Review: Scrivener

A lot of would-be novelists made the ultimate resolution this year: they are going to Get That  Book Written. Heaven knows that was mine, to write 3000 words a day in deAngelis until the flipping thing is finished (guess how many days I made it before I caved*). People who have nowhere to start often go to the internet to find something that can make the process a little less terrifying. Let’s admit it: writing can be a scary thing, even for those of us who have been working at it for a long time, and we often use whatever tools we can get our hands on. Some tools, however, are more useful than others. Specifically, I’m talking about novel-writing software. This week I’ll review a couple I’ve been derping around in; today, I’ll talk about Scrivener.

These programs promise to make the process anywhere from relatively painless to mind-blowingly easy, neither of which I have ever believed. I’ve normally been happy just with Microsoft Word and a scratch-pad at my elbow, but it seems that many, many people almost cannot seem to function without one of these specialized word processors.

S is for SHUT UP, THAT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR METhere were a couple of things that pointed me toward Scrivener specifically. First, NaNoWriMo has a seemingly continual offer of a discount of 50% for winners of the November challenge, which eases the skepticism one might first feel when you see the $40 price tag. Secondly, Felicia Day linked to the blog of some guy named Ben who apparently thinks Scrivener is some amazing thing God pooped out that could cure cancer as well as help people finish writing their otherwise-elusive books. Felicia Day is one of my personal heroes, so I decided I may as well take a trek into Scrivener-land and see what the fuss was all about.

The free trial is actually the most people-friendly I’ve ever seen from a free trial. MMORPG trials tend to limit you to a certain number of days whether you use it or not (Guild Wars limits you to one week or so many hours of actual playtime, whichever comes first), and that’s what I’m used to. However, Scrivener’s free trial lets you use the program for 30 non-consecutive days of use. So far, so good.

The download and installation were pretty painless, although I felt my eyebrow arc in a most Spock-like manner when I saw the program recommended that I read the tutorial. In true Kayla fashion, however, I decided to try and figure it out on my own, first, pushing every button until it did what I wanted it to do. However, this tactic proved useless, so I decided to go ahead and deal with the tutorial, which eventually got so boring that I started skipping through it and eventually gave up and went back to pushing buttons. It sounds melodramatic, but the damn thing actually gave me a headache. And I don’t get headaches.

Scrivener Tutorial

If I had to choose between this and Milton, I... I don't know what I would do.

(Click any of these screenshots to see a bigger version. Fo realz.)

That’s just one section of the tutorial. See that bar on the left, to which I’ve cleverly attempted to draw your attention with a bright pink outline of a rectangle? Each of those sections contains anywhere from 400 to 2000 freaking words. That’s not a tutorial, that’s a flipping user manual. I should not have to read a user manual in order to use a novel-writing program.

Scrivener Main Screen

The screen you’re first greeted with when you open the program (above) is fairly simple, although without reading the tutorial you kind of doom yourself to clicking around aimlessly for several minutes until it finally does something resembles processing words or organizing notes. Three different “view” modes are available: (highlighted in the picture above accordingly) Scrivenings, which seems to be the word-processing or working mode, Corkboard, which seems to lend itself more to organization, and Outline, which puts all of your scene and chapter titles and suchlike right next to each other**. To the left are folders in which you can file away chapters, scenes, notes, research, etc, pertaining to the actual manuscript, characters, setting, etc.

The first thing under “Manuscript” is a title page, which prompts you to fill in all the necessary fields as if you were about to send a manuscript to an editor***. Me, I love filling in fields like this, so I went ahead and put in my stuff (below).

Scrivener Title Page

I’m assuming the doohickey in the top right corner will automatically update with your wordcount as you mark scenes or chapters as “final draft” by right-clicking on and going to “status” in the bar to the left.

Scrivener Character Template

Being 23 did not change the fact that I wanted to name my test character template "Butts McGee."

Optional template sheets (above) for note-taking and setting up characters and setting are provided, although I didn’t find them useful at all (a personal issue, I’m sure). I thought they were too broad. If I’m going to be provided with a character profile template, I want it to be a little bit more details. That’s just my personal taste – I’m sure this method works wonders for some people, or is all they need. The setting template sheet is a bit more useful, prompting for descriptions of common sights, sounds, smells, unique features, etc. for each location/time.

The corkboard setting (below) is described in the tutorial as being massively important; however, after a couple hours of putzing around in the program, I didn’t find it anything but a pain in the arse. It’s not particularly intuitive, and the spots you have to click in order to make it function the way it’s supposed to are so stupidly small that I found myself growling threats at my screen.

Scrivener Corkboard View

What does it meeeaaaannnn?

Supposedly each “chapter” card holds the different scenes that you attribute to each chapter. I’m a little squeamish about breaking chapters up into scenes like that – it makes it feel a little disconnected. The visual is kind of cool, but not particularly useful, I felt. As far as usefulness goes, the only thing I could find that really pleased me was the wordcount goal function(below) that asked for both an overall wordcount goal and/or a daily wordcount goal. As pleased as I was by this feature, I did not test it, because I was thoroughly finished with the program and wanting to get away from it as soon as possible. It was giving me a headache.

Scrivener Word Count

Ultimately? Scrivener doesn’t seem worth $40, and it’s likely that the rest of my trial will go unused. I didn’t find much that it could do that I couldn’t do just as easily with Microsoft Word and my fancy, purse-sized writing notebook, and of what I found, I didn’t find much of it useful.

Feel free to ask questions about my experience, if I didn’t cover something, or you want more elaboration.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

* Answer: Not many.

** I deemed this mode Mostly Useless.

*** It assumes you have an agent, which I find a bit weird. I’d find a template for a cover sheet and a query letter for querying and sending to agents a lot more helpful and useful.

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About Kayla Rose

Leave me alone, let me drink my tea and write my snark.

Posted on January 8, 2012, in Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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