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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Using Open Office for Novel Writing

This information is based upon Open Office version 2.3.

Open Office is a suite of software applications, including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, and database. It is an "open source" application which for the end user means it is free to download and use on your computer. It rivals MS Office for ability, and on the whole does a good job of it, actually improving in some areas. You can download and read more about it at:

One of the cool things for authors is the ability to set up Open Office's Writer (the word processor) to accomplish many of the task novel writing software claims to make easier. Task like easily navigating in your document, quickly moving scenes or chapters, automatic renumbering of scenes and chapters, as well as document wide task like saving to a Word doc file, printing, formatting, find/replace, etc.

However, it takes a little setting up to accomplish these task. But it is time well spent before beginning a big project like a novel.

Setting up styles

The first thing to do will be to set up some styles. There are three paragraph styles you will need. Novel Body, Chapter, and Scene.

Novel Body:

This should be the style the body of your text will be in. Naturally, you would want this to be in "Standard Submission" format. Open the "Style and Formatting" box by hitting the F11 button, or in the menu, "Format," "Styles and Formatting." A window box will pop open listing various styles.

* Right-click on a default style, like "Text body" and select "New".
* Give your new style a name, replacing the "Untitled" name it gives, such as "Novel Body" or whatever you prefer.
* Select a non-proportional font from the "Font" tab like "Courier New" and make it 12 point.
* Select the "Indents and Spacing" tab, set the first line indent to "0.5" and the line spacing to "double."
* Click "OK" and your new style has been created.


Do the same as above, right-clicking on "Heading 2". Modify this to select the font of your choice, you can left set it or center it. But in the "Organizer" tab, give it the name, "Chapter" and set "Novel Body" (or whatever name you gave it above) to be the next style used after pressing enter. In the "Indents and Spacing" tab make sure all indents are 0.0. Click "OK".


How you set up the scene style depends on how you intend to use it. The most common way would be to set it up as a heading, which will work for most functions.

In the "Styles and Formatting" box, right-click the heading style you would like to show scene headings as (recommend Heading 3), and select "New." Give it the name in the "Organizer" tab as "Scene" and select "Novel Body" in the "Next style" field. Make any other adjustments necessary and then click "OK" to save this style. If scene headings are going to be printed out, you will probably want to set this as italics and centered.

You will be able to show either scene headers you type like, "The beast rips him apart," or you can simply show numbered scenes that will change automatically if you move them. Once you are ready to print, but don't want to print those as headings, you right-click the style in the "Style and Formatting" box, and select "Modify." Then "Font Effects" and click the "hidden" box in the lower-right corner. Once you click "OK" those headers will not print out. Remove that check to once again show them.

If you are going to use the first paragraph of each scene as it's "marker," then right-click the "Novel Body" style we created at the top and select "New." Simply give it the name "Scene" and select "Novel Body" as the "Next" text to pop up. The first paragraph of each scene will have this style.

Setting up Header Hierarchy

Now that the styles are set up, it is time to make them part of the heading outline. Click "Tools" in the menu, and then, "Outline numbering." In the "Level" window on the left, select "1". In the center drop down box, select the "Chapter" paragraph style we created earlier. In the "Number" drop down box, select "1, 2, 3..." from the list. In the "Before" field, enter "Chapter " with the space on the end. Leave it blank if you only want the chapter number to show up, but no additional text.

Now in the "Level" window, click "2". Select "Scene" from the paragraph style drop down list. If you want them automatically numbered, select "1, 2, 3..." in the "Number" drop down box. If you want "Scene" for a title, in the "Before" field enter "Scene " with the space on the end. In the "After" field, enter a ":" or whatever you might want.

You have set up your outline headers so that Chapter and Scene paragraph styles point to a level in the outline and will show up in the Navigator as well as automatically reflect numbering based on what order they are in the document.

Saving for future use:

Naturally, you'll want to save this so you can use it anytime. If you have these styles set up as you want them, and there is no text in the Writer document at the time, save this as a template.

Click in the menu "File," "Templates," and "Save." Click on "My Templates" to save there, and give the new template a name, like "Novels".

When you want to start a new novel file, click on the drop down arrow to the right of the new button and select "Templates and Documents". Select "Novels" from the "My Templates" folder and click "OK" to open a file. Your novel styles will be available for use, without affecting Writer's standard defaults.

Using the styles for writing a novel

To make use of the new setup, open the Navigator window in your document if not already open. This shows up as a compass looking graphic in the tool bar, or you can click "Edit" and "Navigator," or hit F5. If the window is floating, you can dock it by dragging it to a side. If you can't see it, make sure the right side of the Navigator box isn't slid all the way to the left by clicking on a handle and dragging the window open. You should see a list of several items, the first one being "Headings" which we are interested in. Open it up far enough so you can see the four boxes on the far right of the window's toolbar that allow for movement of the pieces. They look like "text" with arrows beside them going up or down, right or left.

Now, you can either begin writing a novel, outlining, or you can take a novel you have already started and prep it.


To outline, start with a synopsis. Type that out first. You can start with a small one, and build to a larger one. You can even detail out characters here if you wish, for easy future reference.

On the first chapter, click F11 and double-click the "Chapter" style. You will see the "Chapter 1" appear, centered and formatted as you set up. You can either leave it at that, or hit enter, then give the chapter a title by using a standard header style, like Header 2. Center if need be.

Below that, summarize the plot point(s) this chapter should fill. Once done, hit enter, and then do this over for the next chapter.

Once done, you can go back to the top to detail out each scene if you so desire. Click under the chapter summary/plot point. Hit F11 and double-click the "Scene" style. Type out any heading desired, or just a summary of that scene's plot point.

Just write it!

If you're the type that just starts writing, when you are ready to begin the first chapter, hit F11, and double-click the "Chapter" style. The Chapter and # will appear automatically. Hit enter.

Then click F11, and double-click "Scene". If set, it will automatically pop in the scene number and text in. You can then enter a header, or if set for it, the first paragraph of your scene. Then type away.

Next scene comes up, do the same thing. Next chapter, double-click on the "Chapter" style. Once used in your document, you can also see them in the style drop down box in the toolbar that is opened by default in Open Office Writer.

As an added tip, you can also set in the "Text Flow" tab of the style, to automatically start a new page at each chapter. Hit F11, right-click "Chapter" style and select "Modify." Select the "Text Flow" tab, and check the "Insert" box in the "Break" section. Make sure "Page" is in the next drop down box, and "Before" in the far right one. Now when you double-click the Chapter style, it will add in a new page as well as the text with automatic number formatting.

Import it:

This is a more tedious process. Open your novel in OO Writer. Hit Ctrl-A to mark all text in the document. Double-click the "Novel Body" style in the style window, and all the text will be changed to the standard submission format.

Now, go through your novel and apply the Chapter and Scene styles to the appropriate spots. You may need to delete chapter number info if you have manually entered it before.

Navigating and Moving Text

Now that you have done this work, you should see in the Navigator, under "Headings" a list of the chapters and scenes in an outline format. If you do not, make sure you have the "Display" set to show at least 2 levels, but safest to set it for all ten.

To go to a scene in the Navigator, double-click on that scene. You are now there.

To move a scene or chapter, select that scene or chapter. Use the buttons at the top of the Navigator window, square text boxes with arrows pointing up and down, to move the scene or chapter to a new location. If you have the tips turned on, it will call them "Promote a chapter" and "Demote a chapter." By clicking on the button with the arrow going down, it moves your scene or chapter one section down. Likewise, the up arrow moves it up. Click on it enough times till it is where you want it.

You will notice that automatic scene or chapter numbers will adjust as you move it around. This effectively allows you to shuffle pieces any way you want within your document.

And since this is all one document (not chapters in individual files), you can easily get a word count for the whole project, or do a find/replace if you need to change something over the whole project, set formatting for printing, etc. Anything you can do in a regular OO Writer document, you can do here because that is what this is.

The down side is if you want a word count of a section in the middle of your novel. Or if your publisher/agent wants one chapter of your novel sent to them. It means first marking the section in question, and then running a word count, or doing a copy/paste into a new document to save separately.

You can get a word count of a chapter fairly easily if it is the last chapter in your document. When ready, double-click on the chapter in the Navigator. Hold down the "Ctrl-Shift" keys and hit "End". It will mark the chapter to the end of the document. Then run the word count.

You can use the master document feature in OO Writer, which has its benefits. You can drag and drop the chapters to move them around, but creating scenes in it becomes cumbersome because you will either have a separate file for each scene or keep the scenes in each chapter file, which means to move scenes between chapters requires a mark, cut and paste operation. If scenes are in each chapter file, it also means you lose the detailed "overview" of your whole project, chapters and scenes, that you get with it all in one document.

However, the automatic numbering will still work for chapters in the master document. Within a chapter file, it will always say "Chapter 1" but in the master document, they will be numbered according to their position.

In the master document, you can also easily edit the chapter file (each chapter is its own separate file) and get a word count of just that chapter, or send the file to someone who wants that one chapter without any fuss. The downside to it, is it is harder to move scenes from one chapter to another, and there are restrictions on what you can do in a master document. (You can't save it to one large file, for instance without the master document "features," but have to copy/paste the whole document into a regular Writer file.)

Some of the writer software duplication here is a bit crude, like story plotting and character notes. You may find it easier to keep track of those either in another Writer file, or other application like Excel or a database. But this can give you a free, novel-writing application with the flexibility of the big boys, but with a full featured word processor (unlike many of them). Just a little time investment to set it up.

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