Provides: Novel formatting and content management
Format: Download or CD
Developer: Mariner Software
Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.6 or higher
Processor Compatibility: Universal
Price: $49.95 ($24.95 upgrade)
Version Reviewed: 4.0.1
The good thing about aspiring to be a published fiction writer, I suppose, is that I can carry that goal with me to my grave. Back in high school, I had friends who dreamt of becoming professional athletes, rock stars and husbands of cheerleaders. Active cheerleaders, I should specify. Those dreams have faded into the ether at our age, but I can still live under the hope that one day a person in the right position will think people would pay cash money for the right to read my words. So, here I sit, pushing ever onward with my tales of UFOs, robot pop stars, and Baltimore-based power pop bands, and doing so with Mariner Software’s StoryMill 4.
Now, you can of course write a novel with any bit of software that allows you to type letters. Microsoft Word works. Mariner’s own Mariner Write works. Even Apple’s TextEdit works if you’re some kind of glutton. Personally, I prefer to work in software designed for the specific task. And of all the novel formatting software I’ve used—free and otherwise—StoryMill continues to be my favorite.
There are two main reasons for this. First, whereas most novel formatting software is, in fact, script formatting software that also covers screenplays, stage plays, TV scripts, etc., StoryMill is strictly novels. This means it’s not overcomplicated with features and options you’ll likely never use.
Second, it’s clean. The UI is clutter free, and the bulk of the features are hidden away until you need them.
This also means you may never use them, and that’s fine. StoryMill works the way you want it to, although you may be handicapping yourself if you don’t follow its preferred method: scenes.
Scenes are the building block for nearly everything in the StoryMill process. The software doesn’t so much want you to write chapters, it wants you to write scenes. In these scenes you’ll define characters, locations, etc., all of which are easily recalled, identified and edited. Want to know at what location you last left your characters, and when? You can find that in scenes.
Scenes can also be reorganized in the new Timeline view, and that really is the main feature. With a simple drag and drop, you can change the sequence of your plot; the change automatically happens in Chapter mode, and the relevant information is adjusted accordingly.
The trouble is, I don’t like using scenes…yet. I started working in StoryMill 4 with a novel I already had in progress, and didn’t feel like going back to assign scenes. As such, I’m losing the timeline functionality, as well as some other features. StoryMill is not really punishing me for that—it’s still a wonderful piece of software—but I do wish some of the functionality wasn’t so dependent upon scenes.
Still, you get a lot even if you don’t go that route. You can view your work by chapter or by novel. When looking at the whole novel, odd chapters have a white background, even are offwhite, making it every easy to discern when you’ve hit the next chapter while scrolling the text. It’s a basic feature, but one I find tremendously useful.
You can annotate sections of your text to indicate what draft it’s in and what needs work. You can set goals for yourself (number or words, pages, minutes) and track your progress as you work without leaving the work itself. You can take snapshots of a particular point in the writing process, then continue with your edits while the original is open right there next to the new version. This is very handy for deciding what reads better does a better job of conveying the right tone.
You can also keep track of your research while writing, and track your submissions when the novel’s done. And even without setting up scenes, you can easily define and access on your characters, including importing photos to help you visualize them as you write.
One area where I feel StoryMill is lacking is it’s full screen mode. You can determine the background and text color when it takes over your entire monitor screen, but you can’t alter the text size. On my 27″ iMac, it was too tiny to read comfortably. It was also too wide, and although you can determine the width of the margins, your choices are limited. At the largest margin width, my text rows were still too long.
Regardless, working in StoryMill is a joy. It allows you to focus solely on writing when you want to, but also allows to keep everything organized and identified for when you drop into editing mode. It’s unfortunate that some of the features may be disabled by your preferred writing process, but that leaves more to discover as your familiarity with the program increases.
I’ve been writing fiction for a long time. In fact, it was the Mac SE’s WYSIWYG interface that first made me a fan of Apple computers. My successes have been minor over those years, but enough to compel me forward, and I’m glad to have StoryMill with me as I go.
Buy StoryMill 4