Scrivener versus Storyist: A comparison

This post was inspired by discussion in the Chicago NaNoWriMo Facebook group, about software. I’ve used Scrivener 1.0 for a while, and just upgraded to 2.0 thanks to the latest MacHeist bundle. I just recently downloaded the NaNoWriMo trial of Storyist. So I thought I’d spend a little time playing with both. This is my pre-NaNoWriMo review, I’m sure I’ll have an updated commentary about these programs after November.

Warning: This is a graphic-heavy post, I’ve included a number of screen captures of the programs (they’re loaded in a smaller size and you can click through to full size but they’re still not small files).

First off, let me say that this is the time of year to try out writing software. Most of my writing software has been collected around NaNo time. What is NaNoWriMo you ask? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s held every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words starting at midnight on November 1st and finishing before midnight on November 30th. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you go to write-in events.

Right now if you visit the NaNoWriMo site, under “Fun Stuff” there is a Special Offers page where you can download trial versions of Scrivener and Storyist that are good until early December. That way you can use the software for your NaNo endeavor and if you win (achieve 50K in time), you get a really good discount on these pricier pieces of software. Although, Scrivener is part of the current MacHeist bundle, which is $29 (or $26.10 if you completed all the missions), which is good for another 7 days. That’s a good deal, considering buying Scrivener new is $45 or upgrading from 1.0 if you bought it long ago is $25. Plus this bundle has a great selection of software – I highly recommend it!

So what are these programs? Storyist and Scrivener are both programs that help you write. They both include the ability to add notes about characters and places, they also have tips & information for formatting your novel (for that time beyond November when you try to get published).

Let’s start with Scrivener. I’ve had this program for about three years I think. I downloaded the trial for NaNo 2009, and after NaNo split the cost of the program with a friend. I’ve used the 1.0 version for years, and like the features. Today I opened up the 2.0 version for the first time.

One thing I love about Scrivener is the templates. You have many to choose from – fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, and more. It’s great for writing screenplays, since it has the formatting all set up for you – I’ve used this feature a lot in the past! The non-fiction template is new this version, as are some others.

Scrivener opening screen

Once you’ve started a new project from a template, you see the main Scrivener screen. There’s a couple options to change the display, including a full screen option, but I like the default. The template will insert some sample files and have things all set up for you. Read the text inserted already – it will help if you’ve never used this template before.

Scrivener novel template

What I love about Scrivener, and what’s great for someone who writes non-linearly, is the ability to put text into small scenes and easily rearrange them. You can have a chapter folder, and within that folder, multiple scene files. There is a corkboard for the folders where you can rearrange the scenes. For November, not so helpful (at least the rearranging, but it helps to be able to just start a new scene file and have the word count still continue), but come revision time this is a huge help!

Scrivener chapter corkboard

Something else new to this version is an expansion and change to the supporting documentation. In version 1.0 you could add notes and web page clippings, etc, as supporting documents in a reference binder. That way the information would be right there (you could change to a split screen view and have your writing on top, your reference files on the bottom…or vice versa), but this information was not included in your word count. Now, instead of just a reference binder there’s different types of reference files. There is a template for adding character and setting notes, great for brainstorming and trying to come up with details on characters or making notes on locations you want to set the novel in.

Scrivener character bio sheet

One of the best new features in this version is the compile feature has become a bit more sophisticated. It is set up to format your novel for submission to publishers (in standard format for submissions), or to format it in paperback format, or even format it as an iBook to submit to Apple’s own eBook store!

Now on to Storyist. I downloaded the NaNo trial earlier this month, it’s good until mid-December. Storyist is a bit pricier program, almost $70 for the full version, but NaNo winners get a good discount. Storyist has some similarities to Scrivener, in that you can compose in small pieces, and there are also character and setting note templates.

Storyist character sheet

I first looked at Storyist before downloading the new version of Scrivener, so initially I was interested in the character sheets and setting notes. However, Scrivener has added these so that removed Storyist’s advantage there. One area where Storyist does still seem to have an advantage is in the plot notes.

Storyist plot cards

So overall the two programs are somewhat similar. The advantage they both have over your regular word processor is the supporting notes – while you can keep your notes and research in other programs (I’ve used Evernote in the past), it’s really helpful to have it right there in the same program where you’re writing. Scrivener’s ability to format for publication is a great boon to those who want to go that next step with their writing.

My recommendation is for Scrivener. It’s been a favorite program for a while, and has only gotten better in the new version. For me, that program alone was worth the price of the MacHeist bundle. However, I highly suggest downloading the trial versions of the programs right now, and playing with them. You have until mid-December to use the programs as much as you want (these are FULL featured trials – nothing is really locked), so take advantage and play with the programs and decide which one is best for you!

Feel free to comment with any further questions. And good luck to those attempting the madness of NaNoWriMo this year, I’ll be frantically typing right along with you!

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