Writers always want to know – what is THE best novel writing programs? It just bugs the living daylights out of you to think that you might possibly be using something that’s not that good, so some writers are perpetually in the hunt for the best writing program, hands down.

I’ll give a shootout of what programs I’ve used or tried, with point by point descriptions. I’ll go so far as to say these are ones I’ve seen listed as winners on other shootouts I’ve read! So without further ado, here’s the list!

YWriter ($free). YWwriter is an underrated program. I wrote my first three novels in it, and found that its interface just led you to write, write, write! I could easily get 1700 word days, and sometimes 2400 word days! The interface looks more like a spreadsheet. The left hand window lists your chapters, and the right hand window gives a Microsoft Excel style breakdown of the scenes in that chapter. You can keep track (at a glance) of viewpoint, date & time, words, location, items, filename, status (rough draft, 1st draft, 2nd draft, final), and characters in the scene. This was so handy to me that I almost literally wasn’t able to switch to Scrivener for several years!

Once you open a scene to write in it, you have the ability to track the tension and humor in it, the scene goals, and here’s where you enter in the stuff you’re tracking above! I was so busy writing for the first three years in YWriter that I literally didn’t have enough time to fill out a lot of the much needed information!

There’s other functions within YWriter, such as the cryptic “apply outline” I never figured out. I’m sure the problem with YWriter was its success! I simply never had enough time to poke at it and find out the inner workings, because I was too busy writing!

YWriter’s biggest drawback (in version 5) was its lack of good spellcheck. I needed something better, since I was having a lot of problems. Scrivener turned out to be my solution, in that I could right click on a word and choose the right spelling.

YWriter also had work schedules, and you could view reports that told you when you were slacking. Scene per character reports, etc. You get a LOT for free! YWriter could easily have sold for $30, and is the most serious competitor against Scrivener.

YWriter gets #2 as best writing program. I’ve still got a lot of fondness for it, due to writing three novels so quickly in it!

WriteWay ($Free) WriteWay is unique to me in that I first heard about it two days ago (I’m writing this December 16) when the announcement came out that it was no longer being supported, and was free. I do think that perhaps the best way to handle this was to change the interface to no longer require registration, but they did the next best thing – they put a generic serial number on their website. I saved it, so if their website ever goes down for good, I’ve still got it.

The interface is a little more graphic style than YWriter, but to a certain extent, it might have been better to either upgrade the graphic interface to something more modern, or go to the plain non-graphic format of YWriter. I’m counting the teeth of a gift horse here, and should just accept that “hey, it’s free.”

WriteWay does something YWriter doesn’t – it forces you to THINK your novel through. If you’re more of a pant’ser, then you might appreciate YWriter’s “no thoughts, let’s jump right into it” format. WriteWay, on the other hand, may make a better writer out of you. The format almost requires you to know something about novel writing structure, and force you to stop and think about your project for a bit. I’m hampered in that YWriter I’ve got 4 or 5 years experience with, and Scrivener I’ve got two years of experience with – and I’ve had WriteWay for two days and haven’t written a novel in it yet!

Synopsis. Under the file menu, there’s an option to write a full synopsis for the book. Yes, your eyes just glazed over, but your agent is going to ask for a synopsis of your book, and the publisher will too. You should write two synopsizes, a one-age and a three page.

Storyboard. Yes, WriteWay has a corkboard view. Click the Storyboard button. There’s a lot of sub context menus by right clicking. To get back to the default view, click “Composition”.

Font Matter and Back Matter. You can add default pages by clicking on “Front matter” and click the “Page” button. It’s then a matter of clicking on each of the page types, choosing “add”, and then going over a couple of columns and choosing “front matter” or “Back matter”. You can also add user pages. WriteWay allows you to drag pages back and forth.

Future Book Ideas. Believe it or not, this is something you can set up and keep track of in WriteWay. What you enter in here is kept in the WriteWay folder, not in your project folder – so that every idea you come up with is available in EVERY project! For Mysteries, you can list them as “poisoning-jealousy-rejected suitor/heiress victim”, etc. I can plan out an entire series of mysteries this way! Thrillers can be “introduction to the Organization/man finds smart watch in 1961/hunted by assassins” or whatever. I’ve got good ideas for my Thrillers, so I’m trying to keep those under wraps! This alone is a good way to keep track. Try to add projected dates for them. Have a “Writing Admin day” where you plan these out. I’d make folders myself instead of pages, and you can write your synopsis for them in separate pages. The way WriteWay is currently set up is that you’d write loglines for each one, and you’d store them all in the “Fiction stories” page.

WriteWay is an alternate to YWriter for those who can’t afford Scrivener. It stands at #3 on the shootout for best novel writing program!

Page Four ($Free) Also recently free! I’ve had it only for a day. I remember trying the demo a couple of weeks ago and thinking, “this was cool – but if they’ve stopped support for it, they need to give it away.” Lo and behold, they did. The latest version is free, no registration required.

Page Four isn’t something I’d use to write a book. The interface is more  set up as a replacement for notepad, with tabbed functions. It does have a very good feature – it lets you scan documents and tell you, “Um… you’ve used this phrase 4 times already.” The editing phase of a novel will benefit GREATLY from this program.

Really good to have, in that it analyzes your writing weaknesses. I wouldn’t try writing a book with this, though. And they go so far as to state Page Four was created to fill a certain niche, and it does it well. If you need something as a basic notepad replacement that tells you your writing is too repetitive, then Page Four fits the bill!

Write It Now ($69.95) Supposedly the biggest competitor to Scrivener. The single biggest drawback the demo had was – you don’t get a 30 day trial. You can use it as long as you like – but you can’t save anything in it. As a result, I poked at it for ten minutes, and deleted it. They need to rethink that policy, as it means I literally couldn’t evaluate it!

Not as “plan it” intensive as WriteWay, Write It Now does have some cool features in that  you can create characters that are a little more three dimensional – and supposedly the program actually will suggest names from its database for them.

However… for the life of me, I’m still trying to figure out why one article on the Best novel Writing software placed this program as the winner over Scrivener? Especially since it costs more, and doesn’t do as much! When a program costs more, it should deliver much more, and I just wasn’t seeing it. as a matter of fact, I was seeing less.

This one stands at #4 on the shootout, under WriteWay.

Scrivener ($39.95) The winner, at number one. It took quite a long time for me to be sold on Scrivener as opposed to YWriter. The weakness to Scrivener is its adaptability – there’s so many ways you can configure it, so many things you can do with it, that it’s possible to spend more time poking at it than actually writing! This may be why I was able to write so many books so quickly on YWriter – almost no customization to it!

But the Benefits far outway the drawback to it. I’ve read people complain that Scrivener is deleting any text files left open, and they complained that Scrivener’s support was lamely saying, “it’s your computer.” Well, yes it was. I’ve never had that happen. There’s one user error mistake most people make about Scrivener – they think the backup function works without any configuration. you’re wrong. If you don’t tell it a location to save the backups to, you’re not backing up Scrivener! And most certainly, utilize the snapshot function if you’re going to walk away from your computer! If you do these two steps, then nothing should happen to anything you’ve written in Scrivener. And if it does – then just restore the snapshot!

Scrivener, like YWriter, Write It Now and WriteWay is based upon the concept of novels being written in scenes.  Scrivener gives you at least two or three different ways to navigate the scene and chapter structure of the novel – the Inspector, the Corkboard and the Binder. Scrivener is written specifically for the Mac, but they’ve made adaptations to it to work within Windows. I’m still waiting for the PC version of 3.0, and I’m looking to see if they’ve finally added the features for the PC they’ve had exclusively for the Mac!

essentially, you populate your novel with folders (chapters) and texts (scenes). One of the single biggest benefits to Scrivener is the project word count goal. One published Sci-Fi writer describes it as “almost like a little computer game” – you can write and glance every now and then at the indicator. It inspires you to keep writing, and almost guarantees you’ll go in excess of your projected word count if you did the prior planning so crucial to writing a novel.

The strength of Scrivener is that you can – depending on which brain you’re thinking with – can maneuver around in your books architecture in all three ways. If you find you’re maneuvering in the Inspector, you’re having an analytical day, so might as well edit. If you find yourself prowling the corkboard and binder, it’s a writing day! Literally, thousands of people have written novels in Scrivener in Nanowrimo. Scrivener’s strength and drawback are the same – its adaptability. At first, I relied too much on YWriter’s ability to keep track of date and location (crucial to my novels). Once I realized I could do that in Scrivener, it was a game changer! At some point, I’ll write up an ebook on writing with Scrivener, and show a lot of the hidden tweaks you can do (I haven’t discovered anything new, but it seems a lot of other people haven’t really gotten the hang of how to use these yet, and most are unaware they exist!)

Scrivener has a full screen mode that prevents distraction in writing. I use it more working in some novels than in others! You can put your own backdrop on it, or leave it black, or even make it slightly transparent!

Suffice it to say, my recommendation is to buy Scrivener.

Conclusion

Although every writing program will do, there are some that work much better than others. Can you use Page Four to write a novel? I wouldn’t, but yes, you could. Can you use Write It now to write a novel? Yes. I just felt it was too expensive to offer less features than Scrivener. If you charged $19.95 for it, I’d be more inclined to rate it higher.

Here’s the shootout in order:

  1. Scrivener
  2. YWriter
  3. WriteWay
  4. Write It Now