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A markdown-like document editor for writing novels

Project description


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novelWriter is a markdown-like text editor designed for writing novels and larger projects of many smaller plain text documents. It uses its own flavour of markdown that supports a meta data syntax for comments, synopsis and cross-referencing between files. The idea is to have a simple text editor which allows for easy organisation of text files and notes, built on a plain text file project repository for robustness. The plain text storage is suitable for version control software, and also well suited for file synchronisation tools. The core project structure is stored in a project XML file. Other meta data is primarily saved in JSON files.

The full documentation is available at


The application is still under initial development, but all core features have now been added. The core functionality has been in place for a while, and novelWriter is being used for writing projects by the author and collaborators.

No new major features will be added at this time, until the application is stable. Until then, novelWriter is in a beta state. Please report any issues you may encounter in the repository issue tracker.

You should be able to use novelWriter for real projects, but as with all software, please make regular backups. There is a built in backup feature that can pack the entire project into a zip file on close. Please check the documentation for further details.


This is Open Source software, and novelWriter is licensed under GPLv3. See the GNU General Public License website for more details, or consult the LICENSE file.

Bundled assets have the following licenses:

Markdown Flavour

novelWriter is not a full-feature Markdown editor. It allows for a minimal set of formatting needed for writing text documents for novels. These are currently limited to:

  • Headings level 1 to 4 using the # syntax only.
  • Bold, italic and strikethrough text.
  • Hard line breaks using two or more spaces at the end of a line.

That is it. Features not supported in the editor are also not exported when using the export tool.

In addition, novelWriter adds the following, which is otherwise not supported by Markdown:

  • A line starting with % is treated as a comment and not rendered on exports unless requested. Comments do not count towards the word count.
  • A set of meta data keyword/value sets starting with the character @. This is used for tagging and inter-linking documents.
  • Non-breaking spaces are supported as long as your system is using at least Qt 5.9. For earlier version, non-breaking spaces are converted to normal spaces when saving the document. This is done by the Qt library. From Qt 5.9 and on, it is possible to extract the raw text from a document, which preserves non-breaking spaces.
  • Tabs may be rendered, depending on export format. With Qt 5.10 or higher, the width of a tab in pixels can be changed in Preferences.

The core export format of novelWriter is HTML5. You can also export the entire project as a single novelWriter flavour document. In addition, other exports to Open Document, PDF, and plain text is offered through the Qt library, although with limitations to formatting.

Even though novelWriter can export to Open Document, the result is actually better when using the HTML output and then importing the HTML document into for instance Libre Office. The HTML output is also suitable for conversion with tools like Pandoc.


The application is written in Python3 using Qt5 via PyQt5. It is developed on Linux, but it should in principle work fine on other operating systems as well as long as dependencies are met. It is regularly tested on Windows 10.

The application can be started from the source folder with one of the commands:


It also takes a few parameters for debugging and such, which can be listed with the switch --help.

In the root assets folder there are icons and scripts and a template for setting up a launcher on Gnome desktops. You may need to modify those scripts slightly, but as they are, they work on Debian and Ubuntu. For other operating systems, please consult your operating system documentation for how to make those. Feel free to submit more if you are able to make them.

Package Dependencies

It is recommended that novelWriter runs with Qt 5.10 or later, and Python 3.6 or later. Running with Qt as low as 5.2.1 and Python 3.4.3 has been tested, and worked in the past, but there are no guarantees that this will keep working as these are not a part of the test builds.

For the apt package manager on Debian systems, the following Python3 packages are needed:

  • python3-pyqt5 for the GUI
  • python3-pyqt5.qtsvg may need to be installed separately
  • python3-lxml for writing project files

These are optional, but recommended:

  • python3-enchant for better spell checking

Alternatively, the packages can be installed with pip by running

pip install -r requirements.txt

in the application folder.

You can also do them one at a time, skipping the ones you don't need:

pip install pyqt5
pip install lxml
pip install pyenchant

PyQt/Qt should be at least 5.2.1, but ideally 5.10 or higher for nearly all features to work. Exporting to markdown requires PyQt/Qt 5.14. There are no known minimum for lxml, but the code was originally written with 4.2. The optional spell check library must be at least 3.0.0 to work with Windows. On Linux, 2.0.0 also works fine.

If no external spell checking tool is installed, novelWriter will use a basic spell checker based on standard Python package difflib. Currently, only English dictionaries are available for this spell checker, but more can be added to the nw/assets/dict folder. See the nw/assets/dict/ file in that folder for how to generate more dictionaries. Note that the difflib-based option is both slow and limited.

Note: On Windows, make sure Python3 is in your PATH if you want to launch novelWriter from command line. You can also right click the file, create a shortcut, then right click again, select "Properties" and change the target to your python executable and

It should look something like this:


Key Features

The text documents of novelWriter use a format similar to markdown, but with a few extensions and a few omissions. Project meta data is stored as XML.

Colour Themes

The editor has syntax highlighting for the features it supports, and includes a set of different syntax highlighting themes. The GUI also has an optional dark theme in addition to the default system theme.

Note that the dark theme may not render all elements of the GUI as dark colours if you are running an early version of Qt5. This is not due to a bug in novelWriter, but due to the fact that the the styling options in the Qt API in some versions were incomplete.

New themes can easily be added to the nw/assets/themes folder. Have a look in the existing folders for examples of how to define the colours.

Auto-Saving and Document Stats

Open documents and the project file itself is saved regularly on a timer. The status of this is indicated by two indicators on the right hand side of the status bar. Unsaved changes are in yellow, and saved is indicated by green in the default theme. Latest word count for the document and project is shown next to these indicators in the status bar. The counts are updated regularly, but not as-you-type.

Easy Organising of Project Files

The structure of the project is shown on the left hand side of the main GUI. Project files are organised into root folders, indicating what class of file they are. The most important root folder is the Novel folder, which contains all of the files that makes up the finished novel. Each root folder can have subfolders. Folders have no impact on the project structure, they are purely tools for organising the files in whatever way the user needs.

The editor supports four levels of headings, which determines what level the following text belongs to. Headings of level one signify a book or partition title. Headings of level two signify the start of a new chapter. Headings of level three signify the start of a new scene. Headings of level four can be used internally in each scene to separate sections.

Each novel file can be assigned a layout format, which shows up as a flag next to the item in the project tree. These are mostly to help the user see what they contain, but they also have some impact on the format of the exported document. See the documentation for further details.

Project Notes

Supporting note files can be added for the story plot, characters, locations, story timeline, etc. These have their separate root folders. These are optional files.

Visualisation of Story Elements

The different notes can be assigned tags, which other files can refer back to using special meta keywords. This information can be used to display an outline of the story, showing where each scene connects to the plot, and which characters, etc. occur in them. In addition, the tags themselves are clickable in the document view pane, and control-clickable in the editor. They make it possible to quickly navigate between the documents while editing.


If you want to contribute to novelWriter, please follow the coding convention laid out in the Style Guide. They broadly follow Python PEP8, but there are a few modifications.


novelWriter with default system theme: Screenshot 1

novelWriter with dark theme: Screenshot 2

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