Editing your novel is and always will be a huge job but there are ways to make it easier. Three ways to go about lightening this load is with beta readers, a strong plan of action and the right tools for the job. Beta readers are essential to know what works and what doesn’t, to see where your specific problems are and to just get a good feel for how the story reads as an outsider. Without a plan you can end up going round in circles, changing one thing only to mess up something else that happens before or later. By planning out your changes it becomes much easier to keep track of all it all and keep consistency without undoing your own work multiple times. Finally, that leaves us with the tools of the trade whose very existence is there to make things easier for us.
I’m going to dedicate a post to each of my three favourite tools for writing and editing: Scrivener, my most used method of writing; Microsoft Word, my go to for short stories; and good old pen and paper, which I don’t see being properly replaced any time soon.
Today I’m going to talk about Scrivener and mostly just about how I personally use it for editing, so many of its vast wealth of features will go unmentioned. I’m certain that there are even more fantastic features that would make my life easier that I simply haven’t discovered. It’s that kind of program, where there is just so much you’re constantly discovering new things. Just a heads up – I use the Windows version, which I believe has some significant differences to the iOS version.
Let’s start with the Information panel.
This is a panel that each individual document in a Scrivener file has. Starting from the top we have: a title; a box for a summary; metadata allowing us to indicate what type of document this is as well as its current status; and the final panel at the bottom which has six different tabs to switch between. As I’m specifically talking about the features I use, I will only be discussing three of those. The tab shown in this first image is a general comments section, which I like to use for notes of tone, transition and other alterations that effect the whole scene. This is great for keeping the general information out of the in line edits and so that it’s always available at a glance while working through a scene. As you can imagine, it’s also a great tool for doing first drafts as well to remind yourself what needs to go in a scene.
This here is the second tab I use often for editing, a tab for custom metadata for that scene. You can create all the fields yourself and fill in as much or as little as is necessary. I find this especially good for when I’m going back and editing as weather and time of day are things I have trouble keeping track of when I haven’t looked at a particular piece for a while. I’m also really bad for two characters having a conversation and having a huge gap where another character is stood there totally forgotten by me, the other characters and probably the reader. This helps remind me to stick in reminders!
Comments are probably my most used feature for editing in Scrivener. In this tab of the Information panel, all the comment bubbles are compiled together to make them easy to click through and jump to where the comment is in the text. They are great for sticking in personal comments and tweaks as well as for putting in beta notes if your beta readers have given you back annotated manuscripts. You can also view a comment by just mousing over the highlighted text in the document.
Scrivener also allows for a personal word list which, as a fantasy writer, is fantastic. As well as getting rid of those annoying red lines under all your made up place and character names, it also means you know you’re spelling them consistently. Simply right click and select “Learn Spelling.” If you change someone’s name or tweak the spelling of anything, words can easily be removed by going to: Tools –> Options –> Corrections –> View Personal Word List. This way words can easily be added and removed, making sure your fantasy names are always spelt right.
Scrivener lets you organise a project by having different scenes in separate ‘documents,’ which in turn can be filed into chapter folders. I find that having a huge project broken down into chapters and scenes makes it less daunting and easy to keep track of. As mentioned above, each scene can be flagged as being at a certain stage of completion and viewing each scene as a separate entity helps me focus on fixing that before skipping ahead (or back, as I am terrible for).
I also make extensive use of the split screen option, allowing you to have two documents in the file open at once. This is great for having a character profile up or some world building research within easy view. Basically, I love my screen being super busy with information and Scrivener lets me have glorious organised chaos.
It’s a shame there’s no way to track changes using the program on Windows but I guess we can’t have everything. There is a way to add in line annotations but as they can’t be (or I haven’t found a way to) changed into normal text I tend to just use a comment bubble instead. That’s why I still use good old trusty Word for short stories – but more on that next time!
What’s your favourite program for editing in? Are there any features of Scrivener I haven’t mentioned that you just couldn’t live without?