Saturday, September 28, 2013

Scrivener - How I use it, part 2: Labels, keywords, and meta-data

First, let's recap the main takeaway from part 1: Name your chapters to denote what happens in them.  The list can (and does, for me) end up serving as your outline, which makes it incredibly easy to navigate your book later.

To keep with our Star Wars example, here's the whole thing laid out (and viewed in "Outline Mode" which I've highlighted):

Nice and tidy, right? Now, as an outline this may look a bit light. If you didn't know Star Wars you wouldn't be able to get the full gist of the story from this. That's okay. This is for your use, not to communicate the story to others.  And, once it's fleshed out with Scenes inside these chapters, the details, if needed, will emerge.

For you pantsers out there, it's perfectly fine to NOT do this ahead of time.  Just create a new chapter, write it, and when you're done name the chapter with a terse summary.

Last note on this: If you look at these chapters, I've tried to have the words summarize what happens at the END of that chapter. This way, every time I start writing a chapter I know what my goal is, and I can have fun getting there.  It works for me, but as always your kilometerage might vary.

Moving on then!

Labels, keywords, and meta-data

Scrivener gives you a lot of different wants to flag things for later reference.  And because of that it can be easy to get overwhelmed by these options, and equally easy to go overboard using them.

So my main piece of advice here is KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

You don't have to use all these features, and indeed I don't. I started out adding keywords and meta-data all over the place, but in the end I found I wasn't ever making use of them. Your technique will likely evolve, too.  For now, we'll keep it simple and just make use of Labels.

In the screenshot earlier, you can see that each Chapter, by default, gets the label of... Chapter.

Personally, I think this is next to useless.  For me, what was useful when writing my Dire Earth novels was to know which character's POV was used in each chapter.  The reason's I'll get into in a second, but first let me show you how to change these.

First, click the little up/down arrow next to one of the "Chapter" labels and then select "Edit..."

Here are the default labels:

Change the custom title from "Label" to "POV".  Then, edit the label names themselves (double-click on them) to be the main characters in your book.

For our example purposes, here's what the screen should look like:

I also made "No Label" the default.

When you click OK, everything that labeled "Chapter" before will now have "Kenobi", since we edited the existing label. That's okay. Go through each chapter now and change it to the character who's point-of-view is used. The final result is something like this:

Now, Star Wars itself might not be the best example for using POV as the label we care most about.  But for my novels POV was very important, so let's just pretend it matters here, okay?  Okay.

What you can learn from this is if some characters are under or over represented.  There's a lot of Luke chapters at the end for example, so perhaps sticking a Vader POV chapter in there might be better for flow (again, just pretending - the actual film cuts back and forth a lot between characters, I know). Maybe the final chapter can be told from Leia's POV. And so on...

If you're writing a mystery, maybe change the label column to "Clues" and keep track of what is learned when.  Or if you're writing a 1st person story of emotional journey, you could denote the mental state of the main character. Again, this is all to help you identify issues like pacing or focus. In the mystery example, you might find at this stage that you've got a large section in the middle of your book where no clues are given. Whether or not that's an actual problem is something for you to decide. Follow your gut!

Now, Scrivener does offer other ways to do this.  In addition to label there's status, keywords, and meta-data.  For me, just using labels is really enough. I've done other things like adding keywords for locations and meta-data to note every character that appears in a given scene, but honestly I hardly ever used these.  For the more detail oriented writer, you might LOVE this sort of thing, and I also suspect some of you are already looking at this POV label and thinking it wouldn't help you at all.

The main thing you need to realize about using these is that once setup you can SEARCH based on them.  It's easy, just click the little down arrow next to "Search" and tell it you only want to search labels. Search for "Luke" and you'll find every chapter where Luke is the POV character.  Again, perhaps not so useful with this Star Wars example, but imagine if you had 60 chapters with 10 different POV characters. Using this, you can instantly get a view of your book from just that character's POV. Used well, this can be very, very powerful tool.

Part 3 of this series will cover using comments as an amazing way to keep track of every little idea or correction or concern you think of as you write.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scrivener - How I use it, part 1

To the aspiring authors out there:

Before reading this, there's one thing you absolutely need to know.  When it comes to writing, "there's no rules, only tools." Take all writing advice with a grain of salt. If you have time, or know you need a change, give things a try and keep what works for you.  If things are working for you, keep doing what you're doing and file this stuff for future reference.

Now then, ready?

Scrivener.  You've probably heard about it by now.  If not, you should give it serious consideration for your next project. I say next because I think Scrivener works best when you use it from Day 1. And, generally speaking, it's a bad idea to switch software tools in the middle of a project.  With November approaching, that's a pretty good opportunity for all you Nanites out there to give Scrivener a shot, especially since they usually offer a free trial version in November (and a discount if you finish Nano).

Why Scrivener?

If you've ever developed any software, you should get what I'm about to explain instantly.  For the rest of you, I'll try to make this as clear as possible.
Scrivener treats your manuscript like source code.  You've got a project (the book, or even books in my case), and all the material involved is contained in that project.  Not just the manuscript, like you'd have in Word, but everything.  Chapters, scenes, research, character bios, you name it... each is within the project and each is treated as a separate thing.

Whereas in Word your manuscript is the file, just one big stream of text, in Scrivener you can keep everything in nice tidy chunks.  Why's that important?  Well, first and foremost is speed.
You can zip from one chapter to another in seconds, and since each is titled with a name you provide, making a quick jump to review what happened in a previous chapter is just a single click away, rather than minutes of scrolling around in Word trying to find the right spot.  If you've never dealt with a long document in Word you might not realize this is even an issue, but once you've got a big novel going, it's incredibly useful.

Let me highlight a few things I can do in Scrivener that are impossible, or so cumbersome they might as well be, in Word:
    • I have a single Scrivener project that contains all three manuscripts (multiple versions, too), every bit of research (text, images, audio, even video), worldbuilding notes including maps, character sketches, deleted scenes, plus hundreds of notes or ideas I came up with during this process.  That's 500,000 words of core work, plus tons of additional stuff, and it's all instantly available and searchable.  Word basically chokes on anything over 300 pages or so.  In Scrivener I can zip around nearly 1800 pages easily, and it's all lightning fast and incredibly stable (zero crashes).
    • Scrivener focuses on content, not "the document".  I've tagged every scene with who is in it and where it takes place.  This means I can instantly filter down my view to just the bits where a certain character is present, or scenes that take place in a certain location.  If you're writing multiple POV's, or have many subplots, this is unbelievably helpful.
    • Scrivener treats each chapter, indeed each scene, as a separate entity. Want to try a different chapter arrangement? Just drag and drop. Its as easy as moving files.
    • Scrivener treats the final "document" as a product you produce at the end.  You're not editing a document in Scrivener, you're editing the content that will make up a document.  This is the key paradigm shift over something like Word, and probably the hardest thing for a new user to grasp.  Programmers probably get this quickly because basically it's a workflow they're used to: your content is like source code, and the outputted manuscript is compiled.  Need a standard manuscript in Word format? Compile.  Ebook properly setup for Kindle? Compile.  PDF with notes and watermarks and with the alternate ending? Compile.  None of this changes the content at all.
As with software development, a few simple organizational tips up front will help you immensely down the road.  I'll start with one here, and cover others in subsequent posts.

TIP 1: Naming chapters

Or, perhaps a better way to say it, let your chapter names be your outline.  Never, ever, name them "Chapter 1, Chapter 2," and so on.  Why? Chapter numbers will change and besides naming them this way doesn't help you at all.

Here's an example that uses the first few "chapters" of the movie Star Wars as an example:

As you can see, some of these have scenes in them, but the bottom two do not.  Whether you choose to break things down smaller like this or not doesn't really matter.  The point is, look at how easy that is to navigate!  Imagine this expanded over 50 chapters each with multiple scenes.  Can't recall if Han shot first in that bar scene just before they flee Tatooine? Well, just click the chapter in your binder and there you are.  With split view mode, you don't even need to leave the spot you were writing in to do this.  Using tags properly is another way to do this, and I'll cover that in part 2.

By the way, this doubles as an example of how I outline, which I've mentioned before here and in some interviews.  A few words per chapter or scene, usually noun-verb-noun, is what I use once I start writing.  This is enough for me to know where the chapter is going without taking all the creative spontaneity out of the writing itself.

If you use my chapter naming scheme above, you'll probably want to turn off the display of those in your compiled manuscript.  This is easy to do in the "Compile" screen:

Turn off the checkboxes for "Title", and make sure you have the "Text" boxes checked.  This way, if you want to have actual chapter titles in the book, just put them in the text of the document itself (I do this at the chapter level, then the actual prose in the scenes included therein).