Sunday, January 26, 2014

Scrivener: My New Best Friend

Actually, Jer's Novel Writer is the first novel writing software I tried. I used it several years ago for a novel that had a lot of details—mainly names—to keep track of. It was mentioned on the web as being top of the line at the time, and it had a lot of features I really liked. However, support was spotty and I don't think it's been updated for a long time.

Word is the industry standard, but it drives me crazy, so I started using OpenOffice for my initial drafts. Based on rave reviews, I bought Scrivener last year, but was too busy at the time to learn how to use it. At one point, I took the time to do a few of the lessons in the tutorial, but then I got busy doing something else, and weeks passed. The truth is, I really hate reading manuals, and tutorials are only one step up from there. But I had enough to start with, so when I ran into trouble with OpenOffice (don't you hate it when you hit a key that makes something happen you don't want and have no idea how to undo it?), it was early enough in the project to transfer it to Scrivener.

While it did take some time to get set up, much of that time was spent doing research or filling in holes of character sketches and things I'd have to be doing anyway. Taking that extra time has made my writing time that much smoother and more efficient. Let me tell you why.

Character Sketches

Each character has a page with important information such as name, role in story, occupation, background, internal and external conflicts, etc. The templates can be customized to your specifications. You can also add a photo of the character, if you have one from the web. For the major characters, I do most of this research as prep work, but for some of the secondary characters, or those that get added later—these descriptions get done while I'm writing, and afterward I add them to the character sketch in case I need to refer to it later. For some of the really minor characters, in one case I allotted them a single page just to keep track of them.

Character sketch

This feature is what I loved about Jer's Novel Writer. It's so annoying to have to hunt through my manuscript for information I've forgotten about a character. Especially toward the end when you have 20,000 words or more to go through. And then when you find it, you've lost your train of thought and it takes even more time to get it back. With this feature, all I have to do is click on the character sketch, note the information I'm seeking, and get back to my writing tout de suite.

Setting Sketches

Each location has a similar template. Even better, you can make a folder for each setting and place any number of photos or websites you might want to consult later in it. It saves having to google sites repeatedly to find information you didn't note the first time. I use this for photos of buildings and landscapes, maps, and informational sites such as Wikipedia and blogs.

Place Sketch, text view

Place Sketch, corkboard view

Manuscript Format

A manuscript is divided into separate chapters, which in turn can be divided into scenes, if you wish. A summary of the chapter events can be written on the note card in the upper right corner in case you are flipping through trying to find a particular scene. You can add labels for whatever you wish. I use it primarily to keep track of Point of View, but you can create labels for whatever you wish. There is also plenty of space for notes or reminders about things you want to get back to later.

Exporting to Word

I've only done this once, when I wanted to send a chapter to my critique partner, but it was easy-peasy.

Other Features

Scrivener has a lot of features I have not yet explored, such as Outline mode. I had my outline done prior to transferring to this software, and saw no need to redo it. What I did do was create chapters and transfer the plot summary to the note section of each chapter. I'm a plotter, but things do get changed along the way. I just like to have a roadmap before I start to make sure I'm heading in the right direction, even though sometimes a detour or two may seem propitious as things progress.

Should You Start Using Scrivener?

Maybe. Maybe not.

If you are a Word whiz and you've found it meets your needs and don't want to bother learning a new software program, then perhaps not. Especially if you have a photographic memory and/or have another way of keeping track of minutia.

If you are like me and Word makes you want to tear your hair out…and/or your memory frequently fails you, you might want to try out Scrivener with your next project. There is a learning curve, but you don't have to learn to use every feature from the get-go. Take it slow and enjoy the process!

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be a Scrivener expert by any stretch of the imagination. I know enough to be able to use it easily, and by doing so, I discover bits of the more advanced features as I go.

Susana's Releases

She's a country lady. He's a London swell. They have nothing in common. Or have they?

A wounded soldier and the girl next door find peace and love 
amidst a backdrop of rural Christmas traditions. 

About Susana

A former teacher, Susana is finally living her dream of being a full-time writer. She loves all genres of romance, but historical—Regency in particular—is her favorite. There’s just something about dashing heroes and spunky heroines waltzing in ballrooms and driving through Hyde Park that appeals to her imagination.

In real life, Susana is a lifelong resident of northwest Ohio, although she has lived in Ecuador and studied in Spain, France and Mexico. More recently, she was able to travel around the UK and visit many of the places she’s read about for years, and it was awesome! She is a member of the Maumee Valley, Central Florida and Beau Monde chapters of Romance Writers of America.

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Susana’s Parlour (Regency Blog) • Susana’s Morning Room (Romance Blog)


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Susana. Very informative. Going to definitely look into this.

I hate manuals too. I just want to push a key and 'go'. :)

And I absolutely hate it when I accidentally hit a series of keys and the computer goes ballistic and I have no idea what to do except to reboot. *sigh*

jean hart stewart said...

Very interesting. I have trouble with word, as I think everyone does, but I absolutely hate the idea of manuals and all that stuff. Think I'll just struggle along for a while, but I appreciate knowing about this.

Susana Ellis said...

Thanks for stopping by, Tina and Jean. I know people who LOVE Word who think it's treason to use something else. But hey, it's a choice, isn't it? Maybe Word would be better if it had had a stronger competitor.

Shelley Munro said...

Interesting post, Susana. I've considered trying this out, but keep backing away because of the learning curve. Maybe I should reconsider because the idea of having everything together sounds like a good idea.

Cerise DeLand said...

Thank you for this!
I have downloaded this but never seem to find enough time to LEARN it. The very idea boggles the mind.
BUT I like your descriptions and tell myself it is TIME I do this!

Cerise DeLand said...

Thank you for this!
I have downloaded this but never seem to find enough time to LEARN it. The very idea boggles the mind.
BUT I like your descriptions and tell myself it is TIME I do this!

Beverley Eikli aka Beverley Oakley said...

I love hearing the pros and cons of different writing programmes. Thanks for that, Susana.