Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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September 27, 2021

Scrivener and Plottr for Outlining

by Kris Maze

Hello Fellow Writers,

Fall. The time of getting down to author business and outline your novel. Nanowrimo is right around the corner and the end of the year push to finish those goals comes next. As I consider my writing journey, there are tools that have helped me get the words on the page and outline what I want for my novel. Let’s look at a few popular writing tools, Scrivener and Plottr, as I list my pros and cons from each. Perhaps, you use these and can share your tips as well, for readers in the comments.

Scrivener was one of the first adaptations in my writing toolbox, but it was not an easy transition. It came with complexity and a steep learning curve, but I had to figure out the detailed features through a paid course. Although it seemed like a helpful tool, back then it also seemed to require more effort than the creative writing process itself. After the muddling through, it is now a mainstay of my writing process.

Scrivener Pros and Cons

As I built my manuscripts on this new platform, it freed my desk from paper piles of rewrites. As in most fields, having an organized process leads to a cohesive product, and I was able to focus on my writing more.

Scrivener, for all its structure, needed some practical interior decorating to accomplish my goals.

The amount of features was overwhelming and I still worked out my detailed story structure on paper. It was hard to stare at the blank walls of Scrivener when building the plot took a lot of consideration, and it brought me back to my hands-on methods. Sticky notes all over my writing space walls, a scroll of paper around the house, and multiple word or Google files in various places, made my writing process cumbersome, but functional. I was not getting the most from this software and was frustrated by not accessing its potential.

Here is a breakdown of the software and the reasons I decided to stick with it despite my struggles.

Scrivener - Pros

  • Available for Mac and Windows
  • Versatile and capacity to build various writing structures. According to their website, here are the formats for exporting your work when finished:
    • “Export to a wide variety of file formats, including Microsoft Word, RTF and PDF. Save screenplays to Final Draft format with script notes intact. Create Epub and Kindle e-books to sell on Amazon or elsewhere, or for proof-reading on an e-reader. You can even use MultiMarkdown for LaTeX support and more.”
  • Various views and functionality: binder, corkboard, list, and ability to see multiple screens side by side
  • All features, workspaces, and files are customizable.
  • Places for characters, setting, research, metadata are included in the main templates.
  • It will export into Word.
  • Cost—starting at $49 with a free trial period
  • There is a small cost to upgrade to the newest version which has a less cluttered look.

Scrivener Cons (for me)

  • The main templates were basic and nondescript—I needed more examples and structure for my work
  • Word files were not always compatible and formatting was often off after transferring work to and from Scrivener.
  • I spent a lot of time (and money) playing with the features and learning how to use Scrivener.
  • It is not an easy program to master, but with time and patience, it is possible to set it up to meet your project needs perfectly

Enter a software I didn’t know I needed: Plottr.

Plottr was introduced to me by other writers, as one demonstrated how they used the software to build elaborate worlds. Plottr kept track of details, such as settings and character traits over an entire book series. The visual layout was pleasing and easy to follow, but like Scrivener, required learning to master. As a recent convert to Plottr, here are aspects I considered.

Plottr - Pros

  • Popular Story structure templates are preloaded in the software. The ability to create your own is possible.
  • Each project can contain various plots. One main, one for each character, with a simultaneous view.
  • Adding multiple story structures can accommodate different story types or genre-bending books. Want to make sure your rom-com isn’t missing critical beats? Want the adventure to stay strong? Add Heroes Journey and a romance beats sheet and see how they line up.
  • Colors and cards are customizable. Follow a character through a series with their own color.
  • Creating character cards—and save them. Use them on other projects and save time.
  • Use common profile ideas when building characters (Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, etc) to build chemistry between characters in realistic ways with more impact.
  • We can view horizontally timeline or vertically. A list view is also an option.
  • Cost—starting at $25 and a free trial period

Plottr - Cons

  • Another software to learn
  • I wasn’t sure I didn’t already have a program capable of this work and didn’t want to replicate the wheel I already had.

My Plottr Takeaways

It turns out that Plottr has a wonderful set of videos available on their home website and on YouTube. There are free training sessions available, too. The program is more intuitive that I first thought and after getting used to it, it is very handy. The save features and the ability to create your own templates make tracking story details through a series much easier. You can bring up your own template from a previous book and build your new manuscript.

What I found most interesting about both software is that…it can work together with Scrivener.

Was spending all this time creating a story in Plottr going to pay off?

The quick answer is yes. This tool allows the writer to organize their story structure using which ever parameters they see fit for their genre and writing type. Time spent on building characters easily filters over to other parts of the manuscript and be saved for other projects without rebuilding. The tutorial videos are quick and informative, using practical examples of the story Pride and Prejudice and the folk tale, the 3 little pigs.

Here's the secret sauce. If Plottr is a place to note card the story’s bones and match it up to the standard plot structures of your genre, then Scrivener has open doors for the work you complete.

Plottr’s export feature saves into a Scrivener file format ready for you to fill in the chapters and scenes. So, it seems, my writer friends, that the question truly isn’t one OR the other, but rather it's AND.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps you can relate to part of my experience with these products. They are well known amongst writers because they are powerful tools. Worth the energy to figure out. These used together may be the combination that can help a writer stitch together the next classic novel, page-turning thriller, or heart-throbbing romance.

Don’t forget to take time for you, writer friends! Learning about new tools and staying current in the latest technology can help writers save time and focus on the creative parts of writing. But our greatest tool is ourselves, our physical being, and our minds.

I hope the dog days of summer are bringing you joy and satisfaction, even amid the stressors of the world today. Here is a picture of a little me-time I spent with my dog Char-Char playing in the water. We fit in extra beach time before the fall busy frenzy sets in. 

What experience do you have with Scrivener? Do you use Plottr? Let us know how either of these have helped or hindered your writing process in the comments below.

* * * * * *

About Kris

Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for 26 years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family.

Kris is also writing on Kindle Vella – see her YA dystopian series below.

Athena and the Apocalypse

Aurora and Watertown

19 comments on “Scrivener and Plottr for Outlining”

  1. Thanks for this comprehensive and honest rundown of the pros and cons. I've had Scrivener for years and hardly ever use it. I lost access to some work for a while due to an upgrade I needed to buy, but mostly don't use because of the intimidation factor. It's too much! I have heard good things about Plottr and need to take a look at it. You've inspired me to dive back in.

    1. Hi Irtrovi,
      I'm sorry you lost work due to upgrades. That is super frustrating. Have you checked with the company that sells Scrivener? They were very helpful when I decided to upgrade. It is still a little clunky, but I do like the upgraded version so far.

      Best of luck - and let us know what is working for your writing system. I'd love to hear it.

  2. Enjoyed your blog today. I also tried learning Scrivener, but couldn't get over the learning curve. Going to check out Prottr.

    1. HI Jann,
      I posted a link below with video tutorials from Literature and Latte and I would have love those when I first tried Scrivener! Plottr has been a handy tool, so far. I hope you find it useful.

  3. Kris, thanks for a really interesting post. I haven't tried either Scrivener or Plottr, but you certainly have me interested, and if I get into them it will be with my eyes open. My hesitation is that I actually like the notes on scraps of paper and stickies and ideas that mayor may not make it into the draft. For me it's part of the creative process. Thanks again!

    1. Hi James,
      Thanks for leaving a comment. I've been a fan of sticky notes to help me get my thinking out and to organize it. It's a useful tool for building a story and getting me unstuck.

      1. "Unstuck" very good! LOL Kris. All kidding aside, I plan on looking into the software after your description. Thanks again.

  4. Such a helpful post. Thank you. Plottr sure looks interesting. I've been working in Scrivener, but I'm certain I am not using it to its fullest. The tutorial was overwhelming, so I ended up diving in. I wouldn't mind updating, but the thought of losing my work is scary. Anyone have advice on that?

  5. Thanks for this post! Very concrete and informative. I've used Scrivener in conjunction with Word files on OpenOffice for years and really like it (I tend to write blocks of text in OpenOffice, then cut and paste them into Scrivener - I find one easier for actually creating the text and the other better for organizing everything and integrating audiovisual material with text.)
    Plottr is new to me. Your suggestion about using them together sounds great - I will watch some Plottr YouTube tutorials and try it if it looks like something from which I can get some added benefit.
    Thanks again!

    1. Hi JrFinley,

      I'm glad working within Word has been successful for you. At times, I would get a random indent or another quirky formatting issue. Maybe it is because I was working off a 2016 version of the software.

      Even if you use Plottr alone - it is a great organization tool!

  6. I don't have experience with either. I rely on a written book journal for keeping information and Word for writing.

    I know other writers who really enjoy and appreciate their Scrivener. I'm not familiar with anyone using Plottr.


  7. Scrivener is my mainstay - I use it so many times daily it is now native to my brain. I have paid for - and will upgrade to when I finish this middle volume of my trilogy - Scrivener 3.

    Word 2011 for Mac is my wordprocessor, used only after everything is as polished as I can get it in Scrivener (which warns you it is not a wordprocessor), because it is a one-way trip: Words innards are deadly to getting what you want, and I'd have to clean up the text enormously to put it back into Scrivener's text format. Word is my hand-crafting stage.

    My plotting is done in Dramatica, which has a heavy learning curve, but has then done marvelous things for me in pulling stuff out of my brain for a very complex novel set.

    You mentioned Plottr 'can view horizontally timeline or vertically.' This is the main hole in my system. I use calendars and a spreadsheet, and even looked at Aeon (which does NOT produce a calendar - a huge gap), and rely on a complex set of prompts to keep everything synced. A program which kept these for me would be a big help. Then I saw the price for one machine - $25. Fine. And then the problem: 'yearly.' I try not to license software unless I have no choice because I have an old 2015 Macbook which works perfectly - but can't handle any more updates.

    But I have that gap - so I will give Plottr a look. Thanks for the mention.

    Happy writing!

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