Written by Daniel Horne, owner of Freedom Road Publishing and a published author.
The below reviews are targeted primarily to Novel Writing enthusiasts They are based on my personal experience. I receive no remuneration from any of the companies that produce and sell the products I am reviewing below. Like most things in life, each has strengths and weaknesses and each is a good resource for some writers and a not-so-good resource for other writers.
Microsoft Word for Novel Writing on the PC or Mac OS X. MS Word is a fine product, but I find that it isn't that useful for book length projects. If you already have MS Word, then of course use it. I recommend is breaking your book's chapters into separate files. This way if the software bombs on you when you get above 40,000 words or so, which it has a history of doing depending on the version, There are tools within Word that allow you to modularize your document so that you can link multiple files into a Master Document. However, these tools have a stained history of semi-working or not working at all. My biggest complaint with the Master Document approach is all the hours spent troubleshooting what's wrong. It chewed up my writing day when I could least spare the hours--deep into the manuscript where things get dicey and you need to focus. I've seen, and even read a book on, using MS Word as your typesetting layout software for self-publishing. I truly disagree with this idea. I use Adobe InDesign, an industry standard, for my typesetting. Word is a word processing program, not a typesetting tool. The differences are too numerous to mention, but I find it less than inferior as a manuscript typesetting tool.
Open Office Writer for Novel Writing on the PC or Mac OS X. The Mac OS X Version is here. Open Office is an open source project modeled after Microsoft Office. Its really a pretty cool product considering its free. The same comments for MS Word apply for Open Office Writer. I've used Writer, the spreadsheet app, and the drawing app with good results. There is a presentation app and a database app included in the bundle as well.
yWriter for Novel Writing on the PC. yWriter software is an free writing tool coded by Simon Hayes I used for 6 months. Spacejock Software owns and develops it. You can download and used it free. However, if you like and (and a lot of people like it), you can pay $11.95 or $24.95 to register your copy and be included in all updates and bug fixes automatically. yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. It doesn't suggest plot ideas, character names, or perform other tasks that are useful. What is cool about yWriter is that its users are really a community of sorts. If you click on the link provided, you'll shoot directly to the download page and FAQs. You can't beat the price (free) and Simon is great about responding to emails and getting to bug fixes when he adds new features. Spacejock codes a number of other useful tools for writers that you'll find useful. I liked yWriter. I left the software because I wanted more features which the version I was using didn't have.
Scrivener Novel Writing Software is a Mac OS X OS X tool with more features than yWriter. I haven't used it personally, but you do get a 30-day free trial period and the software is only $39.95 after that.
Dramatica Pro for Novel and Screenplay writing on the PC or Mac OS X. Dramatica software is owned by Write Brothers Software, a company that sells numerous tools for writers. And you can find it with other writing tools at Screenplay.com . Dramatical Pro os not a word processing product and I recommend using it alongside another product for the actual writing of your script. Dramatica Pro and Screenwriter were once upon a time totally compatible products. As of this writing that is no longer the case. Dramatica Pro is pricey at $209.99 for the download version and another $10 for the boxed version of the software, so be forewarned. Happily, you can download a demo for free. Dramatica Pro has a steep learning curve to the software and it is not a word processor. I found that after a while I settled into a few features that I used regularly and pretty much ignored the rest of the features. Where Dramatica Pro shines is in plot development and scene creation. You can do deep character development to flesh out your story characters too. While it is great software, I didn't find it indispensable as the website claims. At present, I've mothballed it in favor of other writing software. If you're not on a budget, it is worth your time to look it over.
Screenwriter for Novel and Screenplay writing on the PC or Mac OS X. I used Screenwriter for a couple of years working on my novel. It is another pricey product at $199.99 for the download version and another $10 for the boxed version. If I were a script writer, I believe I would have enjoyed Screenwriter software more. It comes with a resume of users and a ton of script writing features that I did not find that useful in novel writing. ScreenPlay.com claims you are up and running right away with Screenwriter, but I found that to be a bit of an exaggeration. I don't feel I ever truly mastered the software and its usefulness for me as a novel and short-story writer wasn't worthe the price I paid. Like Dramatica Pro, you can download Screenwriter and if you are a script writer you may jump for joy at all the script writing bells and whistles. If you're a novel writer, the software does have 1 novel writing template, but I believe you can find a software better suited to your needs for a fraction of the cost of Screenwriter.
Power Structure for Novel and Screenplay writing on the PC or Mac OS X. Power Structure is not a word processor and needs to be used alongside a word processor to write a novel. It has manuscript writing capability, but it is weak to say the least. Still, I love this product for its intended purpose. I've been using Power Structure for 2 years. I upgraded to Dramatica Pro, went through the learning curve, forgot it, went through it again, and ultimately went back to Power Structure. For $99.95, Power Structure is just that, a powerhouse of writing features that I have found nowhere else. Power Structure does what its name implies, it builds your story structurally in the manner of Dramatica Pro. While the two software applications are different in features, look, and feel; they do pretty much the same thing in my mind. I use Power Structure to layout my story in scenes and to develop my characters. Then I use its ability to write summaries of prose rough in my story. You can demo this software before you buy and I definitely recommend doing that.
Power Writer for Novel and Screenplay writing. It is a PC only program. Power Writer is the word processing partner to Power Structure. Power Writer does have some nice features, like a character name bank, but ultimately it is a word processor. Power Writer sells for $99.95.
Story Mill for Novel and Screenplay writing. It is a Mac OS X only program. Story Mill is owned by Mariner Software , a company that deals in Apple software products, and sells for $49.95. Story Mill is my latest addition to writing tools. I use it together with Power Structure on my iMac to write my novels. I have only been using this software for a month or so, a bit soon to give it a review. However, I do love using it. The interface is intuitive. It is scene based and you assign scenes to chapters. That allows you to move a scene to another chapter without re-writing (potentially) and it does it at the click of a button. The one complaint I've encountered with Story Mill is the spell checker. It will find a typo for you instantly, but to get a recommendation you need to high light the entire word. I've been spoiled by products that will recommend as long as the cursor is inside of the word somewhere, so I find this a bit annoying, but I'm adapting.
There you have it. For $150, I have two products (Power Structure and Story Mill) on my Mac OS X that keeps me happy as a clam. Power Structure did have a learning curve and has more features than I use, but the features I use are powerful. Story Mill is the most intuitive software I've encountered. There are a ton more productivity tools on the Internet that are useful tools for writers. Super Note Card comes to mind (I don't use it any longer) as one such tool.