Specs: Scrivener is available for Windows and Mac (Scrivener for Windows, Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X 10.6.7 and above).
Requires 70MB on Mac OS X, 100MB on Windows.
There is so much to say about Scrivener. You might have traversed my review of StoryMill when I first set out to find a good piece of novel-writing software–it had so many of the things I wanted, but I found the formatting tools annoying and a tad crippling.
My search may still yet continue. Besides one essential feature, Scrivener is perfect. Read on.
The binder is essentially the manuscript index. I love Scrivener because it’s amazingly flexible–it works however you need it to work for you to be at your most effective. I don’t name my chapters anymore (it was a lot of work to come up with catchy titles, and when the chapters themselves changed during multiple revisions– I just decided to abandon them) so I simply call the folder a general descriptor I can remember. Each item inside the folder is, well, whatever you want it to be–a scene, a set of scenes, a pile of unrefined garbage–it’s simply a text document. “Scenes” can be edited alone or, if you view your document at the chapter (folder) level, can be edited in a stream with other scenes in that folder. (These are called “Scrivenings.”)
The genius of this design is that you can work on a scene by itself, or work on the flow of a whole chapter, or even the whole manuscript (by selecting “Manuscript” at the top).
During my revision of Devil’s Fire, my heroine Sophie discovers her dead mother’s journal; the mother’s story parallels Sophie’s story, and each chapter contains some piece of the journal.
I started labeling the scenes that were diary scenes with these nifty little book icons. I cannot tell you how helpful these were to shuffle around as I worked on the organization of the book. As chapters changed and shifted and scenes were moved around (it was like a very complicated game of Boggle), I could easily locate my diary scenes and make sure they landed in the right places.
Unlike my first slash at using Scrivener to edit and revise a novel, this go-around I’m constructing a new novel for NaNoWriMo. This is truly what prompted me to write this review. Sure, Scrivener was great helping me deal with the painful mass of disorganized text that was my manuscript–but could it really be effective in writing a brand-new novel from scratch?
The novel has two narrators–a girl (red) and a boy (blue). I was able to label each scene or chapter by narrator and then select a view option where the color coding appeared in my binder. Suddenly writing a complex story isn’t so complicated.
Justine Larbalestier wrote an article about writing her novel Liar with Scrivener, and showcased some features of the corkboard I hadn’t quite seized upon–yet.
When I saw those stamps, it took some serious effort not to burst into tears of joy. Wait. A way to keep track of each scene’s level of development? It can’t be. I’d seen that little “status” drop-down menu before and never gave it much thought, until Justine pointed out you could have the status stamped across each notecard on your corkboard. Perfect for getting a bird’s eye view of what still needs work and attention, and what you can forget about (for now).
The best part about the corkboard is, like the binder, you can use this view at any level. When you fill out the “Synopsis” field for any chapter or scene, it appears on the notecard pinned to the corkboard so you can easily shuffle them around as you see fit. Perfect for plotting and planning a work in progress, no?
The Character Sheets
I think this is the place where Scrivener surpassed StoryMill in usability. The character sheet is brilliant. I didn’t use it much for fixing my last novel, but during the planning stages, I’ve found the character sheets to be absolutely invaluable.
Internal conflicts. External conflicts. Personality. Habits and Mannerisms. Sure, we all tell ourselves we know this stuff about our characters–but there’s nothing like putting ideas down on paper to remember and develop them.
For fixing my last novel, the character sheets were good for keeping track of minor characters and making sure I remembered all their details correctly–who their parents are, where they live, hair and eye color, style of dress–but the character sheet is so much more than that.
What is your character’s greatest flaw? How will that flaw play out over the course of the novel? What kinds of things does your character say? I’ve loaded my character sheets with gold, and even if most of it doesn’t make its way into the manuscript, it informs me, as the writer. Simply having it all at my fingertips suddenly makes these people real. Predictable. In any given situation, I have a very good idea of how this character will respond.
And, like scenes, character sheets can be color-coded. I’ve labeled characters based on family affiliation, so I can easily track the Geggan clan separate from the Blacks, and make sure each character has a check and a balance somewhere in the story.
Scrivener has one massively critical flaw–one that leads me to seriously consider other novel-writing software, or perhaps an amalgamation of multiple software platforms.
It just boggles my mind that a piece of writing software this sophisticated and innovative has no way to track chronology. Upon some good, old-fashioned Googling, I discovered a couple “hack” methods for marking scenes in time–using meta data, for example–but if a geek like me can’t figure out how to do it in ten minutes or less, I seriously question its helpfulness. StoryMill had a pretty nifty, customizable time-tracking feature, and I kind of wish I could Power Rangers-style stitch the two pieces of software together into one super-powerful, startlingly handsome novel-writing solution.
Overall, Scrivener is absolutely worth the $45 you’ll pay for the highly reasonable and permissive license ($40 for the Windows version). If it weren’t for that one thing, I think Scrivener might actually be perfect.
If you have any suggestions regarding the timeline issue, or can recommend other writing software, please mention it in the comments and I would love to try it out.