Monday, January 16, 2012

Scrivener ~ Perfect For Me

After the horror subsided of realizing I'd lost 75% of my current WiP, I faced the daunting task of trudging back to point zero and starting over. Since the work I lost was first draft drivel, I felt optimistic that this disaster would work in my favor. I'd write a better draft the second time around. I also decided it was time to try Scrivener, the writer's software about which I'd heard a lot of buzz.
Scrivener is a complete writer's studio for your computer. It's described on the company's website this way: "Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft."  I love Scrivener because it caters to my personal writing habits and offers solutions to process pitfalls I've stumbled over in the past.
As I'm sketching characters and imagining the main plot line of a new story, I think in terms of scenes. I like to have a loose outline of the major introductory scenes, the inciting incident, transitory scenes, and the climactic scene(s). As a scene idea comes to me, I scribble a few sentences on an index card. The cards go in sequential order, but I can rearrange them as new ideas come to me and the story's structure evolves. As I write my draft, I take the next card off the stack (or one from the middle, should I work out of order one day). Based on the notes on the card I know, going into the writing session, what my goals are for that scene. 

Luckily, after my WiP was lost, I still had all my scene cards. Scrivener has a Cork Board feature which I absolutely love. Here's how it works.

Every document you open in Scrivener is a page in a virtual binder. You imagine that each document also has an index card attached to it. The document is where you write the scene, chapter, dialog, significant moment, (or however you choose to construct your draft). The index card is where you write a short synopsis of the document's contents. This allows you to view the entire manuscript in synopsis form, via the Cork Board.

You can rearrange the scenes/chapters from the Cork Board, which will move them in the main binder at the same time. You can navigate through the manuscript from here, or view the Cork Board instead as a traditional outline. Your choice!

No more dropping the stack of index cards on the floor. And, you can add keywords to each card which allows you to search the growing manuscript for whatever you need: flashback scenes, scenes with a specific POV, scenes that take place in a certain year or setting, etc., etc. My favorite Cork Board feature though is the ability to add notes to each card. As I'm writing, an idea will come to me about a previous scene or a character trait I need to weave in at an earlier point in time. Scrivener allows you to move to the Cork Board and add notes to other cards with the click of one button. So much better for me than scribbled sticky notes cluttering up the edge of my computer screen, or comments to myself in random margins of a notebook I'll later have to furiously leaf through.

A few of the other wonderful features include:

Collections are arbitrary lists you create to pull sections of your manuscript together for viewing. For instance, you could create a collection of your main character's scenes. The collection will put only those scenes together, one after the other, allowing you to evaluate the strength of that character's arc, without altering their placements within the original manuscript.

Scrivener has a section in the "binder" for your research. You can import media files of all types, link web pages, and build your research files all in one, easily accessible place. You can split the screen and have research documents open side-by-side with the scene as you type, eliminating the need to bounce back and forth to reference dates, images, maps, sound bites, etc.

And perhaps most significant for me, Scrivener allows you to export your work in seconds as any file type you choose: .doc, .docx, .rtf, .xhtml, etc. There is also an auto-backup feature, and options to backup your work in multiple formats, as often as you like.

Some people may look at Scrivener and decide at first glance that it's too technical, too complicated to use. It isn't! If you can figure out Word, navigate through the toolbar tabs, and use many of those features, you can figure out Scrivener. Plus, there are useful video tutorials available for free.

Scrivener only costs $40 (for Microsoft users). In my view, that's money well spent! And there's a free 30-day trial.

If you're on the fence about trying Scrivener or you have questions, feel free to ask away. I'm no expert, but I've been using the software for several weeks and would be happy to share more of what I've learned about it!