filed under The French Photographer, Using Scrivener.

I recently posted a video on Facebook and a picture on Instagram showing the redraft I’m currently working on of my 2019 book, The French Photographer (working title). The video and pictures showed my Scrivener manuscript and it prompted a lot of questions from people about why I like using Scrivener to write a novel. I have blogged about using Scrivener to write a novel before, here and here, but that was a while ago. So I thought it was time to write an updated post, focusing on why Scrivener makes my redrafting process so much easier.

First, the Binder

One of my favourite things about Scrivener is the Binder, where I can see a list of all the parts of my book, plus all the chapters broken down into scenes. I’m a huge fan of colour coding the different folders in the Binder.

You can see in the picture below that in Part 1 of the book, there are some yellow folders. Those are chapters. In each folder are scenes colour coded either red or blue. My books always have two major plots: the particular dream my heroine is engaged in pursuing (becoming an obstetrician in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, beginning a cosmetics business in Her Mother’s Secret) plus the love story. In this case, the red scenes are those in which the heroine is chasing her dream and the blue are those in which her love interest appears.

Managing the Pace

It’s important that I make sure that both plot lines are in balance: that I don’t stick with one plot line for too long and forget to bring the other in, that one plot line doesn’t overly dominate etc. It’s a fine balance and there’s no handbook to say: this is the right amount of this plot line. It’s all gut instinct, which is why it helps to be able to overview it to see how it’s shaping up.

The image above shows chapters 1-3; I want to bed down the main plot line which is all about her chasing her dream (I can’t reveal too much about the storyline of this one at this stage unfortunately!), which is why there are a lot of red coloured scenes to begin with. Then she meets the man who becomes the love interest of the story and the reader begins to get to know him and hopefully to feel like they would be a good coupleā€”of course they might have to wait for a long time until that actually happens!

But you can see how the colour coding allows me to keep track of the pacing: the way in which I alternate between major plot lines in the novel. This is a key element of my redrafting: assessing how the pace is working or not working.

Managing the Structure

This book also has a contemporary storyline set in 2005, plus the historical storyline set from 1942-1946. So, as well as managing the pacing within the historical storyline, I have to manage the overall structure and alternation between the past and the present.

You can see in the image below a snippet of the Binder from the contemporary storyline. The chapter folders are purple whereas in the historical thread above, the chapter folders are yellow. Once again, I can see at a glance in my Binder how many chapters I have in the past before I move to the present.

As before, there is no right or wrong answer as to how many chapters in one timeline is too many or too few; it’s all gut instinct. So it’s really useful to have a way to overview that quickly and easily and to test my gut: does it look like I’ve spent too long in one timeframe? Or does it look like I’m cutting back and forth too quickly, thus confusing the reader? If it looks like one or the other of these scenarios, then I can go in and look more deeply at what’s happening and see if I need to change things, which is something I focus on in this redraft.

Managing the Research

The other thing I love about Scrivener is that I can keep everything associated with my manuscript in the one document. So any photographs or websites can all be saved into my Research folder. That means, if I need to refer to a particular website while writing, I don’t actually have to leave Scrivener to do so. I don’t have to open Safari and be tempted by Facebook because everything I need is kept in my manuscript.

You can see in the image below some of the things in my research folder: the documents with the little square beside them are photographs and the documents with the picture of the earth on them are websites. This is especially important in the redrafting phase because I need to triple check every fact so it’s a huge bonus to be able to quickly and easily locate my research sources.

Moving Scenes

This is one of the most brilliant parts of Scrivener: the fact that if I need to move a scene, I just drag and drop the folder from the Binder into a new location in the Binder. No hunting through a Word document to find the text, highlight the text, cut the text, locate the new position and then paste it. A simple drag and drop and it’s done.

It means I’m more wiling to experiment, to move scenes around and see what happens. It means that when I do have to move some scenes around, it’s not a huge chore and I don’t put it off or avoid doing it. In this redraft, I need to move all of Part 9 to where Part 8 is and cut Part 8 in half and split it between Parts 9 and 10. It will take me about 2 minutes to do that, which, you’ve got to admit, is brilliant!

If you’d like to know more about using Scrivener to write a novel, I teach a two hour online course through the Australian Writers Centre. It’s self-paced, which means you can do it from home, anywhere and at any time. You can find out more here.

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4 Responses to “Using Scrivener to Write a Novel: Or a Love Letter to Scrivener”

  1. Karen

    I love using Scrivener, too Natasha, and I’m particularly grateful for your course – it taught me so much in a short space of time. A worthwhile investment! I hadn’t thought about using two different colour systems with folders for chapters and scenes – that would help me make sense of my book, too.

    Reply
  2. Lara Morgan

    god what did we do without Scrivener?? I can’t believe I wrote books without it before. I only use word now when sending things to editors . I even used it to start writing a screenplay – though I’ve had to switch the text to the screenplay writers software Final Draft – which is also great but still not as user friendly navigable as Scrivener (unless I’m using it wrong!)

    Reply
    • Natasha Lester

      I know! I’m amazed that I wrote a couple of books without it – but I will never go back to the dark days of Word now. Thank goodness for software designers who know what writers need!

      Reply

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