Who’d be a Beta Tester? Interview with Michael Marshall

You can start work immediately. Later you’ll realise how powerful it really is.

With the launch of Scrivener for iOS just around the corner, we thought you might like an insight into the world of some of our beta testers, all of who use Scrivener in different ways and have various stories to tell. 

Amongst them is suspense novelist Michael Marshall (who also writes as his horror and science fiction alter ego Michael Marshall Smith). His first novel, ‘Only Forward’, won both the August Derleth Award for Best Novel and the Philip K. Dick Award. Other accolades include the International Horror Guild Award, and the British Fantasy Award for best short story – which he has won more than any other author in history. On the screen, his book ‘The Intruders’ became the drama series ‘Intruders’ starring John Simm and Mira Sorvino, while ‘Unbelief’, a film based on his short story, has won 9 awards and 21 nominations to date.

Michael Marshall Smith

You’ve been a long-time user of Scrivener’s desktop version. How does the iOS version compare?

I’m amazed at how well all the essential features (and more) have been layered into an app that’s still straightforward to get around, and to use. You can’t do everything in iOS that you can in Mac OS, but that’s not surprising — and also, not what you want. Apps need to be appropriately pitched toward the platform on which they run. Keith’s done his usual masterful job of thinking about the practicalities of what writers need, and what’s feasible and dependable on a given device, and making that work smoothly.

Did it take you long to find your way around it?

No time at all. I was making and syncing notes within five minutes of installing the first beta. As always with Scrivener, however, there’s great value in experimenting, trying things, and reading the damned manual. I can’t count the number of times I’ve emailed Keith over the years with some cool new thing Scrivener could do, and had him patiently explain that it already can. The iOS version is the same.  You can start work immediately. Later you’ll realise how powerful it really is.

Which features proved most useful for your way of working?

The ability to faultlessly sync with the desktop version has to be the most useful. That for me is the game-changer. It’s actually sightly spooky to see quite a complex novel structure and 100,000 words perfectly mirrored onto your phone, to be able to make changes, and find it all back on the desktop, too. I love being able to share styles between the two. I really like the fact that meta changes you make on one — like the specific way in which you’re viewing and working with your structure — are mirrored onto the other platforms.

And to be honest, one of the very best features is reliability. The one thing that you cannot afford is losing work. During the beta I made a couple of suggestions which were considered but then gently rejected, on the grounds that — in some bizarre and unlikely combination of circumstances — there might be a risk. That’s what I need most – the reassurance that everything is safe.

How do you see yourself using the iOS version in future – tell us how you plan to use it alongside your desktop computer.

The iOS version has already changed the way I work. In the past, I’ve had to run separate apps for my current writing project (whatever I’m hammering out large quantities of words for), anything I’m planning (either sporadic notes, or large collections of files and reference material), and general jottings. Now I’ve switched to iOS Scrivener for all of those.

It’s reassuring and useful to have all that stuff with me, wherever I go, and several times I’ve sat outside a cafe and edited or even added new material to the current novel on my phone, which is something I never thought I’d do. After nearly thirty years of defaulting to Word for at least some of the writing process, I don’t think I’ve even opened it in months.

Michael Marshall Smith's Binder
What would you say to someone who might be nervous of giving Scrivener’s iOS version a go?

Just try it! I’ve long believed that Mac OS Scrivener is the writer’s best tool. Adding the iOS version makes it an absolute no-brainer. Suddenly your work — your real work, all of it, not some lite or compromised version — is with you, wherever you go. Whether you’re writing prose, planning a TV series, making notes, or putting together an eBook, it’s all there. The first beta was as feature-ful and solid as most people’s final release candidate. Now it’s like it’s already on version 2.4.

Your story The Seventeenth Kind has just reached the big screen – what are you working on now, and when might it be available?

Right at this moment I’m about there quarters of the way through a novel, which has been wholly written in Scrivener. I’m starting to plan out a feature script, and am tweaking a couple of TV  proposals. Out of habit I was originally maintaining a kind of “inbox” for each in their Scrivener files, to drop new ideas and edits into, but increasingly I’m working straight on the core material itself. It’s like having a teeny little Mac with me wherever I go… I’d been waiting a long time to be able to do this kind of thing: thank God it’s finally here.

Scrivener for iOS: for Scriptwriters, Too

Scrivener on the Mac and PC have a fully-featured scriptwriting mode, and there are a lot of scriptwriters using it. Episodes of Luther and Doctor Who, award-winning documentaries and feature films have all been written in Scrivener. And we love our scriptwriter users—so we couldn’t very well leave them in the cold with our iOS version.

To be entirely honest, we don’t just love our scriptwriter users—we’re also a tiny bit scared of them. Your average scriptwriter is not the sort of wordsmith who is (as my mother would have it) backwards in coming forwards. This might be because, to get their names in the credits of a movie, they literally have to fight the other writers to the death using only a rubber spoon and puns from death scenes in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies (“He’s letting off steam”). This makes them tougher than your average coder—so we really couldn’t very well leave them in the cold with our iOS version.

Out of love and fear (but mostly love), then, we have managed to port the Mac’s scriptwriting features across to our iOS version: full script formatting, with import from and export to Final Draft FDX baked right into Scrivener for iOS.

Use tab and return (or keyboard shortcuts if you have an external keyboard) to move between script elements (Scene Heading, Action, Dialogue and the rest), or tap the name of the element at the top of the screen to bring up the elements list. You turn scriptwriting mode on for a project using the project settings, and from there you can decide whether any particular document should use script mode or not, just as you can on macOS and Windows.

Projects created on iOS and only ever used on iOS only support Screenplays. However, if you bring in a project from the Mac or Windows version, or if you sync with the Mac or Windows version and change the scriptwriting settings there, the iOS version will use whatever script format is set for the project, whether that is UK Stage Play, Comic Script, your own custom script format or anything else.

And while the scriptwriting experience is undeniably better on an iPad, we have done everything in our power to make sure that you can comfortably create and edit scripts on an iPhone, too.

Scrivener for iOS Release Date

Apple has approved Scrivener for sale on the iOS App Store, so we can now give an official release date: 20th July. To recap the details:

  • Price: $19.99
  • Release date: 20th July
  • Requirements: any device running iOS 9.0 or above (iPad, iPad Pro, iPhone, iPod Touch)
  • Available in all the same territories as we sell our macOS version on the Mac App Store. (Note that 1.0’s UI is English-only, but we will be adding other languages in a free update.)

Thank you to everyone who has been on this journey with us. A huge thank you to the 600+ beta-testers who have helped us squash bugs and (I hope!) provide a stable release version. Thanks to the L&L team, who always push me to make things better and make sure I have the time and space to do so. But most of all, thanks to the gazillion of you have stuck with us and waited so long, through all the problems we had getting our iOS version together. All those of you who love Scrivener nearly as much as we do, and who have been so eager to use it on all your devices. This time next week, you’ll be able to carry your Scrivener projects around in your pocket. I hope you like it.

Scrivener iOS: Outliner

As already expounded in the previous post about expanding outlines, Scrivener’s “binder” (its sidebar) is essentially an outliner. If you tap the gear icon in the footer of the sidebar, you’ll open ‘Project Settings’. Within binder options, you can turn on ‘Show Labels’, ‘Tint Rows with Label Colors’, ‘Show Status’ and ‘Shows Synopses’. With all those binder options engaged, things are about to get more colourful and informative.

Tapping on a document in the binder will open it in the editor. If you tap and hold on a document, the inspector opens. This allows you to edit the title and synopsis of the associated document, add notes, and assign a label or status. If you have ‘Tint Rows with Label Colors’ selected, your binder document row will take on the label colour you assign. Giving your document a ‘Revised Draft’ status will also be reflected in the binder if you have ‘Show Status’ selected. How much information you want the binder to show is entirely up to you.

Back within ‘Project Settings’ (tapping the gear icon again), you have ‘Compact’ and ‘Expanded’ as a sidebar choice. Your selection will determine how much of your binder outline you can see. With ‘Compact’ selected, no more than three or four lines of synopses text will be shown in the binder. When ‘Expanded’ is selected, the synopses font becomes larger and rows expand to show all of the synopses. If a binder document has no synopsis associated with it, the first words of its text will be displayed instead. (This synopsis behaviour will be be coming to both our macOS and Windows versions in the future.) On the iPad, choosing ‘Expanded’ will also make the sidebar wider, so that it takes up nearly half of the screen.

As detailed in the earlier referenced blog post, swiping left on a row with subdocuments will reveal an ‘Expand’ button. Pressing the button will reveal the subdocuments indented below their parent, allowing you to see as much (or as little) of your outline as you want.

Any folder in your outline will have a chevron next to it. Tapping on a folder will normally drill down a level to reveal its subdocuments. If the folder has been expanded, however, its subdocuments are already visible, so tapping on the row will simply open the folder’s contents in the editor or corkboard. (If you still want to drill down to view only the subdocuments, you can do so by tapping on the chevron, which will now be enclosed in a circle to indicate that you need to specifically tap the chevron to drill down.)

Scrivener's outliner.
A collapsed folder and an expanded folder.
If you now press on ‘Edit’ within the binder nav bar, you enter editing mode. In this mode, you can drag and drop to rearrange binder documents by pressing and holding the drag indicator on the right of a row. The icons in the binder footer also change in editing mode, allowing you to move documents to a different folder in your project, duplicate documents, merge documents and move them to the Trash. There’s also a “move mode” button (a cross with arrows) that changes the icons in the footer toolbar to buttons that allow you to move selected documents up and down, and to indent and dedent them in the outline.

On the iPad, you can even edit your outline whilst referring to a document in the editor.

Scrivener's outliner.
The outliner on Scrivener for iOS.
Whether you’re on an iPad or iPhone, though, Scrivener’s binder is a powerful and fully-featured outliner that gives you complete control over the structure of your writing and research.

Scrivener for iPad: Travel with Your Corkboard

Scrivener’s binder offers a great structural view of your project, but sometimes you may want to spread out a little more. Scrivener lets you take advantage of the extra space on an iPad to view your documents on a virtual corkboard.

Tap the corkboard icon next to a group in the binder to display the group’s subdocuments as index cards in the editor. (If the group is already expanded in the binder, tapping anywhere in the row outside the circled chevron will load the corkboard.) The cards show each document’s title and synopsis, or the first few lines of text for those documents that don’t have a synopsis. (Sneak preview of a future desktop feature!) You can even assign an image to a document to display in place of its synopsis text.

Screenshot of Scrivener's corkboard
The corkboard displays documents as index cards and photos.
As in the desktop version, you can drag and drop cards to reorder your documents, and you can resize cards the iOS way, with a simple pinch gesture. You can create new documents directly on the corkboard, as well as delete, merge, or move documents.

Besides providing a fresh perspective of a container’s contents, the corkboard also gives you an easy way to navigate. Just tap a card to load the document in the editor, or swipe left on the card to open it as a Quick Reference document in the sidebar. Double-tap a card to pop open the inspector, where you can view and edit the title, synopsis, notes, and other meta-data such as label and status. If you prefer, tap the “i” button in the editor navigation bar to open the inspector in the sidebar so you can work with the meta-data while keeping the corkboard fully visible. Or, go full-screen to focus on the cards—Scrivener’s mobile corkboard lets you work however you like.

Keyboard Shortcuts in Scrivener for iOS

Something you might not expect to see from a debuting iOS app is extensive support for keyboard control, diminishing (and for certain routine tasks, eliminating) the need to reach for the screen in order to get things done. In fact, we have added so many shortcuts that we couldn’t even list them all here (but don’t worry, if you want lists, we’ve got lists).

Write and edit from the keyboard.
Write and edit from the keyboard.
Those who are accustomed to the shortcuts in the macOS version of Scrivener will find familiar controls at their fingertips, such as Shift-Cmd-H to highlight the currently selected text, Opt-Cmd-G to group selected items into a new folder, and Opt-Cmd-DownArrow to view the next document in the binder.

In addition to shortcuts, you will find many other small improvements to keyboard navigation throughout the interface, such as using the Tab key to jump from the title to the synopsis on an index card, or using the Left arrow key to go “back” in the binder and the Right arrow key to navigate into a folder within the sidebar.

Word & Character Counts in Scrivener for iOS

Sometimes we need a little reassurance to see how far we’ve come since the start of a long project; other times we need to revel in the despair of how far we have left to go. Whichever your poison, we’ve got you covered.

Count words (and optionally characters) as you type.
Count words (and optionally characters) as you type.
As you write, cut, edit, or paste text into the editor, the current count for the section you are editing will be updated in the header bar. When you’re not editing, on the iPad the count is always available in the footer. (On the iPhone, whenever you wish to see the count for the section of text you are reading, you need only touch the text to edit it and view the word or character count.)

That is all well and good for individual sections of your text, but what if you wish to view the total count, across all documents set to be a part of your final text? Tap on the stats in the header bar to view the target wheel:

Track draft as well as session goals in one pie chart.
Track draft as well as session goals in one pie chart.
Even if you do not intend to work toward a particular target (words or characters), you can use the basic readout at the top of this panel to get a good estimate of the total count as it stands. Beyond keeping track of the work as a whole you can also set a session goal that will keep a running count of the net word or character count until you start a new session.

Quick Reference in Scrivener for iOS: Side-by-Side Editing and Research

Scrivener for macOS and Windows allows you to view (and edit) two documents right alongside one another. You might have your writing on one side and a photo or PDF document to which you need to refer on the other, or you might be checking a previous or later chapter right alongside the one you are currently writing.

Did I say “Scrivener for macOS and Windows”? Well, now we can add the iPad to this list.

On the iPad, this is done using the Quick Reference feature: simply swipe left on a document in the binder, tap the “More” button, and then select “Quick Reference”. The document you swiped slides into view right there in the sidebar, replacing the binder, so that you have it alongside your writing. (You can easily make the sidebar wider to see more of the document, too.)

When you have the corkboard in the main editor, you can swipe left on a card to “throw” its document into the sidebar as a Quick Reference document. This is not only incredibly useful, but also quite a bit too much fun. (Though perhaps I should get out more.)

Scrivener iOS: Pinch Zoom

Has it been a long day? Have you started squinting at the text in Scrivener’s editor on your iPad or iPhone? The good news is that you don’t require an optometrist. You’re only a simple iOS gesture from salvation. Most text based apps currently have you picking through a complicated menu path with your poor vision to increase text scale, but with Scrivener you can simply pinch to zoom anywhere within your editor in order to make your text larger or smaller.

Scrivener’s default zoom is 1.2x, but if you have the eyesight of a superhero you can zoom all the way down to 0.5x. If you really should have booked that appointment for corrective lenses, you can zoom up to 5x. Just don’t expect too many words on the screen real estate of an iPhone at that magnification! So, as you do with Safari when reading that last news article late at night, simply pinch zoom in Scrivener’s editor on iOS to write and read at the text size that is perfect for you.

Pinch zoom within the editor.
Pinch zoom to alter the text scale viewed on your iOS device.

Scrivener for iPad: The Draft Navigator

One of Scrivener’s many nifty features on the Mac and Windows is the ability to view the pieces of your manuscript either in isolation or in context. You write your text in chunks as large or small as you like, and then you can view and edit them together as though they were a single document. The feature that allows this we call “Scrivenings mode”.

As much as we love Scrivenings mode, a number of important considerations meant that it wasn’t something we could bring over to the iOS version in its entirety (considerations such as limitations of the iOS text system and hardware, the necessity of maintaining a small memory footprint, and ease of use within an environment where minimalism reigns).

So how do you get an overview and see your work in context on iOS without Scrivenings mode? On the iPhone, there’s not really space to get much context anyway. On the iPad, however, there is the Draft navigator, which is always accessible from the bottom of the editor.

Not dissimilar to the Page Flip feature on a Kindle, the Draft navigator shows all of the text in your Draft folder in a single, scrollable view, and you can quickly navigate between documents using the back and forward chevrons or using the slider. Tap on a document in the navigator to load it into the main editor; to edit a document, simply double-tap into the text you want to edit to load the document into the editor at the place you tapped.

So, in Scrivener, even on an iPad, getting and working with an overview of your manuscript is only a tap away.