For years, Macintosh users have been raving about Scrivener software as the ultimate electronic story binder and draft manager. Those of us on PCs have had to scrounge the internet for equivalent products that don’t appear to match Scrivener’s capabilities and level of polish. I settled on Liquid Story Binder; others have used products like Super Note Card, Celtex, Microsoft One Note, and Microsoft Word. I recently found out that the makers of Scrivener are developing a PC version of Scrivener, and the beta version is available for free until September 30, 2011. I had to give the beta version a test drive to see what I’ve been missing.
Let me say right now that I only spent an hour and a half with the software, and that it is in beta testing. The developers also caution that all the features currently offered in the Macintosh version will not be in the PC version at launch. With those caveats in mind, let’s see what it can do.
What Scrivener Gets Right
The ultimate goal of Scrivener, as I see it, is to get a draft of your writing project written and properly formatted for copyediting and polishing on a word processor. The software lets you get your ideas, writing snippets, and research in one place. From there, you can organize it, search through it, assign keywords, group like ideas, and create as many versions of the draft as you like before you compile your final draft.
Big deal. Liquid Story Binder does all that too.
Great User Interface
Scrivener’s strength is its user interface. I couldn’t believe how darn easy it was to organize, search, manage revisions, and view my work in different ways. Scrivener let me look at my work as a series of notecards on a poster board that I could easily re-arrange with a drag and drop interface. I could then switch the view to an outline form if I wanted the 5,000 foot overview, or switch to a chapter view to see my work as just text files. For me, the software was, for the most part, intuitive to use. I take my hat off to the developers, building a good user interface is extremely difficult, and they pulled it off.
Can I do all the things in Scrivener that I can do in Liquid Story Binder? For the most part, but only because I’ve crawled up Binder’s steep learning curve. I think in the two years it has taken me to learn how to do things with Liquid Story Binder, I managed to do the same things in Scrivener in an hour. Part of this is due to the fact that Binder is a one-man labor of love, whereas Scrivener appears to come from a professional software company. Liquid Story Binder users have to learn by wiki, YouTube video contributions, and trial-and-error. Scrivener has a good tutorial that showed me most of the tools and features. I felt like I could jump right in and start creating.
What Could Be Better
Some of Liquid Story Binder’s features like timelines, storyboards, mind mapping, and checklists just don’t seem to be in Scrivener. Some of Liquid Story Binder’s methods of resizing image thumbnails seemed a bit better to me also.
I was impressed with Scrivener, even in beta form. I don’t know if it gives me enough incentive to switch from Liquid Story Binder, but if I had to start over from scratch I think I would pick Scrivener.