Scrivener 2 for OS X: A Writer’s Dream Come True

| In-Depth Review

Scrivener 2.1 for OS X adds technical refinement, additional features and Lion compatibility. It’s one of the great tools for writers on the Mac, whether the project is a novel, screenplay, or just a research paper.

Back in the spring of 2009, I started a project to review software for people who write novels and screenplays. I looked at most of the major apps and summarized what I found in August.

One of the standouts was Scrivener 1.5 from Literature & Latte located in Cornwall, England. At the time, I said:

If StoryMill took a very technical, methodical and structural approach to writing a novel, then Scrivener walks down a different, more relaxed path with cork boards and help with the tactics of text manipulation. You won’t find time sequencers, character building and cataloging or cliche finders because the app can tackle a broader range of projects (than just a novel or screenplay). What you will find in spades is help with managing the text of your document — or story….

With Scrivener, the immediate focus is on writing. The typeface is defined in the preferences so that the screen remains clean, devoid of rulers (by default) and tab markers that can distract one from the pleasure of writing. After all, if one wants a smorgasbord of visual clutter, buttons, pallets, rulers, tab markers, and font controls, one can always use Microsoft Word.”

Scrivener Main

Scrivener 2.1, ready for Lion, retains that easy going, flexible approach, but has also added considerable technical strength under the hood and UI refinements that either clarify operations or make life easier for the writer. Some of the change reflects, I surmise, user feedback and some reflects the new and changing needs of modern authors, for example, direct output to EPUB format, ready to be uploaded to various ebook services.

In fact, the eternal dilemma for software like this is that writers want to jump in and start writing without getting buried in technology and technique — yet their craft, the output suitable for publication, is an extraordinarily technical affair. This is why I really like Scrivener. Not only is the app a brilliant blend of technology and the act of catering to the author, but the gentle, low-key approach by the developers in the documentation and design keeps one from becoming too annoyed (or obsessed) with the operation of the software. (However, I have some nits regarding that below.) Did I mention boatloads of passion for the art of writing by the company? It shows.

Perhaps the best way to show how Scrivener 2.1 has evolved is to look back at my initial review, check out the current list of features and then look at the changes in version 2.0 and, recently, 2.1 — which is ready for Lion. The first review I did will give you a strong feeling for the flavor, look and feel, and philosophy of this app.

New features in 2.0

  • View a freeform corkboard for sections where cards can be moved around arbitrarily.
  • Collections.Think of it as tabs for your binder.
  • Marginalia provide a choice betwwen in-line notes or notes in the inspector.
  • Improved Compile. This is the formated output option, and it now includes EPUB and WebArchive formats in addition to an already extensive list.
  • Support for iPad as a collaboration tool including Dropbox support.
  • A crisper, more intuitive relationship between the corkboard, outliner and editor. (This was a problem in version 1.5, and it still lingers now.)
  • Editable QuickReference Windows that are editable.
  • Document snapshots and automatic backups.
  • Page Layout preview, somewhat like a word processor, gives a preview of how many pages the document will be during layout.

Scrivener already had a very rich repertoire of output formats, including .mobi, .rtf, .doc, .docx. .fdx, and.html. So .epub is a welcome addition. Also, Scrivener previously had in place the ability to create a ZIP’d backup and save it to Dropbox (or MobileMe).

Scrivener output formats

Output formats 

New features in 2.1

  • Lion compatibility.
  • For use with equations, integration with MathType.
  • Better control of the export and Compile Summary Mode.
  • Improved search in the Binder.
  • Logical separation of saved preferences and color themes. This allows the user, for example, to use one theme in the daytime and one at night without effecting the document preferences.
  • A logical separation of Lion’s new Full Screen mode and what Scrivener used to call Full Screen. Scrivener’s old Full Screen is now called Composition Mode and support for Lion’s Full Screen is added.
  • Added export options: CSV and OPML.

For more details on what’s new, the developer has a great page with full descriptions.

Documentation

Scrivener 2 is one of the best documented apps I have ever seen, both in terms of volume and quality. First, there is a boatload of video tutorials. Next, there’s a new 455 page User Guide in PDF format. It’s found in the Help menu or when you start a new project. And then there’s the Interactive Tutorial also available when you start a new project. Finally, There’s the excellent Take Control ebook by Kirk McElhearn. This is just a fantastic set of documents and videos.

Some Nits

As great as the program is, there are still some issues for me. I am not pleased with the process by which new scenes are created by hitting the Return key. That seems like a bad UI decision; a more explicit action is called for. Conversely, the delete key doesn’t work for the deletion of a scene, and that’s good because a good UI demands a more explicit action there to avoid the loss of content.

Scrivener corkboard

Corkboard

Also, I have a lot to learn about the operation of the corkboard, adding items, and linking to graphics. It still seems counterintuitive, unMac-like and awkward at times, but I’ll admit that it takes some time on the learning curve to fully exploit this feature. None of this is major.

Finally, and I’m not sure how to approach this, but Scrivener can be, in some modes,  a visually busy app. That’s okay, so long as the documentation is excellent and everything works well together. I think the lesson here is that as one climbs the learning curve, as with Microsoft Word, the myriad of buttons and toolbar icons become your friends instead of strangers. Also, to be fair, the Inspector and Binder can be hidden, and there’s the famous full screen mode which is distraction free. And yet, I have the feeling that there’s still work to be done in the contextual clarity of all the busyness in the mode shown below.

Scrivener main

Visually Busy: Binder, Toolbar, buttons, Inspector, and Format Bar.

The Précis

I’ve been working with Scrivener 2.0.5 for a few weeks now and recently upgraded to 2.1. I am pleased with the better clarity and organization as well as the technical refinements that will make this app a front runner for anyone embarking on a novel or a screenplay. (Maybe even me someday.)  Also, for as long as I’ve used this app, it has never crashed or locked up. Version 2.1 puts it right up there with — and perhaps surpasses — any app of its kind.

Upgrades

According to the developer, the update to Scrivener 2.x is free for users who bought Scrivener 1.x on or after 1st August 2010, and $25 for users who purchased Scrivener 1.x before that. The upgrade fee is the same for both the regular and education licences. 

While Scrivener has historically been Mac-only, a Windows version is in the works with a release expected this summer. 

 

Product: Scrivener 2.1

Company: Literature & Latte

List Price: US$45.00

Pros:

Nicely crafted, lots of under-the-hood technical features for writers, flexible and powerful, great control of output for final product, obvious developer passion for the art, nicely priced.

Cons:

In some modes, can be visually busy.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

No Comments

Log-in to comment