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.
Before you even consider getting out your wallets, I guess the first thing you need to decide is this...
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...
I will now look at these three types in turn and recommend a few products in each category.
Writing a novel can sometimes feel like juggling a dozen balls...
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...
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.
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.
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...
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...
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.