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Writing Programs and a comprehensive review of NewNovelist 2 February 1, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing.
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Why use a writing program?

What should be made clear from the outset is that a writing program will not help you write your novel.  You still have to do all the hard work yourself.  But it can help make life a little easier.

Most established writers frown upon software or programs that purport to assist writers with their writing, whether it’s a novel or a screenplay.  But for newbies to novel/sceenplay writing (like me), such programs can be exteremly helpful.  It can assist new writers who are unfamiliar with the craft to organise their ideas and characters, to build their story in a systematic and more efficient manner. 

It’s certainly not for everyone.  People who already have their own preferred styles of approaching writing may find it distracting.  I’ve also heard people say that most of the functions in these writing programs can be found in Microsoft Word – you just need to learn how to use it.

The writing program I’m using to write my novel is called NewNovelist (version 2).  I came across it by accident, in one of those Facebook ads on the side of the page that I normally don’t look at twice.  You can still get 10% off if you purchase it using the code bk456.  Read more about the program at the NewNovelist  website.  (NB: If you google ‘writing program’ or ‘writing software’, NewNovelist is the program that will come up most frequently)

NewNovelist 2

I have never used specialist writing software before, so there’s not much I can compare NewNovelist to.  I’ve only heard that NewNovelist 2 is a huge upgrade on the first version of the program.

Why did I get it?

So why did I get a writing program?  Well, I’ve said this a few times already, but I had been working on my fantasy novel on and off for 7 years.  The writing was extremely sporadic – I’d work on it when I felt like it and only on scenes I felt like writing.  Nothing was chronological or consistent.  I wrote some on the computer, occasionally on loose sheets of paper, and mostly in notebooks.  It was all over the place.  Some plot points would contradict each other.  Other times I would forget character or place names.  It just became very hard to organise.  It’s not the main reason but it was one of the reasons why the novel never really got off the ground.

So when I saw NewNovelist by chance, I took it as a sign.  The advertisements made the product seem good enough.  So I gave it a shot.  Without the 10% discount, it costs US$54.99 by download or US$59.99 for download + a CD copy.  I went with the download option.  The download was very fast and the installation was smooth.

I discuss some of the program’s features and problems below.  However, so far I have been pleased with it.  Would I be writing my novel without it?  Probably.  But at that point in time, New Novelist was exactly what I needed to give myself that extra push, that little nudge to get me started.  I haven’t stopped writing since.

Features

Wizard phase

The first main feature of New Novelist is that it starts with a writing wizard that guides you through the introductory stages of your novel.  This entails 4 steps:

1. Choosing a name (mine is still ‘Untitled’)

2. Deciding a story concept (describing your story in a couple of sentences)

‘3. Choosing the story category (Plot, Epic or Character)

4. Choosing the story type (many to choose from, depending on your category)

Depending on your choices in steps 3 and 4, the wizard will give you pre-determined pointers on how your story should progress.  This is really for writers who are just beginning, and probably don’t have an idea of which direction they want to go in.  Personally, this was a little useless for me as I already had a specific idea of how my story was going to run and the key plot points were pretty much decided.  For the record I chose ‘Plot’ for my story category and ‘Chase’ for my story type.

Unique side panels

After the wizard stage, the program takes you into the main page.  It looks like a typical Microsoft Word page, but with less toolbar functions at the top.  But it has two very special features which makes it unique – two panels on either side that allow you to explore various aspects of your story.

The left panel is labelled ‘Chapter’ and has underneath it the phases your novel should go through.  Under each phase, there are pointers on what you should write about, how long that phase should be in the context of the novel length, and real life examples from other well-known novels.  You start off with the generic ones that are given to you because of the story type you have chosen.  I found the tips a little helpful, but if you have your own idea of what the novel should be like, you can just ignore it.  However, the good thing is that you can add extra phases any way you like, and you can write in short summaries of what takes place in that phase yourself.  I found this function to be a lot more useful.

The right panel is labelled ‘Resources’, and I think this is what makes NewNovelist useful for me.  Under this panel, there are several sub-categories: Characters, Places, Objects and Research & Ideas.  This will allow you to flesh out your characters (appearance, personality, etc – you can even put in a picture), the places and objects in their world.  The program can even generate thousands of sample names, places and objects for you if you can’t think of any yourself.  The ‘Research & Ideas’ category is exactly that – you can write little notes on whatever you want and even put in your bookmarks to keep a track of your online resources.

With these two panels on the side, you can tap into your notes whenever you want, even if it’s just to give you a reminder of what a character, place or object is supposed to look like.

Other features

At the bottom of the screen, there are 3 additional buttons: Help, Publish and Words.  There’s also supposed to be an extra function where the program will read out loud back to you what you’ve written – but it does not work for Windows Vista (which I have), so I can’t comment on it.

The ‘Help’ button has a few sub-categories, but there are really only 2 worth mentioning.  The first is ‘Writing the Opening Line of My Novel’, which gives generates a few opening lines for the procrastinators to get started.  The second is ‘Tips on Writing’, which has a few short chapters on writing tips, such as Surprises, Timing Structure etc.  This is a nice little thing to have, but the information is limited and static.  You’d be much better off finding more detailed information in books or online.

When you are finally done with the novel, you can click on the ‘Publish’ button to transform the novel into a PDF file.  NewNovelist files are unique – you cannot simply import them into Microsoft Word or other programs (but you can still do the old ‘cut and paste’). 

The third button, ‘Words’, is more or less a dictionary/thesaurus.  Again, while useful to have, I found that I could find much better and more extensive dictionaries/thesuaruses online.

Pros and Cons

NewNovelist 2 is a good program.  For me, it was just what I needed to organise all my thoughts and ideas and years of messy notes into one central source I can tap into with ease.  The right ‘Resources’ panel is what makes it worthwhile to own.  I’ve got biographies for almost 50 characters, descriptions for almost 40 locations and around 20 objects at my disposal.  The ‘Research and Ideas’ tab is also great – I’ve got all my useful writing resources stacked up in there, and more than a dozen notes from anything on geography to history to timelines for my novel.  The left ‘Chapters’ panel has also been quite helpful in preparing concise summaries for each chapter.  It really does make my writing a whole lot easier.

The program wizard that gets you started is good and bad.  For writers who aren’t really clear on what they want to do or are unsure of how the structure of a novel works, it can be very beneficial to pick a novel type/category and then have handy hints on how to tackle it.  It’s also good for writers to have lots of ideas and want to write lots of different styles of books.  However, the wizard tends to pigeon-hole novels into specific categories, and that doesn’t always work.  Novels can easily cross several genres and don’t necessarily belong in a particular category.  Writers who want to explore different styles and structures might find the wizard somewhat frustrating.

NewNovelist has gotten me on track with my novel, so I can’t complain about it.  But there are a few nagging problems with it that the makers of the software can hopefully fix by the 3rd version.

First, and the most obvious problem is the lack of a word count function.  I’m not even asking for a continuous word count – just something to tell you how many words you have in total.  So to count my words, I need to cut and paste from each chapter into Microsoft Word.  It’s annoying but it’s not fatal.

Second, the two panels on either side cannot remain open while you write in the middle.  This means I can’t read my chapter summary or my character attributes and write at the same time.  I’ve got to go into the panel, read it, then go back and write (or alternatively cut and paste it).  Again, annoying, but not a dealbreaker.

Third, the notes you can make in the ‘Research and Ideas’ tab – the space you get to write is awfully small.  You essentially need to scroll down after every couple of lines.  It would have been much better if you could enlarge or decrease the sizes of the various panels.

Fourth, the long loading time.  My laptop is not slow, but it takes ages to load up the novel.  It takes so long that I worry the machine is stuffed (because it usually says ‘Not Responding’ at the top) – you just need to be patient and wait, I suppose.

Fifth, if you accidentally press the ‘Close’ button (for the program), it only asks you if you want to save or not.  You don’t get to cancel and go back into the program.  I’ve done this a few times and it’s always irritating because it takes so long to load the program back up again.

Sixth, the writing resources.  It’s helpful for the novice but it’s not extensive enough.  They should either expand it considerably or provide links to more extensive resources online.

Lastly, there are a few nagging bugs here and there.  I just discovered last night that you can’t type more than a certain number of characters in a particular chapter.  If it gets too long, it stops you from typing – you just have to open up a new chapter and write in that.  Also, you always need to press ‘Done’ any time you update a Chapter or Character, Place or Object.  If you forget to do it and jump out of the panel, all is lost.  It’s your own fault but you can’t help but wish that it wasn’t like that.  And finally, sometimes the ‘Done’ button doesn’t even work – this usually happens if you type too much in the space or if you create too many sub-categories.

I hope I don’t sound too negative.  NewNovelist 2 has its problems, but it is its benefits that make it a good program to own for new aspiring novel writers.

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Comments»

1. Building a Fantasy World « About Writing - The Personal Blog of An Aspiring Writer - February 2, 2009

[…] nothing worse than getting things mixed up or lost.  I’m using a writing program (see post) so my life has been made a lot easier, but there was a time when I had several notebooks of […]

2. The Art of Fantasy Names « About Writing - The Personal Blog of An Aspiring Writer - March 1, 2009

[…] there is a Name Generator built into the writing program I am using, NewNovelist 2 (which I did a comprehensive review of).  But instead of using the generated names outright, I tend to mix and match the combinations […]

3. Tom Colvin - April 27, 2009

That’s a very comprehensive and fair review, with particular value as it comes from an actual user. Actually the best, most honest review I’ve read about this specialized word processor.

pacejmiller - April 27, 2009

Thanks for commenting. I’m still working on the novel so the final verdict on New Novelist is still in waiting. Your website has been extremely helpful in providing resources for the aspiring writer and I look forward to reading up on the world of publishing once I finish my novel.

4. Tom Colvin - April 27, 2009

In a few days, I’ll be mentioning your review in a post on my blog. I’d like my readers, who are particularly interested in such software reviews, to read what you have to say.

Good luck with the novel.

5. Writing Update: Returning to Reality « About Writing – The Personal Blog of An Aspiring Writer - October 5, 2009

[…] believe the word count is currently somewhere between 130,000-150,000 words (stupid NewNovelist 2.0 program with no word count!).  Judging by present progress, it’s not looking good.  Even if I do […]

6. Pulse Smartpen: write, record and convert to editable text! « About Writing – The Personal Blog of An Aspiring Writer - October 30, 2009

[…] on my way to and from work, and it has been converted into text and cut and paste straight into NewNovelist.  No more excuses for not being able to progress it every […]


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