Monday, December 7, 2009

Writing Software

by Ben Small

Most writers I know have found little tricks they use to simplify their production of quality work. Of course, there are dictionaries, thesauri, and books delineating traits of various personalities. Those go without saying.

But software plays a role, too.

While I use several different software programs to help me, the one I've found most beneficial is PowerWriter by Write-Brothers.

PowerWriter is a word processor, but it's oh so much more. First, it's convertible into text, so I can write my novel, save it as text and then pull it up into Word, perhaps with some additional formatting required. But the formatting has not been a problem.

The real reason I use PowerWriter is that it's such a powerful organizational tool. There are three screens, a center composition screen, with many of the same tools and methodologies as Word. That's where your novel goes. To the left is the outline screen. Type in a plot point there, and it automatically shows up as a grayed-out plot point in your composition screen. Type in the plot point in the composition screen, and it shows up in your outline. A simple way for someone like me, who sometimes outlines, sometimes follows the muse, to keep up to date on both outline and composition.

But it's the third screen that's most helpful, a database for characters and settings. Not only does PowerWriter offer a database of character names, it permits you to store character characteristics, so you can refer to them later.

Let me give you an example. In The Olive Horseshoe, I gave Mandy Shattuck a thin scar through one of her eyebrows. By recording (cut and paste) this information into the database, when I get to page something-or-other and need to refer to the scar and can't remember which eyebrow was involved, there's an easy way to search: Just go back to the character database. I've found using these character databases much more useful than the much more detailed process of creating a biography, like Elizabeth George does for instance, for each character. And it's easier and more useful than the Search function in either PowerWriter or Word. Sometimes Search doesn't give you what you need, and sometimes staring at the character database refreshes you the writer about some other aspect of the character that it would be good to mention in conjunction with the characteristic you were looking for.

Write-Brothers, the producer of PowerWriter, also produces PowerStructure, a software program that interfaces with PowerWriter and provides structural organization of your plot and suggests ideas for improvement. While I own PowerStructure, too, I don't use it. PowerWriter offers so many of the same tools and organizes one's work so well, I just haven't needed PowerStructure. From time to time, however, I've called Write-Brothers, usually over a software validation issue, and they now tell me they may soon introduce a software program that combines PowerWriter and PowerStructure. If so, I don't plan to buy it, unless there's some new significant feature that PowerWriter doesn't currently have, because I've found PowerWriter to be so perfect for my needs without the added PowerStructure platform. If, on the other hand, the new software offers a transition to Word that doesn't require re-formatting, I might well dive in and buy it. But they've been telling me the new software will be out soon for over two years now, so I have no idea when the launch date, if it occurs will be.

As an aside, Write-Brothers also produces PowerTracker, a database and submission and expense management program, which I also own and use, primarily to track expenses. While I use this software, I expect to switch over to QuickBooks because my accountant hates the PowerTracker printouts. It's not a spreadsheet, and he prefers spreadsheets or QuickBooks.

So, if you're looking for tools to make your job as professional writer easier, I'd recommend trying PowerWriter.

As an aside, I should mention that I used Word for Alibi On Ice and PowerWriter for The Olive Horseshoe. I found PowerWriter cut my production time down by about half. Needless to say, I'm currently using PowerWriter to produce Vendetta, a sequel to The Olive Horseshoe.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Interesting post, Ben. I've never heard of this. Since I spend so much time with technology in my professional job, I doubt I'll use this product, but it definitely has some useful features.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks for the update, Ben. I have a new wide screen Dell and the software would be a great improvement over Word or WPX4.

Ben Small said...

It's a great software program. Cuts lots of searching time and puts everything you need where you can easily find and use it.

Anonymous said...

Ben, Power Writer sounds like good software. It might replace all the CDs I pile up saving my every jot and tittle of a work in progress. Thanks for the info. Pat Browning

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ben. Found this interesting post through Bill Kirton's blog.

I recently reviewed writing software on my blog - my favorite even over Scrivener being WriteItNow4 because of its databases for character, events, ideas, etc. and it's inexpensive.

When I was starting out PowerWriter was more than I could pay but I'll have to look at it again.