February 22, 2012

Loving YWriter5

I’ve always been prone to writer’s block in the middle of a story.  I can start with a bang, but somewhere along the way I’ll discover an inconsistent character, or that I’ve let the storyline gallop into a dead end.  Despite hours or even days spent doing notes, I still end up with a mess that requires major overhauls and cleanups.

The answer, my instinct and education both tell me, is organization.  And this is why I’m loving yWriter5, a beautiful little piece of freeware from Spacejock Software that I downloaded and started using just a few days ago.  The app was conceived and coded by an established writer, and from the looks of it, he knew just what writers needed.

ywriter5a

The strength of yWriter5 is its openness to different writing methods.  You can start with characters first, or a story premise and build from there, or even jump in with an introductory scene and flesh out your details as you go. The app maintains a database of characters, locations, items (the creator’s speculative fiction writing background shows here), and very nicely organizes your work into chapters and scenes.

ywriter5c

You can write scenes independently of each other, then string them together with a drag-and-drop interface.  With each scene editing window you also get handy tabs for detailing characters, locations, scene goals and conflicts, even four user-definable ratings for the scene’s content.  For example, in a sword and sorcery story I could rate each scene for violence, eldritchness, sex, and setting detail.

It’s also very useful to me that I can view a list of all my scenes or chapters with a word count breakdown for each, letting me check my pacing and target word count.  Reports for these can be exported as HTML files you can view in a browser.

ywriter5d

The app even lets me project a total word count for each project, and by defining the project’s start and end dates I get a handy reminder of how many words I should write per day.  It’s a clearly defined goal that encourages discipline.

There’s also the option to import and install a dictionary, so you can do spell checks, and the dictionary can be customized with new words and to recognize character and place names (entered in your character and location databases) so it doesn’t flag exotic names as misspellings. 

I’m still very much an on the fly guy, so I’m not yet using all of yWriter’s available tools.  But even with a minimal set it’s working very well for me.  My workflow now is as follows:

  1. Conceptualization – done off-computer, accompanied by much circular pacing and way too much coffee;

  2. New Project – create a new project in yWriter5; fill in the project info, then go to Project Settings and define my word count targets and working dates;

  3. Preliminary Plotting – outline the plot in Project Notes;

  4. Characters and Starting Location – define characters and at least one location; make sure I write down goals for every character, and cross-check those goals to see if they cross nicely

  5. Draft – dig in and write!  Scene by scene, chapter by chapter, reorganize scenes if needed, with much jumping back and forth between scene content and the character and notes tabs;

  6. Editing – try not to start editing until all scenes are done, fail, resolve once more to finish all scenes first, then finally start editing;

  7. Wife Review – a truly vital part of the process!  My Cat is very meticulous and never hesitates to call me out on inconsistencies, wordiness, clumsy phrasing and murky narrative. 

The best part? All the info I want is now in a single application, all neatly bundled into an easily searchable index.  I can foresee using this app not only for stories but for my other writing projects as well.

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