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Posts Tagged ‘Scrivener’

VNW’s comment on an earlier post got me to thinking about how I’m trying to utilize Scrivener’s features to help organize my novel manuscript. I thought I’d explore that a little bit.

Scrivener has many features, but four tools that I’ve been trying to use to help me organize and revise my work are Snapshots, the split screen, Comments, and Keywords.

Snapshots are useful because they make it very easy to access multiple drafts of a chapter (or scene) even when you move that chapter around or rename it. For example, I have a few chapters that are flashbacks and I’ve been puzzling about both the sequence in which these should be revealed to the reader and where they should fit into the overall structure of the narrative. So they’ve not only been edited to make them work more effectively as scenes, they been edited to fit more cleanly into the surrounding narrative AND they’ve been moved around. With Scrivener, once I save a Snapshot of a particular chapter draft, that Snapshot follows the chapter around wherever I move it and stays associated even if I rename that chapter. Very convenient for a larger project.

The Split Screen is a feature I typically use when I’m (a) adding large-scale notes for a chapter, (b) conducting a broad editorial overview, or (c) referencing a research document while writing a scene. Split Screen allows me to put the manuscript in the top window of Scrivener and the other doc I need to look at in the bottom screen. This is a simple feature but very convenient for this sort of work. I can associate a sub-document full of notes with any given chapter for ease of reference.

Here’s a screen capture showing both the split screen and the Snapshots for a chapter.

Here’s a chapter showing the split screen I use for the manuscript and any broad editorial commentary/notes, plus a look at the snapshots of various chapter drafts

As you can see, I’ve gone through a lot of drafts on this particular chapter. I have them all arranged by date and I can scroll separately through the text of an earlier draft in the little pink column at the bottom right of the screen. This is really handy when I want to pull some language out of an earlier draft and reinsert it into the current manuscript.

I don’t really like to write for extended periods using the Split Screen, as it gets busy for me when I’m trying to be creative. When I’m writing, I tend to use a feature of Scrivener called Compose that blacks out the whole screen and lets me see just a paragraph or so of text. Great for removing distractions (hard for me to capture using my screen capture tool!). However, Split Screen is useful for editing. In fact, having the different visual input to work with helps me distinguish my editorial role from my writer role, so I can switch hats with a bit more cognitive ease.

I also use the Comments feature a great deal. This isn’t that different from turning Comments on in Word, except that I find Scrivener’s implementation to be cleaner and easier to use. You highlight text, make a note in the Comment field that appears in the sidebar, and that’s it. Easy to delete Comments, easy to add them.

The Comments feature is straightforward but useful for specific text notes.

Finally, I am finding that Keywords are a useful tool for a long manuscript like this one. Using Keywords, I’m able to create a list of key categories such as Characters, Locations, Concepts, Factions, and so forth that appear in the book. Then I can add those keywords to any chapter or scene. Here’s what it might look like:

The main keyword list is in the middle, keywords associated with a specific chapter shown on the right, and the results of a search for a particular character keyword are in the column on the left.

In the example above, I searched for all instances of the keyword for a certain character. That character shows up a lot in the current outline, but that could change. In any case, I can click on the entries in the list on the left and see every place where that character appears in the manuscript. Great for keeping tabs on continuity issues. If I change the name of something in the master keyword list, all the tags I’ve added for that will change as well. (The manuscript text won’t change; if you change the name of a major character, you’ve got to do a search and replace.) It’s also handy if, like me, you inadvertently described a minor character the same way every time they first appeared in a scene. Easy to miss but kind of embarrassing when discovered.

I usually toss a couple keywords into a chapter or scene when I first create it, then go back and refine those during later drafts, perhaps when I’m feeling a bit blocked and still want to stay engaged with the story. In an early outline, this process brought to my attention the fact that I’d left a character out of a dozen chapters before dropping them back in for a dramatic scene without much foreshadowing.

I suppose you could use these tools to create a very detailed, well-organized outline before you begin writing. But I’ve learned that you can also employ them after the fact to help wrap your head around a manuscript that threatens to spiral out of control. I appreciate that Scrivener seems flexible enough to support both approaches.

Hope this helps to illustrate or clarify what I mean when I reference some of these tools in the blog posts.

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Status as of Day 28

Day 28 total: 5,096 words      Total: 83,650/~34,814 (in progress)

Wow, I had not realized how long it has been since my last update.

Much of the past week was spent dealing with real life issues. I replaced a broken garbage disposal, dealt the fallout from my son’s first fight at school, am working on getting my daughter transferred to a math/science magnet school after the semester has already started, and got sick (which I’m still recuperating from). Knock on wood, all of those things either went well or are in the process of being resolved. Today has been a total loss in terms of writing time, but I may be able to get some done in the evening.

From a writing perspective, I had three very good days, including yesterday, two average days, and two terrible days over the weekend where I wrote 1,000 words combined. I now have all or most of 15 chapters written, plus portions of another three chapters, with about 16 chapters to go. I’m adjusting the setting to fit the dramatic needs of the story in some places and creating a more detailed setting in others.

I had hoped to have more of the main manuscript complete by this point, but overall I’m satisfied with how this has gone. I’m learning by doing. The real key is going to be completing this work, and that’s going to take a few more months, most likely.

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Day 21 total: 3,041 words      Total: 64,682/~23,500 (in progress)

Two big goals yesterday: working on the first two chapters of Act II, and reworking the outline for the last half of the novel. When I made some big decisions about the character arc, it ended up more or less invalidating the original climax of the story. At the time, I decided not to worry too much about mapping that out in detail. I just tried to finish whipping Act I into shape and get an idea of how Act II would progress.

Now I think I have an equally dramatic, less byzantine, and somewhat more satisfying conclusion outlined. In addition, I think that the plot twists I discarded for this manuscript can serve as the heart of a sequel. You know, just in case. 🙂

On a lesser note, I went back into a couple earlier chapters and added or replaced a few paragraphs of setting-oriented material. This had the effect of hopefully making several scenes both less generic descriptively and more exciting. This is a process I plan to continue throughout the drafting stage. For other writers, it might work better to lay out the setting in exhaustive detail before beginning to write. For me, all I ended up with in the past was large setting documents full of details that were interesting to me as facts but not tied clearly to characters or stories. So I’ve gone with a broader picture that I’m filling in as things suggest themselves to me. The risk with that approach, I’m guessing, is inconsistencies in the manuscript.

So far, Scrivener has been very helpful in tracking this process. I’m hopeful that by using meta-tags, I’ll be able to  identify all the instances where I’ve referenced a key character, location, or concept. My current plan is to review the manuscript on a weekly basis and do some book-keeping to keep those tags as up-to-date as possible while highlighting or resolving discrepancies that arise (depending upon how readily a solution presents itself).  I always have some days where I feel blocked on the story front and that would give me a useful task to pursue while staying engaged with the story as a whole.

Hopefully these posts are remaining somewhat lucid as I plow forward. It’s amazing how tiring this whole manuscript process is. I hope that one builds up endurance with writing the way you can build up physical endurance.

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Today for the weekend: 8,463 words      Total: 41,603*/19,749 (see below)

Whewh! What a weekend. Saturday we went to a friend’s house to watch the Boise State football game for a few hours and Sunday we attended a big anniversary celebration for our church. I had sort of forgotten about both of these events when I made my big revision plans for the weekend. Absent-minded writers and all that.

I finished revising Chapter 3 and revised Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 as well. Major rewrites as I tried to do four things:

  • Shorten the chapters individually and the first Act as a whole (I’ve cut the average chapter length by nearly 9% and the length of Act I by nearly 20%)
  • Inject some more drama into some of the scenes
  • Improve the believability of how a few key characters acted in some big confrontations
  • Corrected a plot point problem I had overlooked the first time around

I saved snapshots of all the early chapter drafts in Scrivener so that I won’t lose anything interesting that could be reused later or reinserted based on reader comments somewhere down the line.

I am exhausted. Didn’t get my normal workouts done in my desperation to get everything done and keep up with my schedule plans. Hopefully I will be able to wrap up the revisions to Act I tomorrow and then push into Act II and just let the ideas flow. It seems to work best for me when I write freely to begin with, then come back through with a red pen mentality to edit the material. Sort of like building a model and then mashing up that clay and sculpting it again.

As far as word counts go, I’m just barely on track for my NaNoWriMo goal by one measure and well ahead of it by another, as you can see in the split counts above. Guess which measure I will use to evaluate my progress personally? 🙂

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Today: 2918 words      Total: 20,131

Finally got back on track in terms of making forward progress on the novel. Completed Ch 6 and got about halfway through Ch 7. Once again I got a sizable chunk of writing done in the evening before bed, so no blog update in the evening. I’m not counting a couple pages worth of handwritten scenes that I wrote in the car while waiting for my son’s piano practice to end, mostly because it’s a pain trying to estimate them! Hopefully I’ll be able to transfer those passages largely intact to the computer when I sit down later today. I can tell there’s going to be a lot of editing to do down the line with some of these chapters to craft them into a story that has the little nuances of character and setting that make great speculative fiction come alive.

On the other hand, I think I’m achieving my main goal of learning by doing. I’ve spent far too many years sitting around pondering the writing process rather than putting words on paper (or pixels on screens). I’m starting to gain confidence in my ability to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different scenes and note ways to improve them. That’s a big deal for me, as in the past I’ve often rewritten material without a clear set of goals in mind to guide the process, leading to endless recursions and little progress.

I also remind myself that it’s highly unlikely that the first novel I write will measure up to many of the fantasy and science fiction novels that inspire me when I’m writing. Those novels are generally the products of talented writers who honed their skills over time with a lot of prior publications. Everyone has to start somewhere. I don’t mind aiming high, but I’ve made the conscious decision to keep certain elements of this story, like point of view, fairly simple at this stage until I learn more about what I’m doing.

Finally, I’m learning more about how I react emotionally and physically to the process of writing intensely for myself. For example, in the past, writing right before bed has made it hard for me to sleep. Last night I listened to some very soothing Brian Eno music from the albums Ambient 2, Apollo, and Pearl during the last portion of my writing, then took some time to stretch before bed. The combination helped calm my mind and led to some peaceful dreams. I think I’ll try to stretch along to the music the next time I’m in this situation. I’m also coming to realize that I can’t work out as hard physically as I’ve been doing lately while also trying to write. Physical activity and exercise is very important for emotional/mental balance and well-being, but I have a limited reserve of energy to burn. So I’m going to try to dial back my routines a bit and incorporate more dynamic stretching and core work to compensate for all the time spent sitting and focused.

Heh, here I am writing as though the completion of this novel manuscript was a done deal. Based on my past efforts, it is no such thing. Based on how I feel right now and upon the steps I’ve tried to take to gain more control over the process, however, it seems like more of a possibility than ever before. As always, we’ll see.

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Day 7-Recap

Today: 1202 words      Total: 17,213

Yesterday my main focus was completely rewriting my outline for the novel, chapter-by-chapter, based on the new starting motivation for the main character, some revisions to character arcs, and a reevaluation of some of the political circumstances within the setting and how they would affect interactions between certain factions and characters.

This was a lengthy process, taking several hours. I reworked some scenes, put others in the discard folder (where I can check back on them later), and added a dozen or so new ones. I also reorganized everything into a clearer chapter format and added keywords to every chapter, noting what characters I planned to have appear as well as locations.

The Keyword function in Scrivener is a nice way to add metadata labels to a larger project and quickly sort through the instances where those appear. For example, I am now able to track all the chapters where I expect different characters to appear and get a quick list. Same thing for locales. This has already been helpful. I noticed that I had one key character appearing very little in the early portions of the book, even though he was available. I felt that this made his later actions have less emotional impact for the reader, as they wouldn’t have built up any views on this character beforehand. Looking back over my outline, I saw places where he could be inserted without any problem. In fact, I think his presence will liven up a few scenes.

Along the same lines, I discovered that I had a couple locations that will appear more often than I realized over the course of the entire novel. So I need to visualize and describe those places with a bit more clarity.

As I complete the first draft, my plan is to add further metadata tags associated with key concepts or aspects of the setting that need to have some consistency. For example, I want to describe the different cuisines of the city in an interesting and consistent way, but it isn’t a focus of the story and so such details could be easy to overlook. By tagging Food, it reminds me that this is something I wanted to look at and lets me quickly reference all mentions of food in the story when I come around for the next draft. I’ll probably have some similar keywords for architecture, religion, and so forth. We’ll see how that all works in practice.

I’ve also made an effort to outline shorter chapters on the whole, with the hope that this will help me maintain pacing. In addition, I’ve put in a brief note at the end of many chapters that I call a Kicker: this is a twist, plot revelation, or threat that appears at the end of the chapter to help provide a dramatic endpoint and help propel the storyline to the next chapter.

As far as actual writing, I got that done in the evening, which is why I had no blog post yesterday. I polished up the ending of Chapter 5 and got about halfway through Chapter 6. Not my best writing, but it can be hard to tackle big-picture planning and individual scene quality in the same day, at least for me. Hope to get back on track today after two slow days in terms of overall progress, but I have a lot of chores on my honey-do list.

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Daily total:  2,555 words    Project total: 7,264 words

Barely hit my daily goal, but I got there. Wrote for about 3 1/4 hours today, in three different chunks of roughly 1 hour, a little less than 2 hours, and about 20 minutes. Definitely harder to sustain yesterday’s higher pace, but it worked out to a little more than 750 words an hour, with no real spikes or drop-offs.

As far as the quality, I felt like I wrote in a more modern style better suited to my current goals and that I did a better job of varying the pacing, alternating a bit more smoothly between stretches of narrative exposition and dialogue. And I wrote some dialogue that I enjoyed. Maybe I’ll still enjoy it tomorrow. 🙂 I’m about 2/3 of the way through the scenes that currently comprise the 2nd chapter. Once again I think I have a pretty good idea how I want the next scene to go, which will hopefully help me get a good start on things tomorrow.

One of the major steps I took today was using the Comment feature on Scrivener to enter a dozen or so suggestions in specific places in the text of how to revise, reorganize, or replace material that isn’t working in Chapter 1. I did this instead of actually rewriting the chapter, which would have taken much longer and been counter-productive at this stage of the drafting process. I also think I’ll be in a better position to make the changes once I’m a bit more removed from what I wrote. It was also a useful way to reestablish where I was in the story and get me ready to write.

At the same time, this process gave me some confidence that I can identify and fix problems, which gives me the mental freedom to be imperfect. A freedom I am taking full advantage of right now.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

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