Using Scrivener to Write a Novel
** I’m hosting a Scrivener giveaway. You might want to check out the giveaway post and enter to win your own copy of Scrivener. The contest closes on Wednesday, February 22 at 8 PM MST. **
When I’m drafting my fiction or my long non-fiction projects, my go-to software is Scrivener*. Let me preface this discussion by saying that I’m not perked in any way and I don’t receive any freebies from the people over at Literature and Latte, the company that created Scrivener. I plunked down my own $40US (very reasonable in my opinion) to buy my own version of the program just like the rest of the world. So no freebies – I just love the program, because it has brought a new level of organization to my writing life.
For a long time Scrivener was only available for Macs, and believe me I didn’t need yet another excuse to buy a Mac. However, I use a PC and in early 2012, Literature and Latte finally released a full-version of the program for PCs. You can bet I jumped on board. Here are the top five reasons why:
1. Brainstorming with the Corkboard: When I’m brainstorming for a novel, I have a million ideas jotted down on napkins, notebook, iPhone notes, etc. Scrivener gives me one place to store all of them. We’ve already established that I’m a visual person (I love Pinterest). Scrivener’s corkboard gives me a visual way to see and rearrange my scenes and ideas. I can include notecards, photos and sound clips, and rearrange them to my liking.
2. Writing Templates: Scrivener comes with writing templates built in. When I start a new project, I can easily pull up a template for a novel, short story, research proposal or screenplay, and be ready to roll in minutes. You can even create a file of your recipes using Scrivener’s templates.
My favorite part is the ability to customize my own template. Yesterday we talked about the 4-part structure which many people use when drafting a novel. I’ve created my own 4-part Template complete with notes by famous writing craft-gods (like Larry Brooks and Anne Greenwood Brown) to give me reminders of things to think about when I’m drafting my scenes. I also included templates for characters sketches, sheets on which I can trace my character’s arcs, and even a place for setting descriptions.
3. Scene Ideas and Keywords: Do you ever have a brilliant idea for a scene, but you don’t know where it will fit in your story? In the Novel Template I created, I have a folder for Scene Ideas. The folder has two sections: “Ideas to Be Placed” and “Ideas Not Placed.” The Ideas to Be Placed are scenes that I know will appear in the story at some point. I just don’t know when and where when I come up with the idea. The Ideas Not Placed is the folder where I dump all of the other scene brainstorming that doesn’t make the final cut of the novel. These scenes are sometimes useful during rewrites, might make their way into another book, or might never see the light of day beyond the “Ideas Not Placed” folder. I can code the cards with keywords (which appear as color bars on the side of the notecards) so that when I’m searching for that perfect scene I dreamt about three weeks ago which applies to the romantic sub-plot, I can sort by keyword and instantly find the notes.
4. Scene Manipulation: Let’s take the organizational function a step further. Let’s say your scene ideas are fully fleshed out. You’ve been hopping around, writing scenes that appeal to you when inspiration strikes – rather than writing in order. It’s time to place one of your “homeless” scenes. Open your Scene Ideas folder and drag the appropriate card to the right Chapter folder. Rearrange your Chapter cards until the scene is in just the right place. The brilliant part? Scrivener reorders your manuscript for you. If you were to print the manuscript, the new scene would appear right where you put it. No cutting and pasting. No copying and then hunting for the right spot in your 200-page manuscript to insert the new scene. Drag and drop the card and the entire scene appears in the right spot.
5. Research: I love Evernote and Pinterest and my Internet Explorer Favorites folder, but it’s tough to toggle back and forth between five things to find just the right fact or figure. That’s where the Scrivener Research folder is helpful. I can save images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files—right inside Scrivener. The split screen option allows me to look at one file while typing in my manuscript simultaneously. This was hugely helpful when I transcribed hours of interviews for my non-fiction book last summer.
I even have a Scrivener Project file for my Writing Project ideas. It contains folders for Long Fiction, Short Fiction, Theatre, Children’s Fiction, Articles and Non-Fiction. This is where I store all of my notes and ideas when I’m in the thick of a project. Never fail, you’re hard at work on Draft #2 of a magazine article, and an idea for a new novel pops into your head. I open the Long Fiction folder and start a new file for the novel idea. I can spend 15 minutes jotting down notes and saving some research links, and I know it will all be waiting for me when my work in progress is complete.
If you haven’t tried Scrivener, Literature and Latte has a free 30-day trial. Feel free to download my 4-Part Novel Template. It might just give you the push you need to finish that novel you’ve been dreaming about or reignite your enthusiasm for a floundering project.
FYI – There are a few other free templates (here and here) out there for Scrivener. One even uses the 4-part structure. Mine is a little different because it includes lots of writing tips from professional writers who are also craft gurus. It also includes different scene cards, notes on scene development, etc. Pick and choose the one that works best for you. Or better yet, create your own to fit your writing style and brainstorming needs.
Click here to download the Scrivener Template zip file. You’ll be prompted to save the file. Save the Zip file to your desktop or another convenient spot. Unzip the file and copy the entire folder to the same location. You must own a copy of Scrivener or have the free trial version to use the template file.
Open Scrivener –> File –> Open –> Open the Folder “Novel STM 4-Part Template.scriv” –> Open “project”.
Once the project is open, you can save it as a reusable template.
File –> Save as Template –> Name the file “Novel STM 4-Part” –> Select Category “Fiction” –> Click OK.
The next time you start a New Project, the template will appear on your list of template choices. Be sure to spend some time playing around in the template. Expand all of the folders to see the built in options I’ve created (scenes, character sheets, plot point cards, writing tips, etc.)
Hopefully Scrivener will bring you as much joy and organization as it has for me. Happy writing!
*Some images in this post are from the Literature and Latte website to illustrate the features of Scrivener.