The Tools We Use, Part I

As a professional Technical Writer, I know the importance of the tools we use. At the Visible Means of Support™, we use FrameMaker® as the main application to create documentation. I’ve been using FrameMaker for so long that I can use it in my sleep and some of my colleagues come to me with questions. It’s flexible, powerful, and expensive.

But storytelling requires more than just a fancy, high-priced publishing program. A tool that offers outlining capabilities and project organization can be invaluable.

I think I’ve mentioned a time or five that I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, and frequently I lose where my story is trying to go. I then need to lasso the characters like stray cattle to bring them back to the story. I think I’ve mentioned before that I never was much of an outliner or planner. I usually get a character idea with not much of a story to go with it, and then let that character tell me where they’re going. There’s not much plot in just a character idea.

I’ve read that some writers use whiteboards and corkboards to great effect. I would love to have room enough to put up a plotting board, but my little cabin Off the Beaten Path™ is small, and my office gets smaller by the day. I don’t have the wall space to put a plotting board on which to arrange sticky notes, my walls are lined with the bookcases that hold the reference library I’ve collected over the years. So far, I’ve kept a lot of the story and character information either in my head, in handwritten notebooks, on a note or ten in my phone, or in a spreadsheet—all just to keep the critical information recorded somewhere.

At the moment, I use Word to write my blog posts and most of my stories. Like most people, I’ve been using it for years because it came free with Windows, it is relatively easy to use, and I haven’t looked at how much it would cost for a different writing tool such as FrameMaker. So far, Word has done what I need it to.

I have moved some of my work up to Google Docs, mostly stuff I’ve shared with others, but also in case of a catastrophic failure of my primary writing implement. Now Google Docs doesn’t have a lot of the same features that are offered by Word. It has a more limited dictionary, although admittedly, I haven’t used Docs as often, so haven’t added much to the dictionary. And to be honest, I had not tested its editing capabilities—mostly because the stories I’ve transferred into the cloud have been cleaned up before I moved them.

But in the last couple of years, I’ve been contemplating stepping up my writing game. So, I’ve spent some time this week experimenting with a new writing tool—Scrivener.

I had been reading some good things about the tool and thought I’d test it out to see what it could do for my efforts and motivation on my novel. Just reading through the tutorial got me thinking about ways to use the tool to help keep the story moving along.

I decided to move some of the scenes I had previously written into the interface just to see what I can do with the tool. I like that I can put each act onto the corkboard and separate them. Using the corkboard, I write my passage, and the application lets me quickly move scenes from one place to another. That’s a pretty nifty feature if you don’t write your story from beginning to end.

Another nice feature is the Character Sketch template. This template has some essential aspects to look at for character development, as well as what roles they play in your story, physical descriptions, personality types, and whatever quirky habits your character displays. There is even an area for their internal and external conflicts. Having a list of character quirks at your fingertips is another nifty feature to have when you are writing and don’t want to have to stray too far to find the information you need.

I have to admit that I haven’t spent as much time with this tool as it would take to write a thorough review. I have gone through Part 1 of the tutorial and plunked around the interface for a couple of days but haven’t really delved into the potential of possibilities—yet. Already I can tell that Scrivener has options and features I can use. I can also report that it’s a sophisticated program that will take some time to wrap my head around.

I’ve been using FrameMaker and other powerful word-processing and publication tools since the late 1980s, Scrivener, like those, will take time to master. Stay tuned, I’ll have more to say as I delve deeper into the workings of Scrivener, the tool.

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