We’ll be looking at a PC tool in this part of the series, and it’s one that is squarely aimed at the structured approach. yWriter is produced by Spacejock Software, and as you can probably tell from the developer’s moniker, is designed and built by an SF writer, Simon Haynes. Like some other tools that have been reviewed here. yWriter is free to download, but unlike some of the others it is actively being developed and supported. There is an active user community and there are even video walk-throughs to watch on the website. There is an opportunity to donate if you find the software useful.
The opening screen (shown right) provides an insight into yWriter. You see the main project window with chapters arranged in the left pane and the description associated with those chapters in the panel below. The main panel has a number of tabs showing Scenes, Project Notes, Characters, Locations and Items. Clicking on a chapter in the side-panel shows the scenes, etc. for that chapter in the main panel.
yWriter aims to structure your work into chapters which then comprise multiple scenes. Clicking on a scene shows a preview of that scene in the bottom of the main panel, along with Characters, Description, Locations, Items, Scene Notes and Goals for that scene.
Writers working on multiple projects, or writers with large and complex works will know that it is sometimes hard to keep track of all the information associated with their work-in-progress and yWriter aims to address this by giving you ample opportunity to document what you are doing and build structure around your work.
In order to edit a scene, you simply double-click the scene in the scene list and a new window pops up.
As before, all the data associated with the scene is arranged in tabs across the top while the Chapter, Scene, Scene Notes and Point of View are all displayed on the editing window.
As I noted at the beginning of this article, this tool is aimed at a structured approach and will not suit everyone. Some will find the meta-data management – prompting for scene titles, chapter titles, descriptions, character data and many other nuggets of information intrusive and a distraction from the main task, which is writing.
Others, and I am thinking particularly of relatively new writers who perhaps have not completed a manuscript yet, might find the approach of breaking the story into chapters and having defined scenes within those chapters, really helps them organise their work.
Being able to keep track of character’s aims and objectives and having a single defined point of view for a scene can be very difficult when you first set out and it could be of great assistance to have a reminder of where you are and what you’re doing right where you can see it.
It can also be difficult to establish a writing routine, and here yWriter helps you further with daily and longer term word-count objectives and helping you to track your work through productivity reports. There is a progress log which shows you how many words you have produced in a particular day, and in this way it quite reminded me of the NanoWriMo approach of encouraging you to write uninhibited (at least initially) and not allowing your self to get bogged down in editing.
Note that the tool does not force you to do any of this and it certainly does not nag you if you fail to insert the relevant meta-data for a character or omit a scene description, the facility is simply there if you care to use it. In this way, I think yWriter can be thought of as a full featured writing-management program, rather than simply a clever editor aimed at writers. Instead of having sticky-notes with scribbled descriptions, yWriter gives you a place for those notes and allows you to collect them together and access them where you need them.
The interface is friendly and easy to use with tabs placed in consistent places and buttons where you expect to find them. The font type and size for the interface can be customised and there are a range of language options.
yWriter projects are saved as .yw5 files, but actually this is misleading. The .yw5 file actually only contains the meta data, whereas your written words are stored in .rtf files in a directory called RTF under your yWriter Projects directory. In this way all the files are recoverable in the event of a crash, and yWriter itself uses a locking mechanism to check whether your files have been saved correctly. There is also a automated back-up facility and the option to back up the whole project.
The documentation is a bit sparse, but there is a full walk-through of the software available on the website and most things work in obvious and intuitive ways. The sheer wealth of features can be a little daunting to begin with, but since you are not forced to use any feature until you are ready, it’s not panic-inducing.
Overall, yWriter is a comprehensive writing management program and project manager for writers. I think it would be particularly useful for writers who need to impose order and structure on their writing and who are still coming to grips with some aspects of the craft. As I said at the beginning, it is free to download, so you don’t lose anything by trying it.