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Scrivener for plotters with Hope Ramsay

For something different—and to celebrate the start of my Scrivener online classes today (it's not too late to sign up)—I thought you might enjoy learning how someone besides me uses Scrivener.

Hope Ramsay4X6Hope Ramsay is the bestselling author of contemporary romances in the Last Chance series. She’s also a pretty savvy Scrivener user. She was generous enough to sit down and talk with me about how she uses Scrivener to write her books.

GH: You write your Last Chance books in Scrivener for Windows. How did you first hear about Scrivener, and how long have you been using it?

HR: A couple of my writing buddies have been using Scrivener for a long time – but they are all Mac users.  And I’m an avowed PC fan.  So I didn’t pay much attention until Scrivener came out with the Windows version.

I read a couple of blogs about the PC version, but I was skeptical.  I just couldn’t believe that a word processing program that cost only $40 could be worth much.  But my Mac friends were all swearing on it.  So, since it was inexpensive, I bought the PC version.  I expected to hate it.

But to my utter surprise, I fell in love with the program within about five minutes’ time.

GH: I had a similar reaction. What features sold you on Scrivener?

HR: The main thing that makes Scrivener so great is the way it allows a writer to break down a big project into its component parts.  Using Scrivener I can organize my work by scene.  I can easily move scenes around.  I can insert scenes.  And I can see the way the scenes fit together.  I can edit two scenes simultaneously.

I compare this approach to the difference between listening to music on a cassette tape, versus an Mp3 player.  To get to a specific song on a tape, I would have to fast forward through a lot of irrelevant stuff.  On a digital player, I can go to the album and song with a couple of clicks.  The cassette tape (and traditional word processing) is what computer geeks call “sequential access.”  But Scrivener gives me “random access” to any part of my project.  The binder allows me to move to a specific scene directly, without having to search through all the other scenes to get there.  That is so incredibly powerful.

GH: Great analogy, and I completely agree. Okay, you’re a serious plotter. Can you give us an overview of how you use Scrivener to support your writing process? (Readers: for a detailed look at Hope’s process, complete with screenshots, check out her post at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood from last September).

HR: I am a serious outliner.  In my pre-S days I used a Microsoft Access database that I developed myself.  (Can you tell I’m a seriously geeky computer person?) In my database I created my own version of the index cards you’ll find in Scrivener.  They were basically database entries for each scene and I tracked POV, scene goal, antagonist and what happens at the end of the scene.  I could compile these database entries into an outline that I printed out and had handy whenever I was writing.

But I kept losing the damn papers.  And while the database was powerful it wasn’t user-friendly.  And making changes in the outline on the fly was practically impossible.  So my original outline would get filled up with penciled in notes.  My database was great for starting out, but once I started writing, it was no help at all.

But with Scrivener, I can create scene cards at the beginning, and then I can amend them on the fly.  I can add scenes as they occur to me.  I can move scenes around.  I can keep notes about what’s supposed to happen in a scene (using document notes attached to the scene).  I can use Scrivener’s meta data tags to keep track of which story arc (or arcs) a scene fits into.  I can use labels to tell me what story step the scene fits into.  (I talk about this in my September Ruby Blog post.)

Every book starts out with eleven or twelve scenes and turning points, right down to the black moment.  But of course I add scenes as I go.  Because I am a plotter, but I’m also open to new ideas that occur during the writing process.  So the outline changes as I write.  But every day when I sit down at the computer, there’s my outline staring me in the face.  The binder along the left side of the screen just keeps me focused and on track, and it helps me capture and organize new thoughts.

Basically the cards are my life!

But there are other nifty things about the program.  The split screen allows me to make sure that something I’m writing in one part of a book is consistent with something I’ve already written.  I can see both scenes simultaneously (and edit them at the same time, which is so cool.)  I use the document and project notes options extensively as I write a first draft.  So when I’m finished I usually have a whole list of things I need to think about as I polish and revise.

I also use Scrivener’s project and session goals.  They motivate me.  Each morning I open that session target window and it stays open until I make my 2,000 words for that day.  It’s amazing how just watching the words pile up (and the status bar turn from red to green) can motivate me.

GH: That's a great overview of some of Scrivener's best features. What do you wish you had a better grasp of in Scrivener?

HR: I wish I understood how to build templates better.  Also, I’m never entirely happy with the way Scrivener compiles a document into Word.  It always requires some fiddling to get it all formatted right.  I don’t know if the problem is me or the program.  But since I don’t compile documents very often, I haven’t invested a lot of time in figuring out templates and such.

GH: Templates and Compile are the two things I get questions on most, so you're not alone. Do you use Scrivener for anything other type of writing?

HR: No I don’t.  Most of my other writing for business is very short stuff that Word can handle.

GH: Do you have any thoughts on how Scrivener could be better?

HR: I have two things on my wish list for Scrivener.  First, I’m waiting not so patiently for an iPad version of the program.  I’ve heard that it’s in the works and I can’t wait.  If I could use Scrivener on my iPad, I could stop lugging around a lap top when I travel.

I’m also envious of my friends who use the Mac version of Scrivener because their version integrates with the Mac text to speech program.  The PC version does not.  I always have a text-to-speech program read back my first and second drafts.  But I can’t do that in Scrivener.  I have to either compile the draft into Word where I can use my text to speech program (but I will lose any edits I make in Word), or I have to cut and paste back and forth between the text-to-speech program and Scrivener.  It’s a pain for the first draft.  Not so much for the second draft because once I compile the second draft, all the rest of my edits will be done in Word.  The only reason for that is because my publisher uses Word for copy edits.

GH: Tell us about your most recent book release.

LastChanceBookClub_hi resHR: My next book is the first in a new, three-book Last Chance series that features members of the Last Chance Book Club.  The first book in the series is about Savannah White, a single mom, who returns to Last Chance to restore her grandfather’s movie theater.  Savannah is immediately adopted by the community and becomes a member of the book club, which is reading Pride and Prejudice.  And lo and behold, there are some parallels between Savannah’s life and Lizzy Bennet’s life.  Savannah is being pursued by Rev. William Ellis, who does not make her heart sing,  And she’s forced to spend time with Dash Randall, a man she has despised since she was a little girl.  Meanwhile, Dash is a wealthy man and the matchmakers in town have decided that he’s definitely in need of a wife.  But will it be Savannah or Hettie Johnson, the CEO of the Chicken plant in town?  You’ll have to read it to find out.

Last Chance Book Club is not a complete retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  It’s more of a sideways adaptation where I’ve borrowed heavily from Austen.  What makes it fun is that the book club members are actually aware of the parallels, so there is a lot of Austen trivia thrown around.  I’m a big Jane Austen fan, so writing this book was a lot of fun.  Last Chance Book Club will be in stores this April.

GH: What’s next for you?

HR: I’ve got a shortstory entitled Last Chance Summer that will be out in e-format this summer.  The next full-length novel is Last Chance Knit & Stitch.  Molly Canaday, a member of the book club, is the heroine of this one.  And she bears a striking resemblance to Josephine March, the heroine of Little Women, which just happens to be the book the club is reading.

GH: Thank you so much for joining me today!

It was my pleasure.  I am such a fan of the software I welcome any and all opportunities to sing its praises.  And I’m happy to answer any questions about Scrivener or my seriously OCD writing process.

Hope Ramsay is an award-winning, bestselling author and two-time Golden Heart finalist.  Her series of heartwarming romances, published by Grand Central Publishing, have won critical acclaim.  Hope is also a member of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood and regularly blogs about storytelling and plotting.  She is married to a good ol' Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her Southern heroes.  She has two grown children and a couple of demanding lap cats.  She lives in Virginia where, when she’s not writing, she’s knitting or playing on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.

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