I’ve been taking a look at the best outlining software lately–it’s always great to get a plan down on paper before writing–and I decided to write up a few articles on which of these pieces of software is best for authors. Today, I’ll be looking at The Novel Factory, an online app that helps you plan your story from outline to the final draft.
In this article, you will learn:
- What The Novel Factory is
- What features it offers authors
- How to create your outline using the software
- The breakdown of The Novel Factory’s pros and cons
- How much it costs
- If it’s right for you
Just a heads up–there are affiliate links in this article, but that has no bearing on the quality of the software or my review of it. I’ll be brutally honest about my preferences!
So, let’s dive right into the good stuff.
By the way… if you're interested in getting a Novel Factory subscription after you've read the article, you can get an exclusive discount for Kindlepreneur readers. Simply enter the coupon code: KINDLEPRENEUR at check out and you'll get 20% off any subscription–yearly or monthly!
What is The Novel Factory?
The Novel Factory is writing software aimed at making authors more productive and better writers overall. It aims to help you successfully organize everything you write for your novel–from the outline to the final draft. Now, there are a lot of very cool online tools out there, many of them aimed at increasing author productivity, but The Novel Factory stands out because it has downloadable software. That means you can download it directly to your desktop and start using it right away–it's free to a certain extent. The Novel Factory also has a helpful FAQ page for any questions you might have that aren't covered in this article. Here, we'll be focusing mainly on the good, the bad, and the ugly–rather than the technical.
Now that we know what it is, let's get into what The Novel Factory actually does.Looking for good outlining software? This Kindlepreneur review of The Novel Factory might help you decide what to choose. Click To Tweet
What Features Does The Novel Factory Offer?
While exploring The Novel Factory software, I noticed that the desktop and online versions are completely separate from each other, and that the desktop version isn't compatible with Macs. They have all the same basic features except for one: the subplot manager is not included in the desktop version. There are other pros and cons to consider for using either the desktop or online version, but we won’t go into major detail about them here–what you do need to know about choosing either desktop or online can be found in this comparison on The Novel Factory’s website.
Let’s find out more about the features The Novel Factory has to offer…
A Road Map
The first thing that pops up on your screen when logging into The Novel Factory software is “The Roadmap.” This is a series of videos and guiding text that walks you through every step of your novel, from outlines to characters to writing your first draft and even editing and publishing your book. For a new author, or for any writer who needs some extra help understanding plot basics, this is a fantastic series of guiding videos. They’re laid out as follows:
It’s a pretty detailed breakdown of what you need to know about plotting your book and writing it, with over an hour of video content as well as written content that helps writers better understand what to do.
Note, though, that the writing of the first draft was focused not on the craft of writing, but on how to sit down and get more words out. I would’ve preferred more on the craft since the plotting sections were pretty detailed about how to plot. It would follow that the writing sections should have more info on how to write.
In the ‘Get Published’ section of the roadmap, both forms of publishing–traditional and self-publishing–were tackled, but it seemed to me that the traditional section was slightly more detailed. I would’ve liked to have seen more resources on the self-publishing side.
Also, navigating the roadmap got a bit irritating–some of the videos took a while to pop up on the screen when I cycled between the different sections. Overall, however, I think this is a fantastic tool to help new writers get started understanding the basics of writing a book, editing it, and getting it published.
Here comes the fun part! We get to take a look at the cool features The Novel Factory has on offer. Outlining or ‘Planning,’ as it's called in the side pane, is where we’ll start. The software has made it pretty easy to fill in the forms provided thanks to the roadmap as seen below.
There are two main ways you can go about planning your novel with The Novel Factory.
With the Novel Factory’s templates, you can select an outline that suits your outlining style or you can upload a custom template of your own to use for all your future novels. Selecting a template will adjust the forms that you need to fill in to complete your plot in the software.
These awesome planning templates are available:
- The Hero’s Journey
- Character Driven The Hero’s Journey
- Detective Noir
- Mystery/Crime Thriller
- Short story
Once you’ve selected your template, the entire outline plan will change and helpful hints are provided on the screen. So, if you’re new to plotting, you can follow along. That’s pretty awesome.
You can edit everything on the screen and refer back to it when you actually start writing your draft in the software.
If you don’t want to upload your own template or use one of those provided, you can freeform plot using the stock-standard forms. As you can see below, you’re able to add new acts and act items (plot events). And you can delete them as well, according to your needs.
Having the ability to freeform plot as you see fit is great for experienced authors (or newbies who want to play around) as they can stick to what they know best while still getting a lot out of the software.
The planning section, whether you’re using a template or going your own way, provides the following areas for you to fill in to expand upon your ideas:
- Plot Outline (an area that includes templates)
- Short Synopsis
- Extended Synopsis
- Scene Synopses
I can’t fault the plotting section–I feel like there are a lot of options for every different type of author. You can stick to the roadmap, use your own templates, use the guidance from the preloaded templates, or just create an entire plot from scratch with no template at all.
While everything is organized into acts for fiction authors, it’s still possible for nonfiction authors to get use out of this section because they’ll be able to upload their own templates. But to be clear, this program is very much geared toward fiction authors.
Character creation is one of the most important parts of writing a novel–they’re the driving forces of the plot. The Novel Factory has an entire ‘Characters’ section set aside for creating your characters. Let’s take a closer look at what they have on offer here.
Since you’re only ever working on one novel at a time in the software, every character you create is associated with that novel. That’s great for distraction-free writing–but it means you’ll have to create repeat characters for every novel you write in a series. (i.e. if the protagonist carries over to the next book in the series, you’ll have to create him from scratch in that novel).
Once you’ve added a character in the ‘Characters’ section, you can do the following:
- Input their basic info, including their background, appearance, motivation role, and family information
- Upload an image or avatar of the character
- Write an introduction for your character so you can familiarize yourself with them
- Note down their voice details, including speech patterns, vocabulary, whether they’re assertive or passive, and so much more
- Select a personality type for your character (very cool–you can select a Myers-Briggs type) and fill in details about them, like fears, motivation, and traits
- Answer a provided questionnaire to better get to know your character
- Complete a viewpoint synopsis–For every scene the character is in, whether they are actively participating or not, you can write up their thoughts so you know exactly how they’d react to the events unfolding in front of them
- Write up a history for your character
- Put down any notes you might have that aren’t already covered in your creation screen
Another cool feature: When creating your character, you’re asked what role they serve. The following roles are provided:
- Love Interest
But, and this is pretty awesome, you can go to your account settings and actually create new character role types or archetypes. That means you have complete creative control over which types of characters you want to create.
The Novel Factory’s character creation system is intuitive and fun. I would happily use it again.
World or universe creation is a big deal for fantasy and sci-fi writers especially. I love fantasy and sci-fi books, and every time I review software like this, I’m always on the lookout for features that might make world creation easier.
The Novel Factory’s world creation section can be found under the ‘Locations’ tab. When uploading a location, you can:
- Add basic information about the place
- Name it
- Add the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations associated with it
- Upload a picture of it
For world-building, I didn’t think this was particularly detailed. You can add a bunch of locations, but you can’t really move them around or list them under one grand location. Say you wanted to create a solar system with a whole bunch of planets and their inhabitants listed underneath it? You couldn’t do that without creating a separate profile for each, and you wouldn’t be able to organize them under that solar system’s name for instance.
Another important part of world-building is creating important items that your protagonists might be questing for, or that the antagonist might already have in their possession. In the case of mystery writing, you might create a murder weapon as an item as well as items that serve as clues–the bloodied scarf, the gun, the broken flower pot, etc.
The Novel Factory’s ‘Items’ tab allows you to create these items in much the same way as you would create locations. You can do the following after creating an item:
- Name your item
- Write up a description
- Add any notes about the item
- Upload an image of the item
Overall, I wish the universe creation feature was a bit stronger, with more ways to detail and organize your information.
Scenes (Writing Your Draft)
Once you’ve completed your outline (with or without the awesome guidance The Novel Factory provides in its roadmaps) it’s time to move on to writing your first draft. The Novel Factory puts emphasis on writing more than one draft, but if you’re the type of writer who prefers to write one, edit, then get it proofread and published, there’s room to do that in the software too.
There’s a lot going on in the draft writing area of the software. The main features, however, are the following:
- The ability to write an overview for each scene and add and remove scenes as you see fit
- Guidance in creating those scenes
- Adding character viewpoints and locations to each particular scene or chapter
- Scene blocking (an area for you to work out the characters' movements in the scene)
- An area to write your first draft of the scene
- An area to write your second draft of the scene
- An area to enter your final draft
- An area for notes
This is accompanied by helpful information boxes at the top of the screen that provide you with information on how to proceed. This is a pretty detailed section–probably the most detailed since we went through plotting.
The scenes system seemed overly complicated to me–I think that’s because it’s so packed with features for authors to take advantage of. I felt like it could have been streamlined a bit better–if you’ve already written a plot for the scene, you should be able to pull it up on the screen, or create a split-screen, rather than having to write out your scene overview again.
Instead of just free-writing in one giant draft, you have to create scenes and then scene units. There’s also a subplot manager. All that information was slightly intimidating, but it’s all useful stuff for the writer who's determined to get down the minutiae of their story.
Word Count Tracking
This is a feature that I’m super excited about. Being a productive writer can be a game-changer for authors–particularly those who are independently published. The Novel Factory’s word count tracking feature can be found under the ‘Statistics' tab.
Your daily word count in your first, second, and final drafts are recorded so that you can easily judge your progress. You can also set target word count goals for each of them.
There are three other sections I haven’t included in my review because they were either not big enough to warrant a specific review of their own, or aren’t particularly geared toward indie writers.
They still add value though, so let’s look at a brief overview of them here:
- Resources. This is an area for you to add useful links you might need to refer back to during the writing process.
- Notes. A section where you can gather notes about your story–things you might need to remember when you draft.
- Submissions. An area for tracking your submissions to literary agents or publishers–includes submission status.
What Does The Novel Factory Cost?
The Novel Factory offers a free 30 day trial for either the online or desktop version of the software–a great way to try before you buy.
Interestingly, there are two completely different pricing schemes for the online and desktop versions of the app. The desktop app is a one-off purchase of $39.99. That's a great deal, but remember, the subplot manager is not included in the desktop version and it's only available for PC, not Mac.
The online version, which does have the subplot feature and works on a Mac, is subscription-based–meaning, you’ll have to pay monthly or annually to use it. The subplot manager is a cool tool, and if you're writing a novel that involves several subplots, you're probably better off getting the online subscription-bases software. If not, the desktop app will probably work just fine for you.
For the monthly subscription, your options are as follows:
For the annual subscription, the pricing is as follows–with two months free included:
What I really like about this pricing is that, from what I can tell, the only difference between the plans is how much storage you get. That means you can get good value for money and try out the app at a lower price. And if you love it and want to create more novels and store extra work in the online servers provided by The Novel Factory, you simply upgrade. Awesome.
And if you're interested in buying a subscription, you can get 20% off using the discount code: KINDLEPRENEUR
What I Disliked About The Novel Factory
There are a lot of awesome features in The Novel Factory software, but there were a few I didn’t particularly enjoy. Let’s go over them now, so you can get a better idea of whether this outlining software is the right one for you.
- Actually writing the novel isn’t as intuitive as I'd like. Adding the scenes and subplots–while very cool–was too complicated for me. That might just be me, though. If you like being able to go into detail about which subplot is in each scene, this might be just the tool you’re looking for.
- There’s a disconnect between the desktop app and the online version. You have to have a license to run the app on your desktop, which is sold as-is. It’s also not compatible with Macs and doesn’t get updated apart from bug fixes. Note: the online version is compatible with Macs.
- The universe creation is cool but isn’t as detailed as you might want it to be if you were a fantasy or sci-fi author.
- The online version of the software is, well, online, and that means if you have no internet connection, you can’t work. But if you do, you can work anywhere.
Is The Novel Factory the Right Outlining Tool For You?
If you’re looking for guidance as a relatively new fiction author, this is probably a good tool for you. The roadmap is awesome, with loads of valuable information. This software is obviously not designed for nonfiction authors–it’s right there in the name–but you could probably use it to outline your non-fiction work and organize your story as well.
At the basic price, you’ll probably have enough storage space to plot and write quite a few novels, but if you want to continue writing loads of series, you'll have to upgrade–unless you plan on deleting completed or published novels (you'll no longer have them as a frame of reference then). The standard subscription to the online app is probably the best, but for the serious outliner who wants to organize their stuff, getting the desktop version might be a good idea.
It all depends on what you’re using the software for.
Authors of genre fiction who aren’t focused on major world-building and who need advice on how to plot a story would get a lot from the basic or standard subscription plans of The Novel Factory. It does provide a wealth of information and it's nice to have everything stored in one place. If you want to world-build, you might be better off with software like StoryShop.io, and if you prefer no hand-holding in your plotting process, Scrivener is probably your best bet.
Overall, I found the online version of the software very easy to use, navigate, and understand. That's a big plus in my books–it's never fun to get stuck because you're not sure where to click next… that's a surefire way to sap your creativity mid-outline or draft! As an added bonus, you can also export your books at any time. You don't have to keep them in the app.
Outlining your novel will help you become a more productive writer–and might even help you write better books. Look into outlining software, and, depending on your needs as an author, The Novel Factory might be just what you’re looking for.