More About Writing Software

I can’t believe people can use this kind of stuff.

While on the topic of software for writers (see “Software Isn’t Always the Answer“), a long time ago, I was given a copy of Dramatica Pro, “The Ultimate Writing Partner.” I think I was supposed to try it out and say nice things about it in a column somewhere. But since I couldn’t come up with anything nice to say about it, I didn’t say anything. That was nearly 10 years ago. I don’t mind breaking my silence now.

Dramatica Pro is software designed to help you write. Oddly enough, it comes with three manuals, one of which is a whopping 400 pages long, to explain the software and the writing theory on which it is based. (To be fair, one of them is a book of perforated worksheets, which seems a bit silly to me, since you’re supposed to be doing all your character development, plotting, etc. with the software.) It also comes with a fold-out Table of Story Elements, which presents the database fields and options you fill in while working in the software. For example, in the Universe class, Past and Progress are two types; in the Progress type, Fact, Security, Threat, and Fantasy are variations; in the Security variation, Effect, Result, Process, and Cause are elements. Confused yet? I was (and still am). No wonder there’s a 400-page book to explain this stuff.

I never got any farther than installing the software. I know because I have no recollection of using it beyond a quick peek at its interface. And it isn’t as if I didn’t try. I just pulled the software out of my closet to refresh my memory (before filing it permanently in the circular file) and I found a plane ticket receipt in it. I obviously took this heavy box all the way to Kansas City with me on a business trip back in 1997. Kansas City isn’t exactly a hot spot. I’m sure I had plenty of time to play around with the software after work in my hotel room. Yet I know for a fact that I didn’t use it.

Why do you think that is? Probably because I don’t believe that I need software to help me think. And I don’t think writing should be so complex that you need a piece of software supported by 400+ pages of theory to get the job done. 400+ pages with subheadings like “The Obstacle Character Throughline” — oddly enough, my spelling checker doesn’t recognize the word throughline any better than I do — and “Psychology as Obstacle Character Domain.” Hey people using this software are writing a novel or short story, not a doctoral thesis. Whatever happened to developing characters, formulating plot, and writing? Do you know how much time it must take to use software like this to plan out a novel? Especially after deciphering the theory manual and learning how to use the software? And what struggling writer has $250+ to plunk down on a piece of software that can’t even be used as a word processor?

Does it surprise you that the folks at Writer’s Digest rated this software as “excellent”? (I have my own theories about Writer’s Digest, but it wouldn’t do anyone any good to present them here.)

Guess what? I just did a Google search and found that they’re still making Dramatica Pro. And guess what’s on the home page of the Dramatica Web site? “February Tip: Separating the Story Throughlines.” (I’m starting to get curious about just what a throughline is.)

What’s my point? Damned if I know.

Oh yes. It’s this: all of the classics of literature and fiction were written without the assistance of a piece of writing software based on a complex writing theory. If those authors didn’t need software help, does anyone?

Heck, we have word processors. They had typewriters. Or pens and pencils. Or — dare I say it? — fountain pens. Isn’t that enough of a technological edge for you?

It certainly is for me.

What do you think?