Scrivener versus yWriter5 versus MS-Word

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Technology

Rodney Robbins here. I’m using a new software program for novels and I like it a lot. The program is called Scrivener and it is now available for Windows programs. Mac lovers may have heard of this program before. Or, you may have heard of a similar program called yWriter5. I have both plus, of course, MS-Word.

Scrivener and yWriter5 are similar in that they are specifically designed for professional writers working on large documents. MS-Word is fine for editing and layout of a finished document, but it is just not in the same league for writing a book length project. With the real writing software, each chapter or section is treated as a separate file in its own folder. Detailed information is attached to the file. It is almost like paper clipping a note card, summary page or research notes to each chapter you write. The files are kept handy so you can find them, work on them or rearrange them with ease.

For me, I found yWriter5 a bit too complicated. I liked the idea, but found the interface busy. There was more than I needed with yWritere5. On the other hand, Scrivener has may of the same features with a simpler, more visual interface that I liked better. The word processing power is there, but perhaps one layer away. Maybe it is the Mac influence (for ages, Scrivener was only available for Apple computers).

In Scrivener, the screen is divided into three sections. The section on the left is called the Binder. The Binder is like the folders view in Windows, but it only shows folders related to the open document. The larger central section is for writing, holding your plot cards or looking at an outline of your novel. On the right is the Synopsis section. It holds the plot card and other data that is “clipped” to the writing section you are working on.

  • So, yWriter5 is free and certainly worth a look. It is written by an award winning author and lots of people use it.
  • Scrivener is under $50 and well worth the money as it is an elegant program designed specifically for the needs of professional writers working on long documents.
  • MS-Word costs over $100, but you probably already own it.You can get some of this functionality using by using the Document Map function and naming each section using Heading Tags, but it’s a work around.

In my opinion, Word is not nearly as good for actually working on a story–moving scenes, keeping research handy, following multiple story lines and such–compared to the other two options. (Plus, I just hate the new Ribbon in the 2010 version of Word. All the functions are moved around willy-nilly with no apparent logic.) You may want to edit or layout your final document in Word, but there are better options for writing a 400 page novel.

So, for me, I really like the power and simplicity of Scrivener and highly recommend you give it a try. On the other hand, your mind may enjoy the detail offered by yWriter5. While you may end up using MS-Word for your final edits, it lacks the features novelists need for handling large, complicated stories with multiple chapters, scenes, plot lines and related research, notes, settings and character arcs.

Try Scrivener. I think you’ll like it.

  1. J S says:

    My latest project is using the following:

    Xmind – for brainstorming, from notes on characters, settings, etc to actually putting down the chapters and events with all notes, even some dialog. Rearrange as you go, minimise/expand and hop around. Then output the work as text outline that I import into the actual writing software and follow the path deleting the outline and notes as I complete each section.

    Simple text input – gedit/abiword/focuswriter and similar. No frills writing that is fast.

    LibreOffice – actual writing plus collaborative edits when I’m finishing it up along with final formatting for electronic publishing (Kindle and Createspace). While I’ve seen that people like to ‘save every chapter in a file’, and I started there a long time ago, I tend to keep a monolithic file of the whole story. Then use the Navigator in LibreOffice to hop around in the sections.

    Other production notes/files I store on my network server in folders separated by the contents (images for cover ideas, research notes, etc).

    I’ve also toyed with celtx and storybook. And will try out ywriter5 now that there seems to be a way to get it running in Linux.

    LibreOffice is a replacement for MSOffice including presentation and spreadsheets, and is free. I’ve used it to resurrect manuscripts I wrote in the 90’s on MSOffice that modern MSOffice doesn’t read it’s own old file formats. LibreOffice does and keeps seamless between versions with open document file formats. If you hate the ‘ribbon’ on MSOffice then you’ll also like LibreOffice’s classic layout.

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