Free Software for Writers (and Artists): The GIMP

Writers occasionally need to make use of imaging software, as I mentioned in my earlier capsule writeup about Inkscape.  That program is a drawing package; but sometimes you may need to edit or enhance a picture or digital photo, rather than drawing something from scratch.  This is where The GIMP comes in.  Intended as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop-style applications, GIMP stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program” (again with the acronyms); it can be used for photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring.  I’ve mostly used it for photo retouching, although I do occasionally use it to mush a couple of pictures together into something else.  I used The GIMP to ever-so-slightly lighten the cover of my vampire book, Long Before Dawn.  Those who are graphically inclined could create their own artwork from scratch using The GIMP’s bewildering array of tools, controls, and filters.  It has so many advanced features that I don’t know what 80% of them do, but they would be manna to an artist.

GIMP is available for Linux, OS X, and Dominant Operating System(TM).  If you are already familiar with Adobe Photoshop, you may want to look into GimpShop instead, which attempts to replicate the Adobe Photoshop UI experience.  (I’m not, so I haven’t)

Free Software For Writers: Inkscape

If you write large-scale fantasy novels, you are probably interested in drawing a map of your imaginary realm. There are several reasons you may want to do this, including:

  • Tolkien did it
  • It helps you understand the geopolitical dynamics of your little kingdoms and theocracies
  • Tolkien did it
  • You know where your characters are when they’re fleeing into the wilderness to escape hordes of orcs or whatever
  • Tolkien did it
  • Your characters can talk intelligently about landmarks, geographical features, countries that don’t figure directly into the action, etc.
  • Tolkien did it

Back when I ran Dominant Operating System(TM), I used ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer, which is software intended for use in drawing maps for role-playing game. This is really nice software, but unfortunately, it’s only available for Dominant Operating System(TM) and I never had any luck getting it to run under WINE (“Wine Is Not an Emulator”). So I had to look for alternatives. Enter Inkscape.

Inkscape is a scalable vector graphics (SVG) editor along the lines of Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. It is not specifically designed for drawing maps, but can easily be used for that purpose. Unless you’re a graphic artist, you probably won’t be using it to generate something that looks like these, but you can certainly draw something that you can use as a reference for your own purposes. Then, once you hit the big time, you can hire an illustrator to turn your maps into actual artwork. Of course, you could always hand-draw your maps on graph paper, but what fun would that be? <ROLLS 20-SIDED DIE> Mmm, six. Not so good.

Inkscape can be used to draw anything, of course, so if you’re feeling ambitious, you could use it to design your cover art, interior illustrations, character sketches, etc. (See also The GIMP, which I’ll talk about at some point, but not today.)

Inkscape is available for Linux, OS X, and, of course, Dominant Operating System(TM). Inkscape is only one of many free drawing programs, so if you find that it does not suit your needs, another one might.