Literature & Latte

Case Studies

Using Scrivener to Manage Serial Novels

With Monica McCarty

With series writing becoming ever more popular, particularly in genre fiction, writers are looking for a way to manage the research and notes overarching several novels. Often, writers will be required to produce multiple novels within a twelve month period. Without good organisation, tracking details relating to settings, themes and characters that reoccur across several hundred thousand words can be extremely time consuming and frustrating, particularly when tight publishing deadlines are involved.

Here, bestselling historical romance novelist Monica McCarty, author of the Campbell and MacLeods of Skye Scottish trilogies, explains how she is using Scrivener to create a Series Bible holding information such as notes, research and character overviews for her Highland Guard novels. Consisting of two novels published so far this year, and with another to come before 2011, the Highland Guard series is scheduled to become a twelve-book collection. With such a high output and with time in short supply, the ability to reference back to an easily accessible manual for research and notes on particular themes is proving invaluable.

“Before moving to Scrivener I had a huge amount of background material such as research and timeline notes contained in a 50 page Word document,” she says. “There was a huge amount of material to control and that’s why I started to look for a good project management tool.”

McCarty normally writes using an AlphaSmart when away from her main computer. However, when she is back at her writing desk, she has two screens set up, both running Scrivener. One screen is dedicated to writing, while the other is used for reference and displays her Series Bible.

“For my actual writing I use Scrivener in much the same way as other people,” she explains. “However, the novel I am currently working on is part of a seven to 12 book series. This has a huge amount of research attached to it such as details of clothing worn at the time, details of arms and armaments and terminology, as well as timeline details. When I started working on this I did look for a separate project management tool outside of Scrivener to help me manage and keep track of all this. I couldn’t find anything suitable on Google - but then I realised that actually, I could do it all by simply creating a separate project. When I have finished a book I’ll compile it as a draft, export this to Word to send to my publisher and then move a copy into the Series Bible as a single document for future reference.”

McCarty’s Series Bible is divided into three folders: ideas, proposals and books one through to 12. “When I transferred the information from Word it consisted of about four different folders containing some thirty plus documents from all over the place,” she says. “Now, if I suddenly have an idea for book 8 I can go straight in to the right place and add it rather than having to scroll down an entire document and look around all night for it. Scrivener also helps me with continuity. For instance, if I have said a character has blue eyes I can switch back to my character sheet in my Series Bible and check immediately. During each writing session I take notes on the cards in the Inspector as I go along to help me with my character arcs.”

Holding all of this in Scrivener, as well as incidental material such as proposals, means that locating relevant material is straightforward. “Any proposal or blurb is easily accessible as I can locate it all in the binder,” she explains. “Before using Scrivener, I’d have had to search through a large number of files. Now my entire series research goes in there, as well as book notes and character sheets.” Naturally, some Scrivener features lend themselves more to active writing. “I don’t tend to use the cork board here, though I do when I am writing my actual novel,” she adds.

As a busy novelist, McCarty has so far only had time to drop existing work into the program before continuing with writing. Although happy with how she currently uses Scrivener, she says she feels as though there are still more features to discover. “My publishing schedule for the first trilogy in this series has meant that I haven’t had time to mess around with Scrivener much. I’m looking forward to getting to grips with ways to track story threads. I tend to have a number of introspective sections - for instance a character might use this to describe the fact that they are falling in love. I highlight these so I an go through and pull them out later to make sure nothing is being repeated and the story is always moving forward.”

Although she confesses to having an enviable ability to write in a linear fashion, Scrivener has helped McCarty with the organisation of her work. “In book two of my Highland Guard series I actually changed a lot of the structure about,” she explains.

For her, the main advantages over a traditional word processing program are these: “I don’t have to rely on holding my novels in huge documents in Word, which become relatively unstable as they grow. It’s great having a stable program where I can hold a whole book in one document. If I’ve worked on something for 6 months the last thing I need is a crash. I also love Scrivener’s autosave function, just in case.”

Scrivener’s stability will come in handy as her series grows. “By book seven or eight I’ll have the equivalent of about 80 to 90 Word documents in one place. As issues come up I’ll now be able to look back and find what I need easily without having to read an entire novel to find them.”

Having a tool that allows her to manage her draft as sections, rather than a whole, is very attractive. “As a former attorney I am highly analytical so the organisational aspect of Scrivener really appeals to me. I also love Edit Scrivenings as it means I can get a feel for the whole or just a specific portion, whichever I need. In my view, Word is good for one thing, whereas Scrivener is good for everything - it’s a much more appropriate tool for a writer.”

Following the publication of The Chief in March 2010 and The Hawk in August, Monica McCarty recently completed The Ranger, the third book in her series, which is due for release in December 2010. She is now working on her fourth Highland Guard novel.


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