Monday, September 30, 2013

# On Writing # Post

Why You Need Scrivener to Plot Your Next Book

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Why You Need Scrivener to Plot Your Next Book

I’m the first to admit how easy it is to stick with old standbys when it comes to writing tools: spiral notebooks for sudden inspiration, 3x5 index cards for planning/shuffling scenes, and Microsoft Word for manuscript writing. While these tried-and-trues have earned their place in the muse’s hall of fame, there are some programs on the scene that are more than worth a look. One such piece of genius: Scrivener.

Selected by PC World as one of 2012’s top 100 products, Scrivener is a novel planning revelation I’m not sure how I lived without. This software, which is available for both Mac and PC, not only offers a powerful novel writing tool, but has multiple features to keep character profiles, settings, timelines, research, and more organized and at your fingertips. 

While I could dither on at length about the many virtues of Scrivener, the one feature that prompted this post is the cork board. If you use nothing else in Scrivener, the cork board alone is worth getting this program. 

Why You Need Scrivener's Cork Board

Scrivener’s cork board feature allows you to quickly and easily pin virtual index cards to the screen. The cards can contain text, images, or both, making them perfect for timelines, scene plotting, or character profiles. There are other programs that let you add text/images to a blank page, but Scrivener’s super streamlined index card look is unique. The cards are easy to add and edit. They snap into a perfect line for viewing, and in short creates the perfect drop-and-go experience. 

The corkboard has become my primary tool for organizing character files as well as plotting out my scenes.  I love being able to see my characters side by side like this:
My characters side by side on the cork board
Scrivener’s corkboard view is profoundly satisfying, not to mention helpful, when you want a “big picture” of the cast. If characters look too much alike, for instance, it’s easy to spot at a glance. Yet you can still click on profiles to pull up a larger, individual bios/photos as needed.

Planning chapters with Scrivener is as easy as creating a new folder for each chapter, switching to cork board view and adding a new index card. On the card, type a brief snippet of what needs to happen next in the scene. (I call these "hit points", or a storyboard of sorts.) Then move onto the next card. Add as many or as few cards as necessary to give you a complete scene. 

By splitting the chapter into quick snippets, you’ll find outlining a breeze. You can give each card a title heading, and I find this helpful in identifying each part of the action at a glance. When there are additional notes or comments that need to be made that won’t fit on the actual index card, click it open and add as much pictures or text as you like to flesh out the contents of the card.
A chapter outline from my next book
Using these notecards has allowed me to fashion fairly comprehensive outlines of multiple chapters in a single hour. The order of cards are a breeze to shuffle, and new cards can be inserted/omitted as needed. And with the color-coding feature, I can identify cards that have added images/notes attached by including a colored notch in the upper corner. (An example of this is shown in the above image.)

Scrivener is available as a download with a free one-month trial here: And for a couple easy tutorials on how to use the cork board for outline and character worksheets, check out the YouTube videos below. Happy plotting!

On Mondays, I gab about pretty much whatever, but I like to focus on tips for writers. For more gab, please join me on Twitter or Facebook. I love talking to people!

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night.

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