I’ll start by stating my prejudice. I know why Storymill is so called, because it ground a sizable chunk of my current story to powder. I call this a prejudice because I have seen angry customer reviews of various things by people who have had a bad experience, and generally they aren’t helpful. I suppose there are few products with which someone hasn’t had a bad experience.
So that isn’t my basis for writing this mini-review. My basis is that I read a number of comparative reviews before settling on which app to use for writing my next novel, and all of them compared the features in the apps. Storymill has some features Scrivener lacks and vice versa. This is perfectly true. But none of them stated clearly how much more professional, attractive and generally workable Scrivener is than Storymill, and I wish they had.
Storymill has some neat features. You can link up locations, times and characters to scenes so the app knows exactly which characters are in which scene and when and where it takes place. Very nifty. But at the same time, it has no global search function.
You read that right. Having neatly arranged your work into scenes within chapters, there is now no way to search the entire work. You have to search it chapter by chapter.
The way I lost my work was by splitting a chapter into scenes. Two of the three scenes just disappeared. This had happened before and after some struggling with customer support I was told that I needed to restart and they would appear. And they did. But then one day I tried it and they didn’t. They were gone. Customer support (after a week’s delay) told me to restart. When I told them I’d already done that multiple times they asked me to send them my save file so they could retrieve the lost work.
After two more weeks, I wrote to ask them if they could tell me what had happened, even if they just said they couldn’t retrieve the work. Nothing. Nothing then, nothing now.
Of course it might be that I had phenomenal bad luck both with losing the work and with the customer service. But what was not bad luck – what is quite standard and regularly stated on their forums – is that they expect scenes to disappear until a restart. To me this seems like an auto merchant saying “The car ain’t broke – you just have to kick it in the right place.”
By contrast in Scrivener, you just hit cmd K and your text is split at the cursor-point into two scenes sitting neatly on the zippy-looking clipboard. And the same with other things. In Scrivener, everything just works the way it is supposed to.
I don’t really consider myself competent to review either product. I am the very opposite of an organized writer and I don’t use 90% of the functionality of this type of software. From the spec sheet, either app would have served my quite humble purposes admirably. But in practice, Storymill and Scrivener are like an old Ford jalopy and a Mercedes respectively.
I used the full-screen mode in Storymill (and most other apps I write in) but with Scrivener I use the ordinary front end, because it is attractively enough designed to be pleasant to work with, and gives me instant access to all the other parts of the project, notes and other materials simply and unobtrusively. It saves continuously (every time you type a few words it is saving them quietly in the background) and it simply does what I want done.
I am not the writer to put this sort of software through its paces. Scrivener may be lacking in the fancy organizational department for aught I know. But everything I need it provides in a manner that is efficient, attractively presented and professional. Storymill just isn’t in the same league. Everything in Storymill is just a bit clunky. It has a timeline, for example, which Scrivener lacks, but it is a real pain to work with and never works quite the way it is supposed to.
If you are trying to decide between the two, I am not attempting to be definitive here, but what I do want to do is fill the gap in existing reviews which usually seem to compare specs. On the specs each app has strengths and weaknesses, but on the quality of the execution of those specs, the two apps are in different classes.
PS – a few weeks later – I finally did get a reply from Storymill’s support staff, and it was a very sweet note apologizing for the delay and telling me that regrettably (as I had already pretty much concluded from my own file-size comparisons) the missing scenes could not be saved.
PPS – when I say it was a very sweet note I am not being in any way sarcastic. Despite the fact that she could not help, the lady was sweet and civil, and I will never sneer at good manners and pleasant behavior.