Friday, April 16, 2021

The Joys of Scrivener--My Favorite Software for Organizing Your Book-in-Progress



Before I wrote books, I wrote stories, essays, and poems, columns and articles. Short stuff. Short stuff doesn't require that much organization. I had a friendly relationship with Word and Pages. I kept files of the multiple versions of my short stories, for example, in separate files within Word--not so hard to scan and use if needed. I often printed hard copies and kept a file folder until the piece was published. I used an Excel spreadsheet to track where I sent writing and what happened to it.

Totally manageable.

Then I began writing books. Within months, pages accumulated. Way beyond anything my short stuff generated. I was swamped in paper, with no great way to organize it.

Word was no longer my friend. Too hard to search 300+ pages for a scene, too hard to avoid duplicating what I'd already written. I could no longer easily track each version of the book as drafts accumulated. Sure, I could do a whole-document search for word repetition, but more complicated searches were beyond clumsy. And if I wanted to shift the order of chapters? Well, forget it.

I began looking around for something more streamlined. More geared to book writers.

Twelve of my books got written and published before Scrivener came along. A friend showed me how to set it up and transfer my chapters from Word.

Scrivener has saved my writing sanity. And many of my students' and clients' as well.

Tons of programs exist. I haven't tried very many of them, truthfully, since Scrivener works so well for me. Most, though, are plain text, no formatting ability. Not the sophistication of Scrivener, in my mind.

Scrivener was developed by a writer in Cornwall, UK, who was unsatisfied with the mechanics of what was out there. He wanted to be able to import images, different fonts and text, and other options into his documents--easily--and still have the ability to keep track of the overview via a sidebar list.

The result is light years beyond anything I've used--and you may be as devoted as I am. Like I said, It does take setup time, to import your current document, but for the way I write books, it's perfect. I can craft "islands" or scenes and log them as individual documents on my sidebar list, then begin to group them into folders as my chapters build. If I am missing a scene, I can easily create a placeholder for it on the sidebar list. Best of all, if I decide scene 2.4 really belongs in chapter 10, not chapter 2, I can move it on the sidebar list and it automatically moves in the document itself.

Scrivener also takes care of the multiple versions of any scene, chapter, or act. The feature called "snapshot" allows you to take a picture of each version. They are stored with the current version and can be accessed in a click. You can decide part of an earlier draft was way better and paste it in with no trouble. Try doing that in Word--yikes.

Another thing I love about Scrivener is the ability to bring in visual or written research and view it either in the notes or in a split screen as you work.

There are so many features of Scrivener that I haven't even tapped, even though I've taken four classes on it. I use what I need, and when I'm ready to learn more, I go for another class.

Scrivener for iPad came out a while back. I'm still learning it, but there are tutorials if you're interested. All versions are available at www.literatureandlatte.com both for PC and Mac. They offer a 30-day free trial, so you can test drive before buying.

It's good to set aside 2-3 hours to set up your draft in Scrivener. You are given different templates to start with (I use the fiction template). Then you basically copy and paste in your islands, scenes, or chapters from Word or Pages. It helps to sit with someone who knows Scrivener, as I did, while you get set up. There are also some good tutorials here.

I also recommend taking a class from Gwen Hernandez, who wrote Scrivener for Dummies. Gwen is an excellent instructor and her online courses take you through basic setup and use of Scrivener tools, through advanced levels. Check out her Scrivener Classes when you're ready to get started. I also highly recommend Alison Murphy's online classes; Alison teaches through Grub Street, a writing school in Boston. You can find out more about when Alison will offer the class on Grub Street's website or click here.

I wish I'd found Scrivener when I first began writing books. There's a lot about the software even now, after many years of using and loving it, that I don't yet know. The compile feature is still a challenge for me, but it works more than not. I'm learning a lot of other tricks as I need them.

Your weekly writing exercise is to download the free trial, if you haven't tested it out. If you already use Scrivener, check out the tutorial link, above, and try working with snapshot or one of the other extras.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Power Positions--How to Increase the Tension in Characters and Locations

"Who's on first?"

We're not talking baseball. We're asking: Who is the power person in a particular scene? Who is the character that holds the control over present and future outcomes? Who will most easily score the home run?

Once I identify that player, I can begin to work the elements of tension in my fiction and memoir more skillfully.

To create tension, two or more elements of power combine, and one wins out. Just like people try to exert control over their lives every day. so must characters on the page. Story is about that give and take, that gain and loss of control over oneself and one's circumstances.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Enter Late, Leave Early--A Great Piece of Writing Advice for Chapters

Not everyone wants to pay for an MFA degree, and I didn't either, for a long time, until I started writing fiction and realized I knew nothing about it. I'd been published for years in memoir and nonfiction, but fiction was truly another animal. I researched schools, found one, got accepted, and began. In those two years, I learned a lot I didn't know, but one particular piece of advice reshaped my understanding of chapters, scenes, and books.

It was this: Enter late, leave early.

I learned, after graduation, that this slogan is widely known among screenwriters. Less so among novelists or short story writers, although it's just as valuable to us. William Goldman and David Morell wrote it as "jump in late, leave early." It applies to scenes, to chapters, to the entire book, in my mind. But I find it most useful in chapters.