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Unlike a typical word processor, Scrivener invites writers to work in both familiar and novel ways.
Scrivener is a tool for organizing and drafting the written word, appropriate for formats ranging from articles to dissertations to screenplays to novels. In essence, it marries a rich-text editor with a project-management database, providing a flexible workspace that accommodates a huge gamut of styles. But while Scrivener is many things, it's not a page-layout program. Instead, it outputs drafts in your choice of RTF, HTML, plain text, Web archive, Microsoft Word, or MultiMarkdown formats, which can then be imported into a program such as QuarkXPress, Adobe GoLive, or Word.
Why would you need a writing application if you already have a word processor? Word and others, such as OpenOffice, have project-management tools that writers find useful, such as version control (known as Track Changes in Word) and outlining. But Scrivener goes well beyond standard word processors' capabilities by letting you rearrange, tag, and store text and reference materials.
For starters, individual project sections can carry metadata such as synopsis, status, and word count. These details appear when you view the project in Outliner view, which gives you a much more thorough overview than a word processor can. The Corkboard view mimics a real-world index-card system that fiction writers in particular will find useful, while the Binder view is particularly good for defining subsections within a document. A Scrivener file (which is technically a kind of Mac OS folder called a package) can store reference materials in numerous formats, including Web archive, PDF, and QuickTime audio and video files. That's especially handy for nonfiction writing that incorporates outside research sources. For example, if you're writing a report that quotes a prominent politician, you can include the video clip that's the source of the quotation in the Research section of your project.
Scrivener's many options inspire creativity. Only have 15 minutes to sit down and write? Easily partition overwhelming projects into bite-sized chunks. Got blank-page syndrome? Look at things in a fresh way by spending a few minutes fiddling with your project's overall structure, or label all the scenes where the protagonist appears. On the other hand, such flexibility opens a Pandora's box by encouraging you to imagine new ways to see your writing, ways that may require features Scrivener doesn't have. Literature & Latte's support forums are full of requests that the company plainly states won't be fulfilled, such as a plain-text view (for writers who get distracted by styled text), a thesaurus, and certain formatting functions. However, the company is admirably quick and thorough about answering user posts, even if it's just to say, "Sorry, no can do."
Scrivener even surprised us with unexpected capabilities. In one case, we applied Adobe Acrobat's Paper Capture function to a PDF file referenced by Scrivener, and found that we could search and select the text in the PDF file from within Scrivener just as if we were still working in Acrobat. Credit for such features goes to the developer's extensive use of Apple-native programming technologies to make the app look, feel, and act like it's a part of the Mac OS.
The bottom line. Several writing apps available for the Mac are more full-featured than Scrivener, mostly in specialty markets such as screenwriting. But for writers seeking a solid, low-cost, flexible organizer that encourages creativity, Scrivener's a wise choice.
COMPANY: Literature & Latte
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4 or later
Flexible. Extensive keyboard controls. Excellent documentation and support. Universal binary.
Sometimes lags with large files. Some are features missing or incomplete.