Discovering Scrivener by Chris Longmuir

Chris Longmuir
A recent post by Mark Chisnell mentioned how impressed he was with Scrivener, the software developed specifically for writers. It generated quite a bit of interest so I thought I would expand on this by giving you my impressions of working with Scrivener. However, it’s important to understand that I’m no Scrivener expert, so don’t expect too much, plus I don’t intend to give you a tutorial on how to work with Scrivener. What I will do is tell you about the bits I like.

I discovered Scrivener in 2012, and I was curious, so I checked out the web site of Literature and Latte, which is where you will find everything related to Scrivener. Although it was developed for Mac computers it is also available for Windows on the PC. I checked out the Case Studies, read the Testimonials, and watched the Videos. Then being the technology geek that I am, I downloaded the trial.

Scrivener has an excellent tutorial which they advise you to work through first, and believe me, it is worth taking the time to do this. So, by the time I’d completed this task I was ready to go.

At this time I was on Chapter 18 of my new book, so I followed the procedure to import it all into Scrivener. When you do this the files you import from are not affected and stay where they are, so if it doesn’t work out for you, there’s nothing lost. Once the files were in I started to work with Scrivener and was almost immediately convinced of the programme’s worth. So, I bought it for my PC, but I also bought it for my Macs. And it’s brilliant I can work on either interface no problem at all. I save my files to Dropbox and open them in whichever computer I am working on.

Now, although I said I wouldn’t be giving a tutorial, I think it would be helpful if you had some idea what the working screen is like. When you first open Scrivener you are presented with a screen where you choose what you want to do. This is where you will find the tutorial, but you will also find templates for different kinds of writing. So it doesn’t matter whether you are writing fiction, non-fiction, plays, or even poetry, there is a template for what you want to do.

Naturally being a novelist, I chose fiction from the menu down the side, and then novel from the main section. Once you pick your template, you will be asked to give your project a name, then off you go.

What you see when you start a new project
 The first thing you see is the work area. Down the side is the Binder, which is where you organize your chapters and scenes. At the top of the Binder is the main folder which is called Manuscript or something similar, depending on your template. Below Manuscript is the area where you make other folders, in this you may have Parts, Chapters and Scenes. These folders are all indented slightly to the right of the main manuscript folder, and anything that is included here goes into the manuscript of your book. Further down the binder, you have more folders which are on the same level as the Manuscript folder. This is for Characters, Places, Research etc, and you can make additional folders here. I added ‘Unplaced Scenes’ and ‘Ideas’ plus one or two more. Anything in this area does not go into the manuscript and is basically for information. I do find the ‘Unplaced Scenes’ folder particularly useful, because if I write a scene which I’m not ready for, I can store it here and put it into the manuscript when I’m ready for it. By the way, you can move your folders around if you decide to rearrange your manuscript. Far easier than cutting and pasting.

To the right of the Binder is your work area, which is called the Editor. It’s just like any other word processor, and it has the usual formatting bar at the top. I suppose it looks a bit different though because of the Binder at one side and the Inspector at the other, however, if you prefer not to see these when you are working you can blot them out so you only see your working space.

My work in progress viewed in Scrivener mode

Some of the things I particularly like about the Editor is the View Mode in the Toolbar. This lets you view your work as a single scene, or you can view it in something that is called Scrivener mode, which means that the text is continuous over the whole chapter or even the whole manuscript. Alternatively, you can view it as index cards on the Corkboard, or in Outline view, all at the click of your mouse. Another really great thing is being able to split your workspace in two, either horizontally or vertically, so you can view two documents or scenes at the same time. I find this really useful because I write in multi viewpoint, and in scenes, and I like cliff hangers. So, having written a scene which links up with another scene, perhaps a few chapters or scenes later, I can have both scenes visible so that the details match. Alternatively, I can have my research in one screen and the scene I’m writing next to it.

Using split screen to have research visible while creating scene
 Okay, now for the Inspector which runs down the right side of the screen. I’m not going into too much detail about this because it has a multitude of functions, many of which I am not currently using. However, what I do use is the General Meta-Data box with which you can track your novel. The default of the meta data box is ‘Label’ and ‘Status’, these are the two main features I use in this box, although it also includes the date you created or modified each scene. The first thing I do is change ‘Label’ to ‘POV’ through the Meta-Data Settings box under ‘Project’ in the Menu Bar. It’s quite easy to do – where it says ‘Custom Title, you just change it to POV, then you list the POVs you want to track underneath. I also use the Synopsis box, because whatever goes in here is what is put on your index cards. If you leave this blank, then your index cards will be blank.

Let’s go back to POV. Why do I find this useful? Well each time I write a scene I enter the name of the POV character, remember I write multi-viewpoint. As the novel grows, the viewpoints can be scattered throughout it, and it’s quite difficult to keep track of this in Word or any other word processor. But Scrivener has a cool feature, and that is Collections. It works through the search field, you tell it to look for POV, put in the name of the character, and hey presto, it generates a list of the scenes where that character has the POV. These are listed in the Binder. Oh, and I have to say, it doesn’t alter the way your manuscript is set out. So once you’ve got your list of scenes you can read them in Scrivener mode (remember that?) and it’s easy to pick out any anomolies, or conflicting information. For example if your blue-eyed hero becomes a brown-eyed Adonis (not that anyone would make a faux pas of this nature) it’s easily picked up.

One thing I did struggle with initially was when I wanted to print out a part of my manuscript, I found it printed out individual scenes – horrific waste of paper – and through trial and error I discovered the best way was to use the ‘Compile’ function which I originally thought was meant for the whole manuscript once you were finished, but I was wrong. You can actually compile only the parts of the manuscript you want and print them or export them as a Word or RTF file. So far that’s all I’ve used ‘Compile’ for, but it does have the facility to produce your manuscript in all sorts of file types, including PDF and ebooks.

To begin with I thought Scrivener would be best suited to plotters, and I’m a pantster, but not so. Scrivener is an organisational tool. It won’t write your novel for you, nor will it give you the ideas for it, but it will help you to get those scenes flowing, and they don’t always have to be in the order they will be in the finished book.

I think it’s great for first drafts, and if you don’t want to do the final polish in Scrivener, then it’s easy to send it back to Word through the Compile function, and do your polishing there.

Now why don’t you check out the Scrivener videos, there’s loads on this page You’ll also find lots more if you do a You Tube search for Scrivener.

Chris Longmuir


madwippitt said…
This was interesting, and it sounds really useful. Although ... being in the middle of a couple of things in the moment I'd begrudge the time spent working through a tutorial ... but maybe something I'll consider before starting a new project!
Thanks for this overview, Chris. I knew about Scrivener but, like you, thought it might not suit a panster. Must have a proper look when I have enough moments to absorb it!
I've been wondering about Scrivener for a while now... but I keep forgetting to check it out so thanks for this. It was certainly useful. I'm definitely going to check it out and download it if it's not too pricey!
Chris, I really admire you and your writing - but thanks for confirming what I suspected - I would sooner stick pins in my eyes than use this! I could feel myself shrinking away from the PC even looking at the screens. I would open this up and I wouldn't write ANYTHING. As I think I've said before, I could see it being very useful for a big non fiction project. But I could never write a piece of fiction this way. Even with novels like The Physic Garden which demanded lots of research, by the time I was writing it, I hardly even referred to the research because it was in my head. I just started at the beginning and wrote it in a single long document. (Just struck me - maybe I'm a pen and paper girl at heart!)
It's probably just as well we don't all work in the same way though, isn't it?
Chris Longmuir said…
Glad this has been of use, and the cost of Scrivener, Suzy, is quite reasonable - £32.73 for Macs and £29.09 for Windows with cheaper student versions, plus you can put it on more than one computer. I can see where you're coming from, Catherine, if your a paper and pencil girl, however, as you probably all know, I'm a bit of a technogeek and my writing is done on the keyboard! How sad is that!
Chris Longmuir said…
Oops, my fingers are quicker than my brain, and of course I do know my grammar and spelling, and that your should be you're
I write on a keyboard too. Always. I like the speed. But I suppose I use my PC like turbo charged pen and paper but still think in the same way. Interesting.
Bill Kirton said…
This is a very clear, helpful blog, Chris. I've still got the (hardly used) trial version on my PC and the few times I've tried it I've seen how useful it could be. Problem is, I tend to share Catherine's approach. I wonder, though, whether that's partly because I'm reluctant to leave the comfort of routine. Unbelievably, it took me a while to desert longhand for a keyboard. And I could NEVER write anything using a typewriter.
Ruth Harris said…
Chris, thanks for helping me understand "Collections." I've used Scriv for years & use it for more than fiction. I create blog posts and blurbs in Scriv. It's perfect for organizing lots of material & makes stuff easy to find.

For those who are uncertain about trying Scriv, I'll add that the Scriv forum is excellent. The developer & Scriv experts are there to answer questions & sort out problems. Their help is prompt, reliable & always in reach.

Anonymous said…
Hi chris

I did have some fun trying Scrivener last year and quite liked the split sceen feature, but n the end I decided it was more of a distraction (or do I mean excuse?) from writing so have given it up. I think I am just too wedded to Word (how sad is that!)to change my ways and find that it has navigation tools that suit me even for a first draft as well as esay ways fto frmat a final MS. I know Scriv is hugely popular though, so a case of horses for courses - or whatever gets you through the MS!
Ali B
Ali, you're probably right. I love Word as well. If I need to do anything a bit out of the ordinary, I can find it very easily. Mostly, I don't even think about it. We do get wedded to routine, I suppose, but then a lot of fiction writing IS very dependent on the routine being as simple as possible. I wonder if this varies from genre to genre though?
Anonymous said…
Hi Catherine
At the time I was experimenting with a non-fic approach and thought a new tool would help. But my life changed when I discovered 'Document map' in Word. Without it I'm convinced I would never have written a novel at all.
I worry that one day they'll take it away! Ali B
Melanie said…
Thanks for the information, Chris. I've not used Scrivener, myself, but know a few people who have downloaded the trial version.

I guess it's all in what you get used to.
Susan Price said…
I can see that Scrivener is a beautifully thought out programme, but I think I can replicate most of what it does in Word 2010. As Alibacon says, 'document map' (aka 'navigation pane') is brilliant for finding the bit of research or the scene you want. Word has a split screen function.
I don't know of anything to match the 'pin-board' function in Word - but think I'd be happier with actual cards and pin-board anyway!
But thanks, Chris - I was very interested to read this.
Myra Duffy said…
Another very interesting post,Chris. I'll certainly check it out.
glitter noir said…
Thanks for the semi-tutorial, Chris. I'm with a few others here in my reluctance to leave Word, which I've grown so accustomed to. But one of these days--when my first Amazon check arrives, say--I may take a month off to give Scrive a try.
Unknown said…
Your article on Scrivener was very helpful, Chris. I'm on the second of four books about 4 sisters during WWII. Each book stands alone, but each also has to be time-lined with each of the other sister's story, and also with the events in the Second World War. You can see how helpful Scrivener would be for me. But like madwippitt, I'm in the middle of a couple of things and fear that if I take time out to read everything about Scrivener, I'll miss at least one of the deadlines. However, as a novel can be uploaded at any stage - and will still be in its original file, I think that's the way for me to go. Thank you, it's a great article. Wish I could print it out and refer to it. But we can't have everything. Madalyn
Elizabeth Ducie said…
Hi Chris. Great post. I was introduced to Scrivener a couple of months back and I now use it for everything apart from blog posts. I whipped through the tutorial in a couple of hours, which gave me enough information to get going and now I just look bits up as I need then. I suspect I would benefit from going through it again at some point. Ex

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