Tools of the Craft: Introduction to Scrivener

As a writer, I’ve been using Microsoft Word for decades. I’ve written everything from my highschool and college exams to character backgrounds and drafts of important forum posts on it. And, of course, my stories.

It’s certainly not all I’ve ever known. I’ve dabbled with a few other word processors, but not specifically for writing fiction and not with a terribly great deal of energy. Usually it will be a passing, quick review. Enough to let me know what I think of it, but never enough to truly know it. Then I started hearing about Scrivener.

I wasn’t sure about this one. I love the idea of new toys, but they are often just that – something I toy with for a few hours and then forget. It rusts on my hard drive for a matter of months before I end up culling it in my next search for free space. And then my wife happened to be talking with a coworker about writing, and she said she uses Scrivener. And it had a free 30 day trial.

Like all software trials, I figured this was a narrow window to see if I really like a thing. But after hesitating for a few more weeks and reading a couple reviews on the program, I ended up giving in to my curiosity. Then I discovered it. It was a 30 day trial, but not a bomb-timer sort of trial, with the countdown ever looming overhead and urging you to make the most of your time while you still can. No, this is a stopwatch trial. If you use it a day, then walk away for a week, you still have 29 days remaining. Plus you can still export any work even when the trial is expended, so if you did produce anything useful, you can get it into another file format to continue working on it there should you decide not to purchase the program in full.

Scrivener in a very complicated, spaceage layout. Don’t let it intimidate you, it doesn’t look like that very often. (Unless you want it to)

So far my impression of the software is good – even though I’ve not really used it yet. I’ve imported a version of my manuscript and began breaking it into chunks/scenes/chapters in the way that Scrivener can let you. And when I’ve finished with that, I intend to import my research files. Then it will be finally time to take it for a test drive and see how it handles.

What It Is

Scrivener is a word processor for sure. It allows you to take the manuscript for your book and break it into pieces for organization. This is novel (haha, a writer funny) because even though these chunks exist in different files, they can be view seamlessly as though they were a single document. Yet you can move, edit, destroy or insert sections without the need to copy and paste and without the need to have multiple Microsoft Word documents open at one time.

Which brings us to the next big thing Scrivener can do: You can divide the editing pane into a split screen, dividing it horizontally for example. Then you can open two different documents and view them on a single screen. Or just have the panes show you two portions of a single document, for when you need to reference that paragraph you wrote last week to ensure you’re being consistent while finishing up your chapter.

An example of the split screen view in the edit/reading pane, with call outs. (Care of gwenhernandez.com)

It doesn’t end there, because Scrivener will also let you import research documents. Photos, videos, other PDF files or website goodies. They rest in a separate folder, apart from your manuscript but only a couple clicks away from the screen. No longer is it necessary to alt-tab back and forth and search your hard drive for that photo you need to reference. You can even import your character sketches or profiles directly into the program.

Summaries of each section, scene or chapter can be viewed and labeled on a ‘cork board’ view, which can be very similar to laying out index cards if you’re like me and use them to set up the flow of events before committing them to the page.

The cork board view. I have to admit, this is one of the features that may end up selling me on this program. We’ll see how the full 30 days of my trial run goes.

And at the end of the day, one export will let you put all the pieces together into a single document again.

What It Isn’t

Scrivener is not a word formatter. It isn’t designed to lay out your pages, set headers and footers, play with font magic or otherwise see your document as it would look in print. It will certainly let you do a lot of things, especially italics and bold, but that isn’t its strong point.

It does have numerous templates to lay out a submission manuscript in standard form, or possibly draft a screenplay. But it won’t let you add the layer of polish that you need to if you are formatting a self-published book, since it lacks that level of control, at least on the Windows version. Mac was the original platform, and houses the newest versions, so there may be settings there that I haven’t been able to explore on my PC.

Spelling and Grammar checks are passable, though I haven’t explored the grammar checking as yet. Again, this may be a version lapse, as my Windows trial will recognize spelling errors but not grammatical mistakes (and my grammar is lousy).

~Meredith Purk

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4 thoughts on “Tools of the Craft: Introduction to Scrivener

  1. I am not technically savvy and know that I have not even dabbled in everything Scrivener has to offer. But from what I’ve done with it so far, I like it, especially for longer works 🙂

  2. I have finally finished importing and chunking my Word manuscript, and I have to say I enjoy being able to glance at portions of my work without having to sort through the big picture. I currently have my book divided into two parts – I may make the last bit a third part – as well as chapters, and being able to view things as Scrivenings is nice. Especially because it gives me a word count for each portion as well. It used to be if I wanted to look over my chapters and decide if one was too long and maybe I needed to break it up some more, I would have jump from beginning to end to find the page count; and only if I selected it would Word offer me a word count.

  3. Pretty much. Word has a lot more fine tuning, plus the built-in thesaurus (Raawr!). Mac versions of Scrivener may have more since they are versions ahead of Windows.

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