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Scrivener and the Failure to Outline - Cephus' Corner

Scrivener and the Failure to Outline

March 29th, 2016

Lots of writers rave about Scrivener, but I find that I still don’t care for it.  I know I wrote about it once upon a time, but honestly, I can’t find the post but I would link to it if I could.  I recently went back to Scrivener when I wanted to start a new novel, everyone I know seems to like it and I figured that I ought to give it another chance.  I updated from the old version that I had (1.0.2) and went to the most recent (1.8.6), but it’s inability to outline the way that I want really makes it useless for me.  I outline more like a flow chart and it just doesn’t allow me to do that.  Without some form of flow-charting system, Scrivener doesn’t give me anything special that I can’t get just using Word.

I am an unrepentant hyper-plotter.  I don’t write a thing unless I know, in great detail, where things are going.  How much detail, you might ask?  I know every element of my plot from the very beginning to the very end.  I know everything there is to know about my characters, their personalities, their skills, their wishes and dreams, etc.  I know when and how every character meets every other character throughout the story.  I know what chapter each story element happens in before I’ve jotted down a single word.  I know the path of every plot, every sub-plot, every mystery, every clue, every relationship in the book in exacting detail before I sit down to write.  I plan to such a precise degree that the entire novel exists fully formed in my mind, writing it down and committing it to paper is just a formality.  I know that being such an extreme plotter makes me an outlier in the writing world, but it works for me and I’m going to continue to do so.

But Scrivener, and to be honest this applies to every writing program out there, really doesn’t allow me to do that.  Sure, I can stick story ideas on a cork board, but it  doesn’t allow me to get in any closer than that.  I can’t easily link this idea to that idea, through that character, in this chapter and create the intricate web of interconnected thoughts that are necessary for me to get writing.  I need a multi-dimensional story matrix that I can look at and understand how every element, down to the most minute, fits in with every other element and Scrivener just doesn’t do that for me.  I’m not blaming Scrivener, I still think it’s a decent enough program for what it does, it just doesn’t work for me.

That kind of pisses a lot of people off though.  I went on a writing forum and started talking about what I do and what Scrivener doesn’t allow me to do and a lot of the Scrivener-fanboys started calling me names, like my methodology is wrong if it doesn’t conform to Scrivener’s system.  Sorry, software exists to fit the user, the user shouldn’t have to modify themselves to fit the software.  Every time I’ve tried Scrivener and other popular writing software, I’ve walked away frustrated, spending more time fighting the system than producing finished product.

I’d love to find some flow-charting software actually designed for writers, that allowed me to link characters and situations and technologies and locations together to create a cohesive story that you could easily see and follow visually. Computer-based flow-charting software tends to be two-dimensional, tracking simple interactions.  I need multi-dimensional flow-charts that can track the interactions of dozens of story elements in “real time”.  So far as I know, nothing like that exists.  It’s a shame because it would make plotting stories so much easier for me.

I guess I have to keep my mouth shut when the topic of writing software comes up, having a different opinion tends to make you the target of personal attacks, for reasons I really don’t understand why.


One Coment

  • Stoary Smith says on: November 2, 2017 at 2:57 pm


    Hi I am not a Scrivener-fanboy, so you are safe with me. 🙂
    Seriously. There is a Literature and Latte companion product which may work? It is called “Scapple.” It is a free form “whiteboard” which allows a lot of features. I have used it and it has been a good experience for me on my Win10 laptop. I am not going to try and convince you it’s the Holy Grail. You sound savvy enough to make you own judgement. The only reason I am commenting is, given your lackluster opinion of Scrivener, I wasn’t sure you would have been aware of this possibility. Happy writing!

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Cephus' Corner

A Place to Share my Geeky Side With the World. Comics, movies, TV, collecting, you name it, I indulge in it.