Writing Pan has been more than a task, but a complete journey since it began back in 2008. To my surprise, I’ve learned that producing this story required my personal growth to better develop characters and plots to be the very best they can be. Yet, without a key tool like Scrivener, I can’t imagine how I would have managed to keep the encyclopedia of continuity together in regards to this story. A single Scrivener file contains all my current and future Panverse novels, interconnected by file linking and keywords between the manuscript, encyclopedia and other references; organized in scenes, chapters, books and series; and exportable in every way important to a self publisher. Without Scrivener, I wouldn’t be nearly so productive or have grown so much as a writer. Let me show you how.
My History with Scrivener
My romance with Scrivener began in 2005 while I was still working on my second novel, Last Battle: Dusk of Xanthar, which boasted three times the length as my first and previous novel, School’s Out. Neither book was very good — not that they had to be, being my freshmen works — but getting involved with Scrivener began to change the game. Moving from universally comfortable Microsoft Word documents, Scrivener’s powerful features drew me to try something new.
Since embracing Scrivener, I’ve completed fourteen books of various types and sizes and am now developing a 35-book novella series called Freelance, all within a single Scrivener file to maintain the complex continuity required to accomplish it. I consider myself somewhat of an evangelist for the software, and while the links in this article are affiliated (which means if you use it to buy the software, I would get a small piece), I’ve tried selling writers on it long before I became an affiliate.
Scrivener Vs. MS Word
Let’s start a simple comparison with Microsoft Word that might help relate your understanding with Scrivener. MS Word focuses on multi-page documents where text is input, may incorporate publishing-oriented layout and design, and exports to Word, PDF and basic images. Word enjoys the use of Publishing Styles that can be easily modified and used to create a Table of Contents. It has footnotes, comments and a few other referential tools. This, however, is where the similarities draw to a close.
Scrivener focuses less on layout and more on content. I write scene documents subset to chapter documents subset to book folders subset to series. Each scene could be 100 or 1M words, and yet Exporting can seamlessly bind them together as if written on a single flowing document. Why is that important? Because highlighting, clicking and dragging blocks of text in MS Word is not nearly as easy or organized as breaking down scenes as individual documents that can be keyworded, commented, and versioned; viewed in Outline view with word counts and custom metadata; reorganized by click+dragging between chapters, books or series; or linked as direct references to other scenes to ensure continuity and flow.
In the Panverse, I have the primary septology, as well as series like The Minder Conflicts, We Three Kings, Little Bird: The Original Stories of Peter Pan, and more as “folders” with subset books, chapters and scenes. Yet I can interrelate the content so that scenes in series 2, book 4 are directly linking to books in Series 1, Books 1, 3 and 7, as well as the encylopedia that governs individuals, groups, places, things and ideas. I can reference multiple documents at a time to ensure I’m keeping my information correct (or intentionally incorrect, should the character be mistaken or is lying about something).
Add to that, keywording allows me to create “Smart Folders.” Every time I keyword a scene with a character’s name (ie Tinker Belle), I can view ALL Tinker Belle scenes as if one flowing document, auto-added when I tag the document. While I can screen-split in MS Word to view two difference places of a document, little compares to the functionality Scrivener provides.
Let’s not copy/paste from the Scrivener website, as 1) we don’t wish to copy others’ work and 2) you can read it, yourself. Instead, here’s a list of features important to my process.
- Main Editor – A flowing text editor that autosaves every 3 seconds, can screen split to other documents, can open a third popup window, enjoys a full-screen editor function, zoomable text layout and more
- Keywording & Smart Folder – Using the extensive keywording tool, I tag people, places, things and themes in every single scene so I can go back isolate stories-by-keyword. ie See ONLY Tinker Belle’s story or ONLY the scenes where the Dogwood Sword appears. It helps greatly in checking flow, continuity, etc.
- Custom Fields – I can create custom metadata fields that apply to all scenes that really give me the ability to isolate and breakdown my data. I want an EMOTIONAL THEME column where I log the intended softer parts of an important story to ensure proper character development, etc. Or I want a Story Date column to track when scenes occur.
- Outline View – View blocks of scenes like they were in an Excel document. All those custom fields mentioned above can be laid out for easy reference and comparison. I can click+drag those scenes around if I need to reorganize them and mass-change the metadata.
- Compile – No matter how I formatted my book while drafting, imported content from other sources with different font styles and spacing, if I loaded tons of side docs into the manuscript or simply love writing in Comic Sans, I can export to a professional, universally applied formatting design instantly to Kindle, eBook, Final Draft, Word, PDF and more. I can even save certain Compile styles for different types of exports that it remembers each time I switch.
- Click+Drag Import – Though I haven’t needed to import new content in a long time, if you already have long manuscripts and support documents, it’s as easy as click+dragging those documents into your software.
- Easy File Cut & Merge – I sometimes import Gutenberg books into a Scrivener files for analysis. When I copy paste large blocks of text, the ability to “Cut Here to Create a New File” makes cutting up chapters insanely easy. Using the keyboard shortcuts, I can separate at chapter headings, or if I have two files that ought to be one, I can highlight, right-click and turn them into one file.
- Snapshots – When I’m about to make major changes to a scene, I create a snapshot that saves it exactly as it is like MS Word document versioning. I can review or restore previous versions of a scene. I’ve referenced them many times when I’ve accidentally edited out important details I later needed to reference.
- Document Bookmarks – I can click+drag a document into the “Document Bookmark” section of another document. If I want to reference another scene, character sheet or reference, I can bookmark the documents together so I don’t have to sift through my entire file hierarchy each time.
- One Place for Everything – I have a DRAFT, ENCYCLOPEDIA, and PLANNING tiered folders I use to plan everything, across multiple books and series. The character sheet I create for Wendy Darling can be rereferenced in countless other locations without the need to duplicate. This ensures the histiography of continuity. Changes made for one serve all!
I recognize there are a number of features I haven’t even really used to their fullest. I don’t go through it often, but once in awhile I’ll go through the walkthrough and learn something new. The new user walkthrough honestly has one of the best intro systems I’ve ever seen in a software; everything you build in each step directly preps for the next step, which improves learning. Last I checked, Scrivener comes with a free trial. Download it and go through the walkthrough, yourself.
You won’t regret it!
FULL DISCLAIMER: I receive an affiliate portion every time someone uses the button below. However, I’ve been evangelizing Scrivener for more than a decade for free. I love Scrivener.