Review: Scrivener

recommended resource review world-building Jan 05, 2021

Post written by Katie Wall. This post contains an affiliate link. This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, we will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain our own.

Today I want to share about a software program that has been SO helpful for me as I’ve done world-building for the fantasy novel I’m currently writing as well as an epic fantasy entire series.

There are many tools out there that writers can use for world-building and novel planning, such as:

  • Sticky notes or notecards
  • A program like Trello (virtual bulletin board)
  • A notebook
  • Word document(s)
  • Your brain (this would never work for me, I can’t keep things straight!)

When I first began world-building for my current fantasy series, my husband (who is a HUGE nerd; check out his TTRPG GMing business) and I worked on the world together. We have complementary strengths--he is much more enthralled by the big picture and I am more focused on the nuts and bolts of things--so it makes a lot of sense to do it together. Plus, we love being nerdy together so world-building together is an easy (and free!) date night.

That said, just because we enjoy world-building together doesn’t mean that we think the same way about things or remember our decisions with 100 percent accuracy.

It soon became super clear that we needed a solid system to help:

  • Us stay on track with what we were talking about
  • Remember what we had decided about different things
  • Me to visualize various timelines we were toying with (population growth and decline, wars, events relating to deities, etc.)
  • Plot out the whole series and then the trilogies that make it up (we have three so far!) and then the individual books within each trilogy.

Needless to say, we are both planners, not pantsers. ;)

As I will argue in an upcoming post about world-building, I believe that it is imperative for writers to exercise at least some planning so that the world of the story will hold together, especially in the context of a series.

So, what tool did we end up using?

We tried taping notecards on the wall with sticky notes to help mark dates or other important information. This worked until we ran out of space on the wall, the notes kept falling off the wall and getting carried off by our toddler, and we wanted to be able to reference our project when we weren’t in that room of the house.

We then tried moving things into Trello, but that didn’t solve our problem with connecting different aspects of the world that impact each other.

We tried using a Google document but it soon became clear that the project was far too complex for a single document, and disconnected documents would only add to the confusion.

Then we found Scrivener!

This is the menu of all of the world-building details we’ve made. You can see that there are folders and documents and that different levels can be made.

The notecard view in Scrivener. This is the series I have planned out so far…

My notes in Scrivener about technological capabilities in the world I’ve built with my husband.

My notecards for the first book in my series. It’s so nice that I can make a summary of each chapter that is easily seen. I could see this feature being used with scenes as well, since it is easy to drag and drop notecards in a different order for easy revision.

Scrivener combines:

  • The visual aspect of notecards
  • The interconnectedness of a wiki
  • The ability to edit on multiple devices
  • The ability to work on the big picture and the minute details at the same time or as your muse leads you.

I’ve been using Scrivener for over a year now and I LOVE it. I will never go back to organizing my world building by any of the other methods I listed, and writing my novel draft in Scrivener has been a wonderful experience as well.

While I absolutely recommend Scrivener to my fellow writers, I do want to acknowledge that there is a con to this program as well, which has to do with the syncing capabilities. This affects a couple of aspects of use:

  • Unlike documents in Google Drive, edits in Scrivener are not instantaneously synced with the other devices your project is on. If you would like to use Scrivener across devices you need to set up your file saving to do so via DropBox or another method. The good news is that it’s not too hard to set this up.
  • Since a file must be synced with Dropbox, you have to save and then exit Scrivener and wait until Dropbox syncs before turning off your computer--or you run the risk of an incomplete sync, which can mean lost and/or corrupted data. If you don’t close Scrivener and then open the synced file on another computer, that can also cause issues.
  • Two people can’t work on a file simultaneously.

If you’re not working with a partner to do world-building and/or you’re not concerned about working on your project on multiple devices, then you’ve got nothing to worry about!

I’m not going to write out a tutorial or even a tour of Scrivener here, as you can find those elsewhere with a simple Google search. My hope is that some of my readers and clients who are feeling lost or overwhelmed by their attempts to organize their world-building and/or writing will see this post and realize that there are software programs out there that can really help them. Better organization means more mental bandwidth to spend on writing, after all, and that’s what we all wish we could do more of!

I love Scrivener so much that I became an affiliate with them after utilizing the program for a year. If you are interested in purchasing Scrivener, please help support me and my work by using this link to make your purchase.

For the sake of transparency, there are other software programs that do similar things to Scrivener. By all means, do your research and select the program that will best fit your own needs. I recommend reflecting on the following questions when choosing a writing software program:

  • How does my brain work? Do I need visuals? Can I hold webs of information in my mind?
  • What kind of syncing functionality do I need, if any?
  • Do I already have a paper system that is working for me? What are my reasons for wanting to shift to a software program?
  • What kind of budget do I have for my writing right now?

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