A question on outlining

I’m having some trouble understanding how outlining works, so I’m looking for guidance.

Right now, I’ve got an outline in OmniOutline. It’s a very rough outline–more a series of bullet points/goals for the chapter.

So, it might look something like this:

Chapter 1

  • Something bad happens to the someone
  • Introduce Mrs. Soandso
    – she’s certifiable, isn’t she?
    (and so on)

Chapter 2

  • Introduce bad guy
  • bad guy hurts someone
  • that someone goes to the cops
  • introduce cop
  • cop goes to the scene.

I like having this as one document so I can scan through it. I’m really struggling with how to use the outliner in Scrivener effectively and am looking for some advice. If I read it right, the “outline” is based of of documents in folders. I was thinking one work around might just be to put it in ‘research’ and keep it away from the main draft area.

Just out of curiosity, why are you opposed to merging the concept of outline and draft? That is, as a matter of fact, precisely what Scrivener was designed to do. Whether or not you use it that way is entirely up to you, of course. The idea is to do away with the reference outline entirely and allow the actual structure of the book to become a living, representative outline of the book itself–as well as a framework in which the book can be directly written. What I do is create that outline right in the Draft itself, and then as I write I put the contents of each scene in the respective part of the draft.

What you get is an outline, a table of contents for your work, and most importantly a book that is cut up into small pieces–easily malleable to reordering decisions, deletions, and additions. What was originally a rough Outline you created in the Draft can slowly evolve into the real thing, where when you click on a scene you can read the contents of it in the editor. Or you can click on Chapter 1, view it as a Corkboard, and get a quick summery of all the scenes in that chapter, via the index card synopsis.

To come back to your wish for having an outline in one big document, try this. Click on Draft in the Binder and press Cmd-1. That enters Outliner mode. You should have something that looks a great deal like OmniOutliner (in the grand scheme of things, naturally). You can collapse and reveal sections, scroll through it all–and the wonderful thing is–all you have to do is drag any of those outliner entries into the header of the other split to open up the actual contents of the book (there are other ways of opening outliner entries, as well).

Using this method, you needn’t worry about synchronising a separate file with your book, or scrolling through hundreds of pages in a single document to find a section. The two are completely integrated. Want to move something from chapter 2 into chapter 1? Just drag it in the Outliner, or the Binder and the actual book order has been changed.

Keep the outline in a single text. Use the split-view to place it at the bottom or top, as you prefer. Then for each outline part create a new text, with the outline title. Then expand each text as a draft of that part.

Later on, you may want to rearrange the parts or combine them. Your outline is a plan and the draft is its expanded version. It’s actually easier to do than to explain.

If your only reason for keeping it in one document is so you can survey it all at once, then there will be no reason you have to keep it in one document in Scrivener. Fact is, when you get passed your outline and want to be writing those scenes it is going to be very natural to want to have separate documents for them anyway, so you might as well do it at the outset–and in fact there are benefits to doing so. (This is just one way in which Scrivener enables you have a more seamlessly integrated workflow.)

One of the beauties of Scrivener is that it removes the penalty on having lots of small mind-sized or scene-sized documents. This is because it gives you two crucial ways to pull your many documents together as though they are one–at a moments notice. One of these (Edit Scrivenings) is a fully-editable presentation of the body text of your documents as though they were a single document. The other (more relevant to your question) is the Outline view. This brings together the Title and Synopsis text areas of your documents (and folders) together and presents them to you as though they were a single document being viewed in (a fully editable) outline mode (and if your documents are hierachically arranged, you can twiddle open/closed to see sub-entries in the outline as desired.)

So, the short answer to your question is this: the impulse you have to keep that outline in a single document is something you should get over. With Scrivener you will soon realize that that impulse was really a symptom of the fact that you did not have an application that worked the way you need to.

Scrivener will set you free. 8)


P.S. How To: In the Binder (though this could be done directly in outline mode, too): Make those Chapter line items folders, make the subheadings into documents inside the chapter folders. Put the blurbs into the synopsis area of the documents. Pick the Draft container in the binder and select the Outline mode. You will see your outline reconstituted just like you like.

It’s likely my approach to doing this will change as I get used to the program over time.

Right now, my scheme is very simple: I have a Folder named “Chapter One” and a draft document in it named “Chapter 1” I also tend to write short chapters. For my current WIP, the outline is very loose. It’s about 4-5 bullet points per chapter and sets up the next couple of chapters. About halfway though that I’ll plot out some more. It’s mostly key resolutions and is probably more of a story board, which may lead to me using the corkboard more.

The main reason why I want it in one document is more for ease while I’m creating it. I’ll plot out 4-5 chapters over about a 45 min period on the train (by that I mean, I’ll have done the thinking an am just making notes). I’m not sure if creating folders for upcoming chapters is something I want to commit to while I’m doing this.

The idea of splitting them like you recommend is sound, and likely something I’ll do more as I adjust to using the tool. I was just curious how folks were using it.

Thanks for the input.

I’d recommend playing with the program a bit, perhaps just as an exploration. Allow yourself to get comfortable with the various ways to do things. In the Binder it is a very simple matter to layout a rough chapter outline and then jump back to the scene you are writing; but if you are still not comfortable with the program it might not feel that way.

Scrivener does a lot of things differently than other programs, and that can mean taking a bit of exploration and allowing some epiphanies to happen before it all snaps together and starts to become a system for you.

Here is an example of how fast it can be to lay out a chapter idea. Say you are currently typing in a scene and want to add a rough outline for the next chapter. Jump over to the Binder (you can press Ctrl-Opt-Cmd-B if you like short cuts), and assuming the Binder selection is at the bottom, simply tap return to make a new document. Type Chapter 2, enter again to commit, and then press Cmd-Ctrl-LeftArrow to move it to a higher position in the hierarchy. Tap enter and type in the name of the first scene, and Cmd-Ctrl-RightArrow to move it beneath the Chapter 2 item, and so on. Once you have built the structure you had in mind, you can either go through in Corkboard, fleshing out synopsis, or head back to the scene you were writing and leave it alone.

With the exception of which keys you use, building a little Binder outline is no more mind intensive than typing in a file, or adding some rows in OmniOutliner.

You might have noticed that I did not create a folder for the chapter in the previous example. In fact, it should look like a stack of papers. Scrivener assigns this icon when a document has other documents beneath it. One of Scrivener’s assets is that it allows fluid brainstorming like this. Try right clicking on the stack of papers that represents the chapter and in the contextual menu choose “Convert to Folder.” You can convert the other way too.

Scrivener, unlike the Finder, does not require you to make a decision about the type of file something is until you are ready to make that decision. There is very little difference between a Folder and a Document; they can both contain text and be a part of your book. This is very important, it allows you to brainstorm without worrying about technical structure too much. Once you are comfortable with the process, it will feel less like committing and more like an a rough idea. Everything can be changed and adjusted as you work, just as easily as in a tabbed file or in OmniOutliner.

Once you feel comfortable using the mechanisms of Scrivener in a test project, you can try applying it to your writing style. Using a test document will free your mind from worrying about your book and let you just play with the program. If your chapters are indeed very short, say one scene or two, you could certainly stick to keeping it all in one document, but if you do that, I would actually recommend that you drop the folder convention and just use a single document to represent your chapter. Having a folder with a single document in it is probably unnecessary overhead. If your chapter notes really are just a handful of plot targets and not actual scenes, then you might try putting these into the Notes field of the Inspector for that chapter; or even in the Synopsis. If you use the latter, brainstorming becomes incredibly easy. Just click on Draft, enter Corkboard (Cmd-2) if it is not already selected, create a new Chapter 2 card and enter your plot points right on the card – then go back to writing.

And remember that the Binder can serve as both a thinking board and a book structure. Take advantage of Scrivener’s dynamic icon assignment. You might have noticed that new documents appear like a blank page, and documents with nothing by a synopsis look like an index card in the outline. You can use this to assign your plot points to a chapter, without ever intending to actually fill them in with book content. They can be safely deleted from beneath the chapter document (or folder) once you are done with them; or once they become obsolete. Scrivener is pretty smart about things, and does not actually technically create a file on the disk until you type in the edit field. So create as many points as you like.

As I said in the first post, Scrivener was designed to cut up your book into many small pieces. It has a plethora of tools for recombining small chunks, both on the fly and in the export phase, as gr pointed out. But Scrivener is nothing if not flexible, and once you get more comfortable with its tools, you’ll find a system that works best for you.

And the process of roughing out in the Binder that AmberV describes could also easily be carried out entirely in Outline mode if you like–then you could also be typing Synopsis blurbs as you go along. This would make the process exactly like what you are doing when you jot these things out in OmniOutliner. Only it will be better, because it is a “living” outline–synced to the binder structure.


Hi Crumpy.

some of the stuff here might help a bit.

literatureandlatte.com/forum … 1&start=30

Thank you for the clear explanations, Amber. I did do some playing around with it last night and had a few “aha!” moments. The biggest hurdle was apparently being so used to how OmniOutliner worked that when Scriv didn’t do it the exact same way I thought it didn’t work right. Once i realized it was a different set of keys (cmd-shft-rightarrow) to indent a lightbulb went off. That and learning I can create the whole schema right from within outliner.
Your right, working within outliner and creating “Chatper 1” and a file called “Jack and Jill go up the hill” and writing that scene within it in draft view is a very cool way to do it.

What I really like about Scrivner is it provided tools that will help you work better as you learn and get more comfortable the more you use it. I’ve got a multi-scene short story I’ll convert into various scenes in Scriv and see how that goes.

This is more of a how to people use the tool question, but if you’re writing along in the heat of the moment and you create a new scene, do you just keep writing and created the, if needed, new document later or do you stop, create the document and write within that?

There are several ways you could go about the new-scene problem, and no way is really best; just depends on how your mind works. If you like to just write out several thousand words and worry about getting it together later, there is the Cmd-K tool which lets you snip everything below the cursor into a new document. Cmd-Opt-K does the same thing, but uses whatever text you might have selected as the title for the new document. This is also a useful tool when importing long single-file projects from other applications.

But creating a new document while you are typing is pretty easy, too. While typing, just hit Cmd-N and you’ll be moved over to the Binder where you can supply a name (leaving it Untitled if you are in the zone and don’t care), press Ctrl-Opt-Cmd-E to jump back to the editor, and keep typing.

This method works even better when using Edit Scrivenings, in my opinion. It skips the whole diversion to naming the new document and jumps you right into the next scene, while typing.

Hi Crumpy (love your screen name),

I do both. If I’m really on a roll, I may just barrel through, writing a few
notes in annotation (shift-cmd-A) mode, so I can catch them on my way
back through. Sometimes I use the note panel for the same purpose. On
the other hand, depending on my flow, I might quickly make a new doc
and type a few things in there, before returning to what I was doing. Both
approaches work for me.

You can also decide later to separate a chunk from an existing doc.
There’s a menu command called split at selection. Play with it. It’s cool.

I’m an old outliner user myself. Never got over my heartbreak at losing
MORE. Omni has helped, but I always get the sense they don’t know what
they are. A writing program and programming program?? Wish they could
figure out cloning. It took me a while (actually only about ten minutes!) to
get over my Omni mode and get into the Scriv swing. I still use Omni for
lists and things, but less and less. I also got into Tao for a while. Amazing
functionality, but that interface!!! I had to stop using it because I kept
getting seasick. :unamused:

Keep asking questions. A lot of people in this fporum are more than happy
to distract themselves from their real work to help you out!



Thanks, it’s my nickname from growing up.

Thanks, I’m still trying to figure out the best way for me to outline (both in theory and in Scrivener). At least there’s no ‘wrong’ way to do it. :slight_smile: