Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Teaching an Old Dog

by Shannon Baker

I've got a new toy. I've been playing around with it quite a bit and haven’t decided if it’s going to make my life easier or complicate it. For now, it’s kind of fun.

I downloaded a 30-day free trial of Scrivener. It’s software specifically designed for writers. I am starting a new series set in a small town and the cast of characters has the potential to become huge and confusing. Hopefully not for the reader, since characters will be emphasized in certain books and fade back in others. But for me, the writer, I’ll need to remember if the youngest sibling hates red beets in book one so I don’t have her scarfing them down in book five. (Please, Universe, I’d like there to be a book five.)

I have various methods of chaos for plotting books and a spotty system for research and character biblification. (I made that word up as a derivation of character bible, which, embarrassingly, I’ve never created.) It usually involves note cards and/or stickies, a cork board, an Excel spreadsheet with multiple worksheets attached, notebooks full of obscure scribbles.

Scrivener offers me the chance, at the outset of the process, to organize everything into one complete online file. I can paste links to research articles, I can cut and paste information and even pictures into the research file. It has this really cool cork board feature that lets me put bits of information on note cards and file them away. I can write all manner of notes and expand and contract as necessary.

I can write chapter synopsis on cards, with more detail hidden, color code the cards, and move them around the cork board to manage the plot. For instance, I can code orange for plot points and see if they’re distributed correctly. Or I can code pink and blue for point of view chapters and make sure everyone has their say.

Every character has a card and I can keep track of all the important information. Since the protagonist has nine brothers and sisters and some of them have progeny, this will be very helpful as I progress from book to book.

I’m having some bumps dealing with the mechanics. For instance, I can’t seem to import and export with ease. I’d really like to be able to email the files directly from Scrivener but I think I have to compile and save in a word document and send them out that way. These are small issues.

I’m not sure Scrivener offers me anything I’m incapable of accomplishing with my MS Office programs, but it’s new and fun and seems to be jolting my brain a bit, which is usually a good thing. One would hate to get complacent and keep relying on old methods.

So, off I go to create new cards to post on my virtual cork board. Have any of you used Scrivener or any other writer-specific software? What do you think? If you have a tried and true old-school method, tell us about that.


Sheila Boneham said...

Report back, please! I've been thinking about trying Scrivener, too, so I'll be interested in hearing from you as you really get rolling with it. (I think that's me with the sticky notes!) :-)

Beth Groundwater said...

I don't use any specialized writing software, because I have my own system. I keep track of things in plain old Word .doc files.

Deborah Sharp said...

Probably not the best person to weigh in as I know I'm VERY old school (I actually have binders with sections to organize research, with each binder hand-labeled on the spine with the name of the book, just like in junior high!)
Scrivener sounds unnecessarily complicated to me, though.

Cricket McRae said...

I have Scrivener and found it great for gathering research, including pictures. There are many features I never used, though. I used the cork board for one book and loved it, but now I write almost exclusively on my iPad. The Index Card app is basically the Scrivener cork board, and unlike most apps, it stores the project on the iPad so I don't have to have access to the Cloud in order to work. (I regularly backup via email and then Carbonite.) After getting the story arranged I just flip the index card for any particular scene over and write out the scene there. Other stacks of cards contain information about characters, relationship arcs, recipes and other chunks of research. However, formatting after export is problematic, so once I get a tidy full draft to revise I fix the formatting and do that in Word. Probably more info than you needed! Good luck!