Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Tools for Writers

Research is clay to a writer, who molds and bakes it into the brick and mortar of a story's foundation and structure. Nor is all of it historical or scientific research; some is basic character information such as birth order, eye color, even zodiac sign. How one organizes these tidbits when beginning a story is an individual preference: some start with an outline and progress in a linear fashion while others start at the middle and end as their characters lead on to the beginning. Still, one must keep track of what a character is all about, or perhaps dates that figure in the climax, or even where the plot moves from one section to the next. I'm an old-school paper notation sort, raised in the old days before computers and the Interwebs, and dealing with historical archives that only permit green-paper copying. When I'm working on a tale, my desk is littered with papers, notebooks, and my chicken-scratch scribbled ideas.

I've just learned about a software program called Scrivener that helps you organize your notes and keep track of those threads that you'll hopefully weave into a magic carpet for your readers. Another author friend has just started with it and enthusiastically told me how much it has helped her keep track of details. I intend to give it a trial run this winter, and maybe even its sister software, Scapple, which allows you to make notes in a document and then connect them, sort of how you might jot notes with arrows on a cocktail napkin as they occur.

Will these new tools work for me, a confessed "chunk writer" who hates outlines and writes scenes as they pop into the old noggin? At the very least, it sounds as though Scrivener will allow me to organize my scenes, notes, and ideas into one easily accessed file, hopefully saving me the frustration of rooting through notes tossed into a pile or documents filed in a hurry.

I'll let you know how it does, and if any other writers have used this software, by all means share your experiences with us here on The Vineyard.

Happy writing,


Annabel Aidan said...

I don't allow Scrivener to be used in my classes -- or at least, I warn the students not to tell me they use it-- because I'm sick of them using it as an excuse not to format properly.

"Scrivener won't let me do that!" is a typical whine, when I demand work be turned in using Standard Manuscript Format.

Of course, that's not true. I tried Scrivener, and you just set it up to draft in SMF, which is the best way to draft anyway, because it's easier to format out of SMF than into it.

I didn't find Scrivener particularly useful -- to me, it's like Pages on steroids, and I'm happy with Pages.

Of course, I have systems in place to keep track of characters and details as I write, so that I can keep consistency and logic, especially juggling projects, and especially in series work. I find the tracking systems I've set up to be more useful.

I do see the use of Scrivener in research, organizing research materials for easy access.

I'll be very interested to read a follow up from you in a few months as to what you find works and does not work for you with this particular program.

I hope you have a great time with it!

Jude Johnson said...

Thanks, Annabel. It's all new to me. I'll definitely check out Pages as well.

Liz Fountain said...

I've used Scrivener for almost four years and adore it. Annabel is right - you need to set it up correctly, and know it's limitations. It's not meant to deliver a polished print manuscript - it's meant as a working tool. My favorite feature is the ease of moving scenes around. I write in chunks, too, and I can move them around willy nilly, take snapshots whenever I want to preserve a version, and move things again. Then when I'm ready to format, I export to Word and format away.

It also works well for storing research - links, notes, photos. They're all right there in the Project.

I probably use about a quarter of its full capacity, but it works well for me. I hope you'll like it too!


Jude Johnson said...

Thanks, Liz! I'm encouraged to give it a go.