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I'm boring and just use Word and Excel for writing my novel and keeping track of stuff. I've tried a couple others, including Scrivener and Evernote, but never got into it. I like the idea of specialized tools (and use them for genealogy and other things) but don't like to give up control over my content and formatting (not to mention, I have used specialized software in the past then discovered that I no longer had access to my files when I upgraded my OS and the software wasn't updated).

I just saw a promo for a bundle of Mariner Software products. I've heard of them and may even own the main program (I like buying bundles). (I'm not linking to the sale because I don't want this post mistaken for spam.)

In this case, the bundle is 6 programs they sell all geared for writers: Mariner Write, Contour 2, Narrator, Persona, StoryMill, and Montage.

How well do Mariner Software products work for writers?

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    Another important question that would worth asking: What are the files/data storage like? Can they be accessed by other applications? - 'fun' like unsupported programs locking out data after an upgrade is part of why I typically store copies of projects in straight plain .txt files. – TheLuckless Mar 4 at 23:29
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    @TheLuckless Excellent question. Exactly what I wanted to ask but I didn't know quite how to put it. Thanks for laying it out. – Cyn Mar 4 at 23:36
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    Not sure if you are firm on Mariner, but I'd recommend a tool that works for your needs that use file formats that are not proprietary, like: Scrivener (folders and RichText), iAWriter (Markdown), FocusWriter (OpenDocument Format), Atomic Scribbler (folders and RichText), and my favorite, Ulysses (Markdown), and more. – imatowrite Mar 15 at 22:28
  • @imatowrite Appreciated. I was tempted because it was a very good deal on a bundle offer but I decided that the response here was so lackluster that it just wasn't worth it. The last thing I want is a tool that ties up my data. I decided to stick with what I've got. – Cyn Mar 15 at 23:35
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Looking at the comment section you are worried about a sort of vendor lock-in - having your data in a format that nothing else can work with and getting problems when an update messes up your data or the company goes bancrupt, leaving you with useless files that nobody can decipher, which means a lot of lost productivity.

While I haven't used the tools themselves there are quite a few reviews on the internet that can help you get a feeling for how the individual tools work or don't work. It's important to look at them to see if the tools really do what you specifically need.

For example you can find a review of StoryMill under the title Mariner Software StoryMill Review on wine-reviews.com. It's a bit older, but there's an important remark that you should keep in mind when thinking about buying bundles of software:

'll be honest: Contour is not something I'll try because I am not the type of writer who outlines in any detail whatsoever. I have a general idea, pit stops along the way, and an endgame; however, my characters direct me better than any outline I've ever done.

Do you really need all of these tools?

But anyway, the thing I can talk about best is the aforementioned vendor lock-in because that's objectively answerable.

I found a review named Review: Persona is limited, values stereotypes over substance on macworld.com. The title already mentions the basic information you will find: apparently Persona has a lot of information about stereotypes and not much more. But here is the really interesting part (emphasis by me):

At best, Persona is a set of training wheels for writers looking to cut their teeth, but you can find much better sources of information on archetypes and writing elsewhere online or at your local library. Those who already have some experience may appreciate the character logging features, but since there’s no way to get information out of the app, you might regret locking yourself in to a proprietary program.

Moreover, at $50, Persona strikes me as simply too expensive for its limited functionality. It’s a lot to pay for an app that, if all goes well, you will outgrow pretty quickly.

That means the character data will be stuck in Persona. There is no way to get it out of there. Be careful if you really want to be locked in.

On the same site you can also finds lots of more useful reviews, like Mariner Write 3.5 and Mariner Calc 5.2 (emphasis by me):

As stand-alone programs that provide the features most users actually need, without the powerful (and expensive) features in Microsoft Word and Excel, both Mariner Write 3.5 and Mariner Calc 5.2 perform perfectly. They can ably handle most day-to-day word processing and spreadsheet tasks. But when viewed from the perspective of interoperability with Word and Excel, Write and Calc are overshadowed by the more feature-rich and considerably less expensive AppleWorks.

But be aware that this review is very, very old - 15 years...

For Contour you only find an old review for an older version from 2009 Contour 1.1, which looks like the software was at that point pretty good for its usecase. The same for Montage.

Narrator, according to the developers,

also [has] an export option for ACC sound files to use with other sound playing software such as a soundtrack in iMovie or as a screenshot voiceover.

All in all there is not much to be found out about the software. I haven't used it, but it seems to be directed more at beginners than experts and there don't seem to be many export options available. Most tool descriptions don't mention something along those lines. Whether the software would be helpful to you is up to you, but you should definitely thoroughly check each one before deciding whether you want to purchase. Especially when buying a bundle you should also check whether you really need all of the software. Not every part of the bundle may be for everyone. An important part that should not be forgotten is that the software apparently has been around for quite some time - that means that there is an active enough userbase that it's still possible for the company to further develop their tools. That's alwas a good sign and suggests that you probably won't have the problem of the company disappearing over night and leaving you with a bunch of completely useless files. Probably...

On the other hand here is a review for a different product from them: Paperless. The users there are complaining about the software frequently hanging whle trying to quit it, horrible tech support.

So if you are reading this because the feature list on their website didn't convince you that the tool would be perfect for you then you might want to stay away from it for the time being. It doesn't seem to be so exceptionally good for writers that everyone's going to them and the price is quite high when you really need all of their software.

  • Since these apps use text it's always possible to copy/paste to get the info in or out of the apps…. But "training wheels" is an apt description for all their software. – wetcircuit Mar 17 at 13:36
  • Lots of good info thank you. I'm going to avoid this brand. – Cyn Mar 17 at 14:14
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I have a few of the Mariner apps. I do not recommend them.

Contour is like a writing blog that asks you 20 questions about your character: "How is your MC an orphan at the start of the story?" "What does your character want most?"… Contour allows you to change the category (genre) of your story from a dropdown list, but the 20 questions never change, they are always the same questions no matter what kind of story you are writing. The story format does not change either, it's just a cosmetic dropdown to fill in another blank. Contour does not adapt to your story or style, it points you to writing generic "modern" characters who hit the pre-requisite character-arc beats. There is nothing here that you can't do better by finding alternate writing blogs with new questions to ask your characters. I used it once, and thought it was pretty good, then I used it again and realized the program isn't actually doing anything. It is just the one writing exercise that you are suppose to apply to every character.

I don't even see the point in filling in the info. Just asking the question is probably enough to jog creativity. The questions aren't as constructive as Delany's 3-types of actions to make "realistic" characters, it was just about hitting the Hollywood story beats (MC is confronted with his flaw in Act 2, etc).

Because Contour was so limited, I avoided Persona, StoryMill, and Montage. They appear to be more of the same: one particular writing formula system or writing exercise turned into an app. It's a bit like buying a specialized app just to write grocery lists – it attempts to "app-ify" tasks as a dedicated tool for one small thing, but is it really enough of a niche to justify the need to use specialized software to do it? Once you know the "system" it's more convenient to keep using whatever software you use to write normally.

Narrator is slightly more useful if you want to rehearse dialog. It was intended for actors who are learning lines. You can load a script, assign Text-To-Speach voices to the roles, and Narrator will read the lines aloud and leave silent gaps where you are meant to speak your lines. It is useful for 1 specific niche, exporting sound files of the TTS voices which normally cannot be captured by screen recording software because of how the Mac mixes the TTS voices into the sound output. TTS voices usually aren't available for apps to "hear". It's still not a great program, but I use it to make audio files of TTS voices for long tutorials, and I have invested in some 3rd-party TTS voices from InfoVox and Acapella. I still wouldn't recommend it, but if you need to capture TTS voices on a mac there aren't many options. Narrator exports AAC sound files which play on an ipod, but need to be converted into generic audio files (WAV, AIFF) before they can be imported into other software for editing.

  • Useful insights, thank you. I'm going to avoid this brand. – Cyn Mar 17 at 14:14

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