The open source community produces a large amount of software for different uses. I have already told you about open source tools for creating interactive fictions. Here are eleven open source tools to help authors be creative and productive.
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 or Scrivener. These programs cost money and are 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 working on the project, someone else can take it up.
It also means that if you have some coding knowledge, you too can contribute to the project or make a better tool by creating a fork.
All things considered, using an open-source software has a lot of benefits. So, let us take a look at some of the best open-source tools for writers:
Note: The list is in no particular order of ranking.
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. You can explore more about it on its official website or its GitHub page.
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. It’s worth noting that it is still a pre-release version and in early stages of its development and does not have a stable release yet. It worked fine in my case but you should keep that in mind and go through its GitHub page if needed.
If you’re looking to crunch more words quickly, you might want to use an open-source text expander tool like espanso.
It works totally offline and you can create your own custom keywords to expand texts that you would use frequently. I’m sure you can figure out ways to make the most out of it to speed up your writing tasks.
Also, I’d suggest you refer our article on espanso to know how to set it up and get started.
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 $8 per user monthly. Unless you have a team to collaborate with, you may not require the paid plans. But, if you do, it is worth noting that eligible open-source or non-profit projects will get 50% off.
You can choose to create a public space or a private space depending on how you want to give access to the information you’re working on. If it’s private, only your team members or collaborators will be able to access it (if any).
The GitBook Editor lets you edit/create pages online right on the web browser without needing a separate desktop application. So, you can use it on any platform (Linux, Windows or Mac).
5. KIT Scenarist
If you’re into screenwriting (or scriptwriting), KIT Scenarist is a full-fledged solution for casual and professional use.
It offers a lot of features that includes the ability to create/manage cards, get statistics about your project, and organize all your research materials to comfortably work on your script with an easy-to-use GUI (Graphical User Interface).
If you’re curious to explore more about it, you might want to read our article on KIT Scenarist.
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 markdown editor 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.
It also provides different light and dark themes to help you get comfortable writing or editing.
Ghostwriter is licensed under GPL v3. It can run on Linux and Windows.
Scribus is a free and open source desktop publishing application. While it’s not designed to help you write the next big novel, but you can use Scribus to layout the finished book or work on publishing a print-ready magazine.
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.
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 or just use to conver text to HTML. All you have to do is add a series of symbols throughout 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.
AsciiDoc is another document formatting syntax. AsciiDoc has support for several option, such as footnotes, tables, cross-references, embedded YouTube videos, and more. It can be used in the creation of notes, documentation, articles, books, e-books, slideshows, web pages, man pages, and blogs. AsciiDoc files can be converted to HTML, PDF, EPUB, and man pages. It is released under GPL v2.
Are text editors enough to help you get a flawless writing experience?
Well, if you want to avoid the silly errors and make sure that your writing is as perfect as possible, you might want to use LanguageTool.
It is an open-source spell and grammar checker that can also work offline. It provides you browser extensions, add-ons for popular editors like Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, etc, and you also get a desktop app if needed.
You can refer to our LanguageTool review if you want to explore more about it before getting started.
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.
LaTeX is released under the LaTeX Project Public License.
Honorable Mentions that have been Discontinued
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
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.
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.
Continue the Discussion
If you’re curious, you should also read how to create ebooks in Linux with Calibre.
Have you ever used one of the tools on this list? What is your favorite open-source tool as a writer? Please let us know in the comments below.
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