Can software like Scrivener really help budding authors to write? Specialist tools likes this can be a double-edged sword. They used to be pricey – and sometimes even interfere with the creative process.
One rival, Dramatica Pro, while good at organising ideas, used to be quite militant about the amount of form-filling it required you to do, until it evolved into something a bit more helpful. Scrivener, on the other hand, has been a Mac favourite for a while.
Scrivener’s focus is quite wide, lending itself equally to novel writers, screenplay scribes and playwrights, and adapting as necessary to each discipline. A PC version has been a long time coming, but we thought we’d give the current beta version a try.
We downloaded beta 1.5 free of charge, and were told that we had to download the next beta by a certain date, or it would stop working. You’re free to keep downloading betas free of charge until that point comes, mind you – and even the price of the software when it’s finished isn’t too bad, at just US$40.
On starting the program, you’re invited to set up a new project. There are plenty of templates to get you up and running. We opted for a fiction book, and subsequently went back to try our hand at a screenplay. Both worked in the same way.
What Scrivener does is, basically, allow you to keep on top of your work by encouraging you to deal with it in manageable chunks. Rather than having to scroll through Word documents that are tens of thousands of words long, the software breaks things down into chapters. Everything is managed by a tree menu in the left-hand panel, and that’s where you’ll also find folders for your characters, places and research.
This means you can organise your thoughts about your characters independently of the main manuscript, without having to deal with lots of notes in lots of different places. It makes keeping on top of storylines much easier.
The software also allows you to format things seamlessly – and another welcome inclusion is that of a template to follow for whatever project you’re looking to undertake. The fact that you can refer backwards and forwards to it with a quick click of the mouse flattens the learning curve for novice writers.
The biggest problem we had with Scrivener – and this is not uncommon with a beta release – was stability. For some reason, both the desktop machine that we tried the software on, as well as our testbed laptop (both Vista machines), took a dislike to Scrivener, and crashed quite frequently. On the plus side, Scrivener always managed to recover our work. But do be cautious, and do be aware that it’s beta software you’re using.
Stability niggles aside, Scrivener is a very welcome and useful bit of software for those wishing to tease out the book inside of them. With a final price that’s set to be very competitive, and a beta that allows you to tinker for free, Scrivener might be enough to take you over the organisational obstacles that get in the way of major writing work. It won’t do the writing for you, obviously – but it does a fine job of getting some of the clutter out of the way.
Company: Literature & Latte Ltd