Free Software for Aspiring Novelists

Ever been tempted to write a novel?  If so, you'll probably have approached it in the same way that most aspiring novelists do.  Fire up your favourite word processor, then start throwing random words, scenes, plots, characters and one-liners into  a document.  And then you realise that you've ended up with an impenetrable mess, and should have used something other than a word processor.  But what?  An outliner?  Database?  Spreadsheet?

Actually, what you need is a program specifically aimed at novelists.  And there are lots of such products available.  They're a cross between a word processor and a database. You can still throw scenes, plots, characters etc into the app, but now there's a structure to your work so your data ends up in the right place.  Which means, when you have a couple of free hours to work on your book, you can get started quickly and easily.

Among the commercial products available are New Novelist ( and Writers Cafe (  There are also some excellent free programs available too.  My favourite is yWriter (, for which there's a useful intro on Youtube at

Another handy app is Storybook (  Alternatively, if you don't want anything so rigidly structured, have a look at the free version of Treepad (  It's not a specific novel-writing app, but more a personal information manager and structured text editor.  








Got a Hot Find to tell everyone about?  Start by telling me, at


Share this
Average: 4.5 (24 votes)
Your rating: None


by plumage (not verified) on 29. January 2012 - 20:38  (87997)

There is no need to buy special novel writing software if you have Microsoft Word as this has Outline View which allows you to work with a document tree in exactly the same way as these novel software programs but with more flexibility. I used to use [commercial program removed] but now i just use Microsoft Word because it is actually better. I copies the basic structure for categories but i can post pictures and group characters in ways that are more meaningful for my story.

by Solaris (not verified) on 3. September 2011 - 3:51  (78920)

I have tried many programs over the years and, as much as I love and use yWriter, I still fall back on "Rough Draft" from time to time..especially during the outline phase of writing..when I am trying to get a rough draft down and in order.

Rough Draft ( is the baby of a writer named Richard Salsbury and it is offered as donationware/freeware.

It doesn't have all the whistles and bells of some of the programs out there, but it is a robust little gem of a program..well able to help you get everything down in order.

A couple of points worth noting:

a) Rough Draft is no longer being what you download is basically as good as it is going to get..but it is good enough if all you want to do is writer your novel.

b) One major thing worth keeping in mind is this program will not let you enter page breaks. As Richard says on his site..

"..I've wrestled with this night and day but never found a way to do it. If you need chapters or sections that start with a fresh page you can do it by writing them as separate files, then using the "File > Print multiple files" menu item." if this is a feature you just simply have to have, then this is not for you..but I personally like to keep each chapter in its own file and edit / writer each on the fly.

In my humble opinion, this is well worth a try for those who are interested in writing fiction.

Hope somebody finds this helpful..

by g s (not verified) on 25. October 2012 - 1:49  (101313)

I used this program years ago and loved the little gem. But then I lost it in a computer crash and couldn't find it anywhere to reinstall again, for years, until now. Thank you...

by GiantWaffle on 21. March 2011 - 11:12  (68248)

Does anyone know of a package that is useful for those writing books that are not novels and not fiction, but historical and opinions and has the features of TreePad?

If not, I can use TreePad separately, but still need the software for that type of book???

by Janaki (not verified) on 20. January 2011 - 16:12  (64912)

Another good piece of software that works like Darkroom - a no non-sense, no distraction full screen work space that you use to get you writing from ideas floating in you brain to a computer screen that you can read is Q10. The link is

It is a single self-contained executable file. It comes with or without a spell checker.

You can install a portable version of it that you can carry around on a pendrive. It allows you to carry your writing environment with you where ever you go. Q10 remembers the last file you worked on, even if the drive letter assigned to your pendrive changes from computer to computer.

The software in this class - Darkroom, Writemonkey, Q10 and Whiteroom for the Mac are best suited for non fiction writing.

That being said some budding and published novelists prefer this type of application as it allows you to fully focus on your thoughts and words and capture them in written form.

Pick any of the above they all great tools to pull the book out of your brain.

Happy and successful writing.

by kunkel321 (not logged in) (not verified) on 16. December 2010 - 0:37  (62594)

StorYbook is awesome! Unfortunately it's no longer in development.

by kunkel 321 (not verified) on 24. December 2010 - 17:53  (63200)

Replying to my own erroneous post... I thought Storybook was abandonware, but I just checked the site, and it does look like there are some resent updates! :) -sorry about the error.

by John R (not verified) on 12. December 2010 - 4:02  (62333)

I personally agree with Author. The only way to write is to get down to it and write, at least for me. While I haven't enjoyed the success Author has, I have been most productive when the writing software I use is least intrusive. I've written about 250,000 unpublished words, and for my time, I like WriteMonkey because it is so distraction free, but my last effort was done in Google Documents (mainly because I could access it from multiple locations), which had active spell checking, which I found useful.

I can see where some might find some sort of matrix, outlining or software-card-catalog system useful, but it doesn't work for me. Any notes to myself go into one extra text file (typically named 'notes'), and get sorted out there, otherwise it's all creative, productive effort.

by Author (not verified) on 14. September 2010 - 12:33  (57816)

As someone who's been successfully writing novels for thirty years I promise you that you don't need any software other than Word. You just have to get on with the job of writing and avoid pointless distractions.

by whoever (not verified) on 12. September 2010 - 6:32  (57680)

I write my novels using notebooks and a fountain pen. Index cards easily keep track of who's who and what's what.

by Matt2012 (not verified) on 11. November 2012 - 12:26  (102157)

I use Libre Office and it does all I need. Usually I have an outline style which lists ideas, characters, and I can jump between them (using the navigator) simply by clicking on the heading. Also you can but spreadsheets in a text file or text objects in a spreadsheet to help keep track of timelines, objects, etc. It also tracks the word count as your write and you can get addins to email, upload to google or zoho for simple back up. I also set up a style to add in a first page header and subsequent page headers to give it the standard short story manuscript format.

It used to have problems with RTF formatting but newer versions seem to have fixed that.

by wolferiver (not verified) on 12. September 2010 - 2:19  (57676)

I think yWriter is generally an all around excellent writing tool, but for fiction only. It isn't without some glitches, and I've occasionally lost a few scenes, but it has robust backup capabilities, and I've always been able to recover whatever I've lost. Its lack of formatting is actually a feature not a bug (heh), in that for fiction writing it keeps you from distracting yourself with playing around with formatting. The intent is that once you've finished your story, you export it as an RTF or text file into another software where you can do the final manuscript formatting to your heart's content. I'm still using yWriter version 4, but the developer (who's a published author) has had version 5 available for a long time, and it reportedly has even more functionality.

yWriter lets you track your word count, by scene, by chapter, and by total. You can set word count goals, and track progress against that. (No one, and I mean NO ONE can procrastinate as well as a writer can.) You can track whether scenes are still in outline form, draft form, or which revision they've gone through. You can check for overuse of certain words. You can check which character is the main POV (point of view) character in how many scenes (an unbeatable tool if you're writing a story with multiple character POVs.) It lets you easily shift scenes around. You can view the scenes on a rudimentary timeline, and shift them around in that view. You can track characters, objects, and places. It does autosaves for you, and then, before closing out, does a final save. Most users of yWriter also keep backup versions of their entire yWriter files, so if you've deleted a scene and then later change your mind, you can always recover it. Mostly, though, it frees you from having to do all that tracking of scenes, characters, places, things, word counts, so you can concentrate only on writing.

It cannot, however, plot your story for you. Some users of yWriter find they still use additional tools, such as mind-mapping software, or story card software. It also isn't all that great for keeping notes, so I use other note taking software for that. However, it really is the best software for the money (which is to say, you can't get a better software package for free), and is the equal of many expensive software packages. Nonetheless, as much as I like it, everyone has different methods for writing, and I would never say it is the only thing to use.

If I were writing a non-fiction piece of work, which required careful keeping of footnotes and references, as well as developing a good index, I'd look for something else to use -- even if it is Word. Actually, I'd probably look around for some robust note-taking software. Keynote, for example, (although by now it's pretty old) lets you develop each idea in a tabbed note, with tree-like outlining capabilities, which would let you keep track of your references and citations. It can export the rtf files to some other software, where, again, you'd do the final manuscript formatting after the main writing work is done. (I believe Gizmo has an excellent section for note taking software.)

I tried using Word for writing fiction, but soon got all bollixed up with trying to track chapters and scenes within chapters. I never could get it to work without seriously losing track of the threads of my story, especially once I started juggling events around. It was truly a miserable experience. Once I moved the story over to yWriter, I couldn't believe how it lifted the burden of keeping my chapters and scenes in order. Plus, I could finally see a running tally of my word count - which believe me, is an all important yardstick.

[Edit] - Commercial software reference removed

by Just another critic (not verified) on 9. September 2010 - 16:43  (57524)

Thanks for this article r.schifreen, nice to see alternatives. yWriter works well for me, I've installed Storybook and I'll give it a try, but I'm not too likely to change any time soon.

Keep up the good work and ignore the complaints and criticism! I'll take care of the critics. :-)

by Erika2000 (not verified) on 11. November 2012 - 12:28  (102158)

I like yWriter5 and yEdit2 both by Spacejock. I found Scrivener and Liquid Binder to be too distracting and a bit overwhelming with all the options. I like Q10 except that, a, I've started to have a hard time focusing on black screens with light text, and b, I found out that if your computer doesn't have a sound driver installed, like at work, Q10 will crash your computer when you try to open it. Or at least it did mine. yEdit2 is Spacejock's version of Q10.

by Lawrence (not verified) on 9. September 2010 - 8:10  (57496)

I would also recommend yWriter. However, for people who prefer to keep their work in Word documents, Chapter by Chapter ( is worth a look. Essentially it does what Word's master document feature fails to do.

by Jorpho (not verified) on 8. September 2010 - 21:55  (57478)

Oh, and aspiring novelists might also benefit substantially from cutting out all distractions to keep focused. Hence: DarkRoom.

by votre (not verified) on 12. October 2010 - 23:32  (59441)

I agree. The fewer the distractions the better off you are.

I prefer WriteMonkey ( over DarkRoom for no particular reason other than I just like it better. Both do pretty much the same thing. And WriteMonkey's also free.

But when it comes to organizing complex plot/scene structures, an outliner app is still a good idea. After trying several freebie apps such as Celtyx and YWriter - and experiencing some minor data losses - I gave up on freeware for this type of application and bought what ended up being the perfect outliner/organizer for me.

Wish I didn't have to spend about $90 to get it. But sometimes there's just no getting around it. *sigh*

by Jorpho (not verified) on 8. September 2010 - 21:54  (57477)

TreePad is really kind of terrible. You're expected to cough up money for a lot of really good, simple features that ought to be in the free version.

Go for WikidPad instead. Same idea, many more features, and open source.

by lafnbear (not verified) on 8. September 2010 - 15:20  (57460)

This article should be updated to denote that storywriter is NOT FREEWARE. It is actually nagware. Unless you donate at least $10, you will be prompted to donate every time you create a new scene. This is NOT clearly spelled out on their website which makes me wary of their product.

by Just another critic (not verified) on 9. September 2010 - 12:25  (57507)

If you don't like the way the program works and the simple message that gets to your conscience, there are three choices.
1) don't use it
2) pay something for it (how much of your time are you willing to work for other people for free, and still pay the costs of domain registration and web server hosting?)
3) download the source, unpack it, find the two java files where the message is, and recompile it.

No, I'm not the creator of the program, I don't know him and I am not a Java programmer, but I have enough common sense to look at the source and see how easily I could simply remove that message and recompile it. All you need is the free JDK from

Of course the alternative is to just ignore the messages and do a simple delete which will take just a second or two at most.

Can we assume that once you have spent hundreds of hours writing a story that you will register a domain, put up a web server and put a free PDF copy of the book up for everyone to download? Maybe also have printed copies available and allow people to place online orders and you charge only for shipping?

I didn't think so. If you are a hobbyist writer (as the developers of a large percentage of open source freeware are), then a donation to offset costs of hosting the software and actually encourage the developer to keep pouring his time into development, by maybe allowing him to take his family out to eat occasionally is not really a lot to ask. If you are a professional writer, then shame on you if you expect others to give their work away for free when you won't give yours away for free.

I bet it makes you really mad that you actually have to pay for Windows and Microsoft Office, but then maybe you don't pay for those either. I bet it REALLY burns your butt to have to pay for cable or satellite TV feeds, not just $10 one time, but probably quite a bit more than $50 every month and then they still put nagware advertising all over it so that a 1 hour show actually has maybe 20 - 3 minutes of show and the rest filled with advertising. Actually, I bet you pay that quite happily because you don't have any other choice and you like your TV, but when it comes to free software, it must have all the features you want, all the support you ever need with instant responses, nothing to ever prick your conscience and suggest even a small donation - otherwise it is a piece of junk.

Stop whining, just delete the program or don't use it.

And yes, I have registered and made donations to many shareware, open source, freeware applications. In some cases I have given far more than I had previously paid for a commercial equivalent, because the software was far superior to the commercial equivalents and it was worth it to me.

by votre (not verified) on 10. September 2010 - 16:16  (57592)

You've possibly made a few good points in your comment. But you undermined it with your sarcasm and "holier than thou" tone.

Little less preachy next time - or possibly save it for your blog?

by Kell (not verified) on 9. September 2010 - 13:34  (57510)

:) I wish you'd post this on each of the 9 million other websites with the same kind of inane comments.

by MidnightCowboy on 9. September 2010 - 13:44  (57511)

I liked it too :)

by garth on 9. September 2010 - 17:12  (57527)

Me too. Good point well made:)

by Just another critic (not verified) on 9. September 2010 - 16:36  (57522)

:-) The same goes for the whiners who don't like something about this (or any other) site and want to say how it should look or be, and why they don't like what the editors say, yet never volunteer to be editors or contribute to the costs of the site.

I used to be one of the team MidnightCowboy, until I sent Gizmo my "resignation" because work stresses interfered and I was just not doing justice to the areas I had. Maybe I'll be back again one day. Until then, I can be obnoxious to idiots because I'm just another visitor. :-)

As for choices in software - I'm a writer-wannabe with some fairly significant progress made, and I like yWriter, but I wish it would handle formatting a little better, and allow footnotes, endnotes etc the way Word does, because I am making quite extensive use of them so I have to copy and paste back and forth. Liquid Story Binder might be quite good too, though a little confusing to get started with, but that is not free - though I did get a free license via some time ago.

by MidnightCowboy on 9. September 2010 - 16:47  (57525)

Well, whoever or whatever the support is always appreciated. We're just pleased that you can still come here :) I used to be an aspiring writer too but never got much beyond toilet walls :D

by **John (not verified) on 9. September 2010 - 13:33  (57509)

Wow, and I thought I was having a bad day...


by Geert on 8. September 2010 - 13:37  (57453)

This excellent website needs as soon as possible good support for showing screenshots. The screenshots of this (and all other articles) are way too small to be useful. I would expect that clicking on them would show me the bigger, original picture...

by Just another critic (not verified) on 9. September 2010 - 16:39  (57523)

The ability is there Geert, just some people don't use it. Gizmo could use a few more volunteer editors, why not join in and take on a topic?

I will probably re-join when I can better afford the time and not do a sub-standard job of it.

by TwilightZone (not verified) on 8. September 2010 - 6:11  (57439)

I'd like help please.

I'd always believed that open source software released under the GNU/GPL License was free of nags and ads etc, but I notice that with STORYBOOK there are nags with every new scene and they don't disappear till you pay the developer $10.

Have I been deluding myself all these years about open source GNU software?

Gizmo's Freeware is Recruiting!

Gizmos Needs YouShare your knowledge of free software with millions of Gizmo's readers by joining our editing team.  Details here.