StoryShop Review and Tutorial by Lulu

Paul over at Lulu did such a nice job of reviewing and explaining StoryShop, that we decided we should just repost his work. We really can't do any better! Thank you, Paul! Here is the direct link if you want to jump over there instead of reading Paul's review here.

Word Processing with StoryShop [Product Review]

If you write regularly (which you should), there’s a high probability you’ve experimented with different word processing software. For many years, the most barebones version of Microsoft Word came pre-installed on Windows computers, so we almost always had that option. But in the last decade or so, software makers have flooded the market with new word processors designed to increase productivity and help us all write better.

One particularly interesting tool is Story Shop, a dedicated word processor that aims to compete with some of the most popular and well-known options.

So how does it stand up? Let’s look into Story Shop and find out!

What Is Story Shop?

At its core, Story Shop is a web-based novel planner and word processor. The focus seems to be squarely on fiction writers, which for many experienced and aspiring novelists is a nice change of pace.

I say that because so many writing and page layout programs these days try to be everything to everyone. And that often means they fall short of achieving their goals. You could write, edit, design, and complete your entire book with Word. But it would be cumbersome.

Instead, dedicated writers turn to software focused on their needs.

Okay, so that’s what Story Shop is. A writing and editing platform designed for writers, created by writers. That alone is inspiring.

But the creators have gone a step further with their Story Shop University, a web destination for “all your writerly resources.” The Story Shop team isn’t just offering a platform to organize, draft, and revise your content. They’re also working on building a community of writers to share their experiences, skills, and resources.

Getting Started With Story Shop

The home page for Story Shop is delightfully clean and vibrant, using pastel colors and simple illustrations. There’s a big ‘Start Writing’ button right there to get us all into the App quickly.

Story Shop home page

I did just that, registering my email and creating a password. The first thing to note as you sign up is that Story Shop is primarily a paid service. They’re currently asking for $9.99 per month or $99.00 for an annual subscription (which works out to $8.25 per month).

Story Shop pricing information

That’s pretty expensive for a word processor. Though if you find you like Story Shop, I think it is reasonable. We spend that much each month on Netflix and Spotify, neither of which do as much to help us write.

Story Shop Plans and Features

But all of that might be irrelevant, anyway. Story Shop Lite is free to use and offers the basic functionality of their word processing immediately after signing up. The Lite plan lacks some world-building features that really make Story Shop unique, but you can easily get a taste of the word processor without spending a penny.

So what is the word processor like?

Emphasis On Writing

Someone at Story Shop had a moment of brilliance when they included a book in your account as soon as you sign up. Immediately upon accessing the App, you’ll find a pop-out tutorial, followed by a dashboard with Alice in Wonderland already loaded up.

(Total coincidence that Alice in Wonderland is my go-to example book as well).

My advice to anyone trying out Story Shop Lite would be to open up their copy of Alice in Wonderland and explore a bit. It does a terrific job of highlighting the basic functionality of their word processor for you. And as the second stroke of brilliance, the Story Shop team shows premium features in this project, helping to entice you to buy into their paid version.

Clever advertising aside, Story Shop’s word processor focuses heavily on writing.

Story Shop Writer - Displaying the Sample Text of Alice in Wonderland

The basic writing screen is clean and keeps the spotlight on the words. There are few formatting options aside from fonts and paragraph styling. Think of Story Shop as a writing system, not a layout tool. You’ll be exporting your story and editing with another program to create the print-ready documents.

We also have a full-screen mode, which can be nice if you write on a smaller screen (I use a 13” laptop for most of my writing) to really push aside distractions. And one last note before I move away from the actual text editing you might notice in the above screen capture: Grammarly.

Yup, because Story Shop is browser-based, my Chrome (and Firefox) Grammarly plugin works in line with the text as I write. For me, this is really amazing because I am a terribly sloppy writer. No level of diligence in reviewing my work will catch every slip of the finger. I lean on Grammarly to help with that and Story Shop lets me see errors and suggestions in real-time.

But what has the potential to set Story Shop apart from its competitors is the peripheral tools they offer alongside the writer.

Speaking The Story Shop Language

Story Shop uses a few common writing terms and a few I’ve never heard of before. It’s unlikely you’ll ever be confused while using Story Shop. Every term they use is intuitive and contextual. For clarity’s sake, I’ll cover a few of the terms they use here so I can review the functionality associated with these terms.

The Beats Bar (Left Side Of The App)

  • Beats
    • On the left side of the writing screen is a menu called the Beats Menu. In Story Shop, Beats are the discrete elements of your story. For most authors, this will be chapters or sections.
  • Episodes
    • The Episodes correspond to chapters in a book. In fact, Story Shop actually calls these chapters in the editor (you’ll see ‘Chapter Title’ that will name the Episode in the sidebar).
  • Scenes
    • Here we should be on stable ground again. Scenes are small pieces of each chapter.

The Beats Bar includes your Episodes and Scenes in a normal, nested fashion we should all be accustomed to by now.

Story Shop Writer in App Beats Bar breakdown

There’s a handy “+” that allows you to add new Scenes or Episodes. And you see those icons on the right that looks like a sheet of paper, some with a Yellow Dot? These are notes for the Scene or Episode and the Dot indicates an unread note. These are great, as it makes it easy to create notes for yourself and for someone else (like say an editor or proofreader) to leave notes without directly impacting the content.

The World Bar (Right Side Of The App)

  • World
    • If you’re a fan of Fantasy or Science Fiction, you’ve likely heard the term ‘world-building.’ This is the writer’s efforts to develop a rich, multifaceted world their characters live in. The World Bar helps to do that with some simple, nested organization.
  • Series
    • You may be the kind of writer who creates a multitude of stories within the same world. Think of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. The world is Discworld, but within it are multiple series’.
  • Book
    • Here we have information and details specific to a single book in the series, all taking place within the larger world.

The World Bar uses the same nested structure as your Beats Bar.

Story Shop Writer App World Bar features

You’ll notice below the dropdown to select World, Series, or Book, we have other expandable menus for Location, Character, Tradition, and many other elements. I counted thirty-seven different elements. Though it is important to note—you are limited to the number you can add with the free version, so use the World Bar carefully.

The most useful part of the World Bar is for authors who write a lot in the same world. Now you can add elements (such as Specific Locations) within a given book and have that information available for other works.

For example, let’s imagine you’re writing a classic pulp detective fiction series. Let’s say you’ve got one series started with five books. The World Bar quickly lets you sort information unique to each book no matter which manuscript you’re working on.

Want to know where you sent your protagonist to chase down a clue in book #2? Just pick it from the book menu and look for the location element you set!

Writing With Story Shop

As a novel planning tool and world builder, Story Shop is great. If you write serialized fiction or have a larger project involving multiple books, the premium options are probably a great investment. That just leaves us to consider how Story Shop works as a word processor.

For me, there are three features I’ll look for and almost cannot do without:

  1. Responsive, smooth loading and typing (even if offline)
  2. A ‘typewriter’ mode
  3. Distraction-free or full-screen mode

If you’re a fast typer, you’ve likely noticed some lag when writing with Word. That very slight gap between hitting the key and the letter appearing on the screen. I want as small a delay as possible. And Story Shop seems to hold up here, with smooth typing and little issue with lag when moving between Scenes and Episodes.

Perhaps the most important for me is a typewriter mode—when the cursor and the line you’re currently typing is locked to the middle of the screen. I find typing all the way to the bottom of the screen to be taxing on my eyes and causes a break in my rhythm from time to time. Now that I use word processors with a typewriter mode, I don’t know that I could go back.

And of course the distraction-free mode. Always great to have nothing on the screen but the words you’re typing.

Final Thoughts On Story Shop

I used Story Shop to write some personal fiction I’ve been working on. Normally when I test writing apps, I like to do a blog post or two in them, but since Story Shop is so focused on novel writing, it felt more natural to write that kind of content. And I have to say, after a fairly long session adding in all my supporting information about the world and characters, I did find the software pretty useful.

The writing was comfortable and distraction-free mode nicely maximizes the writing area without feeling like I was locked out of my computer.

Overall, the one factor that would give me pause is the annual fee. The planning features are great, simple, and built for novel writers, which is really nice to see. But they offer something achievable with a simple spreadsheet for free. What Story Shop offers (and offers well) is the consolidation of features into a single, easy to navigate screen. Whether that is worth the annual fee is something individual authors will have to decide. Thankfully, the Lite version is perfect for getting a taste of Story Shop’s features before you opt into their subscription.

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November 8, 2019

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