Writing Software

by Jacklyn Craft

I’ve been struggling with writing for a while now. Not so much the story ideas, but plotting it out from start to finish. I’m always curious to learn how writers do it. How they plan their novels. Do they start with a rough draft? Do they plan every detail before sitting down in front of the computer to get the words on the page? How many hours a day is devoted to writing? How do you fit writing in if you have a full time job? I want to know. And I want to know because I want to find a way that’s going to finally work for me.

I’ve tried a variety of writing software with varying degrees of success.

Final Draft is a screenwriting software package that’s very highly rated and respected. It’s fairly easy to use, and it’ll format your script properly with a few keystrokes. Plus there’s also this cool template sampler where you can see the first couple of pages of some of your fave TV shows like CSI, Bones, Desperate Housewives, etc. It retails approx. $229 US, and I was lucky enough to win a copy by filling out an online survey sponsored by the fine folks at Final Draft. The script templates are varied from one-hour dramas and half-hour comedies, to stage plays and feature length movie scripts. There’s something for everyone. They also have excellent customer service and assistance, along with newsletter updates.

Dramatica Pro is for novel writing and has a learning curve to it. It retails for about $269.95 US, and I did buy a copy. I think I was a bit put off by how it makes you think more intently about where you’re trying to take your story. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but since I wasn’t sure how to plot a novel, I found it hard to sit at the computer and fill in the screens. I’m sure I’ll sort through it one of these days. I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying it. I really do think it’s a topnotch program, just it’s a bit more than my brain can handle these days. (I’m in a new job which has a huge learning curve of its own.)

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing Template Generator is another one I’ve tried recently. I received a copy of it from Evan Marshall (agent/author) to evaluate. It retails for $149 US and does work well. The only drawback for some is that it wants you to stick to a formula that Evan has developed. He’s also published the book The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing which is something I’d purchased prior to receiving the program. Both will help an author, but I’m finding it hard to stick to a predetermined formula. There’s also a relatively new website created by Evan Marshall that’s geared to writers using his product. It’s a great place to touch base with others, ask questions, and get feedback on projects.

YWriter is a freebie from Spacejock. (I did make a donation to them though.) It’s simple to use, has the basics to develop scenes and chapters, and it also has a neat little character generator where you can input pics of your characters. I like that feature, especially if you’re modeling a character after a real-life actor. It seems to be a very user friendly program, and it was developed by a writer. I think it’s the easiest to use of all of them.
There are other programs out there, but these are the four I've had the opportunity to use.

Regardless of the genre of a book, it takes a lot of work to produce a novel - good or bad. I grew up in the days of typewriters and carbon paper. I thought software would be the answer to finally figuring out my story structure. Hasn't worked that way so far. But... life has gotten much easier with computers and home printers. I haven't had to purchase White Out in years, and the fear of making a typo has been eliminated.

So… If anyone would like to share their writing experiences with me, I’d love to hear them.


  1. Hey Jacklyn

    I'll annoy you big time, but I'm one of those terribly anal and organized writers who plans everything to the last dot!

    I work with a full outline before I even start writing. Character sketches, pics of actors/people that represent the hero/heroine, plot curve, and a detailed chapter outline - all of this goes on the pages of a A3 sketch pad (the pics are on my computer though! Wouldn't want the
    hubby to think I drool over the hunky heroes when he's not at home, lol!)

    What helps me a lot is that I know what length I want the book to be. If it's short, I'll use an outline of 4-5 chapters. Mid-length, 10-13 chapters. Full-length, 19 chapters.

    I then break the story between those chapters. I know the start and I know the end, so I put those down at 1 and 19, and work towards the middle. It also allows me to see where there are holes in the plot.

    To get the happenings of the story, I work through external conflict, internal conflict, black moment, resolution template.
    Knowing the character helps here, because you'll know what are their conflicts ad how to trigger them around the story to keep on moving forward.

    As for handling a full-time job with writing, it's all about balancing, and specific times for writing. I don't wait for the muse, or I'll end up waiting forever! I just sit down and write, even if it's crap. Easier to fix later than a blank page.

    I'll admit it's not easy, but it takes some organization and dedication to stick to what you have planned for a time slot.

    I've never used writing software, I'm sure I'll be lost if I did. But what I just outlined works for me, though I'm not sure it makes sense for everyone. Any questions (I'm sure you'll have tons!), don't hesitate to holler!



  2. Hey Z... Thanks so much for the comments. I love how you handle chapters and the organizing of it all before you get started. I'm always in a rush, and it ain't working so far.

    Thanks for the great tips.

  3. Hey Jacklyn: I'm kinda mid way between a planner and a free-form writer. I do a rough plot and character outline and then I start writing - because I know it'll change along the way. As for software. I know at some point I may use software but not right now. I have used Final Draft and Movie Magic in the past and they are very good. Final Draft is pretty much the industry standard in film/Tv. I find that for screenwriting it does help to have software. But working on a novel - not quite there yet. I also think that Z is right - if you're a planner then you'll plan - if you're more a free-form person then you'll probably lean towards that - I think whatever approach you have has to feel right for you - has to fit who you are. Hope that helps! ;)

  4. I love the idea of software that helps you organize all this stuff, but I don't think it would work for me. I like having my binder divided into sections, pictures of characters, hand-written and typed notes...

    I plot before hand. You kind of have to when your editor wants a synopsis of the book before you've actually written a word of it!

    I use the 3 Act structure, break the book down by act and chapters and plot. Generally I work 5 chapters at a time. I like to leave room for surprises as well.


  5. This is fantastic, JoJo--I have been investigating some of these things myself, and appreciat these reviews. And Z, your run-down of how you work is enormously helpful. I'm trying to plan regular writing sessions--as you say, if you wait around for the mood to strike, you'll grow old and die without writing much!

    New inspiration--thanks, ladies!

  6. I'm a total pantzer and use Scrivener, love it, love it, love it!

    It's only for MACs though.

    If you're looking for a great tool for screenwriting (and if you like it write the guys and tell them to add a novel writing template!) try celtx--free and fantastic! I think the site is http://celtx.com

    Have fun with it!

  7. Thanks for all the comments.

    Kathryn - I like your binder idea and the three-act breakdown.

    CJ - I'll have to check out Scrivener and Celtx.

    Joanna - You're right about finding the method that fits. I know I'm finally getting there.

    Z - Your chapter breakdown is also something to consider. Looks like you're incredibly methodical with what you do.

    Kel - Glad you found all the reviews helpful. It's wonderful having the feedback of others.

    Thanks everyone.

  8. Lol. Methodical to the point of being a pain!

    But, it works for me, and combined with all the stuff on my plate, being methodical is the only thing that allows me to cover all the bases.

    What helps me most is that I envision a story fully, like a movie, in my mind before I write it, and this is what goes into my outline and plan. When I write I'm just fleshing it all.

    Anywayz, if my comments helped, I'm glad!



  9. Thumbs-up to Celtx...it breaks down everything for you including your budget, character wardrobes, scheduling,it comes pre-formatted for easy writing...you can upload your screenplay to a bulletin board so others' can read/rate your work...good program.

  10. I'm so glad you posted this. I've often wondered about these writing softwares, but I'm not sure they'd work for me either. I'm such a "Pants" writer most of the time. hehe I rarely plot and when I do, it can be anything from a one paragraph blurb to a two pages synopsis highlighting the things I want to have happen.

    Anyway... is there a trial version of any other these? I'd like to try before I buy. :)

    Great topic!

  11. I mean to say...any OF these. Darn fingers. LOL

  12. Michelle - From what I can see Final Draft offers a demo of the product. I don't know if that's the same as a trial version. I don't believe there's one offered with Dramatica Pro or The Marshall Plan. However, YWriter is a freebie, and I do like it. I like the "try before you buy" features that a lot of programs offer, too.

    Lisa - It looks like you and CJ are fans of Celtx. It's something I plan to check out for myself.

    And Z - Your comments were very helpful. Thanks so much.


  13. Great post!

    I have been personally using Movie Magic Screenwriter by the Write Brothers, for about 6 years now. It has easily and seamlessly transfered from one laptop to another and I find that the program non-intrusive style suits me best. I don't like to be told what to do, and this does not, though it does ask - courteously - what I want to do next and how I want it to look... It's great even for writing my articles, with nifty extras which make my life easier.
    On the other hand, the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci once told a wannabe writer who asked her how she should go about starting her writing career these words: "Go out, buy a bale of paper, a good pen and start!" which was harsh but is actually great advice. All the writing programs in the world can't give one the inspiration and discipline needed to be a writer...

  14. How interesting. I had no idea all this software existed. When I wrote my novel, I just used Word. And I had no idea what was going to happen to Sarah (my main character) until it happened. In fact, I looked forward to writing because I could not wait to see what would happen and would often cross my fingers for Sarah, hoping for something good!


Post a Comment

We would love to hear from you but hope you are a real person and not a spammer. :)

Popular Posts