The Complete Novel Writing Software Guide

Jean Rostand: Think. Why think? We have computers to do that for us.

Let's start with the boring stuff: I do not claim to have tested all of the novel writing software listed below (I couldn't afford to do that even if I had the time).

Sure, I have road-tested the ones that really caught my eye - with a view to possibly using them for my own writing.

But my more general aim in this section is simply to collect all the facts and figures in one convenient location to save you the trouble of doing all the research yourself.

  • I have tracked down and appraised all of the software for writers out there (and there's a lot of it!)
  • I have weighed up the various features and taken note of any customer feedback.
  • And I have listed the best software below.

Before you even consider getting out your wallets, I guess the first thing you need to decide is this...

Do You Need Novel Writing Software At All?

The quick answer is: No, of course you don't!

Stories have been written (and told) for centuries without the benefit of computers, and they will continue to be written without it for centuries to come.

On the other hand (and there's always one of those), good software could well turn out to be one of those things you wonder what you ever did without. Be clear about this, though...

Writer's software will not write a single word of your novel for you.

Computer programs just aren't as clever as us humans, at least not when it comes to creative thinking. But that's a good thing, right?

Imagine if a computer really could produce a novel with minimal input from a human. What would be the point? It would be like having a robot to put together a jigsaw puzzle for you - when doing it yourself is the whole point of jigsaws (and of writing novels).

Fine. So that has dealt with what software can't do. But what can it do? Three things...

  1. It can help you get organized (and stay organized).
  2. It can help you develop a well-structured plot.
  3. It can help you edit your manuscript before submitting it for publication.

I will now look at these three types in turn and recommend a few products in each category.

Organizational Writing Software

Writing a novel can sometimes feel like juggling a dozen balls...

  • You've got notes on characters and theme and setting.
  • You've got a plot outline which you are constantly chopping and changing.
  • You've got reams of research notes.
  • You've got snippets of prose and dialogue written on the backs of envelopes.

And as if keeping track of all this disparate information wasn't confusing enough, not having everything to hand can totally destroy the creative process.

When you sit down to write a first draft of your novel, you want as few distractions as possible. You want to give your inner-artist the peace of mind to be able to just tell the story. Having your inner-critic fussing around in the background trying to locate character or research notes can totally kill your artist's inspiration.

That's where this first type of writing software can help.

The best way to think of it is like a word processor specifically designed for creative writers.

Regular word processors (Microsoft Word or the Mac equivalent) are great, but 95% of the features are totally unnecessary for writing fiction...

  • Novelists don't need to add pie charts or tables to their manuscripts.
  • They don't need fancy fonts or colored text.
  • Aside from cutting and pasting, spell checking and counting the words, novel writers don't need any fancy features at all.

Word processors for writers help cut down the clutter and the distractions by doing away with everything that is unnecessary.

But they really come into their own by adding features that are important to writers - namely, easy access (on the same screen) to all your character notes, setting notes, and so on.

Recommended Organizational Software:

  • PageFour. This is the simplest word processor for writers out there, and that's what makes it so brilliant. As a matter of fact, it's the one I use myself. You get a simple word processing screen with no pointless buttons to press and a window on the left to organise your notes. If all you want is an uncomplicated writing environment, check it out.
  • Scrivener. Not as simple as PageFour, but so many novel writers swear by Scrivener that I had no choice but to recommend it. Originally just for Macs, a Windows version is now available

Also Worth Considering:

  • StoryBlue. Another simple word processor for novelists that won't break the bank. This one also allows you to set word-count targets and keep track of your progress.
  • PowerWriter. This one comes with good reviews, but it looks more complicated than other organizational software. You'll need to set aside a few days to get to grips with it. (There is also a version called "PowerStructure" that includes the story development capabilities that I will talk about below.)
  • Writer's Blocks. If you're a fan of the "index card" method of planning fiction but would prefer to do it on your laptop, this one could be for you. The price seems very steep for what it is, though.

Story Development Software

So that has dealt with what might be termed "word processors for novel writers."

The next variety of novel writing software ramps things up a notch by assisting you with creating the characters and writing the plot. (More advanced story development software also helps with developing the theme and the "story world" - the setting, in other words.)

This type of software could well be for you if you struggle with the technical theory of novel writing.

For example, I am proud of my sections on Creating Characters and How to Plot a Novel, but if you can't quite wrap your head around the finer points you could well benefit from computer-assisted help.

It won't replace the need for using your intelligence and creativity, but it will hold you by the hand along the way and make the journey less daunting.

Recommended Story Development Software:

  • StoryWeaver. Whereas most of the software below also comes with an in-built word processor for writers (the kind I talked about above). StoryWeaver doesn't (so you'll have to purchase PageFour or Scrivener as well). What it does have, though, is one of the most brilliant, intuitive systems for developing your plot, theme, characters and setting that I've ever seen. You can read what I think of it in more detail here.
  • Dramatica Pro. This one is a work of genius (seriously), but that could also be its greatest drawback. If you are happy to spend 6 months learning how to use it, fine. (The manual alone runs to over 400 pages, plus there are many hours of video demonstrations.) If you would rather spend that time writing your novel, stick with StoryWeaver (which, incidentally, is Dramatica Pro's "little brother".) Click here for my review.

Other Possibilities:

  • NewNovelist. A very popular brand of writing software that guides you through the development of your novel as you write. As with all the products in this section, the literary theory they use is totally compatible with the theory I teach here at Novel Writing Help. The only thing you might have to do is learn a little new terminology.
  • The Marshall Plan Novel Writing Software. This is a more robust version of NewNovelist, in that the software you purchase does a lot more for you - hence the much higher price tag. It comes from a respected writer, but I sense that it's more suitable for developing genre fiction than less-structured mainstream or literary novels.
  • CharacterWriter. Despite the name, this also comes with plotting software built in. I gave the software a test run and found the character-building part was too detailed and the plot-building part not detailed enough. But I felt it was interesting enough to at least mention it here.
  • StoryMill. Last but not least, one for Mac users only (which counts me out!) Like Scrivener above, I am including it here only because I have heard many writers rave about it.

Proofreading and Editing Software

If novel writing software (like the name implies) helps you write your novel, editing and proofreading software helps you polish the manuscript before submitting it for publication.

Now, if you're already a whiz with words and you know every grammatical rule in the book, this type of writing software probably isn't for you. (Save your money and do the editing yourself.)

If grammar isn't your strongest suit and you generally feel that your prose could do with a little more attention, investing in self-editing software could be a smart move.

The product I recommend is AutoCrit Manuscript Editing Software. Why? Simply because it is tailor-made for novelists (and therefore includes functions such as a dialogue tag checker).

But other popular brands of editing software that are definitely worth considering are...

  • Grammarly
  • WhiteSmoke
  • Ginger Proofreading Software

Free Novel Writing Software

All of the products above comes with a price to pay. Many of the products offer free trials or downloadable demo versions, but if you want a fully-functional piece of writing software you will need to pay. (Also, generally speaking, you will need to pay more for the better products.)

But free software certainly exists, and you shouldn't dismiss it out of hand as being no good. Don't use it just because it is free - not if it isn't right for you when a paid product is. But if you love it - why not?!

Both of these are word processors for writers, not story development tools...

  • YWriter 5
  • StoryBook

And that concludes this look at writer's software. Like I said, you can certainly write a novel without it. But if you decide to at least consider using it, I hope this page acts as a good starting point.

Related Article: The Tools of the Trade.