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It’s funny, for a while I’ve been thinking about writing a post on the topic of my favourite writing tools (well, any post!! I’ve been awfully quiet in here, I know. Busy in real life, I guess: travelling a lot for my previous job, then changing jobs, writing another novel… But I digress). And then just this morning I got an email from the lovely people at Aeon Timeline software, telling me about this fab Winterfest promotion: 25% off seven “artisanal software” tools, including Scrivener and the aforementioned Aeon Timeline. (BTW, I don’t see a deadline for the special offer, but the Winterfest page does say “This brief special offer may end without notice,” so make haste, if you’re interested!)

Ahem: wonder if any of these would make good Christmas presents for the writer in your life?!

Anyway, back to the topic of my favourite writing tools. Below I’ve listed some of the bits of software I perpetually have open on my laptop right now, as I revise the aforementioned new novel (it’s going swimmingly!). I’m running Windows 8.1; I believe most of these are available for Mac (if not originally designed for Mac!), but don’t quote me on that.

Scrivener

From the horse’s mouth: “Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.” From my mouth: it’s awesome. It’s a combination word processor and project management tool that keeps everything for a particular project in one place: writing (innumerable versions thereof), research, media, notes, images, you name it. I always used to write in Word — short stories, my first couple of novels, school exercises, non-fiction bits… I also used to write linearly: start at the beginning and write all the way through to the end. Perhaps the two are connected; I’m not sure, but I suspect so. A couple of years back, I downloaded a trial version of Scrivener, and suddenly I was freed from the linear writing shackles. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, if that’s the way you roll, but I used to find that if I was stuck in a difficult scene, the whole novel would grind to a halt. It’s daft; in Word, of course I could easily have simply started a new page and just moved on to the next scene, but somehow I rarely did. But with Scrivener, there’s just something about the layout of the chapter and scene structure that really works for me; I’m freed up to jump from scene to scene. Of course, your mileage may vary, but having that visual overview of where I am, without having to scroll through pages and pages, is invaluable. I think in non-linear chunks now.

Download the demo and see if it works for you. I ended up buying the full version after a week’s use, I think, and it really will not break the bank. The only thing I wish for, and I think the folks at Literature and Latte are sick of hearing this from a million rabid users, is an iOS version so I could use it on my iPad!

Aeon Timeline

I discovered this timelining tool fairly recently, during my short-lived attempt at NaNoWriMo this year. Scribblecode, the makers of the tool, describe it as: “more than a series of events on a never-ending line. With Aeon, you can divide your timeline into logical groups, projects, or concurrent arcs. You can model the relationships between events and people, places and ideas. Aeon calculates people’s ages for you. And you can link your events with research material such as external files or images that can be displayed inside the application.” In my new novel, I desperately needed a way to keep my dates and events straight (Protagonist A is 21! No, she’s accidentally 19!), and Aeon helps me do just that — and much more, I realize as I play around with it. You can colour-code timelines to characters and set up timelines for your fictional world. And I just learned today that it can synchronize with Scrivener! Hurrah!

Scapple

This is a product put out by Literature and Latte, who make the amazing Scrivener; it integrates with Scrivener, too. The official description of it is “an easy-to-use tool for getting ideas down as quickly as possible and making connections between them. It isn’t exactly mind-mapping software—it’s more like a freeform text editor that allows you to make notes anywhere on the page and to connect them using straight dotted lines or arrows.” It does exactly what it says on the tin: onscreen brainstorming. I’ve found it handy for “thinking out loud”; I do that on paper, too, but then promptly lose the bits of paper. This way, I can keep everything in the same place.

Map and Name Generators

For the first time in my life, I’m writing a fantasy-ish novel; my setting is an imaginary country in the real world. I couldn’t figure out where anything was — I needed to see it (in the course of writing this novel I have solidified my long-suspected belief that I’m a pretty visual person…!). I Goolged “fantasy map-making software” and discovered AutoRealm, which has done the job very well, with the added bonus of various funky icons.

In the course of writing this blog post, I came across another interesting SciFi World Generator. Looking forward to giving that a try.

And as for place names to put on my maps, I’ve become a big fan of this fantasy place name generator, which covers a whole bunch of different place types (lots more stuff on that site, too!).

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression

Not a piece of software, but a book by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I bought the Kindle version and leave it open in the Kindle app on my PC as I work, searching it as needed. It’s a really handy… well, thesaurus of various emotions, which lists “body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses” to 75 emotions. You wouldn’t want to rely solely on it, but it’s definitely helping me come up with original and varying ways of showing a character’s feelings from an internal and external viewpoint. Thanks to this, I’m no longer stuck in a “she sighed” rut…!

Dropbox

You most likely know about Dropbox already, but in case you didn’t, I wanted to highlight this file storage online software’s usefulness for your writerly self. It syncs with Scrivener, for example, so you can flip around from machine to machine and back up easily; it’s accessible on virtually any device you can think of; and the desktop client for Windows and Mac adds a handy little folder (in Windows Explorer, for example) for easy backup and file access. Of course, Windows’ Onedrive and Mac’s iCloud work beautifully, too, but Dropbox just seems to have done a particularly good job at integrating with Scrivener and other writing software tools.

So there you are: a few of my favourite writing tools. Check them out, let me know what you think, and also let me know about your favourite piece of writer-friendly software. Now if only there were a tool to add, say, 10 hours to the day and write the damn novel for you, eh?

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