Writing with Scrivener and Scapple

I love these two pieces of software for writers.

  • Scrivener is a word processor designed for writers. Does that sound like an oxymoron? It’s for people who are writing novels, research papers, scripts – anything where you have a lot of information, characters, etc. to keep track of, and a lot of possibilities for organizing and structuring your work. The creators call it a content-generation tool.
  • Scapple is sort of like an electronic whiteboard. You can use it for mind mapping, or anything where you want to put things anywhere on the screen.

They come from the company Literature and Latte and were originally produced for the Mac, although you can also get Scrivener in a Windows version and just recently an iOS version for iPads and iPhones. They aren’t too expensive as software goes, and if you participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or Camp NaNo, you can try Scrivener for free during the events and then if you win you can get a 50% off discount. The regular price is $45. Scapple’s only fifteen bucks anyway.

Of course the true cost of software isn’t always the money, but the time you spend learning how to use it. Scrivener has a built-in tutorial you can walk through in an hour or so, which is all I did for the first couple of years I was using it. When you start feeling you want to get more out of it, there are some excellent YouTube videos. I like Jason Hough’s Scrivener Bootcamp videos. There’s a Scrivener Users group on Facebook and the people in that group are tremendously helpful if you run into a problem or have a question. Scapple has a quick-start guide and I haven’t yet felt the need for anything else, and I’ve done some pretty cool stuff with it.

Some of the things I love about Scrivener:

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The Binder. This is an outline view of your whole project. Each of the things you see in the list is an actual document you can click inside and edit, and you can drag items around right in the binder to reorganize your draft. You can put stuff in folders or not, whatever you like.

The Manuscript section is the part that by default will be included in my final draft when I compile it, send it to pdf, or whatever.

The character and places sections are templates where you fill in basic or detailed information, whatever you need, to keep track.

Research is a catch-all for stuff you found online, notes you took, ideas, whatever.

I added the Summary section at the top during the planning phase of this new project.


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Composition mode. In this mode, which you can get into and out of by toggling Cmd-Opt-F (or by using the menu), all you see on your screen is what you’re working on. You can set it for more or less opacity in the background, and I love that I can set it to show the font bigger so it’s easier to read (you can go from 50% to 800% of actual size in this mode).


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The cork board. This is my new project so I don’t have much here yet, but eventually I’ll write a synopsis of each scene on those little index cards so I can see the whole chapter or even the whole novel at a glance. The index cards are attached to the actual written scene so I can drag them around to reorganize the draft.


There are lots of other great features, like templates for different types of writing, metadata, snapshots that keep several generations of versions, and collections, but the above are enough to make Scrivener stand out for me. (Word to the wise: never shut down your computer with Scrivener in the Mac OS full-screen mode. Composition mode, yes; OS full-screen, no.)

Scapple is easy to learn, and a great tool.

I used it to get a better understanding of the Snowflake method of planning a novel. This isn’t a very sophisticated diagram, but it helped my learning process:

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And then I used it to help me plan out my mystery novel, with the relationships between the different characters, little summaries of different aspects of the novel, and so on. As you can see, you can use shapes, color coding, fonts, stacks, and lines & arrows to create your diagram.

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Another nice feature is that you have tons of space to work with. Here’s my whole novel diagram in a corner of the space I could have used. You can shrink or grow the diagram to see the big picture or hone in on a specific area.

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Overall, I’m really pleased with my under-$50 total investment in these two pieces of software.

What great tools have you found to ease your writerly journey? Tell me about it in the comments.

Written by Shan
I spent 25 years conducting performance audits of state agencies, looking for ways they could be more effective and efficient. I helped write countless government reports. I worked with the smartest, nicest people in state government, and was honored to be a part of that group. Now, though, I’m writing fiction (yay! adjectives! dialogue!), learning banjo, traveling, hanging out with my fabulous granddaughters, and – big surprise – I’m still not decluttering that back room that was on hold for the past 25 years.