Scrivener: The Sexy vs. The Practical

Word processors are designed for writing. We’ve all used Word and similar designer babies but it’s not often we really push the limits of our software. But then, is there any need to push those limits if the program can do what you want it to?

by Dave Trendall

Does sexy equal practical?

The number of word processors out there is countless. With most doing similar things, why should we even consider getting something different; or even crazier… pay for it?

One piece of software that has mountains of users who often describe it as ‘sexy’, is Scrivener. I was interested to see why, and if, it was good for writing. Sexy is one thing but does it actually stand up to a long term relationship… and is it really worth paying for?

Pros of the Processor

Getting inside a writer’s mind can be a treacherous minefield, a forest of ideas where trees are mangled and roads lead nowhere. When starting out on a project there are avenues to explore, ideas to grapple with. Where to start?

Scrivener really understands the writers mind as it is logically laid out but doesn’t tie you down to any format like most other software does – what it does do is encourage flexibility.

Scrivener really understands the writers mind

Research and organisation are key in writing your magnus opus and to have access to the mind maps and scribblings in a click can make this process easier. Most processors or text editors will have you open 3… 4… 5… different windows as you begin minimising, maximising, moving and closing windows, trying to access those hard-to-find character bios and scene ideas.

All the ideas you put on your scratch pad and other documents can be a daunting and complicated excercise in organisational dilligence but on Scrivener you have everything you need on show with easy access.


On the right of the interface you have the inspector, on the left you have the binder which has all your files and character notes displayed just one click away. On the right, the inspector which shows the synopsis, step outline, ideas or comments. In the centre is a clear writing part.

You can also build collections for each project which is a great help. Despite the neatness of it all and the ability to minimize these collections, there’s a lot of info on display and it can look a little busy, so what if you just want to write?

The full screen function allows you to have the page, a photo of that lovely deserted island in the background and nothing else, which helps you focus on the task in hand and not on toolbars, configurations and statistics. It’s a nice touch and the simplicity is refreshing.

What if you just want to write?

The program comes with a plethora of options so you can adapt it to your liking. F or example you may want the blank page to fade down, change the paper width or change the paper position. It’s all about adapting to your needs.

The final stage!

Something that Scrivener has, is the ability to export your script/novel onto an ebook for kindle, epub, Word or even Final Draft among others. This motivational and inspirational tool brings you one step closer to self-publishing or selling and getting it out there. It is mostly geared toward novel or non-fiction/research writers however the impetus and injection of ‘reality’ and coming face to face with a realistic ‘published’ finish piece is quite the motivation!

It is also possible to sync the scribblings from write room, index card and simpletext for iphone/itouch or Ipad. This is for the Mac only, however the windows beta version is soon to catch up in this respect.

This motivational and inspirational tool brings you
one step closer to self-publishing or selling

Index card features

An excellent interface that really is second to none in terms of pure chic: the corkboard interface has clear index card features for you to design your plots and characters in a great, organised and colourful fashion.

It’s not just the je-ne-sais-quoi, but the ease of use and detail you can put into it is a great attribute. It allows you to brainstorm in order for you to really nut out the structure and outline before going to work on the screenplay.

An excellent interface that really is second to none

You can also use the cards as scene ideas, change the font and change the colour to indicate theme or concept. It is gorgeous and makes the writing thoroughly enjoyable – it’s nice to have a different view with the corkboard that really makes you feel you’re in the planning room.

I am a lover of index cards – this is so close to the real thing that you can almost smell the paper and feel the cork. The other processors look and feel like a computer – this doesn’t.

This is so close to the real thing
that you can almost smell the paper
and feel the cork.


It’s options are a burden and a blessing. Really, it’s like a brain… complicated yet fascinating, or a complicated enigmatic character: hard to decipher. There are numerous options and drop down menus to explore and you sometimes feel like you just don’t get it, but then, suddenly, it all makes perfect sense and you feel quite enamoured with yourself for doing so darn well.

What is important in such software is the technical support, and it is excellent. I’ve never really had the support in terms of software like this before. On the website there are video tutorials, that are simple and easy to understand, as well as a fully detailed manual that could provide a few nights of scintillating bedtime reading… If that’s your thing. The forum is also full of hints, tips and tricks.

I’ve never really had the support
in terms of software like this before.

So many options, but are they all useful? There are numerous configurations to behold and wonder at and it’s well worth trying to get to know them all to make it exactly to your liking.


What I found problematic however, was in transferring documents onto scrivener, particularly screenplays. When I tried to import scripts from two different screenwriting programmes the alignment, fonts and formatting were all over the place and it took time to get it back to normal.

Although you may find ways around this problem – a ‘how to’ video tutorial and extensive information on exporting and importing will help – it was a time-consuming process and an extensive lesson in jargon. Other users have noted it is difficult to use with blogs and can be a lavishly laborious process to export certain documents onto, or out of, Scrivener.

it is difficult to use with blogs and can be
a lavishly laborious process
to export certain documents

The corkboard is lovely, sexy even, though it’s not the most important thing for writing. There are feasts of different views and colours to change this to that and put that in a drop down menu while you tweak this and paste this into that folder… I confused myself when operating it and getting to know it.

It’s nice to have a software that is as complex as it is interesting. And that’s interesting in a good way but is it too much for what is essentially a virtual binder, paper with pen?

Added to this, index cards themselves are available on other programme, such as Celtx, for a smidgeon of the price.

A fast car is good driving

You will get what you paid for with Scrivener and understanding just what it can do will take an enjoyable or frustrating amount of time, depending on whether you like getting to know the options or just want to get writing.

No doubt this is a great piece of software. It’s a neat looking, intuitive programme which has everything you need right in front of you, for you to use at your disposal. It’s perfect for writing and particularly organising thoughts ideas and structuring them into a coherent order.

Then, after having sussed out this little gem, you can start the marriage with a day of getting to know each other, to start afresh and forget what had gone before. Word? Who was that flash in the pan?

Some may argue If you need to go from A to B do you really need a Dodge viper with extra torque, whatever you decide, it certainly looks nice in your garage and feels great when you’re in the driving seat.

-Dave Trendall

My name is David Trendall and I am from the land of Braveheart. I studied Film and Television in Wales and it was there I found a love and passion for writing scripts. Since then I have written four screenplays and many short films. I hope to reach 10 within the next 5 years and am continuing to write and hone my skills in screenwriting and story structure. And yes I do like Braveheart.

2 thoughts on “Scrivener: The Sexy vs. The Practical”

  1. Great review! Funnily enough I was reading an interview with Christopher Nolan and he makes a point of not using index cards or doing any plotting whatsoever. He just starts writing and after he has a monolithic tome, he focuses on figuring out what on earth he was trying to write. Then figures out the characters, mood and starts to refine everything. Of course this takes him months and many, many drafts. It is interesting the different techniques writers use. I always start with mood which feeds the setting and theme, then plot/characters simultaneously. Well I try :)

  2. Hi David, glad you liked the review! I like Scrivener for the fact that it gives you the index cards and other options, allowing you to apply your own process of writing. Christopher Nolan is a talented man and I’ve heard other writers saying the same about their process. I’ve tried writing without structure, and without cards – just an idea and a character and I came out with a mess (was fun and cathartic though!) – trying to figure out what I was writing took me years. I enjoyed doing that but, for me, I couldn’t do that again. It’s too painful! I think and procastinate over my index cards (for a long time) and then hit the drafts. That’s my process, every writer has a different process and what works for some people maybe doesn’t work for others. I think you have to figure it out for yourself. I like the idea of starting with a mood/tone. That’s cool.


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