Anyone who says you have to purchase writing software if you want to be a ‘real’ or ‘serious’ writer is lying. It’s perfectly legitimate and fine to draft in Google Docs or Microsoft Word or even a notebook if that’s what you have access to.
That being said, writing software can be a huge help. Finding the right software can offload a lot of the nitty-gritty and free up your mind to focus on writing and revising. I didn’t know about how to use headers in Microsoft Word until this year, so revising used to mean sifting blindly through upwards of two hundred pages.
That’s not a super fun way to live! We can do better.
Nowadays, there are a whole bunch of novel writing softwares available for new and experienced writers alike to try. These can sort your story for you, but lately, the tech has improved, and they’re able to do things like track characters, map stories, and sort your background materials. It seems like every day there’s a new software out that claims to be the sleekest, most intuitive player in the game.
Today, we’re here to focus on one particular contender: Fictionary. In this Fictionary review, we’ll talk about what Fictionary is, how it works, and we’ll cover some pros and cons. We’ll also offer some alternatives.
What is Fictionary?
Fictionary was founded by wife-and-husband duo Kristina and Mathew Stanley. Kristina compiled dozens of resources for revising novels into a spreadsheet while revising her first novel, and when that novel became an instant success, she knew she’d stumbled onto a framework that could potentially help other writers.
Fictionary is meant to make the editing process easier for writers. It’s supposed to take the guesswork out of revisions and make it as easy as possible for a writer to see problems with their manuscript, fix them, and hone their draft into the best version of itself using the 38 Fictionary Story Elements.
There are two versions of this software. For writers, there’s StoryTeller, and for professional editors, there’s StoryCoach. In this article, we’ll be focusing on StoryTeller. Both of these groups have full access to the 38 Fictional Story Elements—a writer will use these to guide the editing process, and an editor will use them to check their work.
How Does StoryTeller Work?
I’ve said that Fictionary helps writers revise their books, but how exactly does that process work?
Simply put: you upload your manuscript into Fictionary. You can either format it beforehand to line up with Fictionary, or fix it once it’s uploaded (just like you might have to fix a Google Doc that you open in Word—no big deal).
Next, Fictionary identifies your characters and scenes. You’re able to double-check that Fictionary has all the characters and scenes straight and edit them if it got anything wrong. Fictionary will also identify Point-of-View, (POV) which, again, you can fix or reset if necessary.
Here’s where it gets interesting: from here, Fictionary shows you a visual of your story. This looks like a graph, and it shows you where characters show up, how often they show up, how much space there is between your plot points and your climax, and so on.
This tells you loads of information—is there a weird gap between your second major plot point and the climax of your novel? Does the climax happen too quickly? Are there characters who appear and never come back? You can see it right in front of you, fix it, and watch as the story arc looks better and better. This is why Fictionary helps writers make tighter, more cohesive stories—it shows writers what they’re missing and where they need to make changes.
This is also where the 38 Elements of Fiction come in. If you’re not sure what to include, you’ve got a reference that might point you in the right direction.
Fictionary Pros and Cons
Not sure whether Fictionary is right for you? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.
- Free two-week trial: for the first two weeks, this software is completely free. How much work can you accomplish in that time? Even if you’re not able to use the software to check your work along the way, you’ve at least got time to identify the problems with your manuscript and make note of how to fix them.
- Reasonable monthly fee: once the free trial is over, you can opt in for a monthly subscription for $20. If you’re not planning on using this software for very long, this isn’t half-bad.
- Software is easy to use: many reviews claim that even if writers have to go in and correct things like POV or characters, these changes aren’t hard to do, and on the whole, the software is accessible and easy to use. There’s not so much of a learning curve that you end up spending your time trying to learn how to use the software as opposed to actually working on your manuscript.
- Visualize your manuscript: it’s insanely helpful to be able to see your story laid out in front of you. It’s one thing to look at a document and note what the plot looks like and how you’ve got everything lined up, but it’s another to actually see each point and how it connects to the next. It’s also great for catching dropped characters and things like that—if you’re a visual learner, like me, then this is a fascinating tool that programs like Microsoft Word or Google Docs don’t offer. Even if you map out your story yourself, you’re going to have a much harder time objectively mapping out those points. To you, it might seem evenly paced. But Fictionary tells all.
- Evaluate & edit your manuscript. In the last point, I mentioned that it’s difficult to objectively evaluate your own manuscript. Fictionary can’t totally remove your rose-colored glasses—we’ll talk more about this later—but because it’s using the material in your manuscript and the hard data (climax, plot points, etc) you enter in order to create your visuals, it’s showing you what your story actually looks like as opposed to what you think it might look like. Or what you might wish it looked like.
- Can be used in conjunction with tools like ProWritingAid
In Kathy Edens’ review for ProWritingAid, she shows users how Fictionary can be used in conjunction with ProWritingAid. The ProWritingAid Chrome extension will work with Fictionary and show you suggestions for corrections on things like passive voice—this way, you’re getting help with your prose as well as your plot.
- Occasional tech issues: some reviewers have reported mild bugs and tech issues, some of which have been resolved and some of which have not.
- Fictionary will not do the work for you. In other words, Fictionary won’t tell you how to fix your problems. It will show you gaps in your story, missing characters, and that sort of thing, but it’s up to you as the writer to figure out how to solve these issues. How do you create a more natural lead-up to the climax? There’s not exactly a one-size-fits-all solution—you’ll have to get in there and figure it out.
This doesn’t mean you’re totally stranded, though. In addition to the slew of writing advice available for free online, you also have access to the 38 Fictionary Story Elements on Fictionary’s website. These can help guide your edits so you aren’t totally fumbling in the dark.
- Fictionary doesn’t track scene structure: in Jeremy Bursey’s review for yWriter, he explains that while Fictionary tracks the overall novel’s structure, it doesn’t really track individual scenes. If you’re shifting the mood from hopeful to desperate over the course of a scene, for example, there isn’t a way to clearly show that in Fictionary. It also won’t track the beats within an individual scene—you can input certain elements, but it’s a little lacking.
- Limitations in tracking characters and character arcs: While Fictionary shows you how often a character shows up in your story, it doesn’t actually show you where that character shows up—ideally, the software would take you directly to the scene where that scene appears, but it doesn’t do this. This means you have to do a little extra work to figure out where those gaps are, which can be a hindrance. Additionally, Fictionary doesn’t track character arcs. The focus is all on the main plot, so there’s not a way to see a character arc portrayed in a graph the way you get for the main plot.
- Fictionary doesn’t track subplots, just the main plot. This can be a dealbreaker for a lot of writers who need to keep track of not just the central plot, but also the romance arc, the conflict with the best friend, etc—having to keep track of these manually can take a lot of extra time, and because these plot lines are (or should be) tied to the main plot, it’s a lot for the writer to put together on their own.
Does Fictionary sound like it’s for you? If it doesn’t, don’t worry—there are plenty of alternatives for you to try. I’ve got two for you to start with:
1. yWriter: if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, look no further—yWriter is free! It organizes your novel into chapters and scenes, which makes it easier to sort through the document as you work.
2. Scrivener: you’ve probably already heard of it, but just in case you haven’t, we have a full review post on Scrivener. Scrivener is loaded with features including chapter and scene organization, character pages, pages to keep scene descriptions, tabs to keep your reference material open alongside your document, and much more. The biggest complaint I hear about Scrivener is that it takes a while to learn all the features it offers, but I’ve never heard someone say they aren’t getting their money’s worth for all Scrivener has to offer.
We give Fictionary 4 out of 5 stars. The pricing is reasonable, and it has some great visual features that will definitely help you plot and map your A-story and characters. But writing great works of fiction requires further nuance and capabilities, namely the ability to drill into subplots and see where characters show up in relation to the arc. Adding these features would probably move our rating even higher.