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NewNovelist 2.0 review

By Jem Matzan

As an experienced writer, I can say with certainty that it is difficult to keep track of all of the various aspects of a fiction novel. I've known other writers who use various gimmicks and techniques to remind them of events, story elements, and character progression. I've used index cards pinned to a corkboard above my desk, and a notes file open in a separate tab of my word processor window to keep track of odds and ends in a story. When I first reviewed NewNovelist several years ago when it was in its 1.1 release (the review is no longer online), I said that it was a valuable tool for fiction authors, but wasn't all that it could be. Now in version 2.0, NewNovelist has seen a gigantic overhaul, now including nearly all of the suggestions I'd originally made. Can there be a more useful software tool for fiction writers?

NewNovelist overview

This section is for people new to NewNovelist. If you're already familiar with what this product is and what its basic features are and just want to find out about the latest enhancements, you may want to skip down to the next section.

NewNovelist is two things: A story builder, and a word processor. The first aspect of the program helps you create a detailed outline for any kind of three-act fiction story. The first screen asks you to choose among three story categories: Plot, Epic, and Character. From there, you're given anywhere between two and ten more subcategory choices, each with a detailed description. Once the story creation wizard is finished, you'll go to the main editing interface.

Most of the work you'll do in NewNovelist will be from the writing interface, which has a central space for word processing functions, and two sidebars -- one for chapter information, the other for notes and research. Clicking on any element in either sidebar will expand it out into the main editing area so that you can get a better view of its features. The Chapters sidebar is essentially a list of icons that represent each turning point in the story according to the options you chose during the initial story wizard. If you click on one of them, you get a highly detailed explanation of what should be happening in this part of the book. The editing interface will also switch to a new perspective, allowing you to properly separate each story segment in its own textual partition.

The Resources column is just what it sounds like -- you can add a note file on each character, place, and object in your story. You can also store other notes on whatever topic you like, and add and execute Web bookmarks.

The word processing functions in NewNovelist are elementary -- alignment, line spacing, color, indentation, graphics (JPG, GIF, BMP only), bold/underline/italics, font family and size, super/subscript, and strikeout. There is no grammar checking functionality, but there is a rudimentary built-in dictionary with synonyms, and a reasonably competent inline spell checker that accepts both US and British spellings.

When you're done with your manuscript, you can export it to a PDF, which is ideal for printing; or to rich text format (RTF), which is universally readable by text editors and word processing software. NewNovelist working files are themselves proprietary and not readable by any other program, but the formats you export your work to are not.

What's new in 2.0

It's impossible to list all of the things that have been updated since version 1.1 because the entire program is different -- there is no resemblance to the original software at all. So without getting into fine details and specifics, here are the fundamental differences between 1.1 and 2.0:

  • A detailed story creation wizard.
  • An initial project management window.
  • The text editor now supports a wide range of word processor functions.
  • The interface has been redesigned to better switch between notes, structural advice, and the manuscript.
  • Windows Vista support.
  • Inline spell checking

In addition to these features, a text-to-speech function is supposed to be integrated into NewNovelist 2.0, but I could not get it to work on my Windows Vista test machine.

NewNovelist 2.0 screen shot
NewNovelist 2.0 screen shot directory

Putting it to the test

Installation is quick and easy, and the program itself takes up very little space. As far as using NewNovelist is concerned, its most important functions are quite intuitive and there is little room to wander away from the focus of your work. The story creation wizard could be a little better labeled -- it uses descriptive pictures featuring actors in the midst of performing a scene that matches the available story types. Even though the graphics are sufficiently detailed, it's hard to immediately see what your story selection options are. You have to mouse over or click on each picture to see if it matches the book idea you have in your head. If you make a mistake during the wizard, it's simple to go back and make other choices. Once you've solidified your novel, however, it is not possible to go back to the wizard and change options -- you'd have to start over again from scratch.

The editing space is nicely customizable and has all of the most important text editing features. The only glaring omission is a grammar checker, though if you follow the old school writing approach, you won't worry about that until much later in the process. Presumably you will finish your draft in NewNovelist, then export your work via RTF to a word processor to edit and correct it.

There is supposed to be a voice readback function in NewNovelist 2.0 that reads your manuscript aloud. However, the too-limited documentation says that Windows XP is required, and I tested only on Windows Vista. Consequently I was not able to hear this feature in action.

Conclusions and developer recommendations

I don't think I have ever seen a program evolve this much from one version to the next. Usually software tends to change in many small ways over a long period of time. Big changes tend to span several releases, many of which are substandard, forcing paying customers to do quality assurance testing. The NewNovelist developers have taken an entirely different tack in spending a long time developing a major new release.

I'm not sure that existing NewNovelist 1.1 customers will find any value in upgrading to 2.0 unless they plan on starting new novel projects or revisiting old ones. The previous release did not have nearly as many writing tools built into it, so users were accustomed to exporting their story frameworks to word processors to do most of the writing. In version 2.0, authors can do the majority of their writing in the NewNovelist software, which now offers expanded productivity tools that encourage you to stay with it until the manuscript is finished. For new writers who enjoy the traditional three-act structure, NewNovelist is an outstanding tool that I heartily recommend. If you're out to write something non-traditional ala Tom Robbins or Italo Calvino, NewNovelist will not be much of an asset to you.

Here's what I'd like to see added in future NewNovelist releases:

  • A grammar module. Grammar checking is related to spell checking in that it catches homonyms and typos. It's not so important as a grammar tool as it is an enhancement to the spell checking function.
  • Word count. The only people who make a big deal out of word count functions are journalists and authors. We might not get paid by the word anymore, but there are word count and page count requirements for book projects that affect your royalty structure. So a word processor and story creation tool like this absolutely needs a customizable word count tool.
  • A larger notes field. When entering a note into the Research and Ideas section, you're limited to about two visible lines of text. This should expand to show at least ten lines so that authors can see more context.
Purpose Writing tool
Manufacturer Creativity Software, Ltd.
Supported platforms Microsoft Windows XP, 2000, and Vista
License Proprietary, restrictive in all the usual ways.
Market Fiction authors
Price (retail) U.S. $55 for the download edition, $60 for the pressed CD (Buy it directly from the manufacturer)
Previous version NewNovelist 1.1
Product Web site Click here