We Need to Talk About Scrivener

Hey guys. Guys. So I went to this conference, and it was neat and everything, and I hope to recap it soon. I also read a bit of my writing aloud with other authors at the Brewster Literary Evening at our library, which I was strong-armed into doing because they had so few people sign up who weren’t poets and they wanted more variety, but which I nonetheless greatly enjoyed. Now, busy though I am with preparing to be clobbered by a hurricane with the same name as my mother (if this were fiction, there would be a really unsubtle metaphor in there), I have to share with you a thing that is great. That thing is Scrivener.

You may have heard of it already – I had. I’d thought, “Eh, it’s probably neat, but mastering it would involve time and I’d have to pay money and would it really make that much of a difference to my work and life?” (This is, incidentally, a fair description of how I feel about the idea of watching Doctor Who.)

And yeah, it does cost money (though I hear that you get a discount if you finish NaNoWriMo). But not all that much, and can I just say that it’s awesome? Multiple author panelists at the conference I attended raved about it, and I really liked the idea of the little corkboard displays and stuff, so I thought I’d give it a try. I bought the software and spent about an hour going through the full tutorial. And the niftiness factor, it is high.

I’d been thus far unsatisfied with other programs I’d used to organize my writing thoughts and research. A paper notebook is fine for brainstorming, but when I’m actually writing, there’s a laptop on my lap and nothing else, so I really wanted something on the computer. I tried just writing my notes out in my regular word processing program, but I would either wind up with one long, rambly document that I’d have to search through for a specific detail or an unwieldy number of shorter documents, usually scattered through folders in an inconvenient way. I tried the free downloadable program GrowlyNotes and, while some aspects of it are neat, it just didn’t work for me. Scrivener was the only such program I’d heard of designed specifically for writers, so it seemed worth a shot.

And it is great. Basically, opening a Scrivener document gives you a virtual binder (mine, at least, had been thoughtfully emptied of women) which you can divide into folders. The project I’m currently working on has a folder for characters, a folder for locations, a folder for general information about the geography and culture of this fantasy world, and a template folder. The template folder allows you to create templates – e.g. a character sheet – from which to easily create files. Each of these can hold text files, images, even sound files, which can be linked to each other, tagged with keywords that you can use to sort them, and viewed in a bunch of different ways.

For example, you can put them on a corkboard (corkboard!) as index cards (index cards!):

Screen shot Characters

Each of these index cards represents the “synopsis” I’ve given to a full character sheet within the Characters folder.

Notice the different-colored pushpins in the upper right corners of the index cards. These represent colors I’ve assigned to keywords: in this case, the turquoise represents male characters and the gold female characters. (Turquoise and gold are the colors of this country, Liratora.)

If you don’t like the corkboard, then you’re strange, but you can see the files in a folder with their synopses in outline view, too:

Screen shot cities

You can also split the screen:

Screen shot split screen

This view can be especially useful if, for example, you’ve found a picture that looks like one of your characters, and you put the picture in one panel and your current draft in the other panel.

Because that’s another thing. Even though I’m not currently using Scrivener for this purpose – I just wanted a place to put my notes – it has a lot of handy features for you to use in writing the actual draft. (Especially if you’re writing a script, which I’m not, but that’s cool.) Plus, when you go to export a draft at the end, it has some cool options, like exporting it directly into e-book-friendly format.

Plus, click on one of these to make it bigger and check out the little icons I got to choose for my Characters, Locations, etc. folders. How great are they? That’s what happens when you create a program specifically geared toward writers. Those icons are designed to represent “characters” and “locations” folders. And they’re not even the only options. I’LL BE SHALLOW IF I WANT TO SHUT UP.

So, Scrivener. Nic approves.

5 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Scrivener

  • For the record, Doctor Who did change my life. Or at least where all my free time and energy have been going for the past couple years… shut up. It’s not DW’s fault. LotR and Harry Potter did the same thing. And past seasons are available on Netflix Instant…

    But Scrivner looks cool too.

  • I’m using free wiki software right now (I forget the name!) I really always fall back on giant text files of doom and using Edit > Find to sort through it (or, more fatally, writing notes on little pieces of paper). So I use the wiki software as if it were a series of giant text files, and at least it keeps me more organized.

    Is there a way to export all the data if you needed to switch applications or they stopped supporting it?

    I’m sure you expected rabid DW backlash, but I would just like to put it out there that, not only do you need to watch some Doctor Who because you would love it, but my library has pretty much every episode on DVD since 1963 and you can request it for free through Virtual Catalog. I wouldn’t recommend watching the classic stuff unless you’re in the mood for extreme camp, slow pacing, and bad (if ingenious) special effects, but YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES not to watch the new stuff. DAVID TENNANT IS VERY PRETTY AND HAS FRECKLES AND ADVENTURES AND TIME TRAVEL AND EXOTIC LOCALES AND EXOTIC ALIENS AND AND RUNNING AND BRITISH PEOPLE YAAAAAAY.

    • You can definitely export all the data, and into a ton of different formats. It is neato!

      My current reasons for not getting into Doctor Who have a lot more to do with time than money, as I’m certain I could get it all free through my library system, too. One of these days, I’m sure. 😛

  • I’ve been contemplating this for a bit but now I’m sold. I’m putting it on my Christmas list.

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