First Impressions / Wish List

So far, I absolutely love Scrivener. It’s a godsend to us novelists out here in the writing world, because with Scrivener, I finally have a program that combines the organizational features of DEVON or Together with the functionality of a word processor that was built and designed for large writing projects. That, and the ability to abstract the format of the output – while adding some nice automated organization – from the composition process is outstanding.

Scrivener is a work of art. It’s the best writing software I’ve ever come across, and since installing it, it has virtually taken the place of Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages for my novel-writing projects. Oddly, the thing I love best about it is the ability to set a “paper texture” and a “background” (mine is currently parchment paper with a shiny wood texture beneath it); I find that the right visual aesthetic is crucial to churning out good prose . . .and Scrivener’s ability to let me abstract the formatting from the actual writing has actually made writing a lot easier. That and the organizational features are stunning in their elegant simplicity, and have already got me thinking more in terms of overall structure, which is always good for us fiction writers.

But, there are things that I wish were different. For one thing, there’s the overall setting of preferences in Scrivener . . . I mean, as it is, you have the main Preferences window and its various panels, the Page Setup window, the Compile settings window, and then Meta-Data Settings and Text Preferences under Projects, etcetera. Plus, some of these are global to the whole program and all projects, some are limited to affecting only certain views/modes/editors, and some global but project-specific, and others are one-time-only. It would be nice to just have only two – Global Preferences, and then Project Preferences, with the Compile settings stored in the latter. This would no doubt change some peoples’ workflows – since they’re so very used to the program – but it would help new users get the hang of things much faster, and would be much more intuitive.

Another thing Scrivener needs is a Right Click -> Synonyms behavior. For a word processor seemingly designed with us writers in mind, this seems like an accidental omission; I really miss the ability to simply right click on a word and have all of its synonyms right at my fingertips (rather than having to launch a separate thesaurus instance from the edit menu). This is an absolute MUST, really, and is a glaring oversight in an otherwise masterfully done app.

A third thing Scrivener would benefit from is some actual, real-world page-layout controls; it doesn’t have to rival Apple’s Pages, but it should have some basic abilities. Like drag and drop image placement, along with cropping and rotating tools, a few lightbox effects, etcetera. One feature of this would be to allow the user a fine-grain of control over where things go in the final compiled document (page numbers in headers, or footers? etc.). Another might be to let Scrivenings Mode actually display graphics, charts, tables, pictures, etcetera, which it currently doesn’t do; a final thing this ability would lend those of us who want things like pull-quotes (possibly taken from a subdocument), blurbs, or drop-caps the ability to actually use these things in our work in Scrivener, and would also lessen the need for users to leap out of Scrivener and into another program just to polish off a document.

A fourth thing – and this is a big one that would require a lot of coding – is a BUILT-IN citation and/or bibliography manager, along with the appropriate MLA/APA styles rigged into the Compiler so as to generate properly. An academic paper just isn’t an academic paper without a works-cited page, and as it stands, Scrivener doesn’t let you do this. Even Microsoft Word, that clunky old dinosaur of an app, has this functionality, so a state-of-the-art masterpiece like Scrivener really ought to have it too.

A fifth thing – and this goes along with simplifying the interface – is for there to be just ONE full-screen mode for Scrivener. As it is, you’ve got the OS X Lion full-screen mode, and then you’ve got Composition mode. Well why should these be two separate things? Insofar as I can see, Compose mode is far and away functionally superior to Lion mode, so why not just stick with that and simplify things a little?

Sixth, Autosave and Versions. I know this is probably already in the works, but I thought I would go ahead and mention it anyway; Lion’s new autosave feature renders the “old way” of doing things (i.e., a hard-wired autosave) sort of obsolete; also, how cool would it be to be able to go back and browse all the different versions of a novel that I’d laid out in Scrivener, with each subdocument’s edits in place at each stage of the game? This would be a tremendous time save for those of us who work with files that go through successive iterations – like novels.

Seventh, the regular “Find” dialog and the “Find by Formatting” dialog really do need to be combined into just one critter. I mean, there really isn’t any need to have this functionality separated, is there? Also, the Find dialog needs to be able to accept wildcard characters, invisible characters, and codes, as well as let the user specify where or not the text in question is italicized or underlined, what font size it is, etc., In other words, more than just raw text searching, please. I don’t mean to keep comparing Scrivener to a program it isn’t meant to compete with, but these are basic features in MS Word; with Scrivener’s already-powerful organizational features, adding this ability would only lure more novelists, playwrights, and other writers away from the Big (though often ugly) Dogs to a better, more well-organized program dedicated to the writing process.

Eighth, the fact that Scrivener uses RTF and RTFD as the default document types is nice and all, and is well-thought-out in terms of outside compatibility and simplicity, but since most users are used to using Word anyway, why not just go ahead and change the internal document engine to use .doc or .docx? This would simplify life for those of us who want to pull out individual files, or drag and drop to other programs, while still retaining a good bit of formatting control. Heck, why not use Apple’s Pages format, which is less universally compatible, but far more robust than Word format? (There is the problem of Pages format being less “open” than the .doc format, but it’s still something worth thinking about.)

Ninth, there’s the behavior of the Corkboard. I should have the option of double-clicking an index card to open the document (or other Corkboard) lurking beneath it, but I don’t. This is a trivial feature, but it would make the process of using the index cards a lot smoother and more intuitive. Not so trivial would be my implementation of a DREAM FEATURE: The ability to organize index cards on virtual “timelines” labeled with character names or place names, to better facilitate story development. Such a thing would be fantastic; especially if each timeline had its own sort of “Synopses Scrivenings” mode, wherein each timeline full of index cards had the text of those cards stitched together into one flowing “history” of that character’s events?

Tenth, while Scrivener’s “Compile” functions are very robust indeed, why is there no analog to them for importing documents? For instance, let’s say I have a Word document divided into chapters. Well, why can’t I import that document and have Scrivener “detect” where the chapter breaks use “Level”-style settings similar to those in the Compiler, as well as applying new, structurally-derived formatting to the text that’s being imported? This is probably a lot less trivial than I’m making it sound, though, although such a feature would be incredibly handy for working on large, already-organized documents.

Eleventh – and possibly the biggest suggestion of all, and next to synonyms, the two biggest missing features – are the ability to generate a Table of Contents and an Index (possibly by using text styles in the case of the former, document keywords for the latter). These would be immensely helpful features for those of us who do academic work as well as for our other work, too. For instance, I just wrote a 250 page guide to the fantasy world I’m creating for a new novel, and really wish that I could generate a ToC and an index for it in Scrivener, without having to go into That Other Word Processor.




I’m glad you like Scrivener, thanks for the kind words.

First, it would be useful to remember that Scrivener is coded by a single person - me (and the Windows version has another developer). And it costs just $45. There is no team of people working on this; we’re not Apple or Adobe or Microsoft, and we don’t have those sorts of resources. I think that’s useful to bear in mind when you ask for things like full layout or a built-in citations manager - there is a reason these things tend only to be part of programs from the “big” software houses.

I’ve answered this in your other thread.

Scrivener uses the standard Mac ctrl-click menu, the same as other text editors based on the OS X text system. This may be a “MUST” for you, but most other users seem happy with the standard Mac way of doing things (you can already call up a dictionary and thesaurus). Personally, I’m always suspect of looking up too many synonyms anyway… :slight_smile:

You can add images and resize them, but bear in mind that Scrivener is most certainly not intended to be a full page layout program. It takes a whole team to put together something like Word or Pages, so I would require a team to add these features on top of all the work on the core Scrivener features. I suppose I could put Scrivener’s price up to $99 to cover this. :slight_smile:

You can easily use existing citation managers with Scrivener - Sente, Bookends, Endnote and so on.

Heh, but “even Microsoft Word” is built by one of the biggest software companies in the world and has a whole team working on it. It wouldn’t make sense for me, the sole developer of Scrivener, to go and spend months coding something that can already be achieved with Endnote, Bookends and so on.

This is entirely subjective. Composition mode blocks things out and allows you only to work on a text document; Lion’s full screen mode allows you to take the entire screen into full screen and use the main interface without distractions. Personally, I now live in the latter, with Scrivener set up to use a grey theme while in Lion’s full screen mode. So if I had to choose, I’d ditch Composition Mode - but I’d never do that because too many users like it.

Please see this thread:

In short, Versions is not currently compatible with the sort of project structure Scrivener uses - and not all users are as enthusiastic about Lion’s Autosave and Versions as you are. But read through the thread above for full information (you will see that I have a ticket out with Apple tech support about this, too).

Hmm, there could be a case for this, but I don’t know. There are several different Find features in Scrivener, and combining them all could be messy. Maybe something to think about for Version 3.0 though.

A way for the user to add invisible characters easily is on the list (you can already hold down the Option key to enter a return or tab character in there, this is standard with such controls). It’s non-trivial, however (even if it may seem simple). Scrivener uses the standard Find panel, though.

Again, it’s good to remember the difference in resources available to us and Microsoft.

Eek, don’t ever do that! You should never edit the underlying files in a Scrivener document - that’s not the idea. The format is designed so that even if all copies of Scrivener disappear from the Earth, you will still be able to access things, or if you are in a tight pinch somewhere and really have to pull out one of the files, you can do, but really you shouldn’t be poking around with the internals of a project or you could cause problems. Also, why would we want to move to using a proprietary format over an open one? That makes no sense at all to me. RTF is essentially plain text and you could extract all text from it in a plain text editor if you ever really needed to; it’s also supported by almost any rich text editor. The same cannot be said for .doc or .docx.

On top of that, we again return to the fact that I am but a single coder. I use the standard Apple OS X importers and exporters for most file formats, and these importers/exporters strip images and footnotes and comments. Because of the plain text nature of RTF, I have been able to extend RTF support significantly. But the standard OS X importers/exporters for .docx and .doc cannot be modified because these formats are not plain-text-based and are a lot more complex (even .docx, which is XML-based); these importers/exporters even mess up line spacing, in fact. (Just test them out in TextEdit).

There would never be any good reason to use .doc or .docx over .rtf for the internal file format.

Er, if by “less open” you mean “not open at all”, then yes. .pages is a proprietary format and Apple have made it clear that they have no intention of releasing the specs. I suppose I could spend months reverse engineering it, but then they could change everything in the next version of Pages so that wouldn’t be such a good idea. We can’t even support the import or export of .pages documents because it’s proprietary. (And even if the specs were released, again, it would take months for one coder to writer translators for it.) Moreover, our file format is used across platforms, so there would be very little sense using the .pages format inside .scriv files when .scriv files have to be opened on Windows too!

Double-click on the icon in the corner. If you could double-click anywhere on the card to do this, how would you edit the text? That would be very un-intuitive. Certainly this is the first complaint we’ve ever had about this, so I’m guessing the current behaviour is intuitive to most.

There is an “Import and Split” feature that will split a document up. However, Scrivener’s importers cannot read structure from a Word file. I agree that this would be a nice future addition, and if we ever are able to expand so much as to afford the resources to write all of our own importers and exporters (which would be nice), then something like this might be possible.


All the best,


Thanks for the speedy reply, Keith. The comments about you being just one guy – I get that. I do. But believe it or not, Scrivener is already so polished and well-done, that I didn’t KNOW it was just one guy because I couldn’t tell without looking at the fine print; it’s got so many features and bells and whistles that it really does seem like a whole team of developers busted their rumps on it for man-years. Which, of course, I mean as a compliment. Thus it’s easy for folks like me to forget that indeed, you are only one man and only have so many resources to draw upon, and can thus only do so much. Also, forgive my ignorance about proprietary vs. open file formats, as my two programming classes thus far haven’t includes a whole lot of file manipulation beyond yanking text out of a .txt file and rifling through it in various ways. So, my bad. Believe it or not, I really did think you were a whole team of people with just one guy in the lead, perhaps; now that I learn it’s just you, I’m even more impressed.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that developers are humans too, and that despite the polished complexity of their creations, what lies behind the curtain is still only one mind with only so much time on its hands, and only two hands to type with. I did mean what I said – Scrivener truly is a work of art, and as a writer, it was just what I was looking for. I do wish it had more features (some of the ones above, specifically) . . . but mainly because for me, switching back to MonStrous Word in order to do anything is a big groan-inducing joy-killer, and Apple’s Pages – which does claim to be a full-featured word processor – is missing so many writer-friendly features that it’s insane. When I discovered Scrivener, I was immediately impressed by what it could do, and that was just from watching the video tutorials. Once I downloaded it from the App Store and started using it, I was positively astounded at how much simpler my writing process has become.

There are a few good suggestions, I think, lurking in those that I sent. But I do understand that it all comes down to time and resources, and thus you have to focus on those features that matter most to the most people, and that aren’t gargantuan in scope, like some of my suggestions were. Again, thanks for the speedy reply, and good luck! Can’t wait to see what version 3.0 brings us!

P.S. After reading your comments in the other thread, I can definitely see what you mean. It IS more intuitive to have it the way that it is. I suppose it’s a case of “too many options overwhelming the newbie”, in the end. Your point about the Compile settings is particularly well taken – I didn’t know you could share them! Now that does make me see things differently!

SubGenius, that’s a good response.
Before I read it, I thought:

Crikey, most of those questions are answered with:

a. more practice/experience with the program, as KB’s patient responses note.
b. a little reading of the extraordinarily-detailed manual, by Amber et als.
c. viewing of the absolutely great video tutorials, by David et als.
d. searching previous threads in the forum, which has tons of info on the comments raised.

Perhaps the Scrivener splash page should say, along with RTFM…
PLEASE DO NOT REQUEST THESE FEATURES…(with a list compiled from newbie wishes)

Anyway, I agree with you about Word. I use Pages and/or Nisus Writer Pro.
You might give the latter a try. Good luck on your novels.

Yeah, I’ve tried Nisus and Pages. In many ways, Pages is far superior to MS Word (though it is missing a lot of its fancier features, which I rarely use anyway), but I didn’t like Nisus Writer very much. Scrivener is much better for me, partly because of its organizational features, partly because of the abstraction I mentioned, partly because I like the name. (Plus, there’s the whole “writing aesthetic” I mentioned earlier; even using a different font can sometimes liven things up a bit creatively, and it’s great that Scrivener allows this without affecting the final output.)

To be fair to the OP, I swear at myself maybe once a day because I’ve double-clicked an index card to go to a daughter layer and had it come up as edit text instead. I’d personally have dbl-clk do the above, and have you edit the text in the Inspector (which is where I do it at the moment).

I wouldn’t classify this as a ‘complaint’ though. It’s my fault: for some reason my brain has a complete blindness to learning this.

See, I wouldn’t like that behaviour at all, because then you have to have the inspector open just to edit the cards, so you could never have just the corkboard open unless you were only moving things around; the corkboard would become more of a file manager rather than a true alternative to the outliner.

subgeniuszero - thanks for the kind words, and for the understanding. There are definitely some good ideas in there, and some of them on the long-list for the future when we able (I hope) to grow and take on another developer or two. The trouble is that as we get more customers, the first thing we need is more support bods to help the customers, so getting in another coder or two is further down the line (finding someone who could put up with me would also be difficult, as I would have an awful time letting someone else touch my code and I’m sure I’d be a control freak). Things such as a more integrated Find, some more layout features (such as end-of-page footnotes for printing directly from Scrivener rather than having to go through RTF first), writing our own RTF and .docx translators and so on are all on the long-list for the future - things I’d really like to achieve as soon as we have the resources.

Thanks again and all the best,

There are other reasons to have the corkboard open? :open_mouth:

How about if someone holds down + + + while clicking on the card with the mouse and typing the word EDIT with their nose? You could use that to unlock editing without the inspector.

Seriously, though: I’m a guy who always has the Inspector open which is why I do it that way. I can see why others prefer the way it actually works.

Well, one option might be to double-click to edit the card, but then option-click to drill down to a daughter level (or just open the document for the card). That might be easier, by preserving existing behavior and instead just adding a new one. And maybe in Corkboard, the backspace key could be mapped to go “back” to the previous level, unless it was being used to edit the text on cards, that is. This would be a handy feature, as it would allow us to do organizing and editing on the fly. Or is there something I’m missing?

Actually, there are a couple of keyboard shortcuts for this sort of thing already. If you hit cmd-4, the selected card will be opened in the editor; hitting opt-cmd-R (View > Go To > Enclosing group) will take you to the corkboard/outliner of the folder/document that encloses the current document, showing the current document selected. Or, cmd-[ is the same as hitting the “back” history navigation button in the header bar.

All the best,