Yesterday I finished the draft of Book III of the Leafstone Saga, my four-volume series of fantasy novels, and started fleshing out my ideas for Book IV. A couple of weeks ago I bought Scrivener, and this seemed the right moment to give it a serious try.
After only one day with it, I’m convinced. I’ve barely tapped its features, and already I can see how useful it’s going to be.
Starting a novel means jotting down a ton of notes. At least, that’s how I work. I’m told some writers are “pantsers.” They write by the seat of their pants, without outlining or even planning what will come next. I’ve never met a pantser, and if there is such a creature its feeding and mating habits will remain forever mysterious to me. I mean, when you draft a scene of course you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Even if you’ve outlined, things will change when you start writing the scenes. But to start writing a book without knowing where you’re headed? I shudder to imagine it.
As a writer, my motto is, “Well begun is half done.” I outline.
So anyway, here I am, taking notes for The Firepearl Chalice. Until yesterday I had only a couple of vague ideas about the overall direction of the plot. Now I’m starting to fill in the details.
In a conventional word processor, a file full of notes quickly becomes a disorganized mess. Ideas are scattered higgledy-piggledy, hither and yon. Continuity is close to nil.
In Scrivener, organizing one’s ideas is a stroll in the park. The binder (the left panel, which in many programs would be called a browser, except in Scrivener it isn’t a browser per se, it’s more powerful than that) can contain a dozen files or more. You’re always looking at one of them in the main window (or two, if you split the screen), but they’re all open at once. Moving from one file to another is a single click, so if you suddenly get an idea for one of the other characters, you simply switch to that document, enter the idea, and then hit the back button. Slam-dunk. The files can be grouped freely into folders — one folder for the characters, one for the settings, one for the plot, or whatever. The organization is totally up to you.
Technically, you could keep a dozen Word or OpenOffice files open on your screen at the same time, but switching from one to another gets to be fairly annoying, because you have to scroll up or down through a linear list. There are no folders in the list.
Plus, when it comes time to back up your work, if you’ve created a dozen Word files they have to be backed up by drag-copying. You can do this one file at a time, which is a pain and also error-prone, as you may miss one; or you can drag-copy a whole folder, at which point Windows is going to ask you some slightly confusing questions about what you want to do. Scrivener backs up the whole project as a single zip file, and always gives it a new filename based on the date and time of the backup. Saving sequential backups is handled for you.
As an added fillip, you never have to remember to save your work, because Scrivener automatically saves whenever you haven’t typed for two seconds. Oh, and highlighter. Got an especially important insight? Sure, in OpenOffice you can underline it, but there’s only one kind of underline. Scrivener has dozens of highlighter colors, so you can make the page as messy as you like.
Don’t want to stare at your computer desktop while writing? Hit F11. The desktop disappears, leaving you with one Scrivener page on a blank screen or one with the soothing backdrop of your choice.
Not sure yet how it will handle actual outlining, but I’m optimistic.