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Monday, 27 July 2015

Writing a Novel with Scrivener

I am not a book reviewer and I don't usually review books in this blog. However, there are times when I read a book I enjoy so much I try to squeeze the time to do a review as a form of repayment for giving me pleasure, and then I post it to Eclectic Electric. So, this post started out as a review for Eclectic Electric, but like Topsy, it grew and grew, and that's because there was so much in this book I wanted to comment on. By the time I finished writing about this book it was far too long for a review for either Eclectic Electric, or for Amazon, so I've made a post out of it.

I'm full of good intentions and as a user of Scrivener I had been intending to read Writing a Novel with Scrivener, by David Hewson, but somehow or other I never quite got round to it. However, I have to admit it had been languishing in my Kindle for some considerable time. As I said, I'm full of good intentions. A long train journey gave me the opportunity to get to grips with it.

It was a relatively easy book to read and I was pleased to find it was not an in depth guide to the Scrivener programme, full of instructions on how to use the software. Instead it was more of an aid to understanding how Scrivener can work for the writer or novelist.

It does look at the various functions such as the Binder, the Editor, and the Inspector, which is  an essential to understanding how to use the software, but this is not done in a technical fashion and is easily understood.

Hewson describes these functions as:-
-          Binder = a filing cabinet of documents
-          Editor = where you write, it’s like a word processor
-          Inspector = synopses, notes, info, and annotations and other management tasks.
The Binder is on the left, the Editor in the middle, and the Inspector on the right

Hewson compares the use of Scrivener to how writers wrote in the days of paper and pencil, with sections, chapters and scenes which could be shuffled about, rather than one long unwieldy document. He says, in Scrivener you can write, delete, reshuffle and move things more easily, and says that “Scrivener sees books the way authors used to regard them before the computer was invented.”

The start of my new novel in Scrivener.

He talks about moving scenes around as a nightmare in conventional word processors, but a cinch in Scrivener, and experimentation is quick and simple.

One of the tools in Scrivener is the Corkboard, which Hewson considers ideal for outlining and brainstorming, a place where you can play with ideas, and instead of cutting and pasting you drag things around.

The synopsis of a chapter or scene in the Inspector, is duplicated in the Corkboard and the Outliner, which is another function of Scrivener, and the transfer of these synopses means the outliner can be used to produce a complete outline of the novel. I remember in the good old days of Word, a publisher asked for the outline of a novel I’d submitted and I had to burn the midnight oil to produce it. If I’d had Scrivener at that time I would simply have had to print it off from the Outliner.
The outliner shows each chapter which can then be expanded to see the scenes in each chapter.
I have expanded 2 of them and have chosen carefully so it doesn't give away my plot.

In the Binder the two main folders are a manuscript folder and a management folder. The manuscript one is where everything that goes into the novel is stored. And the management folder is used for themes, characters, places, research, and To Do folders. He also has an ‘Unplaced Scenes’ folder in this section which is useful if a scene pops into your head but you’re not sure where to place it. Everything in the management folder is not included in the book. The character folder contains forms as an aid to character description, however it is not essential to use these and the author decides how best to use the tools supplied.  Like Hewson I prefer text based descriptions so the use of the forms is optional.

Another use of the Inspector is the meta data box. This has a status box which can track whether a scene or chapter is first draft, revised, or finished. This cuts down work at the final revision stage because it narrows down the scenes which require tweaking. The meta data box can also be used to track  POV, and as I write in multi-viewpoint this can be very useful, particularly as you can colour code each POV a different colour. Another feature to track POV is the ability to create collections using the search function. By using this all the scenes from one POV character can be collected and run together without changing where they are in the manuscript. This is incredibly useful because it gives a linear view of each character, and it is easy to spot anomalies etc. This function can also be used to collate all the first draft scenes at the revision stage. Leaving behind all the scenes which do not require further work. 

I am really glad I eventually got round to reading this book which, in Hewson’s words, is not a guide to the software, but is simply his description of how to use Scrivener to write a novel.

Chris Longmuir


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