14 August 2013

Technology in the aid of the writing process (Part I)

178/365 One small step for essay kind by stuartpilbrow, on Flickr
A while ago, I embarked in writing a novel. Since I'm relatively technologically savvy, I decided to look for good solutions (software) to help me in the writing process. The main conditions were that it has to be free, run in multiple platforms and preferably open source.

The first thing I started used was Storybook. Without much experience I considered it to work rather good, written in Java (I disliked that) meaning multiplatform and free with some paid features. Management of chapters, scenes, timelines, characters, location, items and more stuff. All that sounds rather handy together with the possibility to export to various formats. Sadly, in their newest version, the paid features took a bigger chunk of features including ALL the export functions! If I cannot take what I wrote out of the software, it's a useless software. And I don't have any problem with paid premium features, but that level of blackmail is too much for me to take.

Other alternative I found was yWriter. This software has basically the same set of features than Storybook without the annoyances of the paid restrictions. The files are even stored in a widely used format, so there is no lock in. The main downside of it is that it doesn't run anywhere but Windows, so after a while I stopped using it. But for a Windows based writer I fully recommend it.

Beside these two, I did not find any other straightforward solution. At some point a while ago, I found Booktype, but it's a bit more complicated and fully open source. Also, it seems to do more things at the level of publishing, like managing different electronic formats. I haven't tried it yet, but looks very worthy and surely I'll try it in the future.

Since I was not really satisfied with the two solutions I found, I decided another strategy based on plaintext and a wiki to keep track of characters, locations and so on. Maybe it's not as coherent and with nice displays as in Storybook or with the extensive set of features, but it's more flexible, works in any platform, allows straightforward versioning and avoids any lock-in. And if I want some fancy features, I could implement/program them.

In the second part I'll describe my current solution and workflow. Both, the solution and workflow are highly adaptable to others without needing a lot of knowledge regarding computers and technology.

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