A Novel Tool

Outlines. Index cards. Character bios and back stories. There are many ways you can prepare to write a novel, and many easily-obtained tools for both the preparation and the writing. For example, my first books in the early 1980s were written with ballpoint pens and spiral notebooks (and, admittedly, very little planning), but nobody will be surprised at this point that computers are now the physical tool of choice for many writers. Of course a computer by itself won't do much good without software, and you have many choices, some of which are free. If you're looking for software, perhaps to get ready for NaNoWriMo next month, I recommend taking a close look at one free software package called Celtx.

[Screen clip: Celtx project templates]

Late last night, as I was about to "announce" in a forum that I still had nothing to announce about what I would write for NaNoWriMo, inspiration struck and moments later I had Celtx open in front of me. Before I could forget the idea that was suddenly bouncing around in my head, I filled in a few index cards — in Celtx, of course, not on paper — and started brainstorming some characters by adding character items in the Master Catalog. I didn't want to get bogged down by details yet, so I left a lot of the fields blank, such as hair, eyes, height, weight, habits/vices, etc., but those can all be filled in later. When November rolls around, I plan to write the actual novel in Celtx as well. That's one of the attractive things about Celtx, that you can do structured planning and writing all in one program. And did I mention that it's free? (There are add-ons and services you can pay for if you wish, but the main product is free.)

You should understand that Celtx did not start as a novel-writing tool, so when you look at the Web site and the software itself, you'll see a lot that deals with scripts (i.e., screenplays, stage plays, etc.) and A/V production. The film-oriented features generally stay out of your way, though, so the fact that you don't have actors, animal handlers, props, makeup, and so forth will not impede your use of Celtx to plan and write your novel. The novel feature was added relatively recently. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to try it for a NaNoWriMo project.

Getting started with Celtx is pretty easy. After downloading the software (via the link above), install it and start it like you would any other program. You'll see the start-up screen from which you can open existing projects or open a template to start a new project. In the "Project Templates" box click the "Novel" option and you'll be taken right into the editor. Before you start hammering away at your manuscript, though, take some time to explore some features. Click the "Index Cards" tab, add a couple cards, and then experiment with dragging them around to re-order them. Double-click the "Master Catalog" in the "Project Library" and "Add" a character (you must give the character a name to enable the "OK" button). If you get stuck on something or you're not sure what to do next, you will find plenty of useful information on the Celtx site.

If you end up writing a NaNoWriMo novel with Celtx, please leave a comment here, perhaps with the link to your profile on the NaNoWriMo site. I would be interested in connecting with other writers who are using Celtx to create their novels.


About the Author
Stuart J. Whitmore is an author of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a photographer, technology developer, and more. If you enjoy reading his blog posts, you might also enjoy reading his books. Take a look at the books by Stuart J. Whitmore today, and download your copy of one that looks interesting to you!