My Feedback from a Scrivener Trial

I have been working on a large non-fiction book with many photographs. It has been extremely difficult to manage writing the book because of all of the components that go into it. I spent the day trying out Scrivener in which I took one chapter and did it in your product. While, I think you have a good product and it is close to what I need, I found that it fell short for my needs.

So here is my feedback. I only used a small subset of the product but I will critique what I used.

I found style handling to be a problem. My expectation is that one should be able to sit down and define styles and have kind of inheritance so that I can change a master style and have the attributes that have not been overriden change as well. InDesign does this well. AmiPro did it well until it was killed. Microsoft word does it half-assed. Having to format text then create the style the text is a pain. I know that’s the way Pages does it, but it sucks.

The combination of character and paragraph styles in one is a bad practice. Word does it, but it stinks there. I could see that some of my paragraph styles had “P” and some had “PA” and that when I applied the “P” style not everything got updated. I found that I had to apply a “PA” style to text then change it to my “P” style. I it was not clear to me what created a “P” style or a “PA” style.

It was great (or would have been great) to be able to organize all the files that make up the document. However, the inability to incorporate the figures into a document was the killer for me. I could bring my figures into the Scrivener and organize them—but I could not get them to function within my text.

I broke my document into small sections. The ability to do that and be able to combine them was great. However, after I included (drag and drop) just a few illustrations into my document, Scrivener ground to a halt with a constant beach ball.

If I linked the image files, performance was slow but could have been acceptable. The problem was linking. If I did

Insert>Image Linked To Document

all the organization the Scrivener does for the figures vanishes and I get a massive menu list of hundreds of images. I have to say that “feature” is a real head scratcher because it totally destroys all the organizational functionality built in to the application and would be so easy to fix. I can’t believe I am the first to run into this.

I also note that the file dialog for linking files cannot be dragged which was a PITA.

In regard to performance, I suggest having a display mode that simplifies illustrations to speed things up. (Maybe you have that but I did not find it.)

Another suggestion I have (that you may already have but I did not get far enough along to look for) is to have a packaging feature where the text get merged into a single file (word format) and gets stored in a zip archive will all the figures that are actually used.

Another suggestion is the ability to determine if a figure has been used twice or find figures that have not been used at all.

I also found that I was unintentionally creating folders by hitting the key. <CMD/Z> would not undo them. My trash folder was soon full of useless folders like this.

So in my case, (1) I cannot use the product with images dragged into the text (2) it is impracticable to select images from a massive drop down with hundreds of entries and no organization; (3) if I have to organize the figures outside the product, then I am not getting any real advantage.

As Maxwell Smart would say “Missed it by that much.”

Well, Scrivener isn’t a typesetting program or a word processor, so comparing it to InDesign, Word, Pages, AmiPro, etc is as pertinent as comparing a car with a piece of fruit: they are not the same thing by any measure. It’s hard to get much speed out of a banana, and most cars aren’t very nutritious.

If a user is working with a lot of figures / images, they are best kept out of the project and linked to external (high or low res) sources only. This keeps the project light and fast while also allowing the user to use different images or resolutions for the final outputs (print, ebook, etc) by changing the linked files (in Finder).

And pressing enter to create (or not create) a file or folder is user configurable.

And Scrivener can create zipped archives automatically, and a user can compile all or part of their projects to a range of different formats, including Word, whenever they want.

Sounds as though you are looking to work in a more WYSIWYG way, with a word processor or typesetting program, which is perfectly fine. Different tools for different skills.

You have completely and totally misunderstood my comments and what I was looking for.

Maybe you should have been more precise, more to the point, to avoid misunderstanding?
I found Login’s comment accurate which probably means I too misunderstood.

With the greatest respect, I don’t believe that is really the case. It seems clear to me (and I think it was clear to Login) that what you were looking for is a program that would deal with the visual aspect when assembling a book – but from what I have learned over the years, Scrivener was never really intended for that (I speak as a user who has been dabbling with the program since about 2007, not as an insider in the company). Scrivener has always been all about text – writing it and rearranging it. I never do any formatting in Scrivener. What little I do (and it is very little) is done in another program after I have completed my text, and I know that quite a few others who frequent these forums do the same.

Perhaps it needs stating explicitly that (as I understand it) the text engine that lies under Scrivener is Apple’s, and Scrivener is merely using what is provided by the system, therefore Scrivener has no real control over it. If the implementation of styles is lacking, that is down to Apple. Scrivener for Mac is entirely coded by one man, and I doubt he has the resources to put together his own text engine. Microsoft and Adobe have rather larger teams to work on things.

But best of luck with the work. Scrivener is great for long form writing, but I wouldn’t want to use it for styling and formatting. There are other tools for that.

There are common features among various types of application. I raised the issue of how styles are defined. Styles are used in all kinds of applications, including word processors, page layout programs, and CAD programs like Autocad.

I criticized the method by which styles are defined and mentioned InDesign as having a better method of doing that. Yet that was interpreted as saying I want a page layout program. I could have just as well have used used Autocad or Rhino as in place of InDesign as examples applications that define styles easier, which would not have meant I expected Scrivener to do CAD.

The leap from comparing how styles are defined in InDesign to wanting a page layout program is a complete misunderstanding of the issue.

For the Scrivener folks, I don’t know if you could do this but another problem is tracking the source of photographs.

Maybe you could reduce confusion by explaining how you think Styles should be managed in Scrivener, rather than by comparing Scrivener to other programs that have totally different goals? You might also have a look at Section 15.6 in the Scrivener manual, which discusses Scrivener’s philosophy of styles in some detail. If you find that you are using so many styles that a “hierarchy” with inherited attributes is necessary, though, it is quite likely that you are attempting to use Scrivener for something other than its intended purpose.

We recommend using linked images for image-heavy projects. That both reduces the “weight” of the Scrivener project, improving performance, and allows you to use whatever dedicated image-management tool you prefer. See Section 15.7 in the manual for more information.


This is not accurate. The Apple text engine underlying Scrivener doesn’t support Styles at all. (Which is why Scrivener didn’t either for a long time.) Our Styles implementation is an L&L-specific extension of Apple’s tools.


Okay, so the problem was that you expected something else than what you found, after having tested Scrivener during one day?

Thanks for the correction, Katherine. I’m obviously working on outdated memories.

To be fair, your original post actually covered rather more ground than that. And some of what folks are responding to is probably the other stuff.

But you did express in there the clear idea that it would be nice if styles formed a tree-like dependency structure, ala Word etc.

I agree that would be nice.*


  • The current Styles system is new as of version 3, so this is something that one could wish for in a future update. (Though that is not helpful to one who is just trying the software, I know.)

I didn’t quite understand the problem here. Scrivener does treat paragraph and character styles as distinct kinds of things.


Finally, though I am not connected to L&L, I think a thank you is certainly in order here for having taken the time to type up a report on your experience in trialling the software with a serious project you have going. I have no doubt your feedback will be useful to them going forward.

All Best,

If the original poster is still around, I’d like to share some thoughts.

The observations about styles are what led me to set Scrivener aside. I paid for an update to version 3 and did not seek a refund because I like what Literature and Latte does. They empower writers and a lot of people get work done in Scrivener.

The problem with a “good” implementation of styles is that many writers will consider them confusing. None of us get to have nice things if too few will get on board. Take Mellel, for example. It’s great, but I think most writers would consider it confusing. Heading styles, for example, don’t go into a Mellel table of contents because they really shouldn’t. Auto-titles are the Mellel construct that go into the TOC, and that opens up all kinds of possibilities. And all kinds of confusion, unfortunately. I’m thankful for how Mellel works, but I know it is not as widely adopted as it might otherwise be.

I’ve recently gotten re-hooked on Scrivener because of how it can support my idea of outlining.

In outline view, titles + synopses give me more than what I got out of OmniOutliner. That view lets me block out story points. The quicker I can see if a story is going nowhere, the better, and this is really quick.

Then, outline view with a split and the locked outline feature enabled lets me write an expansive description of “what goes here” at each point.

No matter the hierarchy of chapters and scenes, I can create a flattened collection of everything which lets me see every synopsis as an index card in cork board view. Swim lane mode shows cards on their assigned plot lines, very much like Plottr would.

That makes a wonderful outline for a story I can then write in Mellel. You may all shake your heads in wonder at such a tangled workflow, but it’s working for me. I’m pretty sure Scrivener is about the only thing out there that will do this, and there’s one more thing that’s nice.

Having a separate outline, outside of a document, is not necessarily a bad thing when collaborating with coworkers. They can marvel at my skill in organizing topics, I can use Scrivener like a secret weapon.

Heh, heh, heh. Take that, all you Word-nerds out there!

Interersting, @luckyjack!

I have had Mellel on my machines ever since OS-X was first released … at that time it was the only half-way decent wp I found, given I could no longer use Word 5.1a. Sadly, I suppose, I gave it up a few months later when a new wp was released, because Mellel couldn’t open .doc files in Chinese, which I needed, without first opening them in TextEdit and saving them as RTF. Opito Composer could open them directly. A year or so later Nisus Writer appeared on the market—I had also had Nisus Classic before OS-X, so I knew how capable their software was—and so since then Nisus Writer (Pro) has been my go to wp.

However, I still keep my Mellel up to date, go back to it periodically, always wanting to like it. But yes, although I know it is very powerful and may even have a few advantages over NWP, I find it far too unintuitive and complex and don’t want to spend the time cracking all its quirks. If it had been able to open .doc files in Chinese from the beginning, I would have stuck with it and probably, like you, be fully at home with it.

When it comes to styles, I am more than happy with the way KB has implemented it in Scrivener. To me, setting up some text in the way you want it to be styled and then creating the style from that is no more onerous than setting up a style in the abstract and then applying it to some text to see if it is how I want. Same for modifying a style, to me there is no hardship in selecting a stretch in a given style, modifying it and then choosing “Redefine Style from Selection” in comparison with opening a style sheet and modifying the style there. NWP allows both approaches to creating and modifying styles; so I use the make-text-create-style approach should I need a new style, but open the stylesheet and modify style for changing one … in my case that usually means changing the font for “Normal”—i.e. Body style in NWP—from Adobe Garamond Pro to Times New Roman.

In truth, apart from the “No Style” default in Scrivener, I only have 3 paragraph styles set plus a Chinese character style. Headings are all dealt with on compile using my own standard format based on binder hierarchy/section types. On compiling, the document opens in NWP, where I immediately run a macro so that the cascading styles are implemented there from a standard style sheet.

In other words, having spent a pretty small amount of time setting up Scrivener and NWP, I don’t have to think about styles, other than using AGP for my personal projects, and TNR for any shared projects and documents. How Scrivener, or NWP or Mellel or Word—or InDesign, which I did use for a few years until I could no longer afford Adobe’s upgrade fees—handles styles is therefore a pretty trivial matter to me; just get yourself set up and then get on with writing.



I like Nisus and have a license. I like the split edit window and I use mail merge every time Congress needs a good volley from a taxpayer. Those are things Mellel doesn’t support. Sadly, Congress is always a target of mass deception.

The draft view in Nisus is another cool thing. I miss that when I’m in Mellel.

I’ve had some intermittent performance issues in Nisus. Usually it’s fine, but I’ve had documents of a hundred pages or so that would lag a couple of seconds behind me.

By contrast, I put together four million word lorem ipsum documents in Nisus and Mellel. Nisus was pretty much overwhelmed. Mellel would scroll smoothly from one end to the other, and could find a unique word anywhere in the document in a flash. Scary fast search. The last cut and paste, pasting another two million words on the end of the Mellel document, probably took a half second or so.

I agree that Mellel has counter intuitive things, but it’s kind of strange in that regard, Once I finally figured out document versus global styles and a few things like that. I can’t really find anything n Mellel that doesn’t work they way I think it should - but I definitely remember thinking Mellel had serious problems.

One thing that kept derailing me that I actually like is that few things in Mellel have side effects. For instance, things like tab stops used by an auto-title are local to the auto-title. I once spent an hour trying to figure out why a TOC was badly formatted. I had changed the TOC format without fixing tabs.

But I’m not arguing. Until you get past some hurdles, Mellel throws curves at you. Once past those, it’s really rock solid. It’s not for everyone.