There are dozens of tools out there that are designed to help make the writing process easier, a lot of which are targeted towards non-linear writing. Today, I’d like to dive into yWriter and Scrivener, both of which are exceptional tools in this space. Both tools allow building of scenes and being able to arrange them on the fly or tag them. You can also track your word counts and progress in both tools, but they have a few differences. If you just want a raw comparison, here you go:
|User Interface/Experience||Scrivener, hands down – Drag & Drop functionality, color, and fewer bugs|
|Metrics (Word Count, WPM, novel length)||yWriter, very narrowly – Same metrics, yWRiter makes them more visible.|
|Non-linear Writing Capabilities||Scrivener – You have a lot more power to structure things however you like, nesting documents and folders|
|Backups and Restores||Equal – Both possess good backup functionality.|
|Writer’s Tools (tagging, metadata, labeling, etc)||Equal – Scrivener has a LOT of flexibility here with custom metadata, page and project notes, POV, status fields, etc… But maybe it’s too much. yWriter has clearly labeled sections for Locations/Characters/Items, and lets you follow some very explicit (hardcoded) attributes for those items. This ends up being personal preference.|
|Analytics||yWriter – Although Scrivener can give you counts of the words you use so you can see if T”Throttle” is just coming up way too much, yWriter gives you the ability to see how many scenes features which characters or locations, how often a characters serves as a POV, and more.|
|Price||yWriter – Can’t beat free.|
That is the broad overview of the comparisons, but feel free to read on for the deep dive on each.
Scrivener, made by Literature and Latte (https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php) is a fantastic tool that I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog already. It is highly evolved and targeted initially towards Mac users (although they do make it available to Windows users as well).
- Everything works from a single text “unit” that can be labeled as a scene, a character bio, a location, or anything else. This creates a lot of flexibility. Do you need to track magic spells available for whatever reason? Just start labeling the documents that way and add icons.
- The arrangement of scenes (or “texts”) is very intuitive and easy, built on a folder structure (which, incidentally can also contain writing). It’s very drag-and-drop friendly to arrange your scenes both from an order perspective as well as a hierarchical perspective. You also can add color coding to an outline view to give yourself detailed looks at content.
- The cork-board view expands the concept of moving things around and arranging them where you like them. It really lets you get the feel of organizing notecards (which can also be color-coded and labeled) to decide where you want. Even aside from that, you can view your scenes in a single browser, compare scenes to each other in the same windows, and get lots of ways of looking at the data.
- Keywords and Metadata attributes can be assigned to each scene (document). For instance, you could create a metadata field entitled “Location.” On each scene, you’d have the ability to type in the location and populate. Likewise, you could create a list of characters using keywords (with each new character having its own keyword). You then could assign a color-coded character to your scenes to make life fast and easy when scanning scenes to see who is in it.
You can get Scrivener for $40 USD, but if you time your purchase around one of the Nanowrimo events, you can pick a copy up with a discount, making it a great buy.
yWriter by Spacejock software (http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html) is another great tool, and also has the added benefit of being completely free. A few of its highlights:
- While it lacks some of the flexibility and customization on its units as Scrivener, it has hardcoded several elements including Scenes, Characters, Locations and Items. These have their own properties and unique traits. This lets you add a lot of meta-information about them that are unique to that type of thing. Beyond that, you can see how these things relate to one another, and perform detailed analytics on those relationships. IE: Pick a character and see how many scenes that character appears in… How many scenes that character is the POV character for (which is just another thing that is hardcoded and thus can be reported on).
- If you’ve ever read Dwight V Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer, you’ve seen how he breaks apart scene structure as Action/Reaction and goals. This helps make sure that your scenes are actually bringing content to your story. Yes, I recognize that it is oversimplifying things, but it’s a great tool to use. A great reference book to read as well if you haven’t (heavy read though!).
- Reporting and metrics are better. You can see in a quick window your word count per scene/chapter/section/etc. You can see your words per minute while typing. Everything is tracked and highly visible. Is this necessary? It’s a personal preference, but I know I like to see if I can keep my WPM up on a first draft to ensure that I am getting some writing done. By the same token, you also can track (and graph) attributes you’ve defined based on each scene, such as comedy, intensity, villain redemption, etc. Coupled with the graph, you can make sure your peaks and valleys are where you’d expect them.
All in all, both are great tools and worth looking at. Which do you prefer? Something else all together?