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Keith Blount's Scrivener review


Review Date: 14 Feb 2007

Price when reviewed: (approx £18)

Reviewed By: Giles Turnball

Our Rating 5 stars out of 5

It's not often a self-taught, part-time programmer produces something that makes a whole community of Mac users sit up and pay attention, but Keith Blount is just such a man and he has done precisely that.

His creation is Scrivener, an application for writers of all kinds. Frustrated by his inability to find a Mac writing environment that suited him perfectly, Blount sat down to learn Cocoa programming and two years later released version 1.0 of his application. Scrivener joins an already impressive range of apps for writers, but it stands out, thanks to its unique and well- thought-out features, good design and an excellent understanding of how creative writers need to work.

Scrivener starts by assuming that any piece of written work (be it a novel, screenplay, academic paper, you name it) will be written as a series of disconnected chunks, not as a single seamless narrative. The sidebar - called the binder - acts as a storage system for those pieces, allowing you to sort and rearrange them to your liking. The editor lets you write not just the final texts, but also notes about them. The default outlining mode, designed to look like a corkboard with index cards attached, might not be to everyone's liking aesthetically, but it's an excellent tool for outlining or storyboarding.

By enabling a screen split in the editor, it's possible to have the corkboard displayed alongside the document you're editing. You can see your overarching themes or plot elements while you write detailed prose. The corkboard is just one option, however: you can also view documents in a more traditional outliner style.

The rich-text editor offers everything you'd expect in terms of text handling and presentation. Different writing modes also help; the screenplay mode is a joy to use. A separate Research section in the binder acts as storage for media files, web pages (Scrivener uses WebKit to display web content in situ), PDFs even video clips.

Metadata is everywhere, and designed to help with the organising and planning of large writing projects. Every document can have a label, a status and keywords. Furthermore, it can also be grouped alongside, or as a child of, other documents. The ability to flit from one view to another - from editor, to outline, to corkboard, and any combination of them in split-screen mode - makes browsing through complicated or very long written works much less of a chore than it is in other applications.

One of Scrivener's most interesting features is the Edit Scrivenings command, which ties in with the central concept of compiling a long piece of work from a series of smaller snippets.

A note in Scrivener has a relationship with its sibling, child or parent notes. By selecting several notes, or a folder of them, and invoking the Edit Scrivenings command, they're all combined into a single editing document. Here, you can edit each note in the context of the larger work. Successive notes are displayed with alternate background colours, so you can see where each one begins. Edits made here will be reflected back to the original notes, to which you can return at any time.

This method of working offers instant and helpful access to the whole work, without tying you down to exporting it or saving it as a whole first. While half-way through your project, you can assemble the Scrivenings and have a quick read through. Having spotted gaps or mistakes, it's easy to return to the original separate notes to sort them out.

Another rather helpful feature is the gorgeous Full Screen mode, which blocks out everything else in sight (Dock, Menu Bar, Desktop, the lot) so that you can concentrate on churning out words. An iPhoto-style control panel appears at the bottom, so you can change the full-screen settings or keep an eye on keywords and other metadata, without compromising your concentration.

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