11 Open Source Tools for Writers

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The open source community produces a large amount of software for different uses. I have already told you about open source tools for interactive fictions. Here are eleven open source tools to help authors be creative.

Why Open Source tools for Writers?

Before we begin, I would like to briefly explain why open source is important. When we think of the software we use to write, most people think of programs written by big corporations like Microsoft Word Scrivener. These programs cost money and a built by large teams of programmers. At anytime these companies and these products could go away and not be available anymore.

Open source programs are a little different. The vast majority are free. The code used to create them is freely available, meaning that if the original developer stops work on his project, someone else can take it up. It also means that if you have some coding knowledge, you too can contribute to the project. Open source developers typically respond much quicker to their users than huge multinational organizations.

Now, on with the list.

1. Bibisco

Bibisco is an application designed to help you write stories, mainly novels. Where it shines is in character creation. Bibisco asks you a series of questions about each character in your story. The questions will help you create a solid idea of what your character looks like, what their motives are and what their background is. It also has a place to store images that help you create a mental picture of your characters.

Bibisco also comes with an interesting analysis feature that allows you to see at a glance what characters and what locations appeared in different chapters. It includes a decent look text editor that has basic formatting features

Bibisco is released under GPL. It is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

2. Manuskript

Manuskript is another novel creation tool. This application focuses on outlining. By looking at the detailed outline tool, you can see what stage each chapter is at and what characters are involved. You can also easily rearrange chapters. It uses the snowflake method to help you build your novel.

Manuskript includes a frequency analyzer, so you can see which words or phrases you repeat and how often. They even included a distraction free writing mode.

Manuskript is released under GPL v3. It is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

3. oStorybook

oStorybook is yet another tool intended to help you create novels. The goal of this program is to organize the different elements of your story, so you can focus on writing. It includes a hierarchical tree, so you can see how all characters and events are related. The program also features a spell check and a task list. Like the other novel creation apps, you can create reports to see how often characters appear and when.

It is released under GPL. oStorybook is built with Java, so it will run on Linux, Windows, and Mac

4. GitBook

GitBook is a service mainly used for technical writing, but I don’t see why it would not work for a fiction writer. GitBook makes use of the git version control system to keep track of changes in the document you are writing. It also enables several users to collaborate on a book.

You can either choose a free account or pay $7 a month. If you choose a free account, all your work will be publicly available as you write. The paid account gives you the ability to create a private book.

The GitBook Editor is an application that allows you to write your documents on your computer using Markdown or Asciidoc. (More on those later.) It is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

5. Trelby

If screenwriting is more your speed, then you should check out Trelby. Trelby is created to “enforces correct script format and pagination” and includes auto-completion, and spell checking. It also features scene, location, character, and dialogue reports. You can also use it to compare your script to see what changed between versions. You can import files from quite a few screenwriting apps including: Final Draft XML (.fdx), Celtx (.celtx), Fountain (.fountain), Adobe Story (.astx) and Fade In Pro (.fadein). You can also export HTML, RTF, Final Draft XML (.fdx) and Fountain (.fountain).

Trelby is available under the GPL license. It runs on Linux and Windows.

6. ghostwriter

Ghostwriter is a personal favorite of mine. (In fact, I do all my writing in it.) This application allows you to use the Markdown language to create documents. It is distraction-free by design. It can export to HTML, Word, ODT, PDF, Epub, and more. One nice feature is that it will convert headings to chapters if you export to Epub.

Ghostwriter is licensed under GPL v3. It can run on Linux and Windows.

7. Scribus

Scribus is a free and open source desktop publishing application. While it’s not designed to help you write the next big novel, you can use Scribus to layout the finished book. It has support for “powerful vector drawing tools, support for a huge number of file types via import/export filters, emulation of color blindness or the rendering of markup languages like LaTeX or Lilypond.”

Scribus can run on Linux, FreeBSD, PC-BSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris, OpenIndiana, Debian GNU/Hurd, Mac OS X, OS/2 Warp 4, eComStation, Haiku, and Windows. It is released under GPL.

8. Markdown

Markdown is more than a tool. It is also a formatting syntax. This means that you can write your stories in a plain text editor and then convert it to any document format. All you have to do is add a series of symbols through out the document. This is great because it prevents you from being locked into one program or file format only to see it die.

In order to use Markdown, you typically need to use a text editor that supports Markdown. Ghostwrite from above is my favorite. Markdown is released under a custom license.

9. AsciiDoc

AsciiDoc is another document formatting syntax. While markdown is limited to basic formatting, AsciiDoc has support for more option, such as footnotes, tables, cross references, embedded YouTube videos, and more. It can be used in the creation of notes, documentation, articles, books, ebooks, slideshows, web pages, man pages, and blogs. AsciiDoc files can be converted to HTML, PDF, EPUB, and man pages. AsciiDocFX is a good place to start.

It is released under GPL v2.

10. Fountain

While Markdown and AsciiDoc can be used to create a wide range of documents, Fountain is much more specialized. It is designed for one purpose, to create screenplays. The beauty of Fountain is that it allows you to add the correct formatting to your screenplay as you write without having to take your fingers off the keeps. After a little practice, it can become second nature. Here is a list of apps that support Fountain.

Fountain is released under the MIT license.

11. LaTeX

LaTeX is a human readable document preparation system. While this system was created for scientific papers, it can be used to create beautifully formatted books. You use a series of markup cues to set the structure of your document and also add citations and cross-references. The end product can be converted into a number of file formats. There are a number of applications that you can use to create LaTeX documents. To test LaTeX, give Lyx a spin.

LaTeX is released under the LaTeX Project Public License.

Continue the Discussion

If you are interested you should also read how to create ebooks in Linux with Calibre.

I have created a Facebook group to help writers who use open-source tools to meet and share tips. It is also a great place for writers, who don’t know about open source to learn from those who do. If you are a writer, we would be glad to have you join us.

Have you ever used one of the tools on this list? What is your favorite open-source writing tool? Please let us know in the comments below.

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