Nowadays, there are a plethora of writing products for the beginning and working writer. Many offer great features, and others not so much. Here’s the low down on the most highly rated and the stuff you should avoid.
First, let’s start with the best products. These have the best features, and have loyal users who wouldn’t switch to anything else unless the world ended.
This inexpensive software is one of the most intuitive softwares on the market for writers and is highly rated among its users. With several templates from which to work (novel format, short story format, screenwriting format, among others), Scrivener takes a lot of hassle out of writing. Gone are the days when you had to deal with formatting issues as you wrote; now you can just open the type of project you want and start writing. What’s great about this software is that you can save everything in one place, since it saves by project instead of by documents. No more hunting for those drafts that are saved all over your computer, and its cork board feature allows you to take notes and store them in the project. It also allows exporting to other major software programs, such as MS Word and Final Draft. This is a great product for the disorganized writer.
2. Final Draft
Final Draft is THE software for screenwriters. Why? It handles the formatting so you don’t have to. While it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how Hollywood wants to see its scripts formatted in any case, Final Draft takes care of virtually all your formatting needs as you write. Like Scrivener, it too has an area where you can make notes.
3. Final Draft AV
For writers who write commercials, corporate and training videos, documentaries, and presentations, Final Draft AV is your ticket. It’s the only scriptwriting software on the market specifically designed for these types of writing gigs. It too offers automatic formatting without you having to learn a ton of key commands (saving you a lot of time!). One of its best features is that you can add and delete separate shots within a scene and the scene maintains its format.
This is one of the better writing softwares for PC users. It has useful features in which you can easily organize, keeping all your notes and drafts and whatnot in one place. It sounds a lot like a PC version of Scrivener. Not as pretty, but it gets the job done.
This last piece of software is not writing software. It’s a software that blocks your access to the Internet for a period of time that you specify. If one of your favorite types of procrastination is surfing the Internet, this software can help you curb that temptation. Think of all the work you’ll get done by simply banning the Internet from your computer for an hour or so. Best of all, it’s free.
And now for the bad. The criteria used for judging these was that they’re either not good organizationally or they don’t allow the writer to actually write, but make the writer plug and chug information into the software.
1. MS Word
This software wasn’t made for creatives. It was made for office work. And you know, that’s okay. Novelists and screenwriters weren’t in mind when the software was made. The biggest issue with this software is its lack of ease in organization. You save one draft and that’s a totally separate file from your second draft. To keep everything together, you have to manually make a folder and hunt down all your drafts, notes, and the like. It’s a hassle, and with other writing softwares that are more intuitive, you’d best keep this software for your business letters and other office work.
This software seems to be very rigid. In a five step process, you fill in the blanks to work out your story elements. You get three choices in your type of story: plot driven, character driven, or epic. Then you choose a plot type. (How about they just insert one of Edgar Wallace’s plot wheels?) Then you choose your characters: protagonist, antagonist, or extra. Additionally, it touts a thesaurus among its “advanced” features—something you can find in MS Word.
While there’s something to be said for the three-act structure, this software feels too “plug ‘n chug.” Your protagonist (the only character you get to design in Contour) is an orphan at the beginning of the story, then a wanderer, then a warrior, and finally a martyr at the end. Contour gives you a number of Hollywood blockbusters as examples. If you’re a beginning writer with absolutely no idea where to begin, this relatively inexpensive software could be your thing.
4. Dramatica Pro
Though this isn’t nearly as rigid as Contour or NewNovelist, Dramatica Pro still has too much preparation. It asks an estimated 385 questions about your characters, plots, settings, etc. Not the best tool if you actually want to start writing. However, if you’re a beginner or one of those writers who has only a vague idea of where to start, Dramatica Pro may help you out.
5. Master Storyteller
This inexpensive software is in the same vein as Contour and Dramatica Pro in the sense that you’re led through the writing rather than driving it yourself. And it’s missing a lot of features of the higher end programs. Again, beginning writers might find the tips and suggested exercises helpful, but writers of earlier generations got by just fine without this.