Thoughts on Scrivener

I’m still deciding if I should purchase this product or not. I’ve messed around with the demo, and found that it’s a nice little program, but there are some things that more experienced users might have information on.
I’ve been using Liquid Story Binder for several years and while it’s a bit clunky in the UI department, it’s unbelievably configurable and does everything I want. What it will probably NEVER do (and the main reason why I’m looking at Scrivener) is have an iPad version. So, onto a couple of questions:

  1. Synching between computers.
    I do not use dropbox or any of the cloud services, but I write on several different computers. I use SyncToy to make sure that my writing projects are always in sync, but I read in another thread that that kind of thing might cause problems with Scrivener. As in, it might not pick up new files and such. I find that odd, since when synching, the project data would be copied over as well.

  2. Plain text file names.
    One of the nice things about LSB is that it stores all my chapters (at least), using plain text file names (like Myreallycoolchapter.rtf). I note that Scivener also stores chapters in rtf, but insists on calling them something like 123.rtf. Is there a way to change this?

  3. Time lines.
    Is there a way to do a visual timeline with Scrivener? Something with multiple lines in it so that you can visually see when something is happening. I find that extremely useful.

  4. Multiple books in one binder
    I have some projects that consist of more than one book. However, since those books contain some of the same characters, I have base information that both projects should be able to access. This is easy to set up in my current program, but I don’t see a way to do it in Scrivener.

  5. Templates
    Again, one of the powerful things about LSB is that I can create templates for types of things. Aliens, places, objects, main characters, secondary characters. Once I’ve created these templates, they are always available when I want to create, for instance, a new Main Character. Then I just use that template and all the information types that I want to put into that character’s bio sheet are right there. I know I can import templates from an RTF INTO scrivener, but what I don’t know is if there’s a way to create a brand new project with those types of templates already listed.

I guess that’s enough for now. Of course, I understand that those were a lot of questions,and I completely understand that people probably have better things to do than answer a laundry list. But I would appreciate any comments or thoughts.


  1. I have no experience with that particular program, however for around two years I used a similar piece of software for the Mac called ChronoSync. It basically just looked at two different drives and brought them both up to speed. So long as I was careful to keep new edits for “cohesive systems”, like the Scrivener project format, to one single drive I never ran into any problems. How I worked was this: (a) When I left for work in the morning, I put a thumb drive into my computer and ran ChronoSync. It updated the thumb drive with all of the data that I wished transport to the office, including more often than not a few Scrivener projects. (b) I get to work and plug the flash drive in and run ChronoSync. Now both drives A and B are identical. I work all day in the office, and when I’m done I sync all of the individual changes I’ve made to drive B to the thumb drive, get home and update drive A. Now they are the same again. So long as your software does this, it should work fine. Where things get messy is if you make changes on Drive B after syncing the transfer device, then make changes on Drive A and then expect the update to Drive B to be seamless. But, that’s the same type of thing Dropbox users have to worry about as well. Any syncing at all.
  2. No, but this shouldn’t be a big deal because you aren’t supposed to be using the bare RTF files on a regular basis. If you need to access files outside of Scrivener, then run an export using File/Export/Files.... That will give you your readable filenames. Using serial numbers means you can have duplicate binder item names, and use weird punctuation and Unicode to your heart’s content, and never be bothered by the program about invalid or duplicate names.
  3. No, this has been deemed as being mostly out of scope in a “it would be nice, but the program just doesn’t work that way, kind of way”. :slight_smile: Or to put it another way, it’s nice in theory, but the notion of a linear timeline is at odds with the design of how Scrivener works as a non-prescriptive variable granularity outliner. If every index card had to be a scene, and every folder had to be a chapter, and you only arrange them just so, then it might be a little more feasible, but there is no reason why you couldn’t have 87 cards making up a single scene in one chapter and another chapter being so simple it’s just a file all on its own. Reconciling that type of depth and fluidity on a flat line involves too much data loss. But, don’t take my word for it, search the forums and you’ll see this has been discussed in-depth.
  4. You can put as many books into the binder as you want. The manual puts forth a suggestion that one project should be one real world project, but I also tried to make it very clear that this is only a general guideline. There will be plenty of cases where one project works best containing several or even many real world projects. Serials and related novels certainly would apply. The program is designed to work with multiple works. Just put each book into its own folder in the Draft. The compiler can be told to selectively compile only that one book folder.
  5. I think you might be referring to “document templates” as opposed to project templates, though the latter might come into play in such a scheme as well, as the host for the document templates. You might find (most certainly will, more likely) that the novel template is a nice start but not quite what you want. So you tweak it, maybe in the course of writing, and when you get it honed to something more like what you want, you can then save that as your own novel template to start from the next time. While document level templating (spawning various items in the binder based on a preset) is not yet formally implemented, you can achieve this by having a folder of exemplars that you duplicate from—as is demonstrated in the novel template.

Thank you for your well thought out responses! They are appreciated.
I don’t use a Mac for… well… many reasons, one of which is that as a PC user, I’m using to having a level of control over the computer (hardware and software) that Apple prefers not to allow its users. I know that’s changed somewhat since they went to a Un*x style core, but even so, Macs aren’t for me. Not dissing them.

So, when I asked about the plan text file names, I asked because well, programs screw up. And when they do, I’d like to be able to recover my work with a minimum of effort. I appreciate that Scrivener is supposed to handle all that in the background for you, but I’m a man of little trust when it comes to computers (as a software engineer I learned that mistrust early on). I must confess though, I love the things, and I love tech, but that’s not relevant.

The timelines well… I find them quite valuable when you have multiple plot lines to keep track of. I like that Scrivener (like LSB) doesn’t force you into a format. The timeline thing would just be an added bonus, like the ability to do mind maps (which I don’t use, but I know some people love). I would think it would be an added function, rather than one based off of something that’s already there. If it’s outside the vision for the program, that’s not a big deal either.

I was indeed referring to what appears in Scrivener to be a document template under the character’s section. It’s extremely useful for me to be able to have a template set up for a character bio already sitting in the project, and to be able to build new ones or modify one that exists into a new one without changing the original.

I have no idea what you mean by ‘compiling’ a project. I assume you mean exporting all your chapters into a book, but that’s something I can find out while I’m messing with the program.

Thanks again for your answers. I’m leaning towards buying the program,mainly because I’m hoping for an iPad version of the thing. I know we probably won’t see that anytime soon, but hey, a guy can hope.

Sure, I only mentioned that it’s for the Mac so you wouldn’t go and try to find ChronoSync for Windows, which to my knowledge doesn’t exist. I would politely disagree with your notion on system control though. :slight_smile: I’m a bit of a UNIX nut though, and take the Mac far beyond what most people do. Definitely agree with the old original Macs though. I never could stand that OS. But, I use Windows as well, in fact that is where I am writing this right now.

Understood. Well if that is a concern I’d suggest doing routine whole-binder exports, and then zipping those up for archival. The program also does its own backups every time you close the project, as well. So in many cases even if the program completely fouls up your project, you should have up to five most recent copies to restore from, without doing anything at all.

As a software engineer, do you know much XML? That’s all the .scrivx file is, and that file is the key to unlocking the serial numbers. Have a look, you might be able to build yourself a recovery tool using that information.

That’s really been the main problem. Keith (and I agree with him) feels strongly about keeping the application’s primary organisation features all working together in concert; rather than the Big Collection of Dimly Related Tools approach that something like Writer’s Cafe uses. The latter does in fact have a timeline feature, but it is nearly wholly divorced from the rest of the system. That’s a matter of taste. Even the freeform corkboard feature that’s on the roadmap is something that can tie back in to outline. Speaking of which, moving cards around freely might be what you could use for this.

Yup, what you can do is create a temporary project using one of the built-in templates, and modify it to your heart’s content. Everything you do in there can be saved into a template, because templates are nothing more than frozen projects. Once you get all of the little pieces together the way you like, use the File/Save as Template... command and now you’ve got your own customised starting point. I myself prefer a more blank biased approach for most things, but I definitely do have my own blank starter that has a number of project options set up the way I like; corkboard settings and such.

Any changes you make to projects coming off of that template will not harm the original template. Though if you do want to revise it, you easily can by following the same procedure you did to make it initially.

That’s a spot on guess. We use the word ‘compile’ instead of ‘export’ for this process because it is capable of doing a lot more than just transferring data from one system to another. It can for example turn your draft into an indented outline, or a 12pt Courier double-spaced manuscript, or an ready to publish e-book.

In reference to the query, the compiler will by default just use the whole Draft folder, assuming that is your work. But if you put multiple books in the draft, in their own top-level folders, you could tell the compiler to select just that one folder and use that as The Book. This would not only impact the final output, but also the Statistics tools.

You’re welcome, I hope it works out for you. As for the iPad, depends on what you mean by soon. :slight_smile: We are pushing for sometime this year.

I too have used LSB, as well as yWriter and Writer’s Cafe (WC). In neither LSB nor WC is the timeline integrated into the story, so I found that I can use the timeline features of those for planning purposes but write in Scrivener without penalty.

However, what I have done now is switched entirely to using Rational Plan for my timelines. It is a project management tool, but allows me to keep careful track of my whole story in a way that a timeline feature, like that of LSB, does not.

OTOH, my novels each take place over a few weeks to a month. I’m sure that if I were writing F&SF stories that spanned millenia, I’d have to figure out something else. Oh well.

Wow. Well, I do have a story that will (if I ever get that far) span a great deal of time. Uh… maybe not millenia, but certainly a few centuries.

I usually use timelines to arrange my scenes when they span multiple characters/plotlines. THat way the reader doesn’t try and figure out why Bob is alive in chapter 5 when he was clearly spaced in chapter 3.