The Novel Factory is a browser-based writing software that walks you through every step of the writing process, from story structure right through to publication.
When they reached out to me to write a review, I have to confess, I was slower than I would’ve liked. But I’m glad I went back through my notes and the software to put something together for you, because it’s the kind of resource that could really benefit anyone who’s feeling lost or is at the beginning of their writing career.
The kind of tutelage The Novel Factory offers costs thousands if you study writing at university or hire a coach, but they offer it for just $6.25 a month.
Its guides are available in video or written format, which, as someone who prefers to read things, I particularly like.
Our links to The Novel Factory are affiliate links, which means we’ll get a small commission for every sale. This won’t cost you any extra, but will help us out 🙂 This also hasn’t affected my judgment—my review is as open and honest as ever!
What other features does it have that can benefit your writing? Let’s take a look…
The roadmap is where you start. It teaches you how to write your story, and get the most out of the software. Each lesson has further recommended reading and a task at the end to move you to the next stop in your novel-writing journey.
If you’re a more advanced writer, you may find you know some of this already, but it never hurts to go back over old ground. That’s why having the written version of each lesson is so useful—you can skim it to find what’s useful and relevant to you.
The videos are short and easy to digest, although a little slow for me. I’m the kind of person who listens to/watches things on 1.5x to 2.0x speed, though. I’m definitely the exception, not the rule.
Some of the videos could do with more visuals—particularly the plot outline one, which has a lot of blank screens for saying how good the visuals are in the written version.
It uses four different examples, which gives it a broad appeal, since everyone will recognise at least one of them. Using different genres as examples also shows how their teachings apply to different types of stories and helps writers to envisage how it could apply to their writing.
Each step in the roadmap builds on the next step, not only guiding you through the writing process, but also how to get to grips with what’s a very in-depth writing software. The roadmap is a great way to learn/navigate them both.
How you plan will influence how much you use this tab. It includes sections for an overview, premise, plot outline, short synopsis, extended synopsis, scene synopses, and notes. I generally outline without writing synopses, but I know some people who swear by their synopses and spend less time editing because of it.
When you first open a new section, there’s a yellow box which explains how to make the most of that section.
Ah, my favourite bit. This is where you get to know your characters.
Each tab allows you to go into more and more depth about your character. It starts out with their name and role in the story, then progresses to things like their voice (there’s a whole section on how they speak!), what their personality type is like, and even their history.
You probably won’t need to answer all these questions. But answering questions like these are useful if you don’t feel you know your character well enough, their life is too easy, or you want to give them more depth.
Small things like how they dress or why they speak a certain way can really bring your character to life but are often underestimated. They’re subtle cues that can show your reader what your character is really like, though.
I did get confused by the phrasing of a couple of questions, such as ‘do they ever put on airs?’. I had to ask my friends what that meant, as I’d never heard that turn of phrase before!
Under physical appearance, it asks questions like ‘Are they in good health?’ and ‘Do they have any disabilities?’ Listing disabilities under physical appearance means writers may not consider hidden disabilities or neurological conditions.
Likewise it uses the term ‘mental handicap’, which is a questionable way to refer to anyone suffering from a mental health or neurological condition.
The questionable wording of some questions was really my only issue with The Novel Factory.
I know it sounds minor, but as someone with multiple hidden disabilities who gets dirty looks for using disabled facilities because I look healthy, I can assure you that small things like the wording of health-related interview questions do matter.
Questions like these could—and should—be phrased in much more sensitive ways that make those of us with health conditions feel less ‘othered’. Especially when you consider that 95% of the population has at least one health condition.
We, as writers, have a duty to reflect real life in our writing. Wording like that makes those of us with health conditions seem too ‘othered’, so writers with less experience or awareness about them are more likely to misrepresent them or not include them at all.
There are many shades of grey when it comes to health conditions, and writers need to reflect that more.
Update: I’ve spoken to The Novel Factory team about this, and they’re going to rephrase the questions.
I do like questions like, ‘how do they show affection?’, ‘What haunts them?’ and ‘What will they stand up for?’ Questions like these really help you get to the heart of who your character is.
How someone interacts with others says a considerable amount about them, but is often overlooked when people are filling in character descriptions in favour of appearance.
If you’ve got significant locations in your book, you can write about them in this section.
The Novel Factory encourages you to consider the senses when writing about locations. This is a great way to bring locations to life.
Stuart Macbride does it particularly well in his novel, Cold Granite. To write at that level, you need a really strong understanding of your location. A reference like this makes it a lot easier to pick out details you need when writing.
Are there any significant items in your story? Perhaps a cursed necklace, or a diamond ring? Not sure why I focused on jewellery there.
You can use this section to fill in anything about relevant items. It doesn’t have the same depth as the location tab, but I imagine that’s to allow you more flexibility to write about it and to pick and choose what’s most relevant to your story.
I have a love/hate relationship with timelines. I usually find a hole in mine while I’m editing and have to go back on myself. Which is obviously a sign I need to add more depth to them.
When adding a new scene, it asks for details on the date, time, location, and a description on what happens. Dates can be specific, or just a general note such as ‘afternoon’.
Eras encompass longer periods, such as ‘Victorian Times’ or ‘Ancient Egypt’. Think of it in the same way you’d think of historical eras. To link scenes you’ve written in the scenes section, click ‘link scenes’.
It creates a mindmap to display how your events tie in together. You can then link scenes you’ve already written into the timeline. This is super useful for books where you have multiple points of view or timelines. It could even be beneficial if you’re planning your characters’ backstories.
When I created mine initially, I had to refresh the page for them to show up. This could easily be because my laptop is old and cantankerous rather than anything to do with The Novel Factory, though.
You can add timelines for different characters or plots, helping to separate each out and plan it in-depth before weaving them together.
If you want to move anything, it’s a simple case of drag-and-drop using the cross icon in the top right corner of each scene. Or, you can delete them by clicking the bin on the left-hand side.
If you add a scene from a different timeline, it will appear with an icon beside it so that you can track which part of your book it’s from.
This is where you write book. It’s a smidge busy for me—I like to just have the scene I’m writing in front of me—but there are some useful sections here.
I particularly like that you can fill in the goal, conflict, and even weather for the scene you’re writing. If you’re the kind of person who goes off on wild tangents and has to cut them out, seeing these out of the corner of your eye can keep you focused. If you ever feel stuck, it also explains what each the purpose of each section is.
There are definitely benefits to filling this in, particularly if you’re the kind of writer who gets distracted or loses track easily.
If you’d prefer to just focus on the writing, you can click ‘Focus view’ on the bottom. It will show you your story in chronological order, but you can choose which sections you add words to.
Alternatively, you can minimise the sidebars to see more of the writing window. This way, you can focus on just one scene and it looks kind of like a word processing document.
You can also tell it to ‘generate scenes’ based on the plot you’ve created in the timeline section. That’s a pretty useful time-saving hack, I have to say.
You can indicate if a section is a head, incident, or tail scene. I wasn’t sure what this meant at first—it’s not a term I’ve heard before—but the gist is that this is part of the goal to decision cycle.
Head scenes are where stuff happens; incident is where stuff is going down, and they’re balanced out with tail scenes, which are your slower scenes. These are the ones where your character development and exploration is likely to happen. Which type of scene you have the most of will influence the pace of your novel.
The Novel Factory has an in-depth breakdown on the differences and benefits of each type of scene, so check that out if you want to use the software.
If you’d like to go back to a previous version of a scene, you can ‘Turn Back Time’ and it will show you different versions of what you’ve written.
You can also add details like the scene’s synopsis, who’s in the scene, where the scene happens, and any scene notes you want to jot down. If you click to write a note, it does pull you out of the scene you’re writing, so beware of that. While this could be useful, I couldn’t see a way to annotate what you’re writing, so it’s harder to refer back to gaps you’ve left for characters that need names, or something you need to explain.
(For instance, I left a gap in my latest book, The Mummy’s Curse, for me to fill in about Ancient Egyptian culture. If I hadn’t highlighted it in Scrivener with a note, it would’ve been harder to find where to go back to.)
Update: Annotations are something The Novel Factory team want to add to the software too, so watch this space!
This is where you save all your useful research info. Sections like this are always helpful so that you can easily go back to blog posts, videos, or other information that you found helpful or may be useful in the future.
Want to jot some notes down? This section is for you. You can also upload files here.
Notes you leave can be tied to scenes or chapters in your book, although you can’t annotate it as far as I could tell. It does allow you to highlight sections, though.
The statistics section of any writing program is important to help you track your progress. It also helps you to work out how fast you can write and look at ways to improve your technique. You can also analyse it to see roughly how long your average book is when you’re several books in (mine tend to be about 70,000 words, for example).
You can set your target word count for your project, and a start and finish date to keep you accountable.
The speedometer on this page is a nice touch, showing you what your average daily word count is. It also shows you a progress chart in the form of a pie chart, allowing you to visualise how much you’ve written so far—and how much you have left to write.
It also shows you your word count in a line chart compared to your target word count (a lot like how NaNoWriMo does), and does a breakdown of how many words you have in each scene.
Some data will only show if you set a target word count. In the helpful yellow box that appears at the top of each section when you’re new to The Novel Factory, it suggests word counts of 50-60k for a first draft, and 90k for a finished manuscript, depending on genre.
I like that it mentions this, as some people panic that their first draft is too short or too long, or worry they add too much into editing. Giving people a ballpark to aim for can be really beneficial to motivation levels.
This section is for those seeking traditional publication. You can fill it in with details of agents or publishers you’d like to pitch to and write down their details and submissions guidelines. You can also track if the piece has been submitted, the full manuscript has been requested, rejected, or there’s no response.
I wouldn’t recommend traditional publishing for most people for reasons I’ve explained in the past. But, if you are the kind of person interested in traditional publishing, this is a useful and simple way to track the submissions process.
Who’s it for?
The Novel Factory is an in-depth writing software that tracks every stage of the writing and publication process. It holds your hand right from the very beginning to the very end. It can’t find you a publisher, but it can help you with pretty much every other part of your planning and writing process.
If you’d like to learn more about the planning, plotting, and character development process on a budget, you can’t go wrong with The Novel Factory. Its basic plan starts at just $6.25 a month for a single novel. This makes it a simple entry-level software for writers looking to hone their skills.
If you’re not sure if it’s for you, there’s a 30-day free trial for you to check it out.