Scrivener Review

Scrivener Review

Everyday word processors work fine for memos, letters, and short stories. But software applications like Microsoft Word and Apple Pages do little to organize thoughts, research, and structure. This review shows how Scrivener helps you simplify writing and publishing.

With Scrivener 3, you can:

  • Enter text into a familiar editor.
  • Store and retrieve the research you need to write your novel.
  • Arrange scenes according to your preferred Story Structure.
  • Produce files in popular formats to self-publish.
  • Use templates and arrange your digital workplace to:
    • Enhance story structure
    • Format preferred style
    • Track story details

Table of Contents

Introduction to Scrivener

What is Scrivener software?

It’s more than a word processor:

  • Manage even the most extensive writing projects, including a book series.
  • Organize research, outline stories, and display summaries using visual tools.
  • Collect research from many sources and reference from within Scrivener.
  • Publish your work in multiple formats.

Example: Scrivener can display document summaries similar to 3X5 cards. The creation of scene synopsis based on a character’s point of view is next to impossible in Apple Pages or Microsoft Word but easy in Scrivener.

This image shows where scenes fall within the Global Story Beats. The color coding of each column and on the left side of each card indicates the character point of view.

The colors on the right side of each card show the customizable Keywords (e.g., McDonald’s Murder, Criminal Enterprise, Trish Hardy’s Life) associated with the Main Plot and Subplots.

The diagonal text across a card displays the status of the scene (e.g., To Do, In Progress, First Draft, Revised Draft, Final Draft, Done), which you can customize to fit your writing process.

Multi-POV Display
Click to Enlarge

Who makes Scrivener software?

The story of Scrivener began in 2004. Keith Blount dreamed of creating the ideal software to write his novel and thesis. He taught himself to code. Two years later, Literature & Latte was born. Blount released the first version of Scrivener in January 2007.

Today, Keith and his dedicated team continue to support and develop this revolutionary software.

Who uses Scrivener and why?

Scrivener supports a wide range of writing projects, but this review focuses on authors who write full-length novels.

When authors fail to balance characters, plot, theme, and structure, that causes disappointed readers. Scrivener gives you the tools to track the necessary details.

  • Story influences through characters, plot, theme, and structure.
  • Characters convey emotions as they change and grow throughout the story.
  • Plot forces characters to face conflict through a series of events.
  • Theme reinforces the universal truth (need) that conflicts with lies (want).
  • Structure heightens emotions based on the strategic sequence of events.
Global Story

The stakes for nonfiction writers are high, too. Scrivener helps authors substantiate their books with easy reference to the researched facts.

Non-fiction Research
View Research Details as You Write

Why is Scrivener better than everyday word processors?

Scrivener gives authors the ability to:

  • Organize an entire novel with a digital three-ring-binder (the “binder”).
  • Write, research, and arrange long documents with visual representations.
  • Divide books into individual documents and give names to each.
  • Use three displays (i.e., editor, outline, and corkboard) to “see” the story.
  • Rearrange documents with drag and drop.
  • Move documents from the Ideas folder into the Draft/Manuscript folder.
  • Increase productivity by changing the layout to match writing styles.
Scrivener Flexible
Flexible Displays to “See” Your Story Unfold

Will Scrivener work with latest OS?

Although I’ve not tested Windows, Scrivener 3 works great with macOS. Over the years, I’ve seldom needed to contact Literature and Latte. On those rare occasions, I got a timely response to my question.

Can I use Scrivener on multiple computers?

Scrivener grants you what’s called a “household” license for the platform (e.g., macOS). You can install and run Scrivener on any macOS machine you own, and of which you are the predominant user. Also, you can install and run Scrivener on any machines based in your house and used by family members living with you. But you cannot use a Mac license with the Windows version or vice versa.

Is Scrivener worth it?

I believe Scrivener is well worth the price when you consider the benefits and features. But before you buy, please read the rest of this Scrivener review.

It’s so powerful. For example, you can create folders within the binder. Then store and retrieve research.

Take a look at the detailed matrix shown below. Within Scrivener’s binder, I store this PDF under Character Development. Whenever I need to reference a character’s negative or positive progression, I can pull up this document with one click.

Store a variety of PDFs, documents, images, videos, and audios. Keep open in separate windows the research you need to write.

Character Development Matrix
Click to Enlarge

Organize Your Projects

What does Scrivener do?

Scrivener’s unique design helps you write full-length fiction and nonfiction books:

  • Gather Information: Scrivener allows you to capture, find, and use research, including notes on how you plan to use it.
  • Order Chaos: Story ideas often come in bits and pieces, and Scrivener gives you the ability to capture a great concept and later order the chaos.
  • Generate Ideas: In the Research folder, store ideas (e.g., characters and settings), save images, and add links.
  • Structure Projects: Use your favorite structure, dividing into Acts, Beats, Chapters, and Scenes.
  • Set Preferences: Improve productivity by updating with Scrivener templates.
  • Switch Views: Use Scrivener’s editor, outliner, and corkboard displays to view, change, and rearrange your story.
    • Editor: Works much like to your everyday word processor.
    • Outliner: Displays information based on your preferred story structure.
    • Corkboard: Shows information on digital 3X5 index cards.
Scrivener Corkboard
Scrivener’s Binder and Corkboard
  • Adjust Styles: Set formats for display, ebooks, and paperbacks.
  • Track Information: Define and track information across the entire manuscript.
  • Publish Work: Create files in various formats.

Is Scrivener too complicated?

Scrivener’s text editor is easy to use. But admittedly, it does take an investment in your time to learn how Scrivener’s tools can help you write full-length novels. But once you learn how to use the software, your productivity will soar!

Can I use Scrivener offline?

Scrivener works offline. Save local or cloud files. Use auto-saves and auto-backups to preserve your work.

How to use Scrivener?

Scrivener's Flexible Workspace
Arrange the Display to Fit Your Preferred Writing Style

Given Scrivener’s flexible workspace, use it to improve writing quality and productivity:

  • Structure: Scrivener makes it easy to organize your work, either for “plotters” who outline before they write or “pantsers” who arrange their work afterward. So you can divide into acts, chapters, and scenes.
  • Track: You can track project goals, document status, point of view, scene beats, and plot (e.g., pacing, suspects, clues, foreshadowing, characters, settings).
  • Research: Scrivener excels at helping you gather and display facts, descriptions, webpage links, and files.
  • Ideas: Create a folder to save ideas, record dialogue, develop characters, create locations, store plot twists, and more.

Personalize Your Workspace

What does it mean to personalize your workspace?

Set up the workspace based on your preferences. Create a writing environment based on the way you like to work.

  • Fiction: Adjust settings, create folders, and customize metadata for genres.
  • Nonfiction: Save document layouts as templates for repeated use.

Are there free Scrivener templates?

Scrivener 3 for macOS comes with free templates for fiction, nonfiction, scriptwriting, and miscellaneous.

You can get free and paid templates from several sources. For example, get a free Character Template for Scrivener.

Can you adjust what Scrivener displays?

Change how much or little you see on the screen: 

  • Insert or cut items on the toolbars.
  • Split the editor into two horizontal or vertical windows.
  • View research in one window and update text in the other.
  • Set the display colors.
  • Work in dark mode (if preferred).
  • Use composition mode to eliminate distractions.
  • Add a new document using preformatted Template Sheets:
Scrivener Review Template Sheets
Examples of Template Sheets

What can you track in Scrivener?

You can set target word counts for entire projects and individual documents. Allocate how much time. Add custom metadata and keywords. Track point of views, scene beats, suspects, clues, foreshadowing, and more. Take a snapshot prior to an edit and revert if you change your mind.

Share Your Scrivener Work

Scrivener creates files using the export and compile functions. 

  • Export is a convenient way to share selected documents in popular file formats.
  • Compile provides extensive control over the details, such as file format, fonts, and headers.

How do you export files in Scrivener?

You select the documents to export. Use the drop-down file and export menu. Choose the format (e.g., rich text, PDF), then name and save the file.

Can Scrivener export to Word?

The export options allow you to save the document in either past or current Word formats (i.e., .doc or .docx). This is a handy way to create files for sharing and editing in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

Can Scrivener open Word documents?

You can import Word documents into Scrivener. Select the location where you want to place the file within the binder. Then use the file and import menu to bring the document into Scrivener. You can even parse the MS Word document into appropriate scenes and chapters.

Can Scrivener use iCloud?

You can save and load iCloud-based Scrivener files. For example, save files local to your computer and back up those files to the cloud.

What do you compile in Scrivener?

Scrivener gives you the ability to control file formats and contents:

  • Select which documents to include in Compile.
  • Compile “as is” (i.e., Editor’s settings) or set up a new format.
  • Save formats for repeated use.
  • Adjust settings for more complex jobs (e.g., print).
  • Use the same selected documents but adjust formats:
    • Change paperback to digital, switch from PDF to ePub, etc.
    • Replace one font with another, convert large page to small, etc.

Get Scrivener

What’s the price for Scrivener?

Given the many benefits of using Scrivener, the $49 price  provides a tremendous value. Also, there’s a free 30-day trial so you can download Scrivener 3 and take it for a long test drive.

Why buy Scrivener?

The design and functionality of Scrivener 3 for macOS offers many more positives than negatives:

  • Comprehensive Project Templates: Fiction and nonfiction templates enhance your efforts, so you don’t have to start each project from scratch.
  • Researching and Brainstorming: Keep facts, details, and ideas in one place for quick reference.
  • Quality Output: Create files in popular ebook and print formats to self-publish on different platforms.
  • macOS: Use on macOS computers, and if you’re a fan of Apple computers, Scrivener is by far the best choice for full-length novels. The Windows version now works similar to the macOS version.
  • Multiple Computers: If you have a desktop and laptop, you can install Scrivener on both machines without more cost.
  • Time Investment: Studying Scrivener will streamline your writing projects and enhance your productivity.
  • Exchange Files: Scrivener’s import, export, and compile features make it easy to exchange files (e.g., MS Word and Google docs).
  • Growth Potential: Scrivener empowers serious writers who want to do as much as possible with one software tool.

Is Scrivener a onetime buy?

The onetime price of Scrivener 3 for macOS does not require a subscription. In the past, Literature & Latte charged for version changes. I thought the fee to upgrade from version 2 to 3 was quite reasonable.

Disclosure: I based this review on my long-term use of Scrivener 3 for macOS. Literature & Latte updated the Windows versions to provide features similar t the macOS version; however, I have not tested the Windows version.