A Tale of Two Word Processors : Can Storyist Take on Scrivener?

In a recent article, DailyMacView.com contributor Alain Latour called Scrivener the best software ever developed for journalists, academics and fiction writers. But in an age where mobile is king, Scrivener is hurting because of its lack of iOS support. Can competing product Storyist take over?

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People want to work anywhere.

After I wrote my article WHY THE BEST WRITING SOFTWARE EVER DEVELOPED IS NO MORE, several readers asked just how much did I know about Storyist, a product which I said I might have to consider buying should Scrivener fail to deliver an iOS app in 2014.

The answer, to be honest, is not much at all. That’s why I’ve spent the last week playing with Storyist—to give you an informed opinion about the product which has already seduced quite a few Scrivener users.

On first impression, the similarities between Storyist and Scrivener are plentiful. That’s not just because they’re both designed with complex writing in mind, or because they both let you store all sorts of research-related files. It’s also because they look remarkably similar. (According to Wikipedia, Scrivener was born in 2007; Storyist, in 2010 CORRECTION: as indicated to us by Steve Sheppard, Storyist 1 was released at Macworld in 2007, a couple of weeks before Scrivener; the Wikipedia article refers to Storyist 2.2, which was released in 2010.)

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Both Scrivener (left) and Storyist (right) look very similar.

Yet it only takes a few minutes playing with both until the differences jump at you. The main one is intent. On the one hand, Scrivener can be used to write many things other than novels. Indeed, as I wrote in my previous article, Scrivener lets you tackle everything from blog posts, and academic work to dissertations, novels, scripts, and more.

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Storyist (above) offers far fewer templates than Scrivener (below).

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On the other hand, Storyist is designed exclusively for fiction writers. This becomes obvious from the moment you try to create a project and discover Storyist offers only two templates: novels and scripts.

Contrast that with Scrivener, which offers a blank template, a fiction template with three options (novel, novel with parts, and short story) non-fiction (seven options), scriptwriting (another seven), poetry and lyrics, and my favourite, miscellaneous, where you can use third-party templates like a GTD to-do list, sales letters, diverse blogging templates, lectures, and even a recipe collection.

To be fair, Storyist was never promoted as anything other than a “powerful development tool for novelists and screenwriters,” as displayed on its website. As such, it does an adequate job, helping you track your plot, characters, and settings, and keeping all of your writing organized.

In fact, if Storyist excels at one thing, it’s at giving you a very good high-level view of your story. Both in the sidebar and the toolbar, sections for plot and characters are very prominent, as are plot points and synopsis fragments elsewhere.

Yet in my opinion, Storyist’s strength is also its weakness. For starters, not all fiction writers focus so much on plotting and character development. What’s more, Storyist’s focus on features developed for fiction writing puts off writers of other stripes—writers such as myself, whose day-to-work revolves around blog posts and articles and reports.

It makes no sense to me that I should use one word processor for my fiction writing, and another for my day job. especially when the one tool for my fiction writing would set me back $59. That’s Storyist’s price tag, which costs $19 more than Scrivener. (At 30 days, Scrivener’s free trial phase is twice as long as Storyist’s.)

Scrivener’s approach makes more sense. While the program does offer functionalities similar to Storyist’s, it does not force you to use them—they’re pretty much just there for you to use when and if you want to. Choose a blank template, or one of many other customizable templates, and you wouldn’t even know these options were even there. For this and other reasons, Scrivener is potentially useful to anyone who often writes documents slightly more elaborate than a letter or a memo.

Write Everywhere

Where Storyist shines is its ability to make you a mobile writer. With both an iPhone and iPad app, Storyist makes it possible for you to write at your desk, on your armchair, or in line at the coffee shop. Better still, it all syncs easily with your other writing devices via Dropbox.

Summary

I will be a very happy man when and if Scrivener makes good on their promise to deliver iOS apps . In the meantime, I will have to make do with… Scrivener. Here’s why.

Storyist is certainly a good product. Perhaps more limited in features than Scrivener, but this also makes easier to use.

However, Storyist is also more expensive, offers a ridiculously low amount of templates, and does not lend itself to any writing other than fiction writing. Specifically, it caters to writers who spend a lot of time pre-planning their work, coming up with characters, and refining their plot.

Scrivener is far more flexible, and although it does involve a steeper learning curve, it can quickly become a powerful tool for writers of all stripes. Here’s hoping the company pays attention to the mobile market.