Write a Novel on the Beach: Storyist for iPad

| In-Depth Review

Storyist for the iPad has just been released. It’s based on the Mac version, has templates for both a novel and screenplay, and has file compatibility with the Mac version. Now you can write that novel under the cabana on the beach.

The beach

Every writer has a different routine and a different set of tools. Some prefer to work at a business desk with a special keyboard and some like an easy chair or recliner and a MacBook Pro. However, until recently, one could never really be very far away from a power outlet.* With the launch of Storyist for the iPad, one can seriously think about working on the beach or under a shady tree somewhere.

Storyist for the iPad is similar to its big brother, previously reviewed here at TMO. On the iPad, the focus is on the act of writing and not output formatting. By linking to Dropbox, one can write on the iPad, sync to Dropbox, and pick up later with Storyist for the Mac at home. And then do the reverse. When it’s time to export for publication, the Mac version can do all that, but for people who just want to write on the go, Storyist for the iPad is perfect.

Features

Here’s a summary of the features.

  • A rich text editor with support for fonts, colors, comments, images, headers, footers and stye sheets.
  • Automatic manuscript and screenplay formatting.
  • An enhanced onscreen keyboard and support for Bluetooth keyboards.
  • Common file format with Mac version.
  • AirPrint support.
  • Export in Storyist format, RTF, text or Final Draft.
  • Dropbox Support (but see caveat below.)

Using Storyist

You’ll start with a page that allows you to chose a template, a screenplay or novel or just text.

Choose template

Project Templates

Like Apple’s Keynote or Pages, you’ll create a Projects page with each item given a different name. Just touch it to open it.

My Projects

My Projects

Note that the “Getting Started” document is a fairly extensive Storyist document that serves as the documentation. It’s a good idea to scan this first because some operations need a bit of explanation before you jump in. At that point you’ll see the files and folders that make up your project.

Novel Contents

Files and folders for a novel

Storyist for the iPad has an enhanced keyboard that gives you several advantages: cursor keys, a tab key, and single or double quotes. In another context, when editing index cards for writer’s notes, you’ll be able to change their color with a palette.

Of course, if you wish, you can use a Bluetooth keyboard. It depends on how fast and accurately you can type with a virtual keyboard. And remember, because there is cross-platform file compatibility with the Mac version, you may not actually be doing the initial composing. You may simply be doing edits when you’re out and about.

manuscript + keyboard

Manuscript with Keyboard

Images can be inserted anywhere in your text with the tools icon at the top. You can import from your own project’s images folder or from the Photo app’s library or via copy-and-paste. Once you insert an image into the text, it automatically becomes available in the Images Folder. (You can’t import images directly into that folder.)

horiz keyboard

Manuscript, horizontal mode. Insert image

In version 1.0, the developer, Steve Shepard, told me that there’s a problem importing raw images directly from Dropbox in iOS 4.2. As a result, Dropbox images will be visible but dimmed. This will be fixed in version 1.1. However, you can still sync your entire Storyist project with Dropbox.

Images folder

Images Folder

One of the neat things you can do is write notes to yourself on colored index cards and tie them to the chapter. When you’re editing index cards, the keyboard adds a color palette at the top.

Index cards

Index cards & color palette. Hold and drag card to rearrange.

You can also create and insert comments right onto the text, tied to a specific location in the text. there will be a yellow flag, like a bookmark, in the margin. Just touch it to bring up the note.

Comments

Inline Comments

Like its Mac counterpart, the iPad version allows you to create some special documents that help you build characters and settings. These are pre-formatted templates. To add a photo, for example, to the protagonist page, touch the Storyist sheet icon at the top right and select the option you want from the popup.

Protagonist

Protagonist Termplate (filled in as example)

AirPrint is supported, so you can print your document. Additionally, if you’re using, say, Printopia, you can use that to move your manuscript to the Mac.

Documentation and Settings

The “Getting Started” document you’ll see when you create your first project is really quite good. It gets synced to Dropbox automatically when you login in, so if you prefer, you can read the manual on the Mac in Storyist. Also, the developer has put a version on his support page in EPUB format so potential customers can read it before making a purchase decision.

Settings for Storyist are not in the app itself, but rather in the iPad’s main Settings page, in the Application list. One gripe I have is that the background options are rather limited. I’m not a big fan of Apple’s “linen,” so I hope the next version has more elegant options.

Typewriter mode, according to the developer, “keeps the cursor positioned about a quarter of the way down from the top, even after a return — like a typewriter would. That way, you’re not constantly scrolling by hand when you reach the bottom of the small typing area.” Nice.

Settings

Settings 

Observations

I haven’t been really happy with the writing tools available so far on the iPad. However, this app pleases me greatly, and if I ever get into a writing project on the iPad, Storyist is now my number one choice. I should note that, of course, Storyist could be used quite effectively for a research paper that has lots of diagrams and embedded graphics.

Finally, it’s annoying that there are so many apps that don’t have Dropbox support in version 1.0 that need it — like Apple’s. Storyist has that support on day one and also nicely leverages the file compatibility with its OS X counterpart. This makes for a very pleasing app to use.

That said, as an aside, one shouldn’t draw the hard and fast conclusion that the near-term future for most writers is the iPad, even with a Bluetooth keyboard. In my opinion, a great notebook, like the MacBook Pro series, in 2011, remains the quintessential writer’s tool. Storyist is simply a very handy tool for users who need this kind of app on the iPad when they’re on the go. (That said, I absolutely know that someone will write a 300,000 word novel on the iPad and brag about it.)

The Outcome

This is a fairly nifty app for the professional writer. The US$10 price reflects the fact that the intended user is a serious writer, so if you’re not planning to do some extensive writing, you won’t need this app — and shouldn’t complain about the very reasonable price.

Storyist for the Mac got a 4.5 rating, “Great,” and this version 1.0 is equally impressive. Figuring out how to cram the Storyist essentials into the iPad and focus on just what’s important is quite a feat. I am thoroughly impressed.

Screenplay

Screenplay support is impressive. Note change to enhanced keyboard.

_______

* The new MacBook Pros are getting better in that regard: an advertised battery life of 7 hours.

Product: Storyist for iPad

Company: Storyist Software

List Price: US$9,95

Pros:

Use for novel, screenplay or research paper.  Enhanced keyboard with cursor control, file compatibility with OS X, Dropbox support, good formatting options, well thought out subset of OS X version, Bluetooth keyboard support, largely bug free, reasonable price

Cons:

No direct import of images from Dropbox (will be fixed in 1.1).  Limited background patterns.

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Comments

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Serious question John… Why can’t you just Bluetooth transfer the Storyist files (or any files for that matter) between the iPad and Mac?

John Martellaro

Brad: I’ll put you in touch with the developer. Let us know what you find out.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John: The answer is here. Storyist would make a great Android app, where users are “allowed” to manage their own files and developers can easily tap into a variety of popular sharing protocols, even without specifically knowing how they work.

John Martellaro

If anyone is wondering, those actors in the Image Folder are Dianna Agron (I Am Number Four) and Mark Feuerstein (Royal Pains.)

mhikl

My God Bosco is is obsessed. It’s a disorder. He can’t stop his compulsive urge to attempt to soil everything Apple and he thinks anyone cares.

I just shoved an Android user in front of a bus and when I told the cop Bosco made me do, he shrugged and said he understood. Then he beat the corpse. (now I thought that was going a bit too far.)

At least this time he didn’t post his question with a fake name so he could valiantly come in to explain. I love that trick.

mhikl

This is an important series, John. I have a decision to make and your reviews are invaluable.

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