Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Writing Software

On Sunday afternoon, I continued to struggle with endnotes and color-coordinated index cards with only moderate success after spending a week setting up and refining my system. Certainly another author had already solved the problem of how to step back from a book and see the big picture. I started surfing.

Enter Simon Haynes, an Australian science fiction writer (Published by Penguin Australia) who's day job is software programming. Haynes offers a free download called yWriter as a way to publicize his humorous sci fi books.

In Haynes's own words:

Despite the mystical arty aura surrounding the process of fiction writing, at the end of the day most books can be written in a similar fashion: Break each novel into chapters, break each chapter into one or more scenes, and give each scene a goal, some conflict and an outcome.

A scene is a pleasant chunk to work on - small and well-defined, you can slot them into your novel, dragging and dropping them from one chapter to another as you interleave strands from different viewpoint characters and work out the overall flow of your book. You can also drop a scene completely if you've written yourself into a dead end, without feeling you've ground to a complete halt.

I'm a programmer and a novelist, and yWriter is the result of 3 or 4 years of development. I really struggled over my first novel because I wrote whole slabs of text into a great big word processor file and tried to make sense of the whole thing at once. I then tried saving each chapter to individual files with great long descriptive filenames, but moving scenes around was a nuisance and I couldn't get an overview of the whole thing (or easily search for one word amongst 32 files) In the end I realised a dedicated program was the way to go, and yWriter is the result. It may look simple, but as the author of three books written with this tool I can guarantee it has everything needed to get a first draft together.

Was the Aussie reading my mind? I downloaded yWriter and sent him a donation via paypal as a thank you.

Sunday evening I spent getting the feel of the software by cutting and pasting scenes into it from my word processing program. I made a few errors in naming chapters (the whole process would have been a ton easier if I'd found yWriter at the beginning), but once I figured it out (Haynes actually responded to my email and explained my error), I fixed it and was able to move on. Yesterday I spent cutting and pasting the rest of the book into the program. It's pretty intuitive and since I'm writing a memoir, I use the "character viewpoint" functions as a way to track story themes.

If you're a can't see the trees for a forest writer, this might not help you. I'm a can't see the forest for the trees writer, good with the details, but easily lost in the big picture. The software helps me look at the document as a whole while working in tiny increments. yWriter includes these features:

  • Organise your novel using a 'project'.
  • Add files to the project, each containing a chapter.
  • Add a summary to each file, showing the scenes in each chapter.
  • Print out summary cards, showing the structure of your novel.
  • Display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total.
  • Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total. (Tracks your progress)
  • Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals.
  • Allows multiple scenes within chapters
  • Viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene.
  • Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work.
  • Re-order scenes within chapters.
  • Move scenes from one chapter to another.
  • Automatic chapter renumbering.

Other manuscript software exits, but for now, yWriter is what I need.

5 comments:

michelle said...

I didn't know this existed... thank you!

Anonymouse said...

You are most welcome!

Anonymous said...

Hmm I love the idea behind this website, very unique.
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Anonymous said...

Super color scheme, I like it! Good job. Go on.
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Anonymous said...

What a great site, how do you build such a cool site, its excellent.
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