Scrivener and me

In the spirit of trying new things, I’ve been playing with Scrivener. Now, I know you Mac people have been using it for years and maybe even some of you Windows spods have been fiddling with the beta for a while, but it’s completely new to me.

Strongly recommended by LVJ director Chris Taylor, I’ve got to say Scrivener is an awesome program. If you’re not familiar with it:

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.

Basically, it’s a single program which allows you to collate ideas, research and scribbles, allowing you to move from random notes through index cards to an outline and onto screenplay format. It’s fantastic at organising information and does some really clever things with searches and tagging various elements of a story.

If you aren’t already using it, you really should check it out. It’s very, very clever … and absolutely no use to me.

Which probably sounds odd, I know; but I have a process which works for me and part of that process involves not importing information from one stage to the next. I tend to follow the same stages every time:





Occasionally I do some character profiles; but generally I only do those if the producer asks for them; or I haven’t actually started the script and need to knock out something fast which looks like I’ve been working hard instead of watching telly. Everyone works differently, but for me the stages run like this:



This needs to be a stand alone document at some point.

It will probably go through at least four drafts before scripting and maybe one or two afterwards.

Apart from the producer (and, sometimes, the director) it gets sent out to investors, sales agents and all the other people I imagine have to wear a suit on a daily basis. Sometimes, it even ends up on the back of the DVD cover.

It makes no odds what software this is written with, any word processor will do.



Scrivener does this really well. So does Final Draft or Celtx or Fade In … I don’t like to use any of them. I like physical cards I can scribble on with a pen for several reasons:

  1. It gets me away from the computer. Anything which allows me to not stare at a computer screen for 12 hours a day is a good thing.
  2. I can get an overview of the whole film … and still be able to read individual cards. I can’t do that on a monitor – the monitor-size/eyesight equation doesn’t work. If I do it on screen, I can see overview or detail but not both.
  3. I find them easier to move around and place correctly. If I have a card which belongs in the second half of act two, I can put it there with nothing around it and know exactly where it is in relation to the other (non-existent) cards.
  4. There’s something about changing from one medium to another which fires me up and makes it all seem fresh.
  5. Trundling down to Staples to buy new cards/pens is a vital procrastination technique which also counts as exercise. Honest.

I only tend to do one version of the cards, but they get shuffled a lot during the process. It’s probably equivalent to another two drafts.



Again, this needs to be sent out on its own, so needs to be a separate document at some point. It’s as easy to write it in a separate document, as it is to expand the synopsis and compile it to a separate document later.

Any word processor will do, it doesn’t matter.

I tend to refer to the synopsis to make sure I keep the theme and the overall story at the forefront of my mind; but generally I just take each index card one by one and write up the scenes. Usually this process allows me to spot missing scenes or sequences and fill them in.

I try to stick to one page of treatment = ten pages of script … but it doesn’t always work out that way.

The treatment will go back and forth to the producer (or director) a few times, frequently there’ll be three or four drafts before everyone’s happy.



And then there’s the script.

I use Final Draft, I’m thinking about switching to Fade In; but probably not just yet.

I know some people use Word or whatever, but software designed specifically for writing scripts tends to be easier and faster to use than generic software which has been modified.

Or at least, I think so.

I went through a brief phase of cutting and pasting the treatment into Final Draft and then expanding each paragraph into a scene (or scenes) but this made for some really bad scripts.

I find it’s much better to write the script by referring to the treatment rather than copying it, that way I’m in touch with the natural flow of the story and can easily spot gaps in the logic and fill them. I find if I expand the treatment into a script, then mistakes go unnoticed and the story is dull and frequently nonsensical.

I find no benefit in using the same software to write the script as used to write the treatment. I want to take the information from one place, run it though my brain and splurge it back into the computer. It’s just better for me.

What I like about my process is the first draft of the script is actually the tenth or eleventh draft of the idea.

The ethos of Scrivener, one program to do it all just doesn’t appeal to me. I like the ability to keep everything in one project … but that’s kind of what a folder is anyway, so it’s not enough to make me want to use a new program.

However, this is just my process and everyone’s different. If you like the idea of organising all your research in one place and using one program to go from idea to script … then you should definitely give Scrivener a go.

Categories: My Way, Software, Someone Else's Way | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Scrivener and me

  1. So right. Plus not scientifically founded, I believe that the hand-eye coordination of moving the cards around somehow solidifies ideas in the brain. Moving “cards” around in a software program does not feel the same to me. I also believe that physically writing on the cards has the same brain function as opposed to typing in a space on the computer screen. Just me, though. 😉

  2. Pingback: 2011 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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