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Updated on May 15, 2013

Writing a novel is a long drawn out process. The creative process is very complex, as most writers do not write a novel from beginning to end. They write scenes, and then later format those scenes into chapters, adding filler when needed. Then there is editing, which may result in the shuffling of scenes. Then more editing and more editing... you get the idea.

Your average word processing programs like MS Word or LibreOffice Writer are not really designed for novel writing. Sure, they are great for letters and shorter documents, but for organizing and writing a three hundred page novel, they leave a lot to be desired.

Enter Scrivener. This program, produced by a company called Literature and Latte, was designed specifically for writers who are writing long documents like novels and movie/play scripts. I have been using Scrivener to write my novels for about a year now, and I have to say it has made writing my novel sooooo much easier.

The biggest advantage of Scrivener is the ability to organize you novel and work on different segments separately. If you look at figure 1, you will see Scrivener in corkboard mode. In this mode, you can add note cards that correspond to individual chapters and scenes. On these note cards, you can make notes for the respective scene/chapter, which greatly helps in organizing the story. (For those of you who have used a storyboard to lay out a story, this is the same concept.) You can also set Scrivener to run in a split screen mode (see figure 2), with one half showing the corkboard and the other the chapter text. This is very useful if you have made notes on the corkboard and are using them as a reference as you write.

Figure 1

The Cork board
The Cork board

Figure 2

Splitscreen mode
Splitscreen mode

Here is the really great thing about the corkboard note cards: they are linked to that chapter or scene. Want to rearrange the scenes in chapter one? Just move the note cards around the corkboard, and the corresponding text for that scene will move. Should scene one from chapter two work netter in chapter six? Same thing; a simple click and drag will move the scene. This feature alone made this program worth my while.

You can also create corkboard note cards for research items that will not appear in the novel, but will be used as references for the writer. For example, in my FreedomRedux novel series, I have a note card on every major character in the series. For each new novel in the series, I copy the character cards over to use as a reference (nothing worse than a writer who can't keep his character descriptions consistent).

Speaking of research, the program also allows you to paste blocks of text or web pages to your reference area. Once again, this is very useful when running in split screen mode so you can reference as you write.

Ever have trouble coming up with names for the characters in you novels? Scrivener has a neat little tool that generates names (see figure 3). You can select an ethnicity for both the first and last name (Canadian, Arthurian Legend, African...), and the generator will spit out a list of potential names for characters. Very helpful.

Scrivener has all of the usual tools one would come to expect from a modern word processor... spelling/grammar check, word find, dictionary/thesaurus, word count and so on. You can also add tables, bullet points, and figures. And the snapshot feature allows you to take a snapshot before a major edit ... just in case your edit isn't all you wanted.

Figure 3

The Name Generator
The Name Generator

So you have finished your masterpiece? The compile feature allows you to export your finished work in many different formats. Formats include .doc, .html, .xhtml, .epub, .mobi (kindle), .pdf and more. While there are many programs out there that can perform conversions from one format to another, it is a huge time saver to be able to create the various formats to start with. For example, when I sent drafts of my latest manuscript to my beta readers, I created pdf versions and emailed them out. And when it was time to send the manuscript to my editor, I created a .doc file for him to work with. Very convenient.

So I have any gripes about the program? Of course; nothing is perfect. For starters, you need to be online to use the dictionary and thesaurus. While the compiler works great, I do wish you could export to .docx format, which is my preferred format for word processing. The spell check database is much smaller than MS Word, so I find I have to add lots of words to the checker. I also wish for a tabbed tool bar like Microsoft Office, although I must admit this is a personal thing as not everyone likes the tabbed interface.

My final grip has to do with editing. When I compile a .doc file to send to my editor, he makes his edits in MS Word using the track changes feature. He then sends the manuscript back to me, and I either approve or disapprove the changes. However, if I now want those changes on the Scrivener project, I must either paste the document, section by section, back into Scrivener, or make every one of my approved changes to the document in Scrivener. Admittedly, this problem could be solved if my editor used Scrivener. However, every editor I have worked with has used MS Word, LibreOffice, or OpenOffice to edit; I have yet to meet one who uses Scrivener.

Because of this limitation, I use Scrivener as my "pre-edit" software. After I get my manuscript back from my editor, I finish my work in MS Word. I would much prefer using a single program from start to finish, but I see this method as the lesser of two evils.

Scrivener is available in Windows, Mac, and Linux versions, and come with a free thirty day trial. (I use the Windows version, running it in Windows 8 on my desktop and on Ubuntu on my laptop. I used a program called WINE, which creates a Windows environment, to install it on my laptop.) The price of the program is $40, which I consider a steal with how productive it has made my writing. There are also numerous tutorials available, as well as tons of YouTube help videos. Drop by the Literature and Latte homepage and give this software a try... I'm sure you'll like it.

I hope you've enjoyed this hub. Got a question or comment? Please leave it below. Thanks for reading!


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    • spartan06811 profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks AJ - getting it today!

    • profile image

      Nicole Harmon 

      5 years ago

      Please see article where link to your review is posted.

    • AJReissig profile imageAUTHOR

      Alex J. Reissig 

      5 years ago from New Richmond, Ohio

      For organizing your novel, it can't be beat. Check out the 30 day free trial to decide. I should add that when you purchase it, you can add it as many machines as you like. I have it on both my laptop and desktop, and save my files to dropbox. This allows me to access the file no mater what computer I use.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      5 years ago from Central Texas

      Sounds like a winner to me -- and thanks for the head's up as I was not familiar with the program -- sure would have helped a lot when I was incessantly working on my book of 750 pages! Best/Sis


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