I wrote my first novel on a Brother electronic typewriter that would show me nine characters on a little digital screen before they were committed to paper. From there I moved up to a Smith-Corona Electra XP typewriter, and then on to a Smith-Corona PWP3 word processor before getting my first computer. After upgrading that computer a bit (we’re talking 8088 processor here) I got hold of a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 and thought there would never be a better writing tool created.
Bill Gates pretty much messed that up, making his MS Word the industry standard, and eventually I upgraded machines to the point I found myself using Word. I liked Word 2003. The versions since then, not so much, but it’s still the industry standard, right?
My friend J. Kathleen Cheney (whose book The Golden City you should read!) was talking about this program called Scrivener on Facebook a while back, so I looked into it, then decided to buy it. AppSumo was selling it for just $20, so the risk was minimal. Yesterday I read through the tutorial and decided to give it a go.
I imported my current work-in-progress, a Western novel I’m calling Orphan. I used Scrivener’s features to break each chapter into its own file, something I hadn’t done since the WordPerfect days. The advantage is that Scrivener lets me write a little synopsis card for each chapter that I can later look at on a corkboard. This way I can get a feel for the pace or see how many chapters back a certain event occurred. I can also assign point of view for each chapter, something that is handy in many of my novels. In this one, I’m wanting the POV to be pretty evenly split between three characters and this tool should help me determine if I’m hitting that goal. Here’s a screen shot of the corkboard feature:
I haven’t gone back and written the synopsis cards for every chapter yet, but these few give you an idea of what it would look like. Ideally, a project started from the beginning in Scrivener would have all 20 cards by this time.
Scrivener works like a binder and can hold almost any kind of file. I’m going to love this because I’m constantly saving pictures and text in files as part of my research. Scrivener makes all those available in a menu bar on the left side of the screen.
Scrivener allows me to make notes and assign those to the specific chapter or make them available throughout the entire document. For instance, I had not mentioned the eye color of one of my characters, but later on that became important, so I can put in a note that will be there nagging at me until I go back to the chapter where that should be mentioned and make the edit. Here’s another screen shot that shows the text as I was working on it. The synopsis card is at the top right, with meta data under it, and project notes under that. All my chapter files and any related files (if I’d assigned any yet) are on the left.
Also, I can do split screens. In Orphan I have the characters in two groups, one tracking the other. When one camps in a certain place and I describe the terrain, there’s no longer a need to keep scrolling back and forth or, what I’d usually do, cut and paste the earlier description into the new chapter and cannibalize it. I can just open the previous chapter in a split, pick out the most relevant details, and continue on.
This is what I’ve learned from the tutorial. Still, it was kind of scary to actually start adding new material to the novel in a program that wasn’t the old familiar MS Word. But I did it last night/this morning. In practice, I found a couple of things I liked and one thing I’m not crazy about. I like that when I finished that chapter, I could immediately go to my note card and write the synopsis of what I’d just written, and that I could open the next card and jot down what will happen in the next chapter. I seldom outline very far in advance.
What I didn’t like was that I don’t have a running word count for the entire project any more. Scrivener gives me a word count for the chapter, but not the project.
One important thing to keep in mind, and the Scrivener tutorial is very clear about this, the program is for rough drafts. When I’m finished and ready to submit my work I’ll want to export it back to MS Word. The real test will come after I do that and check the manuscript to make sure my formatting is right, the chapters are in the right order, etc.
AppSumo isn’t selling Scrivener now, but the program is still only $40 from Literature and Lattes. So far, it seems like a worthy investment.