Now how do I actually write anything with this, again?

I'm perpetually looking for better tools for writing long-forms, or just better organizing the medium-forms. Word processors require that you create a structure and maintain it -- in a novel, you spend as much work maintaining that structure as you do actually working on the novel. There's a surprisingly large number of tools to help with that.

On my mac, I used to use Scrivener. I really liked it. It was a great general-purpose tool for longer projects, not just for fiction. There was a lot of structure baked-in, but you could create your own structures as needed. The content was stored as RTFD files, which are mostly compatible with RTF. In Scrivener it's obvious how you do things, and that obviousness has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it's Mac software. The UI is a little boxy, sometimes, sometimes felt cramped on the screen of my 12" PowerBook, but I could make it work for me.

Now that I've moved back to Windows, it's really hard finding something that will do the same job. I've been using yWriter, which does some of the same things: The content is stored in RTF files, structure is stored in a human-readable XML file that I could hack if I needed to. If the system crashed tomorrow I could take the project folder and use it to resurrect the book so far with no loss of content. The UI is a little fussy, though. (For example, I spend ten minutes today, before giving up, trying to figure out how to delete a scene.) The big problem is that yWriter isn't really a commercial product. The author is pretty clear that it's not his top priority, and since you don't really pay for it, you can't really make demands for features (not that they would do any good anyway, what solo software author wants to hear demands from punters in another country?). Still, it's the best balance I've found so far between power, simplicity and portability.

So I'm always looking. Today I looked at and rejected three tools:

  1. The demo version of WritersCafe is too restrictive -- you can only create a few scenes, which really isn't enough to tell if it's going to work out. Beyond that, though, it's really difficult to figure out how to use it to do any actual writing. It's easy enough to create a scene, but quite opaque to figure out how to actually write the scene. Supposedly there's an editor, but there's no apparent way to invoke it. Probably it would be simple to read the help document and figure out that you just need to select "actuate the widget" from the Fulginate menu, but I really don't want to be using something that's designed by people who don't think to make it obvious how you actually put the text into a scene.
  2. WriteWay Pro has the same issue as WritersCafe, in that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to actually write anything with it.
  3. PageFour looks promising from what I can see on the website, but again, the demo is too constrained: 20 pages. Huh? I'm at 60K words on Paladins right now. I'll probably go back and take a look at it when I start my next project, but until then I don't see how I can tell anything useful about a piece of software that's supposed to handle hundreds of pages by looking at how it handles 20.

I've looked at other tools in the past. Liquid Story Binder looks incredibly powerful and sophisticated. So much so that I gave up in frustration after a few hours: I don't want to spend two days just figuring out how to organize a basic novel project. (Mind, there are some really impressive things about Liquid Story Binder, and I may well check it out again before I look at PageFour.) RoughDraft has a really appealing simplicity (you supply the structure in the form of file folders and filenames, and he gives you a way to leverage that and a half-decent RTF editor, to boot), but it's at the end of its life-cycle as the author has made it clear he doesn't intend to do any more work on it. (Nevertheless, it's so compact and fast that I'm tempted to use it for journaling. But that's another story for another time.)

Syndicate content