Saturday, September 03, 2011

Scrivener first look

 I've heard good things about the Scrivener fiction writing tool. It's one of these tools that tries to encapsulate everything you need for a complex writing project into one tool. I'm suspicious of that approach, but it has interesting features and there is a free beta right now, so I'm trying it.

Here's a link to the Windows beta page, which is what is new now. The Mac version has been out for a while. 

I installed it this morning and had a look. It has a lot of nice features, I have to say.
- Built in templates for short stories and novels. It also has screenwriting and nonfiction; I'm just not interested in it for those as I have lots of tools for that stuff and that's my day job anyway.
- You basically write stuff as chunks of text...but every chunk has an attached index card of comments/metadata that won't show up in print, and you can view and manipulate the cards separately.
In general it seems a great tool for any project where you want to have a lot of notes and associate them with your final text.
- You have a treeview  of all the stuff in your writing project.
- It supports PDF, RTF, XHTML, DOC, DOCX and LibreOffice/OpenOffice ODT outputs. Note that DOCX and ODT are XML outputs.

It works a lot like an xml toolchain, in that you are producing source files that get compiled into final output. But it hides the implementation and has a good GUI for it.

So the only complaint I could possibly make about it is that it's not open source so I can't (presumably) hack at the guts of it. I think the price when it is out is gonna be $40, too, which seems super reasonable.

The other thing I'd want is an XML output that semantically marks all the notes and metadata in a simple and easy to understand way. An output like that would allow you to post-process it with XML tools, so you could completely customize it. I wonder if they use XML under the covers or if everything is just in a database.

Not sure if I'll get around to trying an actual project in it before the 9/30 end of the beta. That would be the best test. I don't feel a strong NEED for this thing though...but I would seriously consider it for a novel. That, to me, is where it would shine: it would really help you manage multiple layers of story structure.

As several tools have offered recently, it has a full-screen editing mode too, for when you want to focus on churning out some prose.

It would be hard to lose: even if you decided later that you didn't like it, it would be easy to get your data back out of it and into some other format. 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:27 PM

    I've had the Mac version of Scrivener long enough to have updated it once. I like it, especially the corkboard feature and the way you can easily track every appearance of a given character or place throughout an entire manuscript. Of course, I haven't spent enough time writing to really justify the expense, and I don't think it's particularly helpful for writing shorter fiction, but if you want to tackle a novel, it's handy stuff.