Until I found Scrivener, I had to write my novels with my word processor and make a special folder on my hard drive for any research that I collected. Most word processors cannot handle book-length documents, so I was forced to write each chapter as a separate file and create a new folder to house them on my hard drive. After years of writing like this, I decided to look for writing software that could handle long documents.
I found some amazing writing software for story development, character development, outlining and research. The problem for me was that I had to open several different programs in order to access all of the information that I had either written down or gathered. That didn’t seem like a big deal until I found myself in the middle of a scene and having to stop in order to look up the information that I needed. Another thing that bothered me about this method was the space all of these programs took on my hard drive. All of that changed when I found Scrivener sometime last year.
Initial Impression of Scrivener
Right off the bat, I was very pleased that I could write individual chapters within the Scrivener interface. I was so happy with that that I didn’t bother exploring the other features for quite a while. My focus was getting the novel written down before I forgot about the ideas that kept popping into my head. After hitting several snags, I decided it was time to take a break and focus on my characters.
By this time, Scrivener had come out with an update. I installed the update and decided to check out the other features of this writing software. The first screen lists the templates, along with an interactive tutorial and the user manual.
I tried the interactive tutorial and quickly grew bored of it. I’m the type that would rather just dig in and explore, rather than following the directions. So, I selected the novel template. Another dialog box popped up, listing the templates available. I had the option of choosing between a standard novel template, a novel (with parts), or a short story.
I decided to choose the standard novel template, since my novel is written entirely from the POV of my main character. One thing to note is that once you select a template, you are stuck with it unless you open a new project. If you find yourself in that predicament, you can consult the template instructions found at the top of the sidebar or the user manual. I found that if I wanted to change a scene into a chapter, all I had to do was take the file and hover it over the chapter folder and drop it there. It was that easy.
Creating Character Sketches in Scrivener
Creating character sketches in Scrivener is a straightforward process. The image below is a sketch that I made up of one of the conflicting character in my present WIP. At first glance, the template looks very basic, almost too basic. However, sometimes less is more.
You can create very detailed backgrounds, internal conflicts, and external conflicts for your characters without being overwhelmed by questions that are found in separate character development programs. You can also include notes and images. I really appreciated the ability to put a “face” to a character that I’m writing about. As for the notes section, I can jot down handicaps (physical or mental) or link to an article that I put in my research folder.
Scrivener also includes a Settings template that will help you describe the places in your story. If you already know where your characters are going to travel, you can set these templates up ahead of time to capture as many details as you can think of. This template includes:
- Role in Story:
- Related Characters:
- Unique Features:
The Research feature is the biggest reason why I decided to purchase Scrivener. When I first started writing novels and short stories, I had two choices when collecting facts and data: open a new file in my word processor or drag out a spiral bound notebook to compile everything that I had found in reference books and online. Both methods proved to be clunky and time consuming because I had to wade through all of the information I had gathered in order to get to the information I needed at the moment.
Scrivener allows you to organize your research by folders. From there, you can import a wide variety of text documents, images and websites that you have bookmarked or visited recently. The ability to keep everything organized is what makes Scrivener such a strong piece of writing software. Since I have yet to use Scrivener for writing a nonfiction book, I have not explored some of the features such as managing bibliographies and footnotes.
The Writing Process
Scrivener makes the writing process easy, thanks to its built-in word processor. You can work with the programs defaults or set the formatting of your text before you type a single word. The word count is displayed at the bottom of the screen. With Word, I had to open up a separate window to view my progress. Nisus Writer allowed me to see my progress in the Inspector pane at the side of the screen. The best feature about the word processor (at least to me) is that I can set each chapter as a separate file within the project. Before Scrivener, I was forced to open a new file in my word processor, and then create a folder on my desktop to house the individual files. I am so glad that I don’t have to do that anymore!
Other features that I liked were the ability to see my novel as a whole. All I had to do was click on the Manuscript folder at the top of the left sidebar. From there, I could not only read my novel and any notes that I created, but I could also get the total word count. Before Scrivener, I had to open up my calculator and calculate the word count of each individual file that I had created in order to get the total word count. That is a big time saver for me.
You can customize Scrivener to display as much or as little as you want. For instance, you can set it to display the word processor in one pane and your research materials in another pane. These panes can be set horizontally or vertically. Once you are finished with that particular topic, you can set Scrivener to display only the word processor. The Composition mode hides everything so that you can avoid distractions while writing.
Compared to the word processor, the outliner felt clunky and unintuitive. I couldn’t find a command in the menus to add a new outline item, and the Help screen didn’t help me much. Neither did the instruction manual, which didn’t offer any step-by-step directions at all for creating your first outline. After playing around with the program a bit, I discovered a couple of ways to create an outline. The first is by manually right-clicking on the screen while in Outline mode. This enabled me to create a new item, which I gave a title and a brief synopsis. The easiest way to generate outlines (that I found so far) is to create a synopsis of each chapter or scene that you plan to write. From there, click on the chapter folder to see the synopsis in outline form. To see the entire outline, click on the Manuscript folder at the top. A video on the Literature and Latte site showed me how to compile, format and print outlines. You can watch other videos, including a 35-minute overview that covers all the basics of writing a novel, screenplay and more. They also have a video that teaches you how to compile and export your outline, which I found helpful.
Exporting Your Document
Exporting my manuscript turned out to be a straightforward process. I am able to format the file as and RTFD, RTF, DOC, DOCX, ODT, HTML, Final Draft (FDX and FCF) and TXT. I was happy to see that I can export my snapshots, notes, meta-data and selected files. I can also remove comments and annotations, if I wanted to. If you have multiple files within your project, it will export as a folder, with the sub-folders containing your chapters. You can also compile your chapters and export them as one document, such as a PDF file or in ebook formats for the Kindle and ePub. There are many more formatting options that include Final Draft, popular word processors, web pages and MultiMarkdowns.
Scrivener offers a plethora of other features. Some of these include:
- Keywords: While I don’t see this feature as something I would need when writing a novel, it will help writers who are working on nonfiction books and research papers.
- Name Generator: You can generate up to 500 potential names for your characters in a variety of cultures, male and female, obscurity level, double-barreled surnames, initialed forenames and alliterations. Lists are generated randomly.
- Backup: Scrivener creates a backup copy of your project before you quit the session. That’s helpful, should you accidentally delete the original file or it becomes corrupt.
- Cloud Integration and Sharing: Allows you to collaborate on a project with one or more people.
- Grammar and Spelling Checker: This feature is comparable with other word processors that you may use. Misspelled words are underscored in red. Grammar errors are underscored in green. Hover over the grammar error to see what Scrivener suggests. Right-click on the misspelled word to see suggestions or to add the word to the dictionary.
Overall Impression of Scrivener
Although I have yet to try everything that this program has to offer, I liked what I was able to do with it. Scrivener made the writing process more manageable for me. I can keep my research and chapters in one place and organized so that I can find whatever I need with a simple click. That saves me a great deal of time and aggravation. That said, the only features I didn’t care for was the outlining interface and the instruction manual. For such a complex program, they could have done a better job writing step-by-step directions. Instead, I found overviews and a book written by David Hewson, entitled Writing a Novel with Scrivener. I’ve yet to read that book, but it’s gotten mixed reviews on Amazon. Whether you’re a creative writer, screenplay writer or an academic, Scrivener is a powerful tool that will help you with the writing process. Be aware that there is a learning curve. Compatible with both Mac and PC.