A few weeks ago I posted about how I bought and installed Storyist and that I was beginning to explore it to see if it would be a good replacement for Word, and help me get writing more. It was also meant to help me work with a client on a very big, complex project that required us to be able to share documents and easily and efficiently track changes and versions.

I’m sorry to say I hit Storyist’s fail point quickly and thoroughly.

That client and I have gone back to Word and for me, Storyist might be useful if I get back into writing screenplays, but for the rest of my work, it’s going to be a pass.

Here are a few big problems . . .

First, what Storyist touts as its principal strength is the ability to organize story elements to keep track of characters, plot points, etc. in some kind of dynamic fashion that will allow you to strip down your writing to its basic components and move it around.

I’ll admit I may not be using it right, but it doesn’t do that. At least, not in any way that’s significantly lacking in Word.

Storyist saves everything under a project heading, which was counterintuitive to me at first but once I realized that the “project” was the same as a “folder”, with separate documents inside it, that started making more sense, but then only a little more sense. Again, if the project is the same as a folder, why not just use a folder, which will allow me to see the contents of the project from Finder, without opening Storyist?

I have no explanation for that.

The various components that make up a project seem to have been only vaguely thought out. You can add a character, for instance, which opens up a document with text laid in:


New Character 1


Summarize the character here. What role does the character play in the story? How does this character drive the story? How is this character essential to the telling of the story?

Physical Description



Eye Color:

Hair Color:


Character Development Points

There are no character development points associated with this character. To create one, click on the icon on the left, and select “Add Character Point” from the pop-up menu.


There are no notes for this character.


And that’s it.

What does that get me, exactly, that I couldn’t have set up in a minute or so and saved as a Word file? And is that really all the creators of Storyist consider important for an author when creating a character? A quick list of physical attributes and “notes”? And while these are valid questions:

What role does the character play in the story? How does this character drive the story? How is this character essential to the telling of the story?

Again, is that it?

Oh, and you can drag an image off your computer or the internet into a picture box. Which you can also do in a Word file.

The Plot Point “feature” is similarly useless.

I’ve played with this thing for a while now and still can’t see how these elements interrelate at all except that you can split your screen so you can see a character sheet and your text at the same time. I can do that with Word, too, except I don’t have to view them all in ever-smaller windows but can move them around between two monitors however I choose, and at least just as easily if not more easily copy and paste between the two, which as far as I can tell is the only way these sheets interact.

And then there’s the big, big problem in terms of collaboration—more a series of problems. Storyist allows you to save your project into a Dropbox folder. So does Word. Is that it, in terms of collaboration tools? It appears so.

Storyist has no ability to track changes the way Word does, so the only way to see what’s changed between one version and another appears to be reading through both files word for word with the text split between two windows. That’s awful. I might as well be working with hardcopies.

And you can’t turn on the invisibles so have no sense of the actual formatting.

Those two things (no ability to track changes, no ability to see invisibles) makes it of no use to me as an editor.

And then of course if you want to get your final text file to anyone who doesn’t have Storyist, you have to export the file to some other format. And despite promises to the contrary, Storyist not only doesn’t preserve its own formatting when it exports to .doc format, it introduces some very, very weird stuff.

In one case—and I think this is true of all cases—Storyist’s paragraph marks appear as paragraph marks on screen in Word, but when I tried to search for them they didn’t show up. Word didn’t recognize them as paragraph marks. This led me to have to go through every paragraph and manually type over every single paragraph break by hand.

I’m going to do that for a 90,000 word novel?

No thank you.

I really do hate to give up on this so quickly, but this little program is really just Word Lite. But unlike Word, which wants to make decisions for you but can be told not to, Storyist tends to insist you only do things one way, and their way is almost what anyone else would consider a standard manuscript format.

Almost, but not quite.

Sorry, Storyist, back to the drawing board for you.


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. jakeescholl says:

    I’m currently using Scrivener, and it works really great for me. Sounds like it has more features than Storyist. And you can use templates, or you can do your own thing.

    • That’s been recommended to me, too, but now I’m feeling burned…

      And I don’t want to have to use program for writing and another for editing, so if Scrivener won;t track changes, etc. …

      • Mark says:

        You won’t like Scrivener unless you change how you write.

        1. it forces you to write in RTF. I write in Plain Text (most likely not a big deal for you)
        2. you can only highlight changes between snapshots (NOT like in Word, where the changes are in line) Since I use version control (and critic markup), I don’t care about Word type change highlighting.
        3. Projects are essentially DMG files. I don’t get this, why not just use a folder, are your contents that precious? come on! (I can work around this, since I understand the Mac system internals, shouldn’t have to)
        4. HTML files are saved, again inside the “project,” as a web archive. Formatting goes to crap, as it seems that the CSS, and external js files never make it in. (yes they are run through Safari, another wtf)
        5. And this is the biggest problem with Scrivener: MAJOR attitude problems at the “company.” Difficult to deal with, and don’t quite “get it” when it comes to solving issues. Take things VERY personally, and get offended easily.

        Having said that, I still use it. Why? I don’t want to use Word, DevonThink is almost as painful, and everything else sucks.

        1. I can compile research in one area, then write about it without having to switch programs to read my research.
        2. Each project can contain everything for an article, book, pamphlet, commercial, etc… (this can cause duplicates in material, if like me you tend to write similar material (e.g. advertising, manuals, books for internal pub). I get around this by having a storage area for my research (continually updated), and importing it when I start a new project. It’s not perfect, but it’s workable.
        3. supports 2 column format, it’s what I used when I programmed, and I like it that way. Few others support this.
        4. Also has “documentary” style layout, which I use a lot. I used to use Final Draft A/V but it is dead. (If Fountain ever comes out with a way to emulate the commercial script layout, Scrivener might be gone)

        Other programs:

        Ulysses — I have V2 and V3. I’m VERY slowly coming around to V3. Ulysses is plain text only, which I prefer. It’s for writing, NOT proofing, NOT comparing, NOT researching. It’s about writing, PERIOD.

        StoryMill — I have it, but I don’t use it. It’s similar to Storyist, just not as attractive. Similar feature set, as far as I can tell.

        Mellel — when I MUST use a word processor for some basic layout.

        Persona — has issues, but is good for building characters. ARCHETYPAL focused.

        Currently Using:

        I have moved to Markdown (I used to have my own mark up codes, and used scripts to export them to other formats; it’s not really necessary anymore) as it will handle most of my needs for formatting, and does not get in my way.

        I use Critc MarkUp to make changes, add notes, etc… Marked will show me the final, changes, and raw. I use TextExpander to set time stamps when I make changes, and always put the most recent change below the current text.

        On occasion I sue Fountain markup for screenplays (usually for writing dialogue that I don’t want to forget).

        Working in plain text, I am not limited to any one program, and I can always work on my stuff no matter where I am. Granted it’s much easier in the set up I have on my Mac than at an Internet Cafe, or on on iPad/iPhone; but can’t always be at home when lightning strikes.

        Hope that helps you a bit.

  2. Craig says:

    These different software programs for writers have always struck me as gimmicky, and trying to fill a need that’s not really there. The criteria for me when looking at some of these that get recommended has always been: Does this program do something fundamentally different than what I could achieve with my binder of notes and Microsoft Word?

    The answer has always been no.

    The good ol’ binder of notes is incredibly versatile! I can take my notes out, spread them across my desk and floor, stick them on the wall, and crumple up and hurl them in anger.

    • I agree. I always have a lot of handwritten notes. I use a big sketchbook, take a pen and just go crazy on each page brainstorming until it comes down into a structure.
      Word is perfectly fine. Although I’ve written four novels on Google Docs–just because I really enjoy the auto-save feature.

  3. Why fix what isn’t broke? I’ve tried to use various writing programs and for novel writing it has been a waste of time. I actually tried Scrivener and had so much put into one project and then it decided, ‘Ya know what? NO!’ and deleted all of my stored information. I tried to undo it but it wouldn’t work. I’d say, although it probably doens’t happen for everyone, it’s not worth the risk.
    As far as Storyist… it sounds like you’ve had a bad time, so I applaud you in sticking to word.
    For screenplays I actually enjoyed Adobe Story… untilt the trial ran out.

  4. I’m also a notebook + hardcopy outline + Word, writing over outline guy myself and it is working. Storyist or Scrivener ultimately can’t get me to sit down and write any more than Word can–that part’s up to me!

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  8. Anthony Peterson says:

    I tried Scrivener (for Windows) and I did like some things about it, like having multiple documents in a project organized by an explorer type window, and having side notepads to jot down notes for each section. However, I realized that when I finally get a manuscript ready for submission, I’m still going to have to format it into a .docx file for submission and use the track changes feature to work with an editor. Unfortunately, I discovered that it was really annoying trying to export a project in Scrivener into MS Word format and compiling it correctly. I also didn’t like that I had to deal with one large folder for each project rather than a single compact file whenever I tried to upload or download a project from the cloud.

    I eventually came to terms with MS Word by getting a couple of big reference how-to books on Word and learning about all the features that could help me organize large manuscripts and help me write better, mainly styles and themes and the navigation pane, (Just as a word of warning, avoid Master Documents in Word like the plague!!! They will corrupt your manuscript!!!) I’ve also mimicked Scrivener’s notepads for taking notes for a document by docking and associating a OneNote file with a Word file. I’ve become more or less OK with Word for my fiction writing now that I know a lot of tricks to manipulate the formatting and layout of a file, and I have some piece of mind that I am writing in the native format that the publishing industry, for better or worse, uses as its de facto standard for submission.

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