Writing Software: Scrivener

Sunday 15 December 2013 by

Up until a couple of years ago, I used Microsoft Word and physical notebooks for pretty much all my writing needs. It was habit, more than anything – Word was relatively simple to use for the functions I needed it for, I was used to it and it was there on my PC.

My first full-length novel was completed on Word, and a number of half finished, but significantly lengthy projects before and after. I started to realise that Word was fine for anything up to about 3000 words, but past that it became impractical.

Scrolling down through 100+ pages, trying to find a bit of information in a previous chapter just isn’t effective. And if you’re like me – the sort of person who dives in and out of a project, writing scenes further ahead, going back to bits you’ve left blank because you couldn’t work out how to get from A to B at the time – navigating the hodgepodge of half assembled scenes and ideas becomes almost impossible.

It was becoming a hindrance to completing my projects, so I started looking into writing software. It was then I discovered Scrivener.

Scrivener is a word processor designed specifically with novelists in mind. With it, you can break your project down into easily navigable chapter folders. There are frameworks for character profiles, setting profiles, a space for your research and much more.

For me, the biggest selling point was the chapter system. Like a typical folder hierarchy, the manuscript contains the chapter folders, each chapter folder contains the scenes that make up that chapter. You can make even more subfolders within the chapter folders, if you so desire, to further aid organisation of your manuscript.

The ‘folder hierarchy’ style system makes your project easily navigable, especially as you are able to add a brief blurb about each file, and with a bit of ‘drag and drop’ you can easily rearrange the order of scenes and chapters.

You can also make notes on each individual folder or file – particularly useful for edits to action at a later date. In Word, I used to highlight chunks of text and type notes to myself next to it in a different colour – not exactly easy or quick. With Scrivener, a notepad is right there on the right hand side of the screen, always visible as long as that particular scene or folder is selected.

The character profiles are basic, but useful if you need a space to record eye colour and height. You can also attach photos in a variety of places, allowing you to have a visual reference for your characters in the same window as your words.

And if the bells and whistles are a distraction to your writing, there’s a composition mode that blacks out the background noise and gives you just a clean word processor for maximum focus.

Scrivener, Writing tool

Scrivener also makes edits an easier process. Not only can you record where you are up to in your edits by labelling scenes and chapters as ‘first draft’ all the way through to ‘done’, but with dual view, you can look at your first draft while working on a rewrite. Much easier than trying to copy-paste, or look between two different windows.

Scrivener, Writing tool

Scrivener can also compile your finished manuscript into standard manuscript format, converting all those italics into underlines, using the right font size and margins automatically. Which, should you ever be in a position to be querying agents or publishers, will save a lot of time and hassle.

And if word counters motivate you, Scrivener comes with one built in. There are two bars, one for overall progress, and one for progress towards that day’s targets. The bars change from red to green as you get closer to your target. There is also a name generator for those moments when you can’t think of anything to call the character you’re busy introducing.

There are likely many more different functions that I haven’t even discovered yet. Scrivener is one of those applications that you get as much out of as you want to get out of it. For those who like to go into minute detail, there are even different icons you can give your files within your project to help keep their contents clear at a single glance. For those more like me, who don’t need many toys to keep their ideas straight, Scrivener is invaluable purely for its chapter organisation system.

I got the free trial a couple of years ago now, upgraded to the full program before the trial was up, and haven’t looked back since.

Scrivener: Available for Mac and PC from £25.65

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