How I Write part II

In the first instalment I covered how I actually generate the text that makes up a book, by bashing it out on my iPhone. But of course there is much more to writing than just putting words into a document. I’m not one of those writers who can just start typing with no idea of how things are going to turn out: I need to outline the plot in a fair amount of detail, using index cards (one card per scene, usually), so that when I am writing, I can just concentrate on the description and the dialogue and so on, without also needing to generate the plot on the fly as well.

Obviously I don’t stick to the index cards slavishly: sometimes things turn out differently from the plan, as I realise that a character would behave in a different way, or if something isn’t working. But it’s what I need to get started. I went through the first couple of drafts of Aeropolis with just index cards and the individual iPhone documents, pasting them all into a big Word document when I wanted to revise, or give them to my beta readers (at that stage, it was only my wife). This was a huge pain, and it was then that I heard about Scrivener, through a writer friend.

Scrivener is writing software that was developed from the ground up (by a writer) to be a fantastic writing tool, and it succeeds in this task admirably. It’s an incredibly comprehensive offering, with tools that are useful for a wide range of writing, from journalism to academic articles, to screenplays, and of course, novels. The brilliant thing about Scrivener from my perspective is that it uses a system of individual documents, one per scene usually, that you can split, merge, drag around to put into a different order, et cetera, and then compile into a single complete document at the press of a button. In one of its views, you can even represent the individual documents as index cards!

So it was fairly straightforward, conceptually, for me to transfer all of my individual iPhone documents into Scrivener, and once this was done I was even able to synchronise Scrivener with the Elements folder in Dropbox, so that any writing or editing which I did on the iPhone was updated to my Scrivener project whenever I did a sync. Fantastic!

I was greatly aided in this endeavour by David Hewson’s Writing a Novel with Scrivener. David is the author of the popular Nic Costa thrillers, set in Rome, but his informative blog posts on his writing techniques have fascinated and informed me in equal measure. And this book is just wonderful, setting out in great detail how he uses Scrivener to produce his awesome output, with plenty of invaluable tips and tricks.

Scrivener makes revisions a lot easier, because you can easily see the flow of plot in the novel. You can even track things like point of view, so that you can compile a single point of view into one document, to check that it makes sense on a standalone basis. Structural problems become easier to see and to solve.

I use both paper and Kindle to revise, and Scrivener can output a very serviceable Kindle file, or a Word document. You can choose at the compile stage how the document should flow together, with page breaks and chapter headings (auto numbered if you desire), and of course you can recompile with different settings within seconds if something isn’t quite right.

I’ve heard it said that whenever two writers get together the conversation almost invariably turns, sooner or later, to a discussion of how great Scrivener is. I can well believe it.