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SUMMARY: An excellent product. Not quite as good, in my opinion, as WriteItNow4, but the advantage is that it's free (WriteItNow4 is $59.99) Their website: yWriter5 yWriter5

Detailed Review:

yWriter5 is an Information Management Product rather than anything to do with story development. As the creator, Simon Haynes, says, "It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create".

The biggest benefit to yWriter5 is that it's free to download and use. You can make a donation if you wish but it is not at all necessary. That, of course, is a big advantage. Having said that, its nearest competitor in terms of facilities and features is WriteItNow4 and that is only $59.95. For sure, that's nearly sixty bucks more than yWriter5, but in the grand scheme of things, over the course of a whole novel, sixty bucks is not that much money.

My advice would be to check out both products by reading my reviews and testing them for yourself, and pick the one which you genuinely find to be the best, and go for that. If you prefer yWriter5, then good for you - you got the best product for the least money! But if you prefer WriteItNow4, then don't settle for a lesser product for the sake of less than $60.00.

Here's a video to guide you through some of the features of yWriter5:

When you open yWriter5 you are offered a setup wizard - I suggest you use that. It guides you through adding the project name (the title of your novel) and your own name, and saving the project.
You then add the various elements of the novel using the tabs across the top of the screen:
You'll have already used the Project tab. I'll discuss the Reports and Search tabs below. The elements to be added now are the Chapters, Scenes, Characters, Locations, and Items (if you wish). I'll share the information about the Tools, Localise and Help tabs below too.
You can add the elements in any order, but I found it best to add the Characters, Locations and Items (if using) before the Chapters and Scenes. This is because, of course, Chapters and Scenes are set in Locations, populated by Characters and using Items.
Before going on to share how to use those tabs, note that below the main tab bar there is another tab bar with the words Scenes, Project Notes, Characters, Locations, Items. This might seem like duplication, but in fact it's rather clever (if initially a little confusing). The top tab is where you create these elements; the bottom tab is where you use them. Now, you can create them in the bottom tab too, as you're in the middle of doing other things, but to me that seemed clumsy and too scattered. I'd rather pre-create them, and have them available.

Creating Characters, Locations and Items

So, click on the Character Tab and you'll be offered a drop-down menu. Click on the first option, 'Add New', and you'll be presented with the following pop-up screen:


This section is very self-explanatory: you add in your character's name and description, and whether they're a major or minor character. (There's the possibility later to filter out the minor characters, leaving only the major ones, so this is useful).
Then, in turn, click on the other tabs, such as Bio and Goals, to fill in more detail about the character. I liked the possibility (which also exists in WriteItNow4) to add a picture of your character.
Unlike WriteItNow4, however, yWriter5 doesn't give you any help in creating your character. That's all down to you.
Once you've created your characters, do the same for locations. I liked the option to upload a picture of your location (which WriteItNow4 doesn't give you).
And do the same to add Items, if it's relevant. I imagine that if you're writing fantasy genre, with lots of important items such as magic swords, and health potions etc, that this element would be very useful. I certainly didn't find it too useful for myself.

Creating Chapters And Scenes

The next stage is to create your chapters and the scenes within the chapters. When you click on the 'Chapter' tab, you're offered the option to create a new chapter, create multiple chapters (and how many is up to you), edit chapters, and a number of other options. When you create the chapters they're listed on the left-hand side (either by number, which is the default, or by name if you choose to name them).
You don't create much in the 'Chapters' section - they're more an umbrella for the scenes (as indeed is the case in your writing in general). So click on a chapter in the left hand column and then click the 'Scenes' tab to create scenes for that chapter.
The first screen looks like this:


The screen is normally longer - I've compressed it as explained in the red-circled text above.

You can write the outline/summary in the white space at the bottom, and use the top space to actually write that scene. It has limited word processor capabilities. When you move onto the next tabs, e.g. 'Details' and 'Character' and so on, the outline in the bottom half comes forward with you, so you always have access to it.
You'll see so that there's a box marked 'Viewpoint' and one marked 'Scene Title'. For the 'Viewpoint' you have a dropdown menu (not pictured) which gives you the option of all your characters and you pick which character is the POV character for that scene - you'll see that it's Jane here. You also title the scene, which I haven't done.
There's an option later to see what percentage of the story each character spends as the viewpoint character which is very useful to ensure proper balance.
The next tab is the 'Details' tab for the scene, and it is very interesting indeed. Have a look at the following screenshot:


I've circled the various elements in different colours. The red 'circle' says 'Type of Scene' and your options are 'Action' or 'Reaction'. This is a very important story-telling element, and yWriter5 is the first software that I have seen that makes that distinction between scenes. When you look at your list of scenes afterwards it'll be easy to see if every action scene is followed (as it should be) by a reaction scene.

The yellow 'circle' gives you the option of indicating whether this scene is about the plot, or the subplot. I'm not as sure as to the value of this, as many scenes might be about both.

The green 'circle' features an element which, as far as I can tell, is also unique to yWriter5 - and that is that you can pick four aspects of the story which are important, such as tension, humour, character, and so on, and use that dropdown menu to rate each scene on each of those four elements. Later, once you've done this for every scene, you can illustrate this information in a graph, to show you where the story is flagging in the different aspects. I would have liked to have a choice for more than four aspects, but that seems churlish seeing as most novel writing sofware products don't offer you any!

The blue 'circle' is a drop-down menu marked 'status' and gives you the choice of whether this scene is in outline, draft, edit, second edit, or done. I don't know where that would leave somebody like me who does many edits, but it's still very handy.  

And finally, the pink 'circle' is very important - it gets you to write down the goal of the scene, the conflict, and the outcome of it. This makes for very good story-telling for an action scene. (Two minor quibbles: this element isn't always visible when you open the software - you have to drag the lower bar to see it, and occasionally I found that the software didn't reconfigure when I did that - I had 'ghosting' of the screen. And it is still there if you're creating a reaction scene, where it doesn't necessarily belong.)

One other interesting element to this 'Details' page was hidden by all my coloured circles, so I show it below:


You'll see that it offers you the opportunity to put in the time this scene takes. I've put in that this scene (being the first one of the novel) starts on Day 1 of the story, at 'zero hour', and takes an hour and 30 minutes. This information will be brought forward to the overall screen view later. If you click the 'Sw' button it switches to an actual calendar.

This element is not nearly as well done as the equivalent one in WriteItNow4, in my opinion. You cannot create a timeline from it, and it is hard to read in the overall screen view, and I'm just not sure how you'd use the information.

When you click on the 'Locations' tab and the 'Items' tab, all the locations and items you've created are listed - just drag across the ones which are present in that scene, and they will be available for you.

The Scenes Overview Page

Once you've created all your scenes you can look at their overview in one place:


The first column shows the viewpoint character. The second shows how many words that scene has, and the third is the title of the scene. The fourth is the status, e.g. is it outline, draft, edit or done. The fifth column, marked 'A/R' tells you whether it's an action or a reaction scene. The next column is the filename for some reason - I don't know why it's needed here. The next column shows how many letters there are - again, I'm not sure this is useful. Next comes a list of the characters in that scene, the location it takes place in, the items used in that scene and the time it has taken.

More about the Top Tabs

The top tabs are not in the most logical order, putting it mildly, so I am going to speak of them in logical order rather than position order. Also the Localise Tab and Help Tab are very self-explanatory and/or housekeepingish and so I won't go into detail about those.

The Project Tab

We spoke already of the Project Tab with regard to setting up a new project. It has also the usual options to save, import, export, print and so on. However, there is also, lurking near the bottom of the drop-down menu, a Project Settings option. This useful option allows you to set your deadlines/work schedule, and also to change the Ratings categories. This is not at all intuitive I have to say - I had to get my Nerd husband to figure that one out for me! I could find on the Reports Tab (of which more below) where this work schedule was displayed, but had no idea how to change it.


The Search Tab 

The Search Tab is fairly standard and useful. It does, however, have one extra option which is very, very, helpful, and which is - to the best of my knowledge - unique to yWriter - and that is to search for 'problem' words. These are words which can be overused in writing. There is a predefined list and also you can create your own list. The predefined list includes words such as 'muttered', 'glanced', 'suddenly' and so on, as well as words ending in '-ly' so you can search out the dreaded adverbs. And if you know your own 'problem' words (I, for example, always overuse the word 'actually' in dialogue!), you can create a list of those, and search the manuscript for them.


The Tools Tab

The Tools Tab has some very helpful tools, as the name implies. The first is The Storyboard, which is a visual indicator of all the chapters, scenes, and viewpoints. Here's a screenshot of a small section of it:


You can move the 'index cards' around to suit, and the chapters and scenes sections will update accordingly.

The Tools Tab also has an option to list all the scenes which seems to be a duplicate of the standard scene overview screen. It also has, as mentioned above, a visual of the ratings you apply to each scene so you can get a visual of it. It also has a section which shows you all the words you use, and how often they're used. This is a very good way to find over-used words.

Next on the list in this tab is the Daily Wordcount - here you put your word count target, and in the reports menu you can see if you're managing it. Great for keeping you on track! (Took me ages to figure this out. Had to enlist The Nerd again, and even he had to look it up on Google. It wasn't a very intuitive place to have it.)

Also on this Tools Tab are options to backup and debug and so on - housekeeping stuff.

The Reports Tab

The Reports tab gives you various useful options. You can print out your word count goal and see if you're reaching it, your deadlines and see if you're reaching them.

It also has a very handy synopsis option, which will take all the outline notes you've made and collate them into a synopsis (indeed, three levels of synopsis, depending on how much detail you want).

You can set yourself a daily word count target, broken down into hours, and the Reports Tab will print you out a sheet that you can use to keep track of yourself with.

In Summary

yWriter5 is a very comprehensive piece of novel writing software, with lots of good resources in it. It is not as easy-to-use as WriteItNow4, and is not nearly as intuitive. It does have some resources WriteItNow4 does not have (such as checking for over-used words and allocating a viewpoint character for each scene), but it is lacking some resources WriteItNow4 has, such as help creating characters, a visual timeline and a mind-map of characters' relationships to each other.

You pays your money (or in the case of yWriter5, don't!) and takes your choice.

Click here to go to the yWriter5 website

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