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Writing Software: 6 Suggestions for the New Novelist

software

If you’re just starting out as a writer, you’re probably hesitant about shelling out money on a fancy writing program. How often am I actually going to use this program? Is it really worth the money? There are probably a ton of parts I’ll have to learn — I just want to write.

At least, those were some of my thoughts before I started checking out various software for writing. I always used Microsoft Word, plus piles of notes and notebooks for all my scribbles and ideas. But believe me, investing in software has been one of the best decisions to improve my writing and organization.

There are way more than a plethora of computer programs out there, enough to make your head spin. So, where do you even begin to look for the right program to fit your needs?

First, you’ll need to evaluate exactly what your needs are as a writer. Are you writing for yourself? To eventually submit to literary agents/publishers? Self-publish? What do you struggle with most when it comes to your stories… Plotting? Characterization? Focusing your attention on writing and tuning out distractions? Overall organization? Pinpointing your needs will help you decide which program to invest in.

For plotting your stories

  • Scapple ($14.99, Windows and Mac)
    This program is great if you only need a program for visalizing all your plot points, character interactions/relationships, etc. It’s like a cork board on your Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.24.14 PMcomputer. Double-click to create different bubbles, apply various colors and style options, and drag and drop to connect bubbles.
    Pros: Inexpensive for a decent program, great for anyone who likes visual aids.
    Cons: Not very useful for other needs.
  • OmniOutliner ($99.99, Mac only)
    Another program for plotting. Less freestyle/cork board-ish, moScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.46.15 PMre structured, but lots more room to type out detailed plot points and info.
    Not one I have first-hand experience with, but overall looks like a good program.
    Pros: More room for writing detailed plots, available on all your iOS devices and can sync between them.
    Cons: Only available on Mac, pricey compared to Scapple.
    *Screenshot credit: Mac App Store 

Distraction-free writing

  • iA Writer ($9.99, Mac/iOS and Android)
    A great program to help you tune out all those other focus-consumers, like basically everything on the Internet. No super fancy bells or whistles allow youScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 10.08.57 PM to focus on the story itself. The image you see here is full-screen view in iA Writer.
    Pros: Great if you’re distracted easily, clean, minimalistic design helps you focus on the text itself, rather than trying to organize everything, good price
    Cons: Not useful for anything else besides text, so you’d have to use other programs to organize any other files, notes, clippings, ideas, etc.
  • OmmWriter ($4.11* and up, Mac, iOS, Windows)
    While basically the same idea as iA Writer in being “distraction-free”, this program mostly lets you focus on just the text. Differences in this are the various Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 10.21.08 PMbackgrounds you can choose from and instrumental music that plays in the program while you write. I tried OmmWriter quite awhile ago, and didn’t like it very much. I found myself too busy with changing the backgrounds and listening to the background music instead of writing. If I’m going to listen to music, I’d rather listen to iTunes.
    *(Image credit: ommwriter.com)
    Pros: *$4.11 is the minimum price you pay, but they ask you to donate more if you so choose. If you can focus on writing instead of changing backgrounds and listening to the music, it’s a good program.
    Cons: If you’re easily distracted, not such a great choice.

The whole-kit-and-caboodle programs

  • Scrivener ($45, Mac and Windows)
    Many writers will agree that this is the mack daddy of writing software. I, myself, am a fangirl for Scrivener. I love it and swear by it. It is your all-in-one program, scrivfrom plotting, character profiles, word processor, notes, ideas… In other words, you name it, Scrivener can handle it. It can even export to a ton of different file types, including mobi/epub files for ebooks. They run specials for NaNoWriMo every November — usually 50% for winners, 20% even if you don’t win. Scrivener is well worth the investment.
    Pros: Keeps everything you need for your novel in one place, even links to webpages for research. There are a ton of nifty features, too many to even begin naming. Excellent price (especially when they offer discounts) for so many features.
    Cons: All the bells and whistles can be overwhelming at first. While there is a great tutorial file that walks you through a lot of the features, it is a bit time consuming. Even after doing the tutorial, there are a lot of features to still discover.
  • Storyist ($59, Mac only)
    I’ve never used this program personally, nor do I know anyone personally who uses it, but my understanding is that it’s very similar to Scrivener. One upsideScreen Shot 2016-01-26 at 10.48.47 PM to this program is that it’s also available on all your iOS devices, meaning you can jump back and forth between your iPad/iPhone and your Mac.
    *(Image credit: storyist.com)
    Pros: All-in-one program, keeps everything you need in one program, available on other iOS devices, which gives you more on-the-go capabilities
    Cons: More expensive than Scrivener. I’m not 100% sure what, if any, discounts they offer during NaNoWriMo. Also only available for Mac/iOS.

There are a zillion other programs out there, too. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what program will work best for your needs, or which you’ll feel most comfortable using. Some writers like all the features and toys, some like simply using a word processor, some just like good ole pen and paper. The best part? Whatever gets you writing is the best option for you!

Do you have any writing programs you swear by? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Crafting Sympathetic Characters

Do you ever find yourself at your computer (or notebook) when writing and feel like screaming, “UGH, I HATE THIS CHARACTER!”

Oh, really, you do? Me too! Or you have someone beta read for you and they say, “I really don’t like this character.”

And then you cry and cry and cry, then cry some more because you spent so much time fleshing out who you thought was an amazing, really likable character. Then you cry yourself to sleep and dream of ways to kill off your entire cast of characters. Oh, not that last bit? That’s just me? Oh…

But don’t worry! Not all hope is lost. There’s a difference between likable and sympathetic. Your protagonist may be the biggest asshole on the planet, but if readers care about him, they’ll keep reading. The trick is they have to care enough to want to know what happens.

Example one:

As Marcus washed the dishes in the sink, the brush’s stiff bristles scraping the soapy suds against the plate, his green pasture-colored eyes gazed longingly out the kitchen window to the far pasture. He pondered the day’s events, of all the puppies he rescued and the little one he gave to his son, remembering how brightly his eyes lit up. He thought about his perfect life, his perfect family, and his perfectly chiseled jaw.

Did you care at all about Marcus? Booooring. Did you even finish reading it? I’m all for rescuing dogs, sure, but if this was an actual story I was reading, I wouldn’t give a damn about Marcus. Obviously I’m going to extremes with this example, but you get the picture, right? Take a look at this next example:

Example two:

His day at work had been grueling and never-ending, and all Marcus longed to do was pick up his son from his ex-wife’s house — that bitch, he added mentally — so they could completely veg out on the sofa with a weekend-long Star Wars marathon. Just as Marcus had signed off on his last report of the day, his manager marched down the row of desks with another stack of papers in his hand and dropped them on Marcus’ desk. Marcus stared, his jaw slack as he watched his manager turn and walk away without another word about the extra two hours of work he had just dumped on him.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Did you care about Marcus this time around, at least a little bit? Let’s go over some things that will help make your characters more sympathetic.

  • Faults
    Characters need faults. Where’s the fun in reading about someone who’s perfect in every way? Perfect characters with perfect lives have no conflict. Conflict is an integral part of novels. In our second example, Marcus’ life isn’t perfect: divorced, shared custody of his kid, and overworked at his job. Your character’s faults don’t have to be big, either. Is your protagonist ultra shy? Rude? Anxiety-ridden? Bossy?
  • Goals, Wants, Needs
    Goals are the driving force of your plot. In every scene, your character needs to have a goal, even if it’s something as simple as wanting to go home or spend time with family. What goal, need, or want is the driving force behind your character’s actions?
  • Active in the story
    Your protagonist shouldn’t be a passive bystander in your story. The plot shouldn’t just be happening around him, with your character only reacting to what’s happening. His goal, want, or need should be strong enough to force him to take action.
  • Redeeming quality
    While it’s necessary for your character to have at least some faults, he should have at least one redeeming quality your reader can identify with. Marcus, for example, cares about his son even though not everything around him is perfect.

Remember, sympathetic does not have to equal likable. Your character could be the biggest jerk ever, but the reader should care enough about him to feel compelled to finish reading his story.

In what ways do you try to make your characters sympathetic and relatable? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Just Write! (A little inspiration for you)

gaimanquote

This is one of my favorite quotes on writing. Because that’s exactly how it is. At times, you find yourself staring at a blank screen, or a blank leaf of paper, and it just stares back you in a menacing sort of fashion. Other times, you find yourself madly, furiously writing without pause, the ideas relentlessly flowing into your mind. Some days it doesn’t quite seem fair, does it?

Here is the key: just write.

Write without worrying if it’s good. Write without wondering what a reader might think. Worry about that later. You can always go back and make revisions.

Make writing a habit. Just write something at least once a day, every day. Find things that inspire you. Music is a big inspiration for me, although I find instrumental music easier to write to (lyrics tend to interrupt my thought process). Find an image online that sparks your imagination. Look up writing prompts. Have an older piece that you could never quite finish? Dredge it up, take the main idea behind it, and rewrite it. Just get that pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard!

One of our biggest problems as writers is that we are our own biggest critics. How many times have you written something, only to read it over and think: “Wow, this is crap.” I can tell you that I do it constantly. But try this: instead of deleting it (or crumpling up and throwing away that piece of paper), save it. Make a separate folder for old or rough drafts. But don’t delete anything! One day you’ll look back on those old files with a smile and you’ll say, “I’m amazed at how far I’ve come.”

When it comes to first drafts, Ernest Hemingway said it best: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Here’s the thing, though… You are so much better than you think. So again, just keep writing. Don’t torture yourself over which word you think works best, or how many adverbs you’re using. It’s only a first draft. In all reality, it’s probably not as bad as you think.

I’ll say it once more: get those fingers to your keyboard!

Welcome, writerly friends!

Here at The Sentranced Writer, you’ll find resources and inspiration for crafting your best novel. We’re here to help you through every step of the writing process — from that first “Aha! That would make a good story!” to “First draft is finally DONE!” to “I’m ready to publish!”

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