Binder XE
This one's tough, and the next one is too. Here's why:
LSBXE, by Black Obelisk Software, is a nifty, all-encompassing work environment for writers. It's not just a program to help you write, it's a program that tries to set up an environment for you to write in. There are so many features and aspects to it, it's almost dizzying. There are places to create outlines, checklists, chapters, notes and more. There are associations so that you can associate files with one another. You can even embed mood music for the portion of the piece you're working on, and you can download or import galleries of images for use with your story, poem or whatever you're writing.
It's incredible in it's complexity. When you start the program, the example book is available to give you some idea of how to start. You can set the workspace up to your needs and then save it so the program will look the way you want it to when you open it. But, it is a bit intimidating at first. When you launch LSBXE, it's a huge, blank space. It can be hard to figure out where to start. And if you want to try it first, you can do anything it will do, but you can't save anything. That was sort of a problem when trying to do this review. I don't really know how to test a piece of software that helps you create a manuscript if you can't save it and go back to it later.
Another big advantage is that this one runs pretty smoothly and quickly from a USB Flash drive. I like that; I like that a lot. I can carry it with me so that even if I'm not working at my computer I can work with my project.
It also exports files as RTF files, but I wasn't clear as to whether it will unify them into a single document or if you need to do that yourself. Since the RTF format is a universal format, it can be exported to anything from MS Word to WordPad.
It's also nearly fifty dollars, which was a strong deterrent for me. But if you really want something that you can't outgrow, at least as a writer, you owe it to yourself to check it out and see if it's something you see a use for in your work. The rich features will enable you to accomplish a lot in one environment, and it will also let you do "in-line" notes, which are not counted in your word count and are not printed with your file.
Pretty cool. Check it out.
This one is really neat. WriteItNow, a terrific all-in-one package, has most if not all the things you need a piece of software to do for a writer. It has so much to it, I can't begin to tell you how useful it is. You can do it all: create characters, write the manuscript, generate ideas and characters, track locations and events, take notes, and track submissions! This one's amazing -- it's another complete environment, like LSBXE, but less intimidating and more user-friendly. The GUI isn't as smooth and polished as others, but it's efficient and very easy to use. The command set is great, and I thought the inspiration features were really helpful.
What do I mean by inspiration features? Well, it's got these nifty little dice keys. That is, they look like dice. Press them, and the program offers you some random ideas from which you can generate a character, or an idea. While you don't necessarily want to use it as it is, you can press the die key again and generate new stuff, so you can eventually either take what it's offered you or, better, you'll be inspired at least to create an idea or character or whatever of your own.
It's got a tabbed interface, so that you can go from tab to tab building on the project. It will export to RTF, text or HTML formats, which is sweet. And the help with tracking your submissions means you don't have to find an external software package to do that part.
Again, the 30-day, try-it-but-you-can't-save demo version is really hard to fully test. You need to be able to save to see the whole thing in action, and the samples provided only go so far.
I love this one, and recommend it. It's about $30, but worth every nickel.
Well, that's a lot of reviewed software; I'll stop it here. When I have more time and come across some other stuff, I'll let you know. Later this week, I'll review one that will help you build your novel slowly from the ground up.
Thanks for reading, and go write something.