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The creative writing process is much more than just coming up with some fancy characters doing interesting things. You need to keep track of where these characters go, what they’ve done, and how they’re supposed to complete their journey.

The standard for this on Windows and Mac is Scrivener Your Guide To Scrivener Your Guide To Scrivener Read More . While Literature and Latte had been developing a native Linux version, 2015 is the date of the “latest” beta. We’ll take a look at five similar novel-writing applications for Linux, of which four are fully free and open source.

Main Features of Novel Writing Apps

At a basic level, all you need to write your novel (or any piece of fiction) an application that can capture text. This includes word processors What Is the Best Word Processor for Linux? What Is the Best Word Processor for Linux? Unless you use emulation or virtualization software, there's no way to run Word on Linux. Which leaves us with a tough question: what's the best word processor to use on Linux? Read More (arguably the default app for authors), text editors Write In Peace With These Distraction-Free Editors Write In Peace With These Distraction-Free Editors I have felt it. Visual clutter – thanks to menus and other markup features – have often cemented my writer’s block. So, I have tried out quite a few distraction-free text editors in a grand... Read More (e.g. “distraction-free” environments), note-taking programs Productivity on Linux: 7 Apps for Note-Taking Productivity on Linux: 7 Apps for Note-Taking Here are seven different applications you can use to write notes and increase your productivity in Linux. Often there are web versions available, but we'll instead focus on alternative desktop applications you can use. Read More , and/or outliners 5 Tools For Outlining Ideas For Writers And Artists 5 Tools For Outlining Ideas For Writers And Artists An outline is nothing but a hierarchical breakdown of what you plan to write or create. Arranged according to levels of importance and flow, and marked by numbers, roman numerals, headings-subheadings, indentations, or any other... Read More . You can get a book done with any of these, alone or in combination.

While these applications help you record the words of the story, crafting the story itself needs to occur in your head. The novel writing apps we’ll look at below distinguish themselves from those more generic programs with features to automate this process, including:

  • Segmentation, which entails writing parts like”scenes” that get ordered into chapters, which are in turn lined up into the book.
  • Character/location/object managers that let you keep their descriptions handy, so you never need to remember what your protagonist’s favorite food is.
  • Research/clip organizers that story all those random URLs or pics of exotic weapons handy.
  • Mind mappers/”idea corkboards”/timelines to let you visualize your story, particularly across sub-plots or points of view.
  • Automatic export/formatting that assists you in getting your work ready for submission.

In the below section we’ll take a look at examples of novel writing apps that run on Linux. We’ll highlight the features they support as well how they perform at “text capturing.”

1. bibisco

First on our list of programs is bibisco. It’s available for download from its website, and installation on Linux is as easy as unpacking the .TAR.GZ file into a directory and running the “bibisco” executable.

On first run, a wizard will ask for your language and a location to save projects. But once you make these quick settings, you can dive right into the app and make your first project.

linux novel writing app bibisco

The layout of bibisco is pleasant, though noticeably not keyboard friendly Missing Or Broken Mouse? Operate Windows Completely From Your Keyboard Missing Or Broken Mouse? Operate Windows Completely From Your Keyboard Your computer’s mouse may seem like an essential peripheral, but it’s not – it’s just nice to have. If you don’t have a working mouse around – or if you just feel like learning some... Read More . It’s a Java-based web app packaged up in desktop format, and so looks like a web site. For example, the main menu isn’t nested in the usual fashion, but a row of links at the top of the screen.

linux novel writing app bibisco

The main building blocks of a novel in bibisco are scenes. Even when you create chapters they’re comprised of scenes, i.e. you’ll need at least one scene per chapter. While you do your main writing in the scene editor (shown in the screenshot below), bibisco does provide a left-hand pane with your site structure, other chapters/scenes, characters, and locations for reference.

linux novel writing app bibisco

One unique function in bibisco is the status it attaches to items. For example, in a chapter the “reason” (why the chapter is there), as well as each scene, has a status of either “to-do,” “not yet complete,” or “completed.” It gives you an easy visual indication of how much work you still have to do for a particular project. The status “rolls up” as well. If you have a chapter where the summary and first scene are complete but the second scene is marked “to-do,” the chapter overall is “not yet complete.”

linux novel writing app bibisco

Summary

A pretty-looking application for users who need help tracking all the individual pieces of their novels to “done.”

linux novel writing app bibisco

2. Manuskript

Manuskript, written in Python, requires a few packages before you can run it. The instructions on its wiki lists some, but I found it also requires one more in Ubuntu 16.04-based distributions. Use the following at the command line to install everything you’ll need:

sudo apt-get install python3-pyqt5 libqt5svg5 python3-lxml python3-enchant zlib1g python3-pyqt5.qtwebkit

Once complete, Manuskript is a quick download-unpack-run to get started (although a PPA looks to be on the way for 17.10). Its layout is much more traditional, including some big icons/tabs on the left.

linux novel writing app manuskript

A “project dialog” also gives easy access to a few different sample project types (novel, short story, non-fiction paper, etc.).

linux novel writing app manuskript

The “Redaction” tab is where you’ll actually create your story by typing your text in the center pane. Based on the project type you selected, Manuskript may have set up default chapters (up to 20 of them) with “Goal” word counts for you. This may be overwhelming for writers who “build” their stories, as opposed to those who do lots of planning. (Who knows how many words will be in a chapter before writing it anyway?)

linux novel writing app manuskript

Each chapter added to the project is referred to as a “Text.” But you can also label a new Text item as a “Note” or “Research.” These appear in the same hierarchical level by default. The “Outline” view let’s you easily create “Folders” to contain, for example, the Notes, Scenes, and Research for Chapter 1 (shown in the below image).

linux novel writing app manuskript

Once your story’s structure is set,”Summary” gives you fields to do synopses of varying length (shown in the below image). Likewise, “Characters” and “World” track the people, places, and things in your story (both things and places are grouped into “World”).

linux novel writing app manuskript

Finally, the app allows you to export to a variety of formats (including Pandoc support How to Easily Convert Between Document Formats in Linux How to Easily Convert Between Document Formats in Linux Switching to Linux can result in problems with file compatibility. For instance, documents don't look the same in LibreOffice as they do in Word. This is just one reason why you need pandoc. Read More ). It lets you configure which files are included, how the transitions between them look, and even if you want to replace characters like curly quotes.

linux novel writing app manuskript

Summary

This will appeal to “planners” moreso than “pantsers,” as it allows them to lay out their novel in detail before even writing the first word. The export tools are excellent.

linux novel writing app manuskript

3. Plume Creator

Finally comes Plume Creator, which we already highlighted with some other great Linux writing tools For Literary Penguins: 4 Great Writing Tools [Linux] For Literary Penguins: 4 Great Writing Tools [Linux] A great amount of productivity comes from writing tasks, whether it be for school assignments, articles for your blog, or much more. While full-featured office applications tend to be the norm for such tasks, it... Read More . Plume is available from the Ubuntu 16.04 repositories, and you can install it easily from the Software Centre or with the following:

sudo apt-get install plume-creator

In contrast to the above apps, which use different tabs or views, Plume displays its tools as four panes around the main writing area. “Project” (number 1 in the below image) is the most important, as it shows your novel as a tree. You can select an item from the tree to open it in the main pane and enter text. Scenes can contain text, but so can chapters, even if they contain scenes (and acts if they contain chapters, and so forth).

linux novel writing app plume

Your other panes are “Mise en scène” (characters/places/items appearing in the scene, 2 in the above image), “Notes” (3), and “Tools” (4, which contains a clock and timer). You can add/remove items or characters based on their presence or absence in the text. “Notes” provides a plain text field for “Synopsis” and “Note.” And the Tools, well… they’re useful I guess.

You have access to all these while you’re writing in the center pane. If this view is a little busy for you, Plume offers a distraction-free mode that is frankly quite nice.

linux novel writing app plume

Plume’s export also offers a selection of formats, and allows you to select what items should be part of it. So if you’re using scenes to capture your actual prose and storing bullet points at the chapter level, you can exclude the chapters from the export.

linux novel writing app plume

Summary

A nice balance of feature-packed views for planning and a great distraction-free mode for drafting.

linux novel writing app plume

Honorable Mentions

4. Writer’s Cafe

Writer’s Café is the most Scrivener-like, yet a bit of a strange beast. When you launch it, it displays what is essentially a desktop-within-a-desktop (there’s even a “Start” button). The tools, including a “pinboard,” “journal,” and “scrapbook” all have their own icons.

linux novel writing app writers cafe

The “Storylines” tool is where you arrange your story on a very Scrivener-like corkboard. After creating cards on this board, you enter passages of text for each, which you can then re-arrange into different storylines.

linux novel writing app writers cafe

This app really does provide a self-contained environment, as it’s name would suggest. But for those who just want to start their program and start writing, the set-up and overhead of Writer’s Café may be too much. It’s also neither free ($40 after the evaluation expires) nor open source.

5. oStorybook

oStorybook is another grid- and tab-heavy application along the lines of both Manuskript and Plume. The interface is arguably even busier than either, with lots of panes and buttons. Also, you need to open an entire other window to actually start working on your prose. And it’s the second tab at that!

linux novel writing app ostorybook

The organizational features of oStorybook are powerful, but the interface has so many buttons and tables it could distract you from your writing.

How Do You Write Your Fiction?

The applications discussed here certainly offer some powerful features to help you organize the details of your novel. But more important than all this is the concept of “BIC, HOK”: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. These tools are meant to save time. Take care they don’t end up costing you time you could otherwise spend writing.

What do you think? Are you a “planner” who could make use of all the bells and whistles these applications offer? Or do you let your writing take you on the journey, and would these tools just slow you down? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credits: lipik/Shutterstock

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  1. M. Robinson
    September 4, 2017 at 5:52 am

    I tried Scrivener when I started writing, back when I was a Windows users.

    I realized Microsoft Word – word processors – were plain cussing. I liked Crimson Editor, but eventually Notepad++ won out. Text editors are for writing and word processors are for when you are done writing. I then tried outliners (Vault 3, CherryTree, KeepNote) trying to get organized and I learned that the .txt file is the Alpha and the Omega, auto-save is for suckers, and to backup the backup.

    I prefer Emacs-nox/Org-mode and Gnumeric. With Grep/Emacs I can organize using .txt files: character profiles, character history/time-line, chapters, scenes, etc. by using Orgmode tags.
    Org-mode also has time management features. You can track your time per paragraph if you want with Org-mode’s clock-in/clock-out. The clock doesn’t lie, I know when I’m swinging a 2x4 and the weeds are winning.

    That said, I've yet to find anything better than having printed pages to touch, order, and write in the margins of.

    • Aaron Peters
      September 6, 2017 at 1:28 am

      I'm also currently learning to love Emacs, and slowly working my way into Org-mode as well. Speaking of loving plain text, I'm also exploring RecUtils for things like characters and other profiles. Emacs has a mode for Rec files, so you can give that a look as a replacement for Gnumeric.

  2. lefo
    August 11, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    I've been trying out Manuskript, and it's really close to what Scrivener offers. It's a little non-intuitive in some respects, but it offers the style, formatting and exporting that I've been looking for. One oddity; I get a suggestion to install PyEnchant, but apparently I already have it. For some reason, Manuskript isn't finding it. It's not the end of the world, though. I'll eventually export to .docx anyway, and I can run a quick check then. I hope this continues.

    • Aaron Peters
      August 11, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      Hi,
      Is it possible you have PyEnchant installed for a different version of Python that the one Manuskript is using (e.g. Python2 vs. Python3)?
      When Manuskript is running, I'd look into what version of Python the system is using, as you may need to call a different version explicitly to have it launch with the environment that contains PyEnchant.

  3. Danny Knestaut
    August 5, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    I've played with all of these (including Scrivener) except oStorybinder. Right now, I'm evaluating Manuskript on antiX 16, and I'm really quite impressed with it in a way that I haven't been impressed with the others. Aside from the awful UI, I really like how this application works. I especially like how it saves my work a series of markdown files so that I can synchronize the whole thing to my phone and add notes or edit a scene on any generic text editor without needing an "app." I especially love how I can also open the individual scenes in Vim and edit them there for the ultimate in BIC, HOK. The integration with pandoc is a really nice touch, and makes it very easy to send specific chapters to the editor who likes stuff in Google Docs, and then the critique partner who likes stuff in LibreOffice. This might replace FocusWriter as my daily driver.

    • Aaron Peters
      August 6, 2017 at 1:58 am

      Hi Danny, I'm also a huge fan of Pandoc and was impressed with the way they're supporting the export you mention.

      Also very interested in your Vim comment! I recently picked up on emacs, and am writing just about everything in it. Does Manuskript give you a way to launch one of the scenes in an external editor, or are you referring to the ability to just open one of them outside the confines of the app?

      • Danny Knestaut
        August 6, 2017 at 10:55 am

        No, I'm referring to the ability to open the files outside the confines of the application. Each scene is saved as a markdown file, so I can then open up each file in Vim to edit it. Not that the editing capabilities of Manuskript are bad, but if you're poking around with emacs, then you know what advantages are to be had in a modal text editor.

        • Aaron Peters
          August 8, 2017 at 3:45 pm

          I do indeed, thanks for the confirmation!

  4. COLIN ONEILL
    August 5, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    I'm an outliner and like to make scene lists with a short description for each. They may change as the project develops, but I really need to know where I'm going before I start writing in earnest.

    Great list. Thanks!

    • Aaron Peters
      August 6, 2017 at 1:55 am

      Thanks Colin, I'm also a tried-and-true outliner. I'd been looking for a program for myself, and I'm glad someone else found the research useful.