So you’re ready to write a novel. Maybe you’ve done it before, or it’s your first time, or you’re preparing for Nanowrimo. There are so many ways to approach it: pen to paper, sit down in front of the typewriter, or just open Microsoft Word on your computer. But it is really that simple?
When dealing with a novel-length work or even a book series, there’s characters to keep track of, plus settings, timelines–it can be a lot of information. And the writing itself isn’t necessarily easy to do in a traditional word processor, especially if you have an unconventional writing process or are dealing with five to six digit word counts. Also, there’s the pre-planning: outlining, notecards, brainstorming.
Before computers, the entire process involved a lot of notebooks, papers, typewriters, and pens. Now thanks to the plethora of software currently available, the novel writing process is a lot easier–especially to keep everything organized. Here’s what we consider the best software for writing a book, from coming up with the idea to the final manuscript.
Software for Writing a Book or Novel
Our best book writing software recomendations:
Scapple – Brainstorming Software
Every story, novel, or book starts with an idea. From that tiny seed, the writer grows an entire story with characters, plot, setting, and realistic dialogue. But it’s a long road that can take months or years. When you first start fleshing out your idea, you need a lot of freedom to brainstorm and explore your ideas. That’s where Scapple comes in.
This software from the makers of Scrivener is more than just mind-mapping software. Literature & Latte describes it as a freeform text editor where you can make notes anywhere. Imagine brainstorming in a notebook or on a piece of paper. You can write anywhere, any size, draw borders, connect ideas and let your thoughts flow onto the page. Scapple works just like that, but since you’re working on the computer, the size of your page in unlimited. Your “page” can grow as you flesh out your ideas and add more notes.
Scapple is very easy to use. You simply have to double click to add a new note, and then drag and drop them to rearrange or make connections (visualized by lines). If you want to take advantage of the more advanced features you can change the fonts, colors, and borders of your notes. It’s also fully compatible with Scrivener, so once you’re ready to start writing you can have your notes and story in one program. Literature & Latte offers a 14-day free trial so you can see if Scapple works with your creative process.
Versions: Mac, Windows
Story Planner Novel Launcher
If you’re new to writing a novel or need a little more structure to help plan out your novel, you should consider using Story Planner. Whether you’ve already brainstormed with Scapple and need to shape all of those ideas into a story or you’re still starting from the seed of your idea, Story Planner can help you.
This is not a “one size fits all” kind of program. In fact, they have plans for writing screenplays and also non-fiction, but we’re focusing specifically on their novel and short story plans. At the time of this writing, there are 55 plans available. These are broken down by the amount of time needed, complexity, and stage of the writing process. You can use their Story Planner Helper to find the right plan for your book and your process.
If you opt for the Novel Launcher plan, it takes you through 6 steps to help plan your book, from exploring your idea and concept, to developing characters, and then finally plotting your novel and outlining the story.
Story Planner offers a free basic plan that allows you to use one Story Plan template at a time, or you can upgrade to Story Planner Premium for unlimited use.
Versions: Web only
Aeon Timeline – Visual Timeline Software
Aeon Timeline is software I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. I’ve always done my timelines by hand using notebook paper (sometimes multiple pages taped together). What that means is if anything ever changes with the timeline or I screw up, I have to redo the whole thing! And then there’s a lot of math involved to figure out ages and how much time has passed and it just gets so messy. Aeon Timeline solves all of this is a clean and easy to use software.
This software was designed specifically for writers to help with planning your novel or just keeping track of which character was where, when. It not only allows you to enter when events happen, but you can also track backstory, and assign certain characters to events. Categorize events by story arcs to help organize different parts of your novel. My absolute favorite feature is that if you put in a birthdate or year for your character, it automatically calculates the character’s age for each event (no more math!).
Other awesome features include creating custom calendars for fantasy or scifi stories, bookmarking key moments, zooming in and out of your timeline, and filtering events. If you create timelines for your stories, this is hands down the best software to use.
Aeon Timeline is also compatible with Scrivener, so you can sync your timeline with your novel file, meaning you can plan your timeline and your outline simultaneously using both (which is absolutely amazing!).
Versions: Mac, Windows
If you ask me, Scrivener is the best software for writing a book. Sure, when it comes time to actually write your novel, you can use just a plain old word processor. Or you can use Scrivener, which is a powerhouse software that covers the entire writing process: research, outlining, character sketches, writing, editing, and even exporting to ebook for self-publishing. Scrivener does almost everything you could want.
It’s hard to boil down into a couple hundred words all of the amazing things that Scrivener does (the Literature & Latte site can give you a full breakdown), but I’m going to hit some of the major features.
The corkboard takes the traditional index card approach to planning a story and digitizes it, making it so the index cards themselves become the sections of your books which can be broken down by chapters or scenes. Rearranging them also rearranges the order of the scenes in your book in one simple step. If you’re a more traditional outliner, Scrivener has a tool for that as well that uses the same drag and drop method. To write and edit your scenes, you can view each section separately or use Scrivenings mode to view the whole document at once. Use the built-in targets and statistics to set daily goals for yourself and see how you’re doing as a whole.
Scrivener also has special features and templates for writing non-fiction and screenplays as well. This is the software every writer should own.
Versions: Mac, Windows, iOS
Buy Mac version from Literature and Latte
Buy Windows version from Literature and Latte
Buy iOS version from Apple
Dragon Naturally Speaking Dictation Software
This software is unique on our list because it’s not specifically for writing a book and not all writers will benefit from it. However, Dragon is such an amazing software that I have to mention it for the writers who will absolutely love it. Dragon is a dictation software that is perfect for any writer who likes to think out loud or verbally tell their stories. It’s also great for writers who think faster than they can type or write.
Dragon is compatible with your favorite word processor. You just put your cursor in the document and start talking. Telling your story to your computer can help you be more creative and break through any writer’s block.
I highly recommend buying the Premium version, which has a feature that transcribes audio files. This means you can record audio files using a digital voice recorder or your smartphone and have the software record it later. That means you can “write” your novel at any time, including while commuting to work, walking outside, or doing chores around the house.
Using Dragon can help you be more productive and get more done. It’s also great for people who suffer from carpal tunnel or like to write thousands of words a day and give their hands a rest.
Versions: Windows, MAC
Finally we are at the end of our writing journey and this last recommended software is for the editing and proofreading part of your novel writing process. While the spell checker in your word processor will catch glaring typos, it will miss other issues with your writing. ProWritingAid catches errors and also helps improve your writing.
In addition to spell checking, it will find commonly confused words, correct grammar and punctuation issues, and make sure your capitalization and hyphenation is consistent throughout your document. The really awesome features are the ones that improve your writing. ProWritingAid will highlight passive verbs, overuse of adverbs, repetitive sentence structure, overused words, repeated words and phrases, vague and abstract words, and also cliches and redundancies.
ProWritingAid is great for any writer but is an absolutely essential tool for self-published writers, bloggers, and anyone who writes content for the web.
They have a free version or you can get the premium version with includes interactive editing and the ability to use it with Scrivener and Microsoft Word, which is a huge timesaver.
Versions: Web, compatible with Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, and Chrome
That’s our recommendations for the best software for writing a book. Of course, there’s a whole lot more that goes into the process than just finding software to use. You’ll need inspiration to keep you going, especially through difficult drafts. You’ll also need to build a writing habit and routine to make sure you put in the time each day to write your novel. That’s the hard part but with this software, you’ll have the tools you need to make it happen.
Planning on participating in NANOWRIMO this year? Check out these NANO resources and essentials.