Scrivener v. Storyist – Why I’m Hanging On

It’s a good question: why am I hanging on to Scrivener when I do much of my writing on my iPad? Literature and Latte hope to have an iOS Scrivener version released . . . well, Real Soon Now. In the meantime, I develop ingenious workarounds and leave any number of Scrivener features on the table because I can’t access them from iOS. Storyist, on the other hand, is positioned as an alternative long-form writing program, and it works on the iPad right now. Over in the Scrivener forums, defectors, while not exactly legion, regularly post their disappointment and intention to use Storyist in the future.

I went ahead and downloaded the Mac demo version of Storyist yesterday. I can’t say I’ve given it an exhaustive test, but I have looked at the features that I use the most. Here are my impressions:

  • The overall impression I have of Storyist: It was designed to look like Scrivener when you first open it, by someone who dislikes Scrivener’s complexity, and who really misses WYSIWYG. As shipped, it’s very much aimed at the fiction writer or screenwriter who is submitting to editors or similar gatekeepers. If you want to self-publish, if you want to do non-fiction (Yeah, I did a convention program booklet in Scrivener because I really didn’t want to deal with Word…) you’re going to have to struggle a lot more. There’s no way to do footnotes, for one thing… By getting rid of Scrivener’s complexity designed to support all sorts of long-form writing besides traditional fiction/script submittals, a lot of Scrivener’s flexibility has been excised, as well.
  • I imported a couple of my dormant Scrivener projects into Storyist. I also exported a sample Storyist project to Scrivener. While it works OK, in that all of your body text will arrive at the destination, very little metadata (labels, statuses, keywords, etc.) arrives at either destination. After I got into Storyist a bit, it looks like about two days to massage a NaNoWriMo 50K draft from Scrivener into a form that’s really usable in Storyist, even without a lot of metadata. In short, not something I’m interested in doing unless I’ve committed to switching over.
  • Once there, I found there was no corresponding function to Scrivener’s “Scrivenings” view. If you’re not familiar with the software, this lets you look at any subset of your Scrivener project’s component files as if they were one document, and edit them as such. This is a lot of what I do on the Mac before I head out with my iOS devices – look at a Scrivenings view of what I did yesterday, spot stuff I want to fix (minor stuff – a misspelling here, poor grammar there), and decide where I’m going with it today. I find the lack of a Scrivenings-style view strange in view of the fact that…
  • … a Storyist project is just One Big File. In contrast, a Scrivener project is a folder full of little files. Storyist pretends that there are a lot of little files, each with its synopsis index card, but at the end of the day if you save a “version” before doing some changes, the whole dang Storyist project is saved (oh yes, it uses OS X versioning so as to save space, but still.) With Scrivener, you can save a “snapshot” of a single file. It may seem more confusing, but really, it’s simpler. If you’re only going to play with Scene A, you save a snapshot of Scene A. If you later also add Scene B, and then decide you like the older version of Scene A, with Scrivener you’re good – you can revert Scene A without affecting Scene B. With Storyist, you’re going to have to do some fancy stepping to save out Scene B before reverting Scene A if you’re not to lose Scene B. Blah.
  • Another difference: The Storyist manuscript is conceptually one file within the project, with your chapters and scenes as outline subtopics within. Scrivener has real little files for each scene and chapter. Even though it looks the same in the sidebar, it’s not. Storyist displays the entire manuscript when you click on a scene, with the cursor at the start of the scene you just clicked on. Scrivener opens ONLY the file you click on (or only the files you select – that’s what “Scrivenings” is about.)
  • WYSIWYG v. Compilation. Storyist is WYSIWYG – you’ll have to reformat your entire project if you want to output for print v. epub v. mobi v. Smashwords. By way of contrast, in Scrivener you format each document in the way that works best for you while you’re writing it, then compile to output each format with its little quirks. I think this is one of the “personal preference” features, but the Scrivener output is way more flexible.
  • For a big project, Storyist is noticeably slower than Scrivener.
  • (Further examples exist.)

Aw, heck. I am a self-admitted techno-geek, and if I’ve used a tool for more than six months, I’ve customized that puppy beyond recognition. My Scrivener setups are as personal as my toothbrush. Despite my restricted use of research, keywords, custom metadata, et-freaking-cetera, I use enough of the Scrivener-only stuff to make contemplating a move to Storyist painful. I’m scrubbing Storyist off my Mac, and going back to the Scrivener for iOS cheering section (“Write That Code! Write That Code! Yay SCRIVENER!”)


3 thoughts on “Scrivener v. Storyist – Why I’m Hanging On”

  1. Hi, I’m currently trying to decide whether to stick with Scrivener or start using Storyist – the main reason being, that I also do a lot of editing on the iPad, and really only need it for fiction projects. I was just wondering if you’d be willing to share some of those ingenious workarounds for using Scrivener on the iPad (or did I misunderstand?). Thank you!


  2. You did not misunderstand–but this is quite an old post. Scrivener itself is now available on iPad! It was worth the wait. My current suggestion is to get the Real Thing in the App Store.


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