Al Macy stops by to try to convince me that Scrivener is something I should use in my writing. Let’s see how he does. Scrivener fans, this is your chance to be heard! (Al is a self-proclaimed thrifty person, so for him to spend ANY $$$ on Scrivener, it must be a good writing tool. If you need that sort of thing.)
When I learned that my buddy, Dan Alatorre, was still using Microsoft Word to write his novels, I choked on my caffeine and ended up with Pike Place Roast all over my keyboard. Time for an intervention. And a new keyboard.
I’ve used MS Word for years. It’s great for tool for writing short works, but using Word for a novel, is like using only a hammer and saw to build a house. It’s like digging a garden with your bare hands. It’s like skinny dipping with Jennifer Aniston. Sorry, oops, no, that was my dream from last night.
Seriously, Scrivener is designed for novelists. It includes many tools and features that Word lacks. Follow along with my intervention as I shove the advantages of Scrivener down Dan’s throat.
Note that I have no affiliation with the company that produces Scrivener, and I don’t receive any referral fees. I’ve noticed that there are discount coupons out there for the app, so, if you decide to purchase, be sure to Google something like “Scrivener coupon code” or “Scrivener promo code.” In fact, Al’s frugal tip of the day: Always search for promo codes before buying something.
Also note that you can use Scrivener for free for a month before deciding to buy it.
Back to the intervention. Here are five simple ways that Scrivener can help you write a better book.
1. Character Organization is Fun
Scrivener makes it fun and easy to organize your characters. Here’s a screenshot of the characters in my latest book, Yesterday’s Thief:
That screenshot shows the “binder” on the left and the “corkboard” on the right.
When I create a character, I usually picture him or her in my head. Then I use Google Images to find someone who matches that picture. For example, Stan Stanislowski is a tough, gruff, veteran detective with the San Francisco police department. Check out the picture of Ed Asner as Lou Grant. Whenever I’m wondering how Stan might react to something, it helps to look at that picture.
You can also makes notes about each character, in as little or as much detail as you want. Here are some of my notes for Eric Beckman, a main character in Yesterday’s Thief:
You can even download Scrivener templates for character sketches, for example, and spend hours filling information for things like height, weight, eye color, bad habits, etc.
Scrivener lets you do similar things with settings. Here’s the image that I use for a Dr. Diallo’s laboratory.
And here’s how I describe it in the book:
The door was mostly glass and gave me a good view of the laboratory [see the open glass door on the left?].
It was the size of a two-car garage, with an unfinished open ceiling. Wires, pipes, and heating ducts filled the space. Bundles of multi-colored cables dropped down to racks and tables of electronic equipment. A few cabinets displayed “Danger High Voltage” signs.
A massive cabinet dominated the center of the room. A cluster of heavy-duty cylinders, like stainless-steel pipes, radiated out from the center of the enclosure. They converged on a tiny gold sphere.
2. Scene Organization is Fun
Another fun thing to do with Scrivener is to arrange your scenes. Scrivener can help you get your book organized even if your bedroom floor is covered with clothing (dirty on the left, dirty-but-can-be-worn-again on the right.
You can check out your scene structure at a glance with a view like this:
Just drag and drop these scenes to reorganize the story.
If you are a dedicated pantser, you can fill in the scene synopses as you go. That way, you can get a bird’s eye view of your story at any time.
3. Progress Tracking is Fun
I’ve recently vowed to write one-thousand words a day, and Scrivener does a great job of showing me how I’ve failed to achieve that goal.
The progress window is updated with each letter I type. In the above screenshot, you can see that I’d written 705 words during the session.
You can also set goals for individual scenes. Finally, check out how I’ve created a project notes document (on the right) to track my word counts over time.
4. Scriv Has Color Coding up the Wazoo
I use color coding to show me the status of each scene. If I haven’t started writing a scene, its color in the display on the left side is orange. When I finish a first draft, it’s yellow. With one glance I know where I stand. When all the scenes are dark green, I’m done.
Here’s where I stand on my work-in-progress, A Parallel World (Working Title):
The first scene is a revised draft (light green), but most of the others are either to-do (orange) or first-draft (yellow).
I also use icons to show me information about the scene, such as the POV character or whether the scene is an action scene or a sequel scene. Scriv is flexible here. You can define colors or create icons any way you want.
5. Aeon Timeline!
Figuring out when each scene happens in a book can be tricky. For example, if your main character has a nose job, she can’t go to a party two days later. Scrivener teams up with an application called Aeon Timeline, and lets you sync your scenes to items on the timeline. For example, this is what the timeline looks like for Yesterday’s Thief:
For example, Aeon Timeline helped me organize a subplot in which private eye Eric Beckman investigates the disappearance of a man named “Donny.” Look in that timeline and you’ll see how those scenes (Donny Case Begins, Eric Investigates Donny Disappearance, and Donny Found) fit in temporally with the others.
Compare this with the screen shot for Scene Organization, above, and you’ll see how the scenes play out in time.
The documentation that comes with Scrivener sucks. Making it worse, the interface isn’t well designed. Things are not where they belong on the menus, so you’ll tear your hair out looking for how to do something, such as resize the index cards (hint: it’s nowhere on the menus). I recommend that you get a third-party “Learning Scrivener” book or do web research to help you get started.
I’ve just scratched the surface or Scrivener’s features. Note that you can ignore most of the bells and whistles when you first start, simply putting each scene in its own document. You can hold off on using the more advanced features until you are comfortable with the app.
I’d no sooner go back to using Microsoft Word to write my novels than I’d go back to using a typewriter. If you’re a fan of SAT analogies, I’d put it like this:
Scrivener : MS Word :: MS Word : typewriter
To see what other Scriv-evangelists say, Google “Scrivener vs Word.”
Phew, what an intervention that was! Convinced, Dan?
Now I’m going to take a nap and see if I can return to that dream with Jennifer Aniston.
Okay, so what do you think? Did Al convince you? I don’t get a commission from the Scrivener people, either, and you’ve seen me avoid mentioning my critique group website publicly (because they don’t pay me so why should I advertise for them?) but Al is a friend and he insists this is life-changing writing software and a LOT of writers on the interwebs LOVE this stuff, so I graciously let him sing its praises here.
If you’re a Scrivener fan, tell us why. If you aren’t, we want that too.
I’m all about helping you guys, and if Scrivener will do that, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops like I do other things that I think will help you.
Give me your thoughts!
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works