head to head: comparing scrivener and storymill

October 27, 2008

Stretch your fingers and prod your imagination — NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) commences at the end of this week. For the would be novelists out there, I thought it might be helpful to offer a comparison of Scrivener and StoryMill.

(Update: you also might be interested in a more recent post where I compare Ulysses 2.0 with StoryMill and Scrivener.)

Both of these applications are popular tools designed for the writing process. I find a number of visitors make their way here via a search for one of these applications. Often, they are searching for a comparison between the two. Though I have both apps, and have mentioned both, I’ve never put them head to head before today. I’ll begin with a few thoughts about each app, and then wrap up with my own preference.


As the name suggests, StoryMill is designed with the narrative writer in mind. It would work equally well if you are developing a fiction piece, or a biography. Rather than create one long document, as you might in Word or Pages, StoryMill breaks your manuscript down into chapters, and even scenes within the chapters. This helps see the larger framework as you are planning and outlining the story.

A project in StoryMill acts as a bundle to keep all of your thoughts and information together by offering convenient access to your supporting material. Scenes can be laid onto a timeline to help track the chronology of events. A Characters and a Locations screen allow you to make notes to keep track of the who’s and where’s of your narrative. Tasks and Research give you places to tuck away ideas and information for your evolving tale.

StoryMill is available from Mariner Software, a long standing developer of Mac software who provides, from my experience, great customer support. It sells for $44.95, although are known to offer discounts via MacZot and MUPromo if you are willing to be patient.


Scrivener is similar to StoryMill in that it allows you to break a larger writing project down into smaller pieces. It is not geared for writing stories alone which makes for a simpler interface that is more streamlined than StoryMill.

A project outline can be broken down into smaller and smaller subsets, allowing the writer to focus on the tiniest of sections. Several sections, called scrivenings, can be viewed at a time, which allow you to see how well the pieces flow. A unique view is the corkboard, which shows your sections as notecards which can be moved around as you brainstorm and rework your writing.

If the strength of StoryMill is shaping and organizing the elements of a story, then the strength of Scrivener comes in collecting information and research. A small (and handy) Scratch Pad window can be opened to float on top of or alongside any app, which can be used to collect notes and research. More convenient for my workflow is the ability to drag some previously collected notes from Yojimbo directly into the Scrivener research folder; unfortunately, this doesn’t work in StoryMill.

Scrivener runs $39.95 and appears to be the product of a single programmer — but one who loves the writing process. It is available via his website: Literature & Latte.

The Exciting Conclusion

As far as which choice is best? My preference is Scrivener. I like the more streamlined interface and I’m already familiar with it from some previous non-fiction projects. But both are great programs, so you might sway toward StoryMill. Both offer a free trial so I’ll let you decide which is best for you. If any other Creatvityists have experience with either product, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Can either of the programs guarantee you 50,000 words for a successful NaNoWriMo experience? Well, probably not. But knowing you have a program designed with the writer in mind could offer some extra motivation and confidence. Good luck!

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