Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Scrivener: How I use it -- Part 3

In part 1 I talked about using Scriveners Chapter and Scene titles as a condensed version of an outline, which makes navigating your novel a breeze later on.

Part 2 covered using labels to flag each chapter (and/or scene) with some specific thing that is important to your book.  In my case it was keeping track of whose POV each chapter would be from.  In yours it might be the location the chapter takes place in, or the time period, maybe various subplots, or something else entirely.  Whatever you think will be useful later when you might want to get a "view" of your story narrowed down to just one of these elements.  In my case, I liked to be able to get rid of everything so that Scrivener only showed me the chapters from a specific character's POV.

Now, I'd like to talk about the other key feature I use in Scrivener: comments.

The comments in scrivener work a bit like they do in Word, so if you're used to that this shouldn't be too alien.  The main difference is how they're displayed.  Well, that and how I use them.

Before that, let me explain a bit about how Scrivener organizes your book, because that is VERY different from Word and you might already be a bit baffled by it.

In your manuscript there are folders and text.

Folder = A Chapter
Text = A scene

This is the key thing to remember: A FOLDER CAN CONTAIN TEXT, TOO. I'll get back to this in a second. But repeat it to yourself now. Okay? Okay.

If you want, you can do your entire manuscript at the folder level and never make scenes within them. Hell, you can even just write your entire book at the "Manuscript" level and never break it down into smaller chunks at all.  For the purposes of this post I'm going to use folders and scenes, because that's what I do and that is something that opens up a lot of Scrivener's power.

Before we head back to our Star Wars example, I want to show you what I'm talking about with a blank "Novel" project.

Select File > New Project > Fiction > Novel

You should see something like this:

As you see the default project contains a top-level "Manuscript", one folder called "Chapter", and one text called "Scene".

Click on Manuscript.  You probably just see a corkboard with a notecard on it. Ignore that for now.

Click on this little button, which is "Edit Scrivenings":

Now you should see a blank view with a line across it.  Weird?  Let me explain.  You're looking at two pieces of your manuscript, the thing called "Chapter" and the thing called "Scene", simultaneously, and that's pretty cool.  Try this: Above the divider line, type in "This is the chapter".  Then below it, type "And this is the scene":

Now just click on Scene. You should only see the text for it.  Click on the chapter, you should see the text for both.  That's because we have that multi-document "edit scrivenings" view clicked.  If this is confusing to you, stop here and do the tutorial that comes with scrivener.  Or, just make some more chapters and scenes in here and play around with it.

What's the point of all this?  Simple: In Scrivener, you're in control of what you see.  From the entire manuscript, to a select sequence of chapters, to a tiny individual scene, you can narrow down your view to just what's important for your current task and get everything else out of the way.  In Word, you're always looking at everything, and that can make navigating a large project cumbersome at best. It may be hard to grasp why this is so powerful now, but trust me, when you've got a 50-chapter, 300 scene manuscript going, you'll love it.

The main thing you need to know is that when you're writing (again, this is just my personal technique), you should put the meat of your words in scenes.  I personally only use the "chapter" level for subheadings, like "Darwin, Australia 12.MAR.2282" or whatever.

So here's our Star Wars example so far.  Note that I have "Manuscript" selected in the binder.  Also, just so you're aware, I've pasted in text from the screenplay just so this isn't empty (I'll make this scrivener file available for download in case you want to look at it more closely.)

On to Comments, then!

Let's imagine you're in the process of writing your first draft.  You're in the chapter where Luke finds Leia's message (note: in the next screenshot that's the chapter selected, not "manuscript") and you've just written a throwaway line of pointless technobabble. An idea strikes you.  "I should totally bring this back up later and have it be important!".  But when?  I'm going to cover two scenarios here to give you a basic taste of how I use comments:

Scenario 1: You have no idea where to bring this up later, but you want to remember to add it at some point.  So add a comment right here:

Scenario 2: You know roughly where you want to mention this later, so click on that unwritten Chapter.  We'll say it's "Luke joins rebellion".  It's empty because you haven't written it yet, and you can't add a note to emptiness, so just put in a single "." or something and make your note:

(Pro tip: Doing this while writing can take you away from the spot where you were.  Learn how to use Scriveners split-screen mode and you won't have this problem.)
(Feature wish: Sometimes if it's important enough I'll add comments in both places, just to be sure the text matches in terms of details.  I kind of wish Scrivener had a way to link comments together, making it easier to keep track of these)

Comments can be for anything, not just when you want to remember to add something.  Maybe you've written what you know is an ugly line of dialog, but you're drawing a blank on a better choice.  Leave a comment to make sure you come back and fix it.  Or maybe you realize you need to research the name of a town but don't want to lose your groove; just call it "FixMe town", and add a comment to the word "FixMe" to correct it later when you have time.  This allows you to keep writing but not lose these kinds of things in the long haul.

Again, this is not too dissimilar from Word's comment feature, but I think it's better for two reasons:

1.  Remember earlier when we were looking at one scene, a chapter and its scenes, or the entire document? Well guess what, the comments listed on the side there correlate to that.  In other words, if you've only got your "Death Star" location scenes in view right now, you'll only see the comments you left in those scenes & chapters.  When editing, this ability to focus in on just what you're working on is very handy.

2. A more subtle difference is simply in the way Scrivener displays these.  While Word shows the comments sort of next to the text they go with, Scrivener just stacks them up on the right.  This might seem like a step back compared to Word, but I actually prefer it.  You navigate by clicking on the comments and seeing where they point, not the other way around.  The reason I prefer this is the main thing I wanted to get across with all this:

I use Scrivener comments as my to-do list for the manuscript.

Every one of these is something I need to fix.  Each time I fix one, I delete the comment, and I don't send off a manuscript to my editor until all the comments are gone.

Here's our Star Wars example with a bunch of comments added:

So there you go!  Questions?  Add a comment and I'll answer as best I can.


Gina Black said...

Very helpful! Thank you.

Robin Lythgoe said...

Thanks so much for this practical and so-very-useful series. I think I am going to get a lot of mileage from your advice!

Anonymous said...

Very helpful tip, Jason. (On the Windows version, you can add the "Comments" icon to the Format Toolbar via the Customize Toolbar choice under Tools.) It is exactly what I was looking for yesterday! Thanks!

Kay Hudson said...

Jason, I read your post on naming chapters recently, and applied it to my WIP. I've been using Scrivener for about a year, but I've barely scratched the surface. I pulled a completed manuscript into Scrivener for editing, and was very pleased with the process (even managed to compile it back out recently), but I stuck with numbering the chapters and scenes because they would occasionally slip away and hide from me. I seem to have gotten over that with the new project. But I hadn't given any thought to comments until I read this post and tried it out (I'm a Windows person, so thanks to the commenter who pointed out where to find the comment icon!). So very helpful! (Now if I can just convince Google that I'm not a robot!)

Jason M. Hough said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Anonymous said...

@jwnelson - Thanks for that tip about Windows. Saved me some time looking around trying to find the Comments there.

David Brookens said...

Jason, I've just caught on to your blog. Thanks for it; it's so helpful. I'm a big fan of Scrivener. It's very powerful but that can also be a problem. There are so many features and so many different ways of doing the same thing, the process of using the programme can easily overtake and choke the process of "writing". I don't find the user manual particularly easy to use and while the video tutorials are good, there are plenty of areas I can't find on them. I echo your plea for "linked comments". I've been trying to understand "linking" in Scrivener for some time and and while I've got it now for introducing links in the inspector (to other documents) linking comments has eluded me. There is reference to linked comments in teh manual (18.2.2 - p248) but I don't understand it. Having said all that I don't know where I'd be without Scrivener.
Thanks again for the blog.

David Brookens

Claudia Putnam said...

Why not just use the doc notes in Inspector? I can't understand the comments feature vs Inspector. You can make a bulleted list and use strikeout as you get through each thing. Just wondering if I'm missing something, if it would be better to use comments for something?

Jason M. Hough said...

Claudia - great question! There's a number of reasons I prefer comments:

- Notes are just freeform text at the document level. Comments are tied to a specific bit of selected text within a document. I can click on a comment and jump *exactly* to the thing it is in reference to. This also means that comments are naturally and automatically kept in order.

- For me, comments make a better "checklist" because of the above reason and the fact that I can remove them as I deal with them. It's just a personal preference, however

- Lastly, when you're viewing an entire manuscript or even just more than one document (which I am, 99% of the time) you see all the comments across that entire collection. With document notes you *only* see the notes for the specific document you're cursor is in. Again, it's a personal preference, but when I'm revising I want to see my comments across the manuscript, not only the things I put in the notes for that one document I happen to be cursored in.

Does that make sense?

Neither approach is right or wrong, just different workflows to reach the same goal. Do what works best for you!



Jason M. Hough said...

Excuse my typos by the way -- "you're cursor" should be "your cursor".

Jason M. Hough said...

Thought of one other reason: say you highlight text that has a comment associated with it, and cut that text to paste elsewhere -- in a different chapter. The comment goes with it.

However if I had some freeform note in the document notes related to what was in that paragraph, that note would now be in the wrong place. Months later, when I finally get to dealing with whatever the issue is, it would be cumbersome to try and track down whatever the thing was I was talking about. It could literally be anywhere. There's no direct association to some item in a bulleted list and the text it's in reference to.

Lyssa Menard said...

I'm more than a little late to the party, but wanted to thank you, Jason, for these great Scrivener posts.

I did the ugly thing of porting a large Pages doc (around 90,000 words) into Scrivener because I needed the thing organized. My mind was a blurry mess till I read these 3 posts and all of a sudden I love Scrivener. My proverbial light bulb switched on.

I do wish I could find a blog that addresses scrivener tips and tricks for non-fiction writers. Maybe that will be me when this project is over :)