We’re a long way from robots writing compelling stories, but software can make an author’s life simpler. There are three broad classes of software intended to help writers.
- Planners help you plan a story,
- Organisers help you write it,
- Editors help you edit it.
I list some of the main alternative here.
As I’ve said before, though I love software, I’m not a big fan of the Organisers for authors. I’m just as happy using an ordinary word-processor and a spreadsheet. So none of the programs in the Organiser category is in my toolkit and I haven’t attempted to test and review them. Remember, a computer program won’t write a single word of your novel for you. I do however recommend Beemgee from the Planner category and ProWritingAId from the Editor group. I’ve also tried Contour from the Planner group and it’s pretty good. I was less persuaded by the usefulness of Contour’s companion program, Persona, compared with Beemgee.
Most of the software in the organiser group below includes some planning functions. However, there are more dedicated planners
- Contour is aimed at screenwriters supporting them in developing an outline. It’s based on four key question: Who is the main character? What is the main character trying to accomplish? Who is trying to stop the main character? What happens if the main character fails? It costs US$39.95
- Persona is character-creation companion software to Contour. It’s based on archetypes and costs US$39.95
- Beemgee offers a very detailed series of prompts for defining character and plot outlines. I like the way Beemgee links plot to character. The basic version is free. The premium version with more functionality costs €59per year.
- Dramatica, like Contour, is based on a writing theory. In this case, the central idea is that “every complete story is a model of the mind’s problem solving process”. It costs US$99.95.
- Storyweaver is a simplified version of Dramatica. It costs US$29.95
- Snowflake Pro. This is Randy Ingermanson’s famous method turned into software. It will cost you US$100. Or you can just read the ten steps of the Snowflake on his blog for free.
This type of software acts as a word-processor and filing cabinet. They conveniently store your plot outline, timeline, notes on background research, and your stray snippets. Some include prompts for generating characters. All include a stripped-down and uncluttered word-processor. The particular advantage of word-processors for writers is that they’re designed for you to move chapters and chunks around easily. Scrivener is the best known of these.
In addition some include templates or other devices to help you build your story arc. I’d recommend treating this facility with some caution. Following templates may lead to mechanical stories.
- New Novelist contains pre-built templates for major genres
- Wavemaker includes a version of the Snowflake method
- Novel Factory
- WriteItNow includes eight templates for novels, screenplays, stage plays etc
For ease of presentation, I’ve listed all the features and the costs of the main products in a table.
In a previous blogpost I reviewed Fictionary (which implausibly claims to give your novel a structural assessment), and copy editors Autocrit and ProWritingAid, as well as some free alternatives. I recommended ProWritingAid as best value for money.
The bottom line
Many of the story Planners can be copied out as question templates. So you could try the demo version, copy the questions, and create your own tool. There’s pretty much nothing in the Organiser group you can’t do with a word-processor and a spreadsheet, or indeed paper and pencil. Only the Editing tools depend on algorithms and databases you can’t copy.