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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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Rosemary Gemmell said...

Just noticed this, Chris. I'm really interested in Scrivener but haven't taken the leap yet. This makes it more understandable. Thanks.

Chris Longmuir said...

Rosemary, I do like the ability of Scrivener to move things around, and you can use as many or as few of the functions as you wish. The basic use, of course, is as a word processor, and if you can use Word, you can use this aspect of Scrivener. I find through using it I gradually expand the use of the extra facilities, and if you look closely at my screen shots you can see where I've colour coded each character so that I know the book is balanced between my POV characters. This is important when you write multi-viewpoint as I do.

Wendy Jones said...

This is really helpful Chris. Thanks for explaining. I'm still thinking about moving over.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

This is very useful - and I admire you for using it - but I know it's not for me. I had a look at it but I think it would make a complete mess of my writing process. I wrote long before the days of PCs and word processing and I still wrote one big long document, often in a huge notebook or three. I find Word does pretty much everything I want it to do, very simply. I do a bit of planning, but not much - just a brief outline - and a whole lot of research and thinking, and then I wade in and just write, dividing into chapters as I go. I write to find out what happens and why, and then I find out some more, through many many drafts. At some point in the process, probably after about the second general revision I print the whole thing out in draft form. I really need to see the shape of it physically. Without that stage, it would all go to hell in a handcart! Then I do revisions on paper, carrying it lovingly about with me, and sometimes I literally cut and paste, like I used to do back in the olden days. This typing up of these changes is a very quick process. I always think it's going to take forever, but in reality, it takes about a day, no more than that, even for a 100,000 word novel. And cutting and pasting, when you can 'see' what needs to be cut, is very easy - not a nightmare at all.
I never really write unplaced scenes, I never write character descriptions and I keep my research in real files and folders and books and pictures everywhere, all around me. (But also on Pinterest!) And there will be many, many revisions. I have no idea how many, but it could be twenty or so. It's such an organic, fluid process with me, a process of interrogating the characters, that I don't want anything to get in the way of it. I work this way with stage plays too - sometimes with actors involved. And whether I've revised a scene once or twenty times doesn't much matter - if it needs reworking again, it needs reworking. If it was OK the first time, that's great. I can see that this might work well for a big non-fiction project, mind you - and if it works for you, that's great. But I'm so comfortable with the way I work right now - and seem to be doing OK - that I'm not at all inclined to fix what isn't broken. I'd be interested to know what other people think though - and interested to hear if anyone has tried it and gone back to the old way. I'm usually happy to experiment with new things, but intuitively I know this wouldn't work for me.

Chris Longmuir said...

Actually if you only use the editor it works much the same way as Word, so my writing style hasn't changed with the jump from Word to Scrivener. It's all the extras I find useful, like the binder colour coding for POV characters. It's also good for ensuring there are beats at the appropriate place, and that it doesn't continue too long without some beats, or if you prefer 'cliffhangers'. But I write suspense rather than literature so beats are really important. But it's what works best for you at the end of the day, and I'm not trying to convert anyone.

Bill Kirton said...

I still write in Word (although Microsoft's constant insistence on forcing us to buy new versions and imposing on us what they think we like makes it frustrating at times) but I've found Scrivener a huge help in giving me instant access to earlier plot developments and scenes and keeping all my notes in manageable, carefully labelled folders. This is a nice, friendly exposition of what it offers, Chris. Thanks.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I'd be really interested to know if it varied according to genre as well, Chris. Mind you, I am a bit chaotic as a writer, I'm well aware of that - well, chaotic as to process, anyway! I have a friend who had better remain nameless, quite a well regarded writer, who once said to me 'I just footer about a bit, and keep doing it for quite a long time, and suddenly there's a novel.' I kind of knew what he meant.

Chris Longmuir said...

All I can say, Catherine, is that a lot writers use Scrivener and swear by it. I think it is excellent for first drafts, to pull everything together. What I do is use it for all my drafts, first, second, third whatever, and then when I think the book is complete I take it out into Word for the final polish which I do onscreen and then on paper.

AliB said...

Because my 'last' novel was research based I did download Scrivener and give it a go, but althugh I stuck with it for w few weeks I didn't feel it was making any real difference. Like Catherine I always use one big document and file bits of research, weblinks etc elsewhere. I'm also so familiar with Word I miss the features of my elderly version. View Document Map is my absolute favourite - it shows you an outline of your document based on scene or chapter headings and you can skip around to your heart's content.
Of course we are all different and I probably didn't use Scrivener to anything like its maximum potential. Loads of people swear by it, but I suspect I'm never going to be one of them. Looks like the Hewson book is a good starting point, though. I think I read some of his articles at the time.

Joan Fleming said...

This is really interesting, Chris. I've toyed with the idea of trying it, not least when I was writing my last book. I got myself completely tied up in knots with my timeplan, and spent forever going back and forward to sort it out. I haven't had my edits from my editor yet, so time will tell if I succeeded!

My present WIP is the third in the series, when the potential for confusion is even greater. So... this might be the moment to give it a try.


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