I work occasionally on Lulu’s LiveHelp desk, and one of the questions that people are asking more and more is, ‘What software do you recommend for writing?’
Of course this is a tough one because a number of factors come into play: What hardware set-up do you have? How much can you afford to spend? Are you writing fiction or screenplays or stage plays?
I’ve spent a long time trying out various demos of downloadable software and, in doing that, have come to some conclusions about what I need from a writing software package:
1. It has to have a good word processing function. Although I might not use all the bells and whistles, I want italics, bold, word count – for chapter and book total – and spell check.
2. I have to be able to Save As … or export to a recognised word processing format, either Word.doc or rtf. As I’m writing fiction, there’s no need for drawing or image functions to be included. I’ve tried packages in the past that will only allow you to print from the software, with no ability to translate your document into another format. As the formatting functions are often minimal on this kind of package, that’s hopeless.
3. The ability to make character and scene notes, and to jot down ideas where necessary (that is, when they occur to me!) is essential. I used to keep box files full of hand-written notes – nowadays, everything’s in the software, searchable and close to hand.
4. Finally, the function that I took a long time to recognise I needed – the ability to shuffle events on a time line. Some packages enable you to outline your story – with varying degrees of detail – but not all of them allow you to switch them, like shuffling note cards. When I discovered a program that would allow me to do that, I was in heaven.
And the winner is?
Well, typically, I haven’t found one package that does all of these things. But I have discovered two that enable me to work relatively seamlessly.
The first is a suite of software from Anthemion Software, called Writers’ Cafe: www.writerscafe.co.uk/ In particular, I use the Storylines program from within the suite for the outlining process. It has what appears to be a cork-board, on to which you attach your story-threads. On each of these threads (which are like your main and sub-plots) you then attach virtual notecards containing your individual scenes. These can be dragged and dropped at will, and contain as much or as little information as you like. When you’re plotting something complex, it’s great to be able to see the story graphically like this, instead of just having a linear, text-based description.
The other program I use is called WriteItNow, from Ravenshead Services. With this package you can store ideas, create characters (it includes a couple of psychological models in its character-creation options), even invent plot events. Best of all, its word processing function allows you to create individual chapters, then export them to rtf format, which opens automatically in Word if you have it installed. Each chapter is formatted according to rules that you determine, so that you have a complete book ready for printing at the point at which you click Export. Also included are the spell check and word count functions that I use all the time, plus a thesaurus and a readibility index.
I liked these two programs so much I actually spent money buying them and I keep them upgraded. It would be hard for me to write without them now. Demos are available on both sites, so give them a go. (Incidentally, I have no financial relationship to these businesses!)