In the early days of the personal computer, we're talking the mid-'80s here, there was speculation that someday books would all be writen by computers. It sounded a little too science-fictiony for most writers. After all, words on a page---no matter how well they appear to work together---are meaningless without the insights and experiences of the writer behind them.
At this point in time, I'm happy to report, computers are not writing all our books for us.
However, writing software has progressed far beyond the basic word processing abilities of Word and Word Perfect.
Today, we have a wide variety of story development software. Most can be used to write novels or screenplays, even television scripts or stage plays. Programs such as Truby's Blockbuster or Dramatica Pro teach their own unique approach to story development. Other programs, such as Power Structure, StoryBase, and StoryWeaver provide prompts for help with character, structure, and theme.
They do not write the story for us.
But they are coming closer.
Dramatica Pro, for instance, uses what it refers to as a story engine, that reveals relationships of deep structure independent of subject and content. It takes you by the hand and shows you what character, plot and theme issues you need to address. And finally, it weaves all your plot points together for maximum Dramatica Pro impact.
Truby's Blockbuster helps you find the best story form for your genre work, helps you develop the 7 keys that provide the nucleus for your story, and then lays out the 22 steps of story development to carry your plot from start to finish.
I've used most of these programs at one time or another. While I believe Dramatica Pro has great potential and a unique take on story development, it also has a steep learning curve. Personally, I turn to writing software to save time. If it drains my time to learn how to use it properly, then it defeats its purpose.
Truby's Blockbuster, on the other hand, quickly gets me to the heart of my story and has me putting the pieces together in a relatively short time. I don't use it for all my projects, but find it most helpful for the bigger books.
Could I write without the use of software?
Would my stories be better for it?
Probably no better. Probably no worse.
Then what's the point?
The point is this: story development software can serve both good and evil, depending on how you use it. If you rely too heavily on the software, then you defeat the purpose of being a writer, which is to bring your own take on the world into your work. Your stories will likely begin to all read alike, very cookie-cutter and pre-fabbed. You'll be moving us another step closer to the day when computers will write our books for us.
But if you use the software to organize your thoughts, to make the initial brainstorming process quicker and more efficient, without relying too heavily on each and every aspect of the software, then it can serve the good in your work.
Much like the rules of grammar, the rules of struture and story development are there to guide you. Once you thoroughly understand how they work, you're freer to break them. This is when you step forward as a writer, with your own voice, and your own creative approach to writing.
If you'd like to check out some of these programs, here are some good places to get started:
Novel-Writing Programs: http://thesuccessfulwriter.com/novelwritingsoftware/
Screenwriting Programs: http://thesuccessfulwriter.com/screenwritingsoftware/
Whether you decide to use story-development software or not---Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Faulkner and many others did just fine without them---always remember to bring yourself to your work.
That's the only true way you'll ever be an original writer.
David B. Silva
The Successful Writer