A Review of Scrivener

I wrote the following review for a local writer’s group, but I will share the recommendation with the web at large, because I know quite a few writers of my acquaintance who would love to use Scrivener.

Scrivener is the best writing program I have used, bar none. It’s a practical all-in-one drafting program that alternately allows you to either use just the word processing functions or go so far as to organize your entire novel (including research notes/pictures/videos) in one place, print your entire novel manuscript in standard format (that’s .RTF or .DOC if you prefer), automatically backup your novel at scheduled intervals to either a local folder or network drive, and take snapshots so you can edit without committing changes to the manuscript until you are comfortable that its fully right.

Those are the main features, but there are some additional bells and whistles that come with the software. For example, for those who struggle to come up with names for your characters, Scrivener has a name generator that can generate names from various ethnicities and nationalities. It also has a neat word count that will let you track word counts and set goals by scene and also set a word count for the overall manuscript so you can visually track how far you have to complete the novel.

Scrivener also has a really generous household license, which will allow you to install it on multiple computers (for all your family members) and it can also be installed on a USB stick so you can use it on the go.

Also, if you are scared off by the many features offered by Scrivener, I should note that all of these features are in the background and come up to be used only when you need them. You can use Scrivener without ever taking a look outside of the word processor/organization functions (but I suspect most people will eventually use those other features as well.)

If you are unsure about buying Scrivener ($45 for Mac and $40 for Windows versions) they have a demo version free for download at their site. The demo expires after 30 uses (that’s right uses not days) so you can take as long as you would like to test it out before purchasing it.

There are a few great demo videos on the Scrivener site that will show you how Scrivener works. Since the Mac version has been around for a few more years, there are some additional features in the Mac version that don’t appear in the Windows version.

For the Linux users (Ubuntu/Debian/Fedora/et al.) there is a free version of Scrivener available for download. I use the Linux version half the time while linked to a Dropbox account, and I can say that it hasn’t crashed on me yet. I’ve opened the Scrivener file in my Windows O/S after working on it in Ubuntu and everything just works. I should caution you that the Linux build is not supported by the Scrivener folks and should be used at your own discretion.

I hope you will give it a try–I know that because of Scrivener, I’ve had a much easier time writing my first novel. I hope you’ll have a similar success too. Happy writing.

Full Disclosure: I use Scrivener, but I’m posting this testimonial based on my own use. I’m not affiliated with Literature and Latte (the company that makes this product) in any way.

I watch Dr. Who now. Dr. Who is Cool.

If you’re not watching Dr. Who now, friends, you are missing out on some of the best science fiction drama/comedy storytelling on TV.  In my family Dr. Who is a multigenerational tradition. My dad saw the original series when he lived in England (I believe Pertwee was his first Doctor), and more recently me and my brothers have started watching it.

I’ve tried to find the adequate words to describe why you should watch this show, but I think Neil Gaiman, who is a lifelong Dr. Who fan, writer of the season 6 episode “The Doctor’s Wifeamong other things, and all around good guy says it better than I could:

“There’s a big blue box.  It’s bigger on the inside than the outside. It can go anywhere in space and time, sometimes where it is supposed to go.  Something will go wrong, and there’s some bloke called The Doctor who’ll make it all right because he’s awesome.  Now sit down, shut up and watch Blink.”

But really, for me, aside from the hours of brilliant heartfelt storytelling that Dr. Who delivered, the biggest impact was on my writing. I’ve started writing fun stories, silly stories, stories that I would not have conceivably written had it not been for Dr. Who. (And yes, I do write Dr. Who fan-fic. Its out in the open now. Not that I plan on showing the world any time soon.)

To catch you up, here’s a brief summary of everything you need to know about Dr. Who.

For someone new to Dr. Who I wouldn’t suggest starting from Series 1 and working up to Series 6, unless you want to be complete about it. At the very least I’d say you should watch these episodes to understand Steven Moffat’s (current showrunner of Dr. Who) story arc:

1. Dalek (Series 1)

2. Girl in the Fireplace (Series 2)*

3. Human Nature/The Family of Blood (Series 3)*

4. Blink (Series 3)**

5. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (Series 4)

6. Everything from Series 5 onwards.

Though, if you had to watch just one, watch Blink. You can thank me later. The latter half of Series 6 starts in September 2011, so you’ll have plenty of time to catch up over the summer.

*[The starred episodes are, imho, the best written ones.]

I’d be interested in hearing other Who-vians opinions about how to introduce someone to the show.

And, as an afterthought, fans of Moffat’s Dr. Who work might like his work on the BBC’s Sherlock: a modern day adaption featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman (who’s playing Bilbo in The Hobbit) as Watson. It’s clever, cerebral, witty and labyrinthine storytelling at its best.

To Get Better, First Write Badly: A Brief Retrospective of My Last Eight Years

I sat down today and looked at my writing projects from the time I started to write seriously (Grade 10) till present day (a period of about eight years.) I’d like to share some of the things I discovered about my writing progress with you all.

– I finished eighteen short stories in those eight years. I’m being charitable to myself when I say I finished these stories. In reality they’re mostly first draft efforts, with the odd story that I took the time to revise into a second draft. Its fairly clear from my progression that I’ve gotten a much stronger handle on plot, character, and setting. I was surprised at how much ambition I showed in those early stories, though I lacked the foresight and skills to revise my work.

– I mostly wrote those stories for myself. I was trying to figure out who I was a writer; imitating various authors, trying different narrative styles, and playing with language. These days I’m more focused in my goals. I’ve been setting deadlines for myself, and started submitting my short stories to markets. Compared to my previous efforts, these stories are getting finished faster and I’m learning more from each one.

– I’ve racked up close to 600 pages in free form journal writing. Writing a journal didn’t directly help my fiction writing but it did get me used to the act of writing on a daily basis. In retrospect, it was an invaluable habit for me to develop.

– A lot of my fiction writing was tied up in collaborative storytelling on online forums. An forum story role play (RP for short), for those not familiar with the concept, is basically a shared world story created and written about by a small group of writers in a fairly standard phpBB forum.  I must’ve written reams of fiction in those days, although most of it is now erased from the Internet.  Looking back on it now, forum storytelling was my first real exposure to longer form story with multiple characters and subplots.

Reflecting on progress is helpful, I think, because in the day to day process of writing we don’t perceive those imperceptible leaps in skill where the broken elements fix themselves and the story stands on its own.

In the end, I wrote a lot of fiction in those eight years, most of it bad. But from each story I finished I learned incrementally more about all the elements of story. In the long run, the last eight years have just been a drop in the bucket. Some of my favorite writers like Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss needed twelve unpublished novels and ten years of focused work respectively to get published. Its at once humbling and exhilarating to see how far I’ve come on this journey and how far the road ahead is.

My Favorite Authors and Literary Influences (Pt. 1)

Here is a list in no particular order of some authors that I’ve read, and books that have really influenced me as a writer. I had a hard time coming up with this list in the first place, but at the end of the day, if my house was burning down and I could only save a few books these ones would be pretty high up on that list.

Since the list of authors grew beyond the scope of a single blog post, I’ve divided up the entire thing into two pieces. Today, I’ll share my influences from the early days, and tomorrow I will share more recent influences.

From the Early Days:

Daniel Pinkwater, Brian Jacques, and Roald Dahl

I can’t think of much to say about these three fellows, but they still stand out in my mind as being the most memorable writers of my early childhood. I assume that readers of my generation probably encountered most of the same books I did at Grade 3 and Grade 6. I mean, we all read Animorphs and Goosebumps. But, all the telling details that inform my writing in unseen ways definitely took root when I read the Pinkwater, Dahl, and Jacques triad. In no particular order, these are the books that I’d recommend today.

By Pinkwater:

Lizard Music

Roald Dahl

The Witches

Danny, the Champion of the World

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

Jacques:

All of the Redwall books, but these are my favorites.

William Sleator

I read Interstellar Pig and The Boxes at a time when my primary fantasy consumption was with authors like David EddingsRobert Jordan, and Terry Brooks. (circa Grade 8,  I’d guess.) These books were weird, dark, off-center, and scratched my itch for new fictional milieus that I wasn’t getting from the epic fantasy genre. Don’t get me wrong, I still do read the occasional fantasy novel, but more than anything I’d read in my childhood, these books pointed to my eventual adult writing influences.

Garth Nix

I’m sure everyone remembers one book very vividly from their childhood, one that inspired a eureka moment when they discovered that they were fantasy fans for life. Most people might point to Lord of the Rings or the Wheel of Time. And sure, I read Jordan, Tolkien, Brooks, and Eddings. But Sabriel was the gateway drug, the one book that hooked me, made me a fan for life. To this day, some of the most vivid scenes that form the fictional tapestry of my childhood stories come from Sabriel. Besides, the story features a badass necromancer heroine who fights dead spirits with swords and seven magical bells. What’s not to like?

How about you all? Which book first got you interested in sf & f? Or reading for that matter?

Once Upon A Time: A Trunk Poem

Following in the tradition of revealing my trunk stories years after I’ve written them, I would like to share a poem I wrote lo’ those many years ago. I didn’t understand poetry fully then (still don’t) but something about the imagery in a few lines of this poem were evocative enough that I thought to finish the whole thing. Enjoy!

Once Upon A Time

We remember fables from childhood:
How the synthetic greenery
Of Old Earth
Once bled to a black clot.
Where ebony graves
Were tucked snug in the
Cracks of desert floors,
And ebbing ocean tides
Orphaned continents
Whose true names we’d long forgot;
Then, that Earth was stripped bare
Of fuel rich mineral guts:
As a cancer grew deep in her lungs.
As we survived and
crusaded to the vastest reaches
Of space.

Alone,she squandered her infinite lives,
Star-gifted to planets,
To bring breath to a choked sky
Struggling with certainty,
Grappling with fate.

When transient echoes of life
Were heard, across time and space
On another home, an adopted Earth,
We felt the stasis of a planet,
We thought dead,
Only a myth.

Again there were verdant swatches,
Oceans kissing land,
The uncanny shuffling of mountains
Creasing continental brows,
And all the beleaguered triumphs
Of the civilizations which followed
To the stumbling cadence
Of nature’s paradigms.

Now, we quest across the cosmos,
Seeking a home old as time,
Turning revolutions, far, far, away.
How long before her breath gives,
How much longer can she live?

-A.

Writing Links

Tools of the craft, tricks of the trade, helpful reminders for you all*:

*Most of these are not restricted to any one genre or type of fiction.

Writing Links, Three Bags Full By: Alyx Dellamonica

Contains a number of useful links to other writers blogs. I commend it to your attention. I also recommend following Alyx’s blog as she tends to post a lot of good writing advice on a regular basis.

Writing Fight Scenes By: Will Hindmarch

Brings up a few interesting points about pacing and sentence structure that I hadn’t thought about. The article also contains links to further reading on fight scenes.

How to Write A Novel in Two Months By: Jeff Vandermeer

Interesting read, though I’m nowhere near being able to finish a novel in two months.

Nascence By: Tobias Buckell

I highly, highly recommend that you check this out. Buckell (one of my favourite authors) has put together an anthology of seventeen stories that he wrote before being published. This book is a gold mine; the stories alone coupled with Tobias’ explanations have taught me a lot about my own failed short stories.

Writerisms and Other Sins By: C.J. Cherryh

A list of helpful tips on sentence structure and grammar to help newbie writers avoid writing badly.