I'm working on outlining a novel and would like to start a first draft but I can't decide on any of the endless amounts of writing software available. What's the best place to start? Text editors? Word processors? Pro writing software? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
The best tool to use for writing when you're starting out is, simply, whatever you feel comfortable writing with. The delay involved in learning a new tool is only going to interfere with the process of getting words on the page.
If the tool(s) you are most familiar with are too expensive or otherwise unavailable, here's a link to Wikipedia's category on free word processing tools: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Free_word_processors
Some of the best writing tools for the first draft are the following:
- Microsoft Word, an all-purpose writing tool that can be used for drafts, notes, or final formatting.
- Scrivener, a drafting tool that is used to efficiently create your initial draft using an in-depth set of tools for taking down ideas and quickly accessing them as well as plan your story easily.
- Google Docs, a free tool that can be used for not only notes but act as a drafting tool with automatic cloud saving.
Personally, I find Google Docs is almost 100% the best choice for a free writing software, with dozens of plugins that you can find online for it. However, I've begun to grow the habit of using Scrivener to become more efficient in my work.
Scrivener is great in that it allows you to outline, storyboard, drag and drop and reposition chapters, notes, character profiles and all the elements you need to tell your story - safely in one place. It also makes publishing for Kindle and print relatively easy. There is a learning curve, but there are also plenty of helpful videos on YouTube. This is my personal experience.
I'm adding an answer here that is posted on a question that will probably soon be removed.
Evernote is also easy to use, especially if you have different documents (world building, characters, plot, backstory, actual story, etc.) and want to keep them together. It uses 'notebooks' which can then keep those different documents in the same place. It is also free and works on-line (in-browser, app, mac/pc-software and synced between devices) and offline as well.
I've switched from Google Docs to Evernote because Google Docs has no offline function (on Mac/Pc)
Corrected, it does. see comments and because I have a lot of different documents like mentioned above.
It does however NOT help you with a logical format like Scrivener does, but it is a good place to start since it is free and keeps things manageable. I like the additional fact that it runs very smoothly compared to word on Mac, but I may be particularly picky when it comes to this.
I know this sound old-school and probably not the answer you're looking for, but for outlining or drafting a novel, my best tools are plain, simple, pen and paper.
It's very affordable, you can use it anywhere, and if you're the kind of person that loves shuffling ideas, or if you want to organize your scenes in a different order, or add plot points and see if they have connections between them, you can do it on post-its or loose pages and arrange them as you want. The only bad point is this method takes a lot of space.
The closest program I found that seemed really confortable to me is Edraw Mind Map, which allows you to draw boxes, type text in it, and link them to the others boxes, like a giant memo panel, with arrows and colors.
But I didn't really stick with it because, well, I'm definitely a pen-and-paper person for that kind of things.
Keep it simple. I've used Word mostly in the past but for my current novel I'm using Google Docs. It's very handy because I often write on both Windows and Mac laptops, and this way I don't have to worry about having the right software on both machines. If you have an internet connection and a web browser (who doesn't these days), you have the software ready for you.
Also, Google Docs has super easy collaboration features, so you can share a doc with specific people and they can comment on it with suggestions etc. We use Google stuff exclusively at my work and I don't miss Microsoft software at all.
As others have said, the offline functionality for Google Docs does work, and I always download a separate copy each day as a backup to my hard drive.
I'm going to go unusual here...
I do a lot of writing in Microsoft OneNote. Although it's designed and marketed as a note-taking application, it handles light word-processing duties extremely well, allowing me to do all my writing directly in the page. It also handles images, links, and notes very smoothly, letting me illustrate and annotate as I go.
It organises data in a nice, natural hierarchy. You have notebooks, which are divided into sections (and section groups, if you wish), which are divided into pages. I tend to have a notebook for each project, then sections for Characters, for Worldbuilding, and for Chapters, then a page for each individual character/worldbuilding element/chapter. These elements can be easily moved around or linked to one another as needed.
It integrates with cloud storage and has apps for mobile devices, so I can keep my novels on a OneDrive site and access them from my home PC, work PC, or tablet just as easily.
From what I've seen of Scrivener, it seems that OneNote and Scrivener are very similar, but I actually find OneNote to be more full-featured and user-friendly than Scrivener.
Best of all, it's free!
If you're on a PC, I'd recommend using Microsoft Word. It offers great functionality, is very versatile, and if you're self-publishing, you can go straight from word to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or other publishing platforms to e-books and paperbacks. If you're on a Mac, I'd recommend Vellum, which is a dream to use.
The Novel Factory is purpose built novel writing software that includes a step-by-step guide to writing a novel for newbies.
Disclosure - I am the creator of this software.
It has special areas for characters, locations, drafts, etc - and has a load of character development resources.
It's only around $40 for the Windows desktop version, so pretty cheap as software goes.