So, when I started my series on spreadsheets, I stated my biases up front: I only use spreadsheets to handle mathematical data. While some people love entering text on the “function” line of a spreadsheet (::shudder::), I’m more of a word-processor, text-formatter girl. I suspect that’s a reflection of the fact that the first programs I ever used (and wrote!) were for manipulating text, rather than for handling data.
So, how do I keep track of textual details of my stories? The bits of my outline that I’m incorporating in *this* particular chapter. The physical descriptions of each character. The names of the gods and goddesses, along with their arcane attributes. The timeline. (Oh, gods above, the timeline… Every novel I’ve ever written does tricky things with time, requiring me to know the precise day that every single event transpires.)
My answer: Scrivener.
Scrivener is a program published by Literature and Latte. It was originally only available for Apple computers; I understand that there’s now a Windows “translation” available in beta. (ETA: The Windows version is now final. The Linux version is in beta.)
Now, I realize that many of you are inclined to stop reading at this point. You don’t work on Apple computers. Or you don’t have $45 in your budget for new-to-you software. Or you don’t have time to learn new software.
I get that. And believe me, I’m not going to try to evangelize you. Rather, I’m going to tell you how I use Scrivener. You can probably translate a lot of what I tell you into your program-of-choice. (And I’ll tell you, right up front, that I probably only use about 20% of what Scrivener offers.)
Scrivener is a “content generation tool”. It’s intended to help authors who create works in a variety of formats — from novels to poetry to screenplays to whatever — structure their ideas and their substantive writing. The program provides a Corkboard (to organize ideas, as if on old-fashioned index cards), folders and files (to hold substantial bits of text, like scenes and/or chapters), and an Inspector (to collect and manage meta-data).
I spend most of my time on Scrivener working in Document view, which looks like this:
You’ll note that the left column lists all the folders and files (chapters and scenes) in my novel, along with folders for Research and for Trash. Under Research, I create files for all those pesky lists that other people track in spreadsheets. These are all text files. I keep one for the “Acknowledgments” that will eventually appear in the published book, another for Characters (names, physical descriptions, details like birthdays, favorite foods, etc.), another for the Plot Summary of the entire novel (usually written before I actually get to the outlining stage), and another for possible final Titles for the novel. As I write more of this Jane Madison novel, I’ll create additional research files where I’ll record details on the magical properties of crystals and herbs, and I might add a research file to list all of my spells. You get the idea.
The middle column is where I do most of my work — actually writing the scene.
The right column is the Inspector. You’ll note a bunch of little symbols in the bottom right corner; those let me change the view of the Inspector. Almost all of the time, I keep it in the summary view that I’ve shown you above, with the index card for the scene reminding me of the bit of the outline I’m working on, along with some technical meta-data, and Notes. In Notes, I keep track of my timeline, writing in the specific date or dates on which the scene takes place. Inspector can also show me keywords, tags, snapshots (earlier versions), etc. But as I said, I only use a limited part of Scrivener’s voluminous offerings, so I’m not going to waste your time explaining features I don’t use often.So. That’s it. Between “Research” and “Notes”, I keep track of my supporting documentation, without relying on spreadsheets.I’m sure I’ve managed to confuse just about everyone. Fire away with questions!