From Concept to Completion - Free Software to Help You Write That Novel.


MindMaple

What is it?

Mindmaple Lite is a mind mapping software, perfect for capturing your ideas quickly.

What should I use it for?

At the very first stage of your novel and throughout. Whenever ideas arrive and you need to note them down quickly in one place without having to create files, folder or tags – the core concept, character traits, theme ideas, pieces of dialogue. Anything, really.

How do I use it?

The beauty of Mindmaple is that you can get your ideas into text quickly in one central location, but also you can arrange those ideas just as quickly into sections and subtopics. You can add notes in Mind Maple, but it can become a little cluttered.

Best features?

Being able to see your idea grow on ‘paper’. You can create relationship links between topics and have floating topics too, which is great when you need to connect some of your novel’s elements from different sections but need a shared or umbrella category.

There’s the ability to create links to the web or to your own files, which works brilliantly in conjunction with linking to notes in Evernote (see below for more details). You can also add labels to topics (for example: Theme, Plot, Characterisation)

**What would be great about MindMaple and Evernote would be if we were able to create a new note within Mindmaple that saved to both our mind maps and the Evernote app and were linkable.

Evernote

What is it?

Excellent, is what! Evernote is an online note collating software that you can access from your desktop or mobile device. The free version allows you to use two separate devices, but if you want more you’ll have to pay.

What should I use it for?

This app is brilliant for taking notes quickly wherever you are. It’s not quite as quick as Mindmaple, but its advantage is in the sense that you can add more details to your notes than in Mindmaple. You can also categorise them under tags for easy searching while also keeping all notes under those categories in an open view on your device, and you can write a whole scene if inspiration suddenly grabs you in your lunch break. All from your phone or tablet! It’s also great for collating related information into workbooks.

How do I use it?

Create a workbook with your book title. Now you can collate all information relating to that project within this notebook - research, ideas, web links, bits of dialogue you’ve written on the fly, etc. You apply tags to each note so you can find them quickly. Or create a set of tags in advance that you think you’ll need most and assign notes as you create them.

To link Evernote notes in MindMaple, open the desired Evernote note, right click and copy note link. In Mindmaple click on hyperlink and paste the link in the field ‘link to’ and click OK. You can also link between Evernote notes by pasting the link within the notes you want linked.

Best Features?

Definitely the Webclipper. This is an add-on you must install to your web browser but, once you do, it makes online life that little bit more sublime. Found an article pertinent to your research? Clip it! Hit the elephant icon on you browser and save the article as a link, full article, a snapshot or a bookmark. Easy.

Another great feature that might be more useful to those already publishing novels is the ability to real-time chat. You can send your manuscript attachment to your editor via Evernote and s/he can talk straight back to you with their thoughts and advice. You can organise a time slot to chat with them and to ask them all the questions you need relating to your story without having to wait hours or days for an email reply.

WPS Spreadsheets (Excel)

What is it?

Just like Microsoft’s spreadsheet program. WPS Office I am still testing out (good so far in fifteen days, but not yet sure if I’m running a trial of the full version or not!), but Libre Office gets a lot of recommendations. I’m yet to try the latter out, but if you do, please come back and share the pros and cons with us in the comments box!

What should I use it for?

Pre-planning and later tracking your plot. Some people don’t like to pre-plan in this way and that’s fine, but I’ve listed it as the third software to use in the stages of novel writing for those that do. Either way, tracking your plot on a spreadsheet will become necessary at some point.

How do I use it?

See this blog post, and read my novel editing series.

Best features?

Excel – or alternative but same – excels as a plot tracker by being able to freeze the first column so that you always have your list of POV characters in the screen. You can easily add scene details without having to keep scrolling back. Also, the comments feature found under the review tab is an absolute must have. Using that feature means you can add little notes for reference to the main story details without cluttering up what you need to see most clearly – the plot. If you’ve already got notes in Evernote you feel are pertinent, you can add the links in the comments box.

yWriter

What is it?

yWriter is a less fancy, free version of Scrivener novel writing software. They both pretty much do the same, but if you are on a low budget, or not yet sure if this kind of software is for you, yWriter is an excellent choice to test it out or just as a viable alternative. OK, it uses less graphical gratification (it’s less aesthetically pleasing) but it keeps all your chapters in order and has all sorts of gizmos to help you focus on your writing and produce a final edited piece of work.

What should I use it for?

Write your first draft directly into yWriter and keep track of your edits.

How do I use it?

Create 30 chapters for a standard novel for your project and then create and write new scenes as you go. You can add more chapters and scenes as and when you need them, drag and drop to move them around if you think they would serve the story better earlier or later in the chronological order. You can also insert new scenes or delete ones you don’t want.

Best features?

yWriter’s best features are the ability to drag and drop chapters and scenes, mark scenes as unused so they are still retained and accessible, but they don’t get included in your story’s word count. You can also create a dummy chapter to store all of your unused scenes so that you can pluck them back out should you decide you need them after all. Another great feature of yWriter is its goal screen. You can mark your scenes as action/reaction scenes, goal, conflict, outcome/action, dilemma, choice, which really keeps your toes tight up against your plotting.

If you need motivation, you can also set word count goals for the week/month. It won’t pay out chocolate if you meet those goals, but you’ll be amazed that even as small a thing as a computer counting your every word will push you towards success.

WPS Office Writer

What is it?

Everyone knows that for the average user Microsoft Word via Office 365 is expensive, but there are free or cheaper alternatives that will do just as good a job. WPS Office provides decent functionality in word processing, almost matching its mentor MS Word.

Track changes enables you to track any editing you do to your own work, add comments boxes so you can critique your own story without messing up the original text with a red marker. Again, Libre Office is another alternative.

What should I use it for?

As great as yWriter is, it has its limits, and that’s editing/revising. In order to edit your MS from yWriter, you need to export it into an RTF file in your word processing software. Don’t worry; it’s easy and clearly explained within the manual, but it does mean that yWriter does not provide reliable editing resources within itself. No matter. Track Changes will do most of what you need. You can import your project back into yWriter when you are done, or if you find you need to add in scenes you can do that and then export again into your word processor and edit again.

How do I use it?

In the first instance, use track changes comments boxes for your structural edit to mark what and where you must change. This is also a good time to use it in conjunction with your spreadsheet plot tracker – fill it in with your story events (again, see my series on novel editing) – and for line edits. In the second instance, it’s a useful tool for a final proofread.

Best features?

The comments boxes and the ability to switch between the proof mark up, the original and the final copy. Also, the button to accept or reject these changes.

Prowriting Aid

What is it?

Prowriting Aid is an online editing tool that goes beyond the functionality of normal word processing grammar and spell checkers.

What should I use it for?

This tool is best used once you have taken your story telling skills to their limit – i.e. your structure is as you want it, you’ve ironed out most of your plot and characterisation kinks, pacing, drama, etc., and you are ready to do some copy editing.

How do I use it?

The free version used to permit uploads of of 3k words per session, though sessions were unlimited. Nowadays, it's been limited to 500 words per session. Not particularly practical unless it doesn't bother you to work in small chunks like this. In the paid version you can upload a whole novel as far as I know. You can save your changes and go back to this online copy to continue editing as and when you need in the free version, and in the paid version you can use it within your word processing software. The paid version doesn't cost much - $40 p/a or $140 for a lifetime!

If you can't bear the thought of working on such a small chunk of text for free and are strapped for cash, SlickWrite is an entirely free alternative and allows a higher word count to be submitted to the tool (up to 30k words!). Despite its name, it's not quite as slick in its reporting tools as Pro Writing Aid but still offers much of the same functionality. However, it has an add-on to work with Libre Office so you can submit directly from your word processor.

Best Features?

The beauty of these babies is that they will highlight errors of grammar and sentence structure that many word processing software misses. It'll also flag where you've used too many functionality (or sticky) words. This means you can go back and rewrite those areas with stronger verbs and nouns. It’s a great additional quality check to using your normal word processor.

yWriter

And here we are, back to yWriter again. Once you have exported your novel and finished all your edits within your word processor and online editor, and – if you are self-publishing ebooks – had a copy editor check over, proofread and format your book’s style and consistency, you can export your final, polished piece from yWriter into an HTML document for ebook formatting through Calibre. See this link:

Ebook formatting: http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5_Ebooks.html

Got any other suggestions not mentioned here? Let us know below!


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