by Scott Rhoades
One of the biggest benefits of using either LibreOffice or OpenOffice as your word processor--besides being full-featured, Word-compatible word processors that are available for free--is that you can use the Master Documents feature. You can sort of do the same thing in recent versions of Word using outlines, but it's a little more complicated and Word's history of not playing well with master documents in earlier versions (master documents tended to corrupt files) makes me a little nervous. Also, the way Word manages templates and styles is not especially friendly with their kludgy master document outlines.
A master document, for those who don't know, is essentially a document containing links to other documents. Typically, a master document might contain links to several chapters. One of the main benefits of a master document is that you can keep your scenes or chapters in separate documents, which can be especially useful during early drafts. This is often easier than trying to manage the pieces as parts of one huge document. All editing is done in the subdocuments, and those changes appear automatically in the master document.
Master documents are also useful if you want to collect several of your written works, such as stories or poems, into a single document. You don't need to copy the pieces into a bigger document. Just link to them from the master document.
This last point is where the way templates and styles are handled is especially useful. In LibreOffice and OpenOffice, any styles defined in the individual documents are retained in the master document, unless you've defined those same style in the master document. Styles in the master document take precedence over the individual documents. This is a good thing. All documents in the master document use the same styles, providing a uniform look, even if they are styled completely differently in the individual documents. If you change a style in the master document, the subdocuments are not affected. This is important if you want to style your collection a certain way, but want to keep the individual documents styled another way for separate distribution.
So, if you get tired of trying to manage long projects in Word, or if you are looking for a way to organize several pieces into a single whole while keeping them separate, consider downloading one of these free office suites and taking advantage of the powerful Master Documents feature. I prefer LibreOffice, but either works great.
Free Dan Brown:
If you haven't heard yet, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is now available for Kindle and Nook (and, I assume, in iTunes) free until March 24. It contains the prologue and first chapter of Brown's new book, Inferno. So, if like me, you are one of the few people who hasn't read this yet, and you're not sure you want to put out the money for it, now is your chance to get it for nothing. The way I figure, it has to be worth at least that much.