[Review|Writing] Scrivener, novel draft program of awesome

6 Mar

I read way too many blogs and books on how to write. While I am not trying to find some secret formula for writing — though it would be quite nice — I am still trying to find my way of writing. Do I outline or not, make notes, index cards of scenes or characters. Do I flesh character and setting out before or as I go. When I write the first draft should I hand write or type or dictate to myself. Word processing program or remove distractions and go with a simple .txt file. How do I organize my writing, how hard will it to be to change large sections later in editing. Where do I store my research. It can get as overwhelming as actually coming up with 300 pages of story.

Here enters my latest nifty way to answer those questions: Scrivener. This program is more than I could have hoped for. It has amazing organization and versatility to customize and use what you want and ignore what you don’t use. It has a 30 day trail which is non-consecutive, it only ticks down days that you open it. The full program is $40 but somewhere in my meanderings I heard you can get a discount on it for NaNoWriMo. Either way, well worth the price I think.

While Scrivener is at heart a word processing program, it really shines in the way it breaks up your manuscript. You can make folders, that can also be text files, for chapters or scenes or characters. If you want to rearrange scenes around, it is a single drag and drop it into place. Each file and folder has a corkboard feature as well, allowing you to type up index cards for a quick look at what’s in that chunk of wordsmithery. View all index cards at once or view an outline with the notes in a neater format.

It’s search functionality is after my own OCD heart. Set up keywords and run searches for characters or places you note. Pull up all scenes with a single character and view them together, ensuring the character stays consistent. Or run a simple search for any word; want to cut out your use of “very”, Scrivener will find every instance for you and highlight them, pulling up only the pages that contain it. You can also save common searches as dynamic collections updating themselves as you go. Or you can make static collections, manually throwing chunks of work into a folder so you aren’t searching through the entire manuscript every time. Have parts that need more work? Make a to-do collection. Just throw pages in there and toss them out when you’re done. Don’t worry, it doesn’t move them in the manuscript.

On top of that, it has split panes. Need to work on one section while looking at another, no problem. You can even lock a pane to prevent accidentally moving it, while jumping around wherever you need in the other. Looks at notes, research, other parts of the manuscript, and never stop working.

For research, you can store picture, video and audio files very easily. Find pictures that remind you of your scene, people that look like your characters; throw them in there. Add them to your scene note cards and keep them up while working on writing. Audio files in split panes would work great for dictation.

Did I mention all the saving? Don’t worry about losing your work, it will save whenever you haven’t been typing for more than 2 seconds. Want to make major changes but worried about not liking them? Take a snapshot and come back to it later, its like a backup file of that moment. Want to look at another page, highlight a word and when you come back you will go directly to that spot. Spend less time finding where you were and more time actually doing what you need to.

Scrivener is definitely geared towards getting the first draft done in a manageable way. But really, half the work is done with the first draft. And your work is not locked away after that, simply use its export feature to send the compiled first draft off to a PDF file for beta reading on your e-reader or export into a more sophisticated word processor for further refinement.

I know I am missing features, there are just too many to recount all of. In the end, it is powerful, simplistic, and customization without being a time sync. Now if only I had a story idea to work on, I could justify spending all my time enjoying working on it in Scrivener.