National Novel Writing Month

Scrivener 1.03

At a Glance
  • Literature and Latte Scrivener 1.03

    Macworld Rating

National Novel Writing Month

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Professional or aspiring writers seeking a powerful, inexpensive application for producing prose, scripts, or research papers should consider Scrivener 1.03 first. It thoughtfully combines OS X-native text and search tools with key features seen in rival programs to create a cohesive and useful writing aid.

Scrivener organizes each writing project, or draft, as a series of folders and files; each project can include relevant keywords, notes, and a brief synopsis. Outline and corkboard views provide drag-and-drop reordering of these elements, and the Edit Scrivenings button displays selected documents, or the entire draft, as a single document. It’s easy to assign custom labels for chapters, concepts, character sheets, and such, or set a status—first draft, rewrite, final draft—for individual draft items. But you can’t do so for multiple documents at once, which can prove annoying.

A virtual corkboard lets you add synopses for each chapter or scene, and rearrange them on the fly.

Scrivener lets you store your research material—documents, images, HTML files or Web archives, and QuickTime clips—alongside your work in progress. You can create custom subfolders for research, and link research items to specific folders or files in your draft. Most types of research files can be dragged and dropped into Scrivener; however, Web links must be entered manually, after which a copy of the page is downloaded and stored—an admittedly minor hassle for an otherwise useful feature.

An efficient one-window interface helps users easily manage their projects. Folders and files appear in a pane on the left. An optional Inspector pane on the right displays the selected file or folder’s keywords, synopsis, notes, or research links.

The central pane displays the selected document; you can split this window to view two documents—a chapter in progress and a relevant Web page, for example—simultaneously. Scrivener offers basic footnoting and annotating capabilities, plus multiple highlighter colors for marking up your text. Powerful Spotlight-based searching finds words or phrases within your project in seconds—even in a 100,000-word manuscript.

The program saves your progress automatically after a user-specified idle period. A clever snapshot system lets you capture previous versions of your draft, then return to them if necessary. You can also set a target word count for each document, and then track your performance with a progress bar.

Though the program’s help files stress that Scrivener isn’t designed to replace dedicated screenwriting programs, it does offer basic screenplay formatting. Once you get comfortable using the Tab and Enter keys to cycle between the basic elements of a screenplay—descriptions, characters, dialogue—you can turn out professionally formatted scripts with ease.

Scrivener can display two documents simultaneously, and easily formats professional-looking screenplays.

Need to block all distractions? The Full Screen button at the top of the application window lets you see only the current text (in much the same manner as HogBay Software’s WriteRoom application). Nearly every element can be customized, though I wish I could specify a different font for full-screen mode.

Still, that’s about the only thing you can’t tweak in Scrivener. The extreme customization options aren’t always helpful, though. For example, when exporting your draft, Scrivener automatically applies entirely different formatting. You can customize this print formatting as well, but unless you uncheck this option before making a quick printout or PDF of your draft, it may turn out looking decidedly unfamiliar. (Scrivener seamlessly imports Word and RTF files, and exports to both of those formats, and to HTML and PDF.) Indeed, Scrivener offers so many features that it’s easy to lose track of where to find some of the more advanced ones. Thankfully, the program’s help files and the included tutorial are clear, thorough, and even occasionally witty.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you rarely write more than letters or business documents, stick with Microsoft Word (   ) or Apple’s Pages (   ). But if you’re planning to write a novel, script, short story, or research paper, Scrivener 1.03 was made for you.

[ Nathan Alderman is a copy editor and novelist-in-training in Alexandria, Va. ]

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Array of useful, customizable features
    • Excellent value

    Cons

    • A few minor interface bugs
    • Number of customization options and range of features can be intimidating
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