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Scrutinizing Scrivener

 

BY JENNIFER STEVENSON

Three quarters of the packed room at Kelly McClymer’s Scrivener presentation were already using Scrivener software for writers. I was not, but I was sold by the end.

McClymer took us through the step-by-step creation of an extremely short (20-word) novel in Scrivener. The software allowed her to create an outline for each scene in a chapter. The outline transferred the chapter title into the chapter text document automatically. We could view the book chapter by chapter, out of order or sequentially, or we could view it as virtual cards pinned to a virtual corkboard.

This latter feature was what sold me. I construct a novel using real 3x5 cards on a real corkboard, where I build my outline and try to figure out whether I’m going to be able to write straight through the manuscript from beginning to end or hit a marshmallow wall of bad plotting or conflict failure in the middle somewhere. The virtual corkboard means that I don’t have to have two or three real corkboards cluttering up my office for a series or fallen thumbtacks underfoot, and I can copy the whole thing and save it while I mess around. I can move scenes by dragging them on the corkboard. Oh it’s dandy. I can view the corkboard outline on half the screen and the manuscript on the other half. I can even choose whether to view these screens side-by-side or one above the other.

Another feature I like is that I can copy a project, then wipe all the text files—the actual scenes—out of it, and start a new one while retaining the first novel’s support files: photos of my collages, lists of character names and descriptions, timelines, style sheets of unique words to send to my copyeditor. This means I can write a multi-book series without scrounging around for this information in old book folders. It’s all there on one screen.

My favorite quote from McClymer during this presentation: “My secret weapon for Scrivener is Google.” A fine tutorial comes with the program, but I can imagine becoming overwhelmed at times. That’s when the world of Scrivener users is your friend. My second favorite quote was: “Warning, Scrivener is a great tool for organization. You can also idle away many hours making different colored things.” Remember those 3x5 cards? You can color code the card. This is a menace. I spend way too much time with highlighters on my real corkboard.

What about creating an e-book?

This is a composition tool, not a formatting tool, but you can compile to various e-book formats, including .epub and Kindle. When you compose a novel in Scrivener, you compose it in scenes and chapters. Then you use the corkboard to reorder them, if you wish. Then you compile the book into a single file and export it in an e-book format, or export as a rich text file to massage in your e-book formatting program. McClymer says you can set up styles in your Scrivener document, but Scrivener is supposed to be a composition tool, not a formatting tool. You’re supposed to export the compiled file to Word and format it there (or in Open Office or wherever).

An audience member suggested compiling your novel into .rtf, which keeps interior code garbage out of it. She suggested sending a short file to your e-book formatting program to see if it’s correct or close enough for formatting purposes.

The Scrivener working screen can look pretty busy with file organization on the left border, composition commands on the top border, navigation and production measurement tools on the bottom border, and outlining tools on the right border, all surrounding your text workspace. You can make all that border stuff go away with a keystroke—even make it fade between a white or a black background—and make your central workspace larger.

The whole navigation and outlining system is drag-and-drop. You can add character sketches and images, save whole web pages including their working links, insert scanned images, oh my!   Continued on page 20   

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